Do Thieves Go to Heaven? (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 156

Can a thief or any other kind of sinner go to heaven? Take a look at 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”

In this passage, Paul says twice that any of these sinners will not go to heaven. Yet Luke 23:39-43 says that one of the thieves that were crucified with Jesus was going to be with Jesus in paradise that very day. So Paul says thieves do not go to heaven, whereas Jesus said at least one did. Some may think this is a contradiction, but when we actually study the passages in context we can understand what is going on.

Understanding what Paul and Jesus were teaching

The first problem with saying this is a contradiction is that Paul continues in the very next verse (1 Corinthians 6:11): “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (emphasis added). Paul’s point is that, although his readers, who were Christians, had been thieves, homosexuals, idolaters, etc., in the past, their sins have been forgiven and washed away. “Each believer is horribly flawed, and yet forgiven and living with the promise and hope of heaven (Titus 3:7).”[1]

“And such were some of you” shows us that the sins listed in verses 9-10 are in the past, but that these Christians had repented and been forgiven. Regardless of what the sins were, their sinful record has been forgotten. This is important to know for what Jesus told the thief. The thief was told he would be in paradise with Jesus because the thief was forgiven for what he had done (see Luke 23:42). Dan Lietha makes a great point:

“Thieves are thought of as ‘bad’ people. Many people would not place themselves in the same category. However, how many times does one have to steal something to be a thief? Only once. And who among us has not taken something, even the smallest thing that did not belong to us? We are all thieves. We are all unrighteous lawbreakers, unworthy to inherit the kingdom of God (Romans 3:23). So the question, ‘Can a thief go to heaven?’ applies to all of us.”[2]

The importance of Luke 23:39-43 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is that even though we are all sinners, God has provided us a way to be forgiven. God will literally forget the sins we have committed as long as we admit we are sinners and accept Jesus Christ as Lord, and believe that he died and resurrected for our sins. Another excellent point to learn from these passages is that with God’s help all sins can be overcome, even homosexuality.

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[1] Dan Lietha. “Can a Thief Go to Heaven?” In Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions. Volume 2. Ken Ham, Bodie Hodge, and Tim Chaffey eds. (Green Forest: Master Books, 2011.) Pg. 140.

[2] Lietha, 140.

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