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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani

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This cry of Jesus on the cross, traditionally known as the “fourth word from the cross” means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ; Mark 15:34 ). It is a quotation from Psalm 22:1 . The Markan form, Eloi , is closer to Aramaic than Matthew's more Hebraic Eli . Both the evangelists translated the quotation into Greek for their readers.

Scholars are uncertain whether Jesus spoke these words in Hebrew or Aramaic. If He spoke in Hebrew it would more readily explain the crowd's confusion of “my God” with “Elijah,” since the terms sound more nearly alike in Hebrew than in Aramaic.

This saying of Jesus from the cross strikes a dissonant chord for some Christians, because it seems to indicate that Jesus felt forsaken by the Father. There are several ways to consider the meaning of this passage in reverent faith. It is possible to interpret these words as a beautiful testimony to Jesus' love of His Bible, the Old Testament, and His quoting of it in this hour of darkest crisis. In this case, such verses in Psalm 22:1 as 5,7, 8,12, 14, and 18 indicate that Jesus sees Himself and His fate in this Psalm. However, since the Gospels record only the first verse of the Psalm and we do not know whether Jesus quoted the entire Psalm, this view may run the risk of not taking the phrase at face value.

Another view sees this cry as indicating a genuine forsaking of Jesus by the Father, a forsaking which was necessary for our redemption. This view leads some to questions about the nature of the godhead and theories of atonement which we cannot address in this brief discussion. Perhaps the most serious difficulty of this view is that it raises the question of whether the idea of God the Father turning His back on the obedient Son is consistent with the general biblical teaching of the steadfastness and faithfulness of God. Would He desert a trusting child in such an hour?

A view which takes into consideration the full humanity—as well as full divinity—of Jesus seems most helpful. Obviously Jesus felt deserted as He bore the burden of human sin and suffered the agony of crucifixion. This feeling of His death as a “ransom for many” may, indeed, have obscured for a time His feeling of closeness with the Father, so that even in dying He was tempted as we are. Rather than forsaking the Father in that moment, He cried out to Him in prayer.

Earl Dans


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/e/eli-eli-lama-sabachthani.html. 1991.

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