If Jesus was God, why would He cry out Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
- If Jesus was God why would He cry out `My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'
"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani" is a popular passage from the Bible which is written in Mathew 27:46: "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (KJV)
While this passage is considered as the most sentimental moment of the crucifixion and passion of Christ by the followers of Christ, for non-Christians, this passage raise the question on Jesus's divinity. Both Jews and Muslims ask the same question; if Jesus was God why would he say that "my God, why hast thou forsaken me". For Christians, Jesus was God but was also one of the triune God in which, Father, Son and Holy Spirit co-existed and thus do not raise any question on his divinity. However, based on this passage, some early Christians even came to the conclusion that the divinity of Jesus Christ was left during the death of Christ and only his humanity was suffered! Since all these arguments based on the above passage attacks the core of the Orthodox Christian faith, it is worth analyzing what Jesus was saying on the cross during the passion.
While answering to the non Christians about this question, most Christians forget an important aspect of this passage. If we analyze the whole passage, we can see why Jesus said Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani. It says, at the `ninth hour' he cried out with a loud voice. There should be a reason why the author specifies the time when Jesus said these words. The ninth hour was the time for evening prayer for Jews. As Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10), 3rd hour, 6th hour and 9th hour marked the times for daily prayers. We can see that the New Testament church also observed these hours of prayers (Acts 3:1). If it was 9th hour and is the time for prayer what would a priest do? The answer is that he would start a prayer! Jesus was a high priest and also was the lamb for the great sacrifice. The priesthood of Jesus Christ is well explained in the Bible by the author of the book Hebrews (Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 5:10). Every priests (and also laymen) pray during the hours of prayers. If it was the time for prayer, then Jesus also would have prayed. The traditional prayers in the Jewish temple and by all the Jews include reading from Psalms which is continued even today in synagogues (and also in all the Orthodox Churches). In fact, Psalms are written prayers written by many authors including David, the King. So it is natural to recite the Psalms as prayers during the hours of prayers. At this particular hour of prayer, that is the ninth hour, Jesus also chose to recite from the Psalms. Psalms 22 starts with the following sentences: (Psalms 22:1) "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" which if written in Aramaic would read "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani". So by uttering these words, Jesus was starting a prayer as high priest! Most likely Jesus (probably in mind) and those who stood near him would have uttered the rest of the whole Psalms 22 as prayer when Jesus started Psalms 22 (this is similar to our priests starting the first sentence of a prayer, to be followed by all others in the congregation/Church).
It is also worth considering why Jesus chose to pray from Psalms 22 during this particular event (during the passion/crucifixion). The importance can be seen if we read the whole chapter of Psalms 22. It includes prophecy about passion of Christ! This Psalms foretold and described the passion of Messiah (Christ) many years before Jesus Christ. Let us look at some of the passages from Psalms 22 here:
1. Psalms 22: 7 "All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads"
Jesus was mocked by those around him: Luke 22:63 "And the men that held Jesus mocked him, and struck him"
2. Psalms 22: 8 "He trusts in the LORD," they say "let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him."
The mob surrounding there said, if you are God come down from the cross (Matthew 27:40) "and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!"
3. Psalms 22: 15 "My mouth is dried up like a potsherd and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death."
Jesus was thirsty (John 19:28) "After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said, I thirst"
4. Psalms 22: 18 "They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment"
The soldiers divided his cloths (Matthew 27:35) "When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots"
So in brief, the passage `My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' refers to the prayer (from Psalms) Jesus recited on the cross and thus can't be used to question his divinity.
Sinu P. John, PhD
Member ID: 076
- Hello Sinu,
My Observation is as follows:
Though Jesus Christ is LORD, He came in to the midst of us and lived with us a normal human being. He suffered all the pain in his flesh being crucified as a complete man. He embraced the sufferings and death as a human.
Probably, Our LORD might have cried out for two reasons, (i) Because of his pain on his flesh (ii) Because of his creation and the lost souls.
Let us honour our LORD and do our best not to make him cry again for us.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Generally, it has been accepted that He was quoting the scriptures. In so doing, He validated the prophetic nature of them as well as their use in various prayers and other services of tradition. However, there are many layers to the messages and teachings in the scriptures.
Why He quoted that particular scripture is the content of many writings of the Holy Church Fathers. I recommend people find the scriptures and
contemplate the significance of His choice - and then read the Fathers to get some of the apostolic teaching through the first centuries of the Holy Church. This might be a good exercise to find church resources. I would love to read what people find.
Pray for me, a servant
Rev Fr. John Brian
Holy Transfiguration Mission
Madison, Wisconsin USA