Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
PARADISE.—The word is a Persian one, and was adopted by the Hebrews from the mildest and most benevolent of their conquerors. Like most words with sufficient impetus to find their way into another language, it brings with it something of the character of the race from which it comes. It means something that the NT receives ‘Legion’ and ‘Praetorium’ from Rome, and ‘Paradise’ from Persia. It seems in its first home to have denoted a park-like garden,—an enclosure fenced in from evil influences outside, and yet not so artificial as to be solely the work of man and devoid of natural landscape beauties. Herds of deer and other wild animals found a happy home in the old Persian paradises (Xen. Cyr. i. 3. 14, Anab. i. 2. 7). But a word entering the speech of a strong nation does not remain unaltered. The strength of Israel was religious, and the word ‘Paradise’ became on her lips restricted to the great garden where God at the first had talked with man. Paradise became to her the lost Eden, the garden of the four rivers and the two mystic trees. It was impossible, however, to the Hebrew that anything religious should remain a mere memory. In process of time it became a heavenly and an inspiring hope. A cool and fragrant Paradise awaits the faithful Hebrew after death. The Golden Age ereates the future home of the people of God.
It was to little purpose that the Alexandrian Jewish school combated this conception as too materialistic and earthy. The popular mind saw nothing attractive in the allegorizing which taught that Paradise meant ‘virtue,’ and the trees of the garden the thoughts of spiritual men. The strangely mingled life man lives, half in, half out of the spiritual world, will not suffer a system which ignores so large a portion of his consciousness.
This was its meaning to the mass of men in Gospel times. It appears thrice in the NT,—in Luke 23:43, in 2 Corinthians 12:4, and in Revelation 2:7,—and its history on the sacred page seems that of a spiral curve upwards. St. Paul’s reference is so mystic as to remain somewhat indefinite, yet it is up to Paradise he is caught. But in Revelation the spiritual meaning shines through the thin veil of the pietorial promise to the Ephesian ‘angel.’
It is not without interest to observe that in later times and outside Scripture the word seems in two directions to take a downward slant; first, among Mohammedans as applied to their carnal heaven, and afterwards in the Mediaeval Church as indicating a place (the Limbus Patrum) reserved for departed souls who are only in partial and imperfect communion with the faithful.
Our Lord’s solitary use of the word constitutes by far its greatest interest to Christians. He who spoke of ‘the kingdom of God’ or ‘the kingdom of heaven’ to the Apostles, used the word ‘Paradise’ to the dying brigand on the cross. The connotation of a term rises and falls with the mood of the speaker. But with the Speaker on this occasion, His mood is always regulated by the receptivity of the hearer. This man never knew much of any world beyond his own world of violence and rapine. He was dying now. What he needed was a form of comfort—real and true, no doubt, but such as he could reach and relish. He was writhing in thirst and agony, and the simple, common, current idea of Paradise, with its rest and relief, was to him, for the time being, the chiefest good. The hope of such a change was a simple hope; but a plain thought may be as true, as far as it goes, as a complex one; just as an outline may be as correct as a finished portrait. Anything more advanced would have meant nothing to the repentant robber. He who ‘knew what was in man’ gave the promise. See, further, art. ‘Paradise’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , and the Literature cited there.
Literature.—As bearing upon Christ’s use of the word, special ref. may be made to Salmond, Christian Doct. of Immortality, 346 ff.; Edersheim, LT [Note: T Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Edersheim].] ii. 600 f.; W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, 13 ff.; Cairns, Christ the Morning Star, 270 ff.; Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, i. 160 ff.; C. H. H. Wright, The Intermediate State, 152 ff.; R. E. Hutton, The Soul in the Unseen World, 155 ff.
M. P. Johnstone.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Paradise (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/p/paradise-2.html. 1906-1918.