This was originally published July 19, 2010 on Facebook as a Note. But I publish it here, to help tell about my faith journey.
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[This note is in response to a Friend’s question on a Facebook post.]
This discussion about Matthew 27.46 (NIV) and the meaning of “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” can get quite lengthy, so I am going to try and hit the highlights. Because I am offering only “highlights” some details, which might be needed, are not given; but more information can be found in these books:
This discussion is about Matthew 27.46 (KJV), “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Most non-Aramaic Speaking Western Bible Translations have Jesus in this Matthew verse quoting Psalm 22.1 (KJV), “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Lamsa’s Aramaic Interpretation
George Lamsa’s 1933 Translation of the Holy Bible From The Ancient Eastern Texts: Aramaic Of The Peshitta has a different reading on Matthew 27.46, “Eli, Eli, lmana shabachthani! which means, My God, my God, for this I was kept!*” Notice it has an * mark, this is vitally important.
Consider that it seems that most disciples seem to interpret that God “leaves” Jesus on the cross forsaking him because God cannot be in the presence of sin, or some similar argument. What ever one believes on that issue is actually of little importance because Lamsa is conveying the idea that the cross was Jesus’ destiny.
Consider for a moment that Jesus knew his destiny was the cross, this is known by Matthew 16.21, 17.22-23, and 20.17-19 (NIV). One instance of him telling his disciples would be enough proof that Jesus knew his destiny was the cross, but with three instances it proves that he knew exactly his purpose, and his purpose was to die for people’s sins.
Lamsa’s Book Idioms of the Bible Explained and A Key to the Original Gospels pages 102-104, says, in part: [see Note for *]
“All versions of the Gospels* have retained these words in the original tongue and given them a different meaning. Matthew, according to [the] Eastern [Bible] version, does not translate them [the words: Eli, Eli, lmana shabachthani], because he [Matthew] wrote to the people who had seen Jesus and heard Him preaching. It also seems probable that the later writers did not agree on its exact meaning when they translated them into Greek. This term even at present* is only used by the Aramaic-speaking people in Assyria, the same language which the Galileans spoke at the time of our Lord [Jesus]. This phrase in Aramaic means, “My God, my God, for this I was kept. (this was my destiny-I was born for this).”
It seems that Lamsa is saying that Jesus’ entire purpose for existence, thus his “Eli” moment on the cross was not a plea for help because of abandonment, but a proclamation of purpose, “This is why I lived!”
More information about this passage is found in the commentary, Aramaic Light on the Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Teachings of Jesus from the Aramaic and Unchanged Near Eastern Customs by Rocco A. Errico and George M. Lamsa, on pages 346-352. The closing thoughts in that section are:
“The simple truth is that God never forsakes anyone, at any time, anywhere! He is with the righteous and the sinner. God is with everyone in joy, pain, suffering and sorrow. God’s power and presence are ever working to guide all humanity into paths of compassion, harmony, and understanding.”
Aramaic English NT
The Aramaic English New Testament (AENT), “The Peshitta English Aramaic Critical Edition, A Compilation, Annotation and Translation of the Eastern Original Aramaic New Testament Peshitta Text” has footnotes about Matthew 27.46. That translation is, “Why have you spared me?” In the closing thoughts of the Matthew 27.46 footnote on page 86 is:
“Perhaps the reason Y’shua [Jesus] says, ‘why are you sparing me’ is because he has proven his commitment by laying down his life and has already endured about six hours of the execution! So, it’s not a matter of being ‘forsaken’ but that he literally means, ‘Father, I’m ready, why can’t we finish this!”
This Aramaic English NT also has a two-page appendix with information about Matthew 27.46.
Can God Forsake?
Let’s say for a moment that Lamsa and the AENT are wrong. In such a case, go back to “God forsaking Jesus”. Consider Hebrews 13.5 (KJV),
“…for the LORD [YHWH, Jehovah] himself has said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
The writer of Hebrews is quoting from Deuteronomy 31.6 (KJV),
“…for it is the LORD [YHWH, Jehovah] your God who goes with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you.”
Just from these passages alone, I would have to claim that if God left (as in forsook) Jesus on the cross, at the moment that Jesus is the most faithful, then God would prove Himself a liar. Titus 1.2 (NIV) says that God cannot lie; and Hebrews 6.18 (NIV) says that it is impossible for God to lie; therefore God did not forsake Jesus. God, because of His essence, will not be found faithless to something that He promised (cf. Deuteronomy 31.6); Period.
[*NOTE – this simply a note about the probability of the date being somewhere around 1933 or the original writing and publication date of the book “Idioms..Original Gospels”, this note is not to be connected, in any way wit Lamsa’s “*” in his translation of Matthew 27.46]
Blessings and Shalom
Addendum, Added Friday, July 20, 2010
This is being added because of a language comment in the original [Facebook] post. Seth made a good point about the intentions of the Greek. I am in no way arguing linguistics with Seth because I simply am not a scholar in that area. I, however, would like to point out that Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani is either Hebrew or Aramaic.
I want to demonstrate a little bit of what is going on during the translation. The original Hebrew/Aramaic thought was written within the Greek text to look something like:
“Eli, Eli, …” [which is to mean] “θεε μου, θεε μου”
So here is what is happening. The Hebrew/Aramaic was placed within the Greek to reveal that Yeshua (Jesus) was speaking a non-Greek language, but the Greek text gave an “in-line” Greek translation was given of the Hebrew/Aramaic. This is somewhat similar to picking up and reading an Interlinear Bible.
The following Greek is from the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament:
θεε2316 N-VSM μου3450 P-1GS θεε2316 N-VSM μου3450 P-1GS
2316 and 3450 are the Strong’s Numbers
N-VSM and P-1GS represent declension information, which gives specifics of the Greek words
θεε is the Vocative Noun Format for the Greek word θεός (theos). Vocative simply means that Jesus is addressing his statement to “Eli” (translated into Greek as θεε, then into English as god), in this case we know that regardless of language, Jesus is referring to YHWH. To just make us aware that this language thing is more complicated, I just want us to be aware that Hebrew/Aramaic Eli itself is a variation of the Hebrew/Aramaic word El; this too has linguistic importance, but we will abstain from that for now.
But when reading our English Translation we must realize that there are three languages present:
1. The Hebrew/Aramaic statement from Jesus
2. The Greek Translation
3. The English Translation
So it could be seen like this:
1. “Eli, Eli, …”
2. “θεε μου, θεε μου, …”
3. “God of me, God of me, …”
The Third Step has the prepositional phrase of me rephrased into the first-person, possessive, pronoun my. In this instance, whether of me or my each have Jesus referring to his God. But we, as English speakers, prefer my God as opposed to God of me even though those phrases are saying essentially the same thing.
Hope that helps some.
Again, Blessings and Shalom.