Eloi! Eloi! Lama Sabachthani?

Jesus’ cry puts Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 among the most debated passages in the Bible. What exactly did Jesus mean by it? Is God crying out to God? Does this mean Jesus was not God? Did God really forsake Him?

Throughout the Church age, beginning with the very earliest Church Fathers and writers of commentary on the Gospels, scholars have had a variety of thoughts pertaining to this passage. One thing is for sure, says Bryan Threlkeld in an article for GES1 bearing those words as its title, “These four Aramaic words are packed with significance.”

If God did not forsake our Lord, He sure felt like He did. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus endured his arrest, precipitated by the betrayal of Judas and left alone after His disciples abandoned Him. He was tried, beaten, and flogged at the hands of an occupying army at the behest of His own people, made to drag His cross up Golgotha’s hill with a bloodied back, nailed to that piece of lumber, lifted up, and dropped into it’s hole – crucified, hanged on a cross for 6 hours until He was dead.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.


John said that He became the atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), Paul said that He was made to be sin for us even though He knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Bryan Thelkeld put it this way, “Jesus became guilty of Saul’s persecution and murder of Christians, Hitler’s holocaust, Jezebel’s immorality, Elvis’ drug abuse, Stalin’s massacres, Osama Bin Laden’s murders, not to mention our sins.” All the sins of the world rest on Him as He cried out those four words!

How could the Messiah have endured all that He did and keep His faith too? Can we know that He did? Could His cry of abandonment possibly indicate otherwise or did it go deeper than His anguish? Let’s see if we can learn more about it.

In Jesus’ day and for a 1,000 years or so prior, the Old Testament was not divided conveniently into book, chapter, and verse with summary paragraphs, footnotes, and the words of Yahweh printed in red. To find a particular passage, the priests and rabbi’s, scribes and Pharisees had to look through an appropriate scroll for a passage identified by the first several words contained in it.

Now, keep in mind, Christ was a rabbi, a Jewish teacher, and a great one at that – “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matthew 7:29 KJV) That authority almost certainly manifest itself in the use of a literary device commonly used by Jewish rabbis known as remez2, in which the rabbi would quote the first words of a Hebrew scripture fully expecting his listeners to know the content of the passage to the point, really, where the students recited the rest of the passage.

My El! My El! Why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1 Concordant Version)

The first identifying words of the 22nd Psalm were certainly known to the Pharisees and other doctors of the law that were standing ignorantly at the foot of Mount Calvary watching as the Messiah was crucified. As a matter of fact, those religious leaders could quote the entire Psalm while standing there at the bottom of that hill and most assuredly did in their minds when they heard Christ cry out. So, what did they remember about that Psalm?

  • My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my [moaning]? (v 1)
  • All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, he trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. (v 7-8)
  • I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: (v 14)
  • My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; (v 15)
  • For [enemies] have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. (v 16)
  • They part my garments among them and cast lots upon my [clothing]. (v 18)
  • All they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. (v 29)

Picture what is happening! The scribes and Pharisees are watching very smugly from the bottom of the hill as Christ hangs in agony on the cross crying out the identifying words to a Psalm they knew by heart. The things that are happening all around them, right down to their very own words, were recorded in this Psalm as much as 950 years prior. They are living the prophecy and I’ll bet they knew it!

Wow!! Jesus was teaching, right to the very end.

1I relied heavily on Bryan Threlkeld, Eloi! Eloi! Lama Sabachthani?, an article appearing on the Grace Evangelical Society website https://faithalone.org/grace-in-focus-articles/eloi-eloi-lama-sabachthani/ (accessed on 4/30/2023)

2Remez, from a discussion on the website, That the World May Know with Vander Laan, https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/remez, (accessed 5/1/2023)