My God, why hast thou forsaken me?
The King James Version of the New Testament says:
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?
Matthew 27:46, King James Version
However, the translation "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
just doesn't seem tell the whole story.
Jesus seems to have lived every moment totally immersed in God's Divine
Presence, and according to the Gospels seems to have been fully aware of the
entire plot that would eventually lead to his crucifixion. He could have run
away before the soldiers came to get him, but he apparently chose not to resist,
and went along with the whole plan without hesitation or self-pity.
So, perhaps the King James translation has missed the point of this
quotation. Could there be an alternative translation that offers some new
insight into this remarkable situation?
Since translation is more of an art than a science, it is often useful to
consider other translations and to also look at the ancient roots of the
words. Here are two translations from Aramaic, which was probably the
language that Jesus spoke:
And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud
voice and said, Eli, Eli, lmana shabachthani! which means, My God, my God,
for this I was kept!
Matthew 27:46, translated by George Lamsa
And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice
and said, "God, God, why have you spared me?"
Matthew 27:46, translated by LWM
Those translations from the Aramaic, while controversial and strikingly
different from the King James Version, seem to be much more in accord with
the principles and ministry of Jesus' life, since Jesus taught us to rise
above the narrow confines of self-centeredness and self-pity in order that
we may live every moment of our lives loving God and loving one another.
For some further insight into interpreting the words of Matthew, here is a
brief summary of a rather lengthy article by Rev. Wayne Clapp who
suggests that either the Greek or the Aramaic could be interpreted in an
There is probably no scripture more misunderstood than Jesus’ cry from the
cross, "My God. My God. Why hast thou forsaken me?" Did Jesus Christ really
utter these words? Would Jesus have accused his heavenly Father of such an
act of desertion? Did God really abandon His only begotten son as he was
dying on the cross?
The difficulty with Matthew 26:47 is due to an error in translation.
"Forsaken" is the wrong choice for the translation in this verse.
"Eli" means "my God." Lama, or lemana means "why" or "for what purpose"
and always introduces a question. It occurs 53 times in the Aramaic-English
Interlinear New Testament (#1584) and it is translated "why" 45 times,
"what" 5 times, and "for what purpose" 3 times. "Sabachthani" comes from
sebaq meaning to leave, forgive, allow, reserve, or spare.
The Greek word translated forsaken,
can mean to leave
in the sense of forsaking and abandoning, or to leave in the sense of
sparing or allowing to remain. The context determines the meaning.
by Rev Wayne Clapp
Regardless of whether we read the Greek or the Aramaic, the appropriate
translation will depend upon one's own point of view. That is, would Jesus have felt
forsaken as customarily depicted in the King James translation, or was he fully
aware that a Divine plan was being fulfilled by his death? Was it a time of
anxiety and isolation or just another day at the office?
It is very interesting to note that the Greek text of Matthew
attempts to preserve the original words of Jesus. For some reason,
there was a deliberate decision to preserve the only these few original
of Jesus. Why all the attention to these words?
Even more intriguing is the fact that in the Greek text, these words
have been first transliterated into Greek phonetics and then followed with the
exact same phrase translated into Greek. Why did the Greeks record this passage
in both Aramaic and Greek? Perhaps to assure that someday the correct
translation would be fully understood despite the potentially confusing
translation of Jesus' words into Greek?
Some say that Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22, however the Hebrew words
in Psalm 22:1 are somewhat different from the words in Matthew 27:46, yet as we read the entire Psalm, it becomes apparent that the
goal of this seemingly dreary Psalm is not to wallow in self-pity, but it is
intended to help us to rise far above our own self-centered
despair and focus our attention on the eternal wonder and glory
of the Divine Presence.
So, if in fact Jesus' words were an echo
of this Psalm, perhaps Jesus was proclaiming that he, just as
the psalmist, had overcome his self-pity and was living every
moment in the glory of God.
The crux of this matter is: Was Jesus expressing self-pity?
or was he giving us a greater message?
To me the answer is clear... Jesus knew that he was being
betrayed, and could have easily gone into hiding rather than
being captured, but he did not. Rather than run or hide, Jesus
went peacefully and lovingly into the hands of his captors
knowing that he would be crucified.
Jesus knew exactly what was
happening. He knew of his impending death. He could have escaped
to avoid capture, but he did not run away. In fact, he stayed
and even threw a big dinner party to celebrate the occasion.
Clearly, Jesus chose to go along with whole plan, knowing full
well that he was to be crucified. Does that sound like someone
who would feel forsaken?
On the contrary, Jesus showed us that he would not be distracted from
his ministry of Love where the greatest of principles is to rise above
one's own self-centered concerns in order to "Love the Lord thy God with
all thy heart..." (Luke 10:27).
Jesus told us, and showed us, that we must rise above our
self-centered concerns such as selfishness and self-pity. Jesus told us:
"No servant can serve two masters". (Luke 16:9-13)
That is one of the great messages of the crucifixion. Self-centered
concerns such as possessions and money will all come and go, they can
never offer any lasting happiness, only the Divine Presence of God
offers everlasting peace and joy.
Those who choose to put their ego, their body, or their possessions above
God will indeed suffer and cry in self-pity and self-made
torment, while those who put God above themselves will see the
glory of God everywhere and will thereby discover both true love and
When one is able to see the works of God in life, another
world is opened before one; then a man does not look at the
world as everybody else does, for he begins to see not only
the machine going on but the engineer standing by its side,
making the machine work. This offers a still greater
interest, the greatest interest in life. If one were to be
flayed or crucified one would not mind, for one rises above
all pain and suffering, and one feels it worthwhile to be
living and looking at this phenomenon that gives one in
one's lifetime the proof of the existence of God.
from The Sufi Message of
Hazrat Inayat Khan, Volume XI, Nature
On that day of crucifixion, while showing all of mankind an example
of selfless action, confident of his eternal life, Jesus cried out in joy,
excitedly wondering what God would do with him next, wondering what wondrous
adventure God had in mind for him next, saying:
My God, My God, for what am I being set free?
which might be paraphrased as:
My Sweet Lord, what great works will we do next?
And most importantly, these inspiring words are not merely a comment from 2000
years ago, but if we are courageous enough these words are guidance for each of
us today, encouraging us to fearlessly give whatever we have for the glory of God, eager to see how God's plan will unfold,
and confident that God's plan will be far more marvelous than anything we could have