Matthew 27:46 – “My God, My God….huh?”

“And about the Ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
[Matthew 27:46, New King James Version]

I’ve encountered some interesting interpretations of this verse from various Christian Syriacists over the years. What follows are two of their interpretations and my responses.

1. Did Jesus say “My God, My God permit me (to die)”?

Theory expounded:
And my studies reveal that he didn't say, "my el, my el, why have you forsaken me?" If you'll compare Shem Tob Hebrew Gospel of Matthew with Ps. 22:1, it has the same exact thing in the Hebrew. The meaning is: Permit me to die or permit me to be loosened, i.e., he was asking to die now. The reason that the NT and the OT is translated that way, is because of one word------TRADITION!!! It's a traditional translation. Yahushua the messiah had to become a fleshly man, continuing to not sin, and suffer death in these bodies to become perfected. This was foreknown from the foundation of the world. And because he succeeded, he can now pass on the eternal inheritance because he's the testator of the covenant will In Heb. 9:16f, it states: "For where there is a diatheke (covenant will) it is necessary for the death of the testator to come about. For a covenant will is affirmed upon death, since in no way is it of force when the testator is living." Yahushua the messiah is the testator, who is heir of all things!

My Response:
Unfortunately, your theory casts all manuscript, historical, and linguistic data right out the window so you can twist the text’s arm into saying what you want it to say to fit a particular theological doctrine. This has been the reason the Biblical text has been carved like a slab of fatty lamb for centuries by “editors”.Jesus was asking to die? If you are saying the word “shabaqtanî” means “permit me” then please do throw your lexicon in the trash. More damage has been done by lexicon thumpers than any other arm-chair linguists simply because they always ignore the grammatical context of the words they are looking up.

The sentence is “l’mâ shabaqtanî” which is broken down as:

l’mâ – compound of lamed and mim/alef which literally means “for what”.

Shabaqta – you did ‘shabaq’anî (suff.) – to me.

So if you are saying “shabaq” means “permit me” then the sentence becomes “For what have you permitted me?” Does that make any sense? No it doesn’t.

The word “shabaq” has many meanings and you can argue about the variant meanings until you are blue in the face. This will never take you over the fact that grammatically not a single one of those “many meanings” fits the “traditional” interpretation of this sentence. Not one. I’ve heard some say that all sin was on Christ at that time so the Father was forced to turn his face away. Nice try, but totally speculative and interpolative.

The fact remains that according to the earliest and most reliable records we have Christ crying out with a strikingly loud voice: “Alâhî, Alâhî, l’mâ shabaqtanî”. If you can find a single fragment or manuscript that deletes the inquisitive article “l’mâ” (“for what?”) then I will literally print this writing of mine and eat it 😉 The key is not “shabaq” the key is the fact that he asked “l’mâ?” (“for what?”).

I try my utmost to respect people’s religious beliefs, but I really dislike it when people mess with historical artifacts and data out of some sort of desperate zeal to justify their faith to themselves.

2. George Lamsa states in “Gospel Light” that the verse is “My God, My God, for this I was kept”

My Response:
The whole grammatical structure of “shabaqtani” suggests: “you have done <shabaq> to me”.

Shabaq can mean to “forgive” in the context of forsaking the grievance one has against another. This is how it is used etymologically in Aramaic. It can also mean to “permit”, but this is in the context of forsaking that which would prevent what was permitted. Thus, in every instance the essence of the word is to leave or forsake something. It also means to “release”.

Even if he were to try to say shabaq is to “preserve”, the initial lamed means “for” and mim/alef means “what”. Then you are left with absolutely no way to escape “My God, My God, for what have you preserved me?” The phrase “l’mâ” does not mean “for this”. The word “this” is rendered “hadea” and/or other related derivatives of he/nûn. Yet, even for the sake of argument if we accept that “l’mâ” can mean “for this” in the context of 1st century Old Judean Gallilean Aramaic, as it does in some later Semitic languages such as Arabic, then you are let with even more doctrinal difficulties than you had to begin with.

So let us arbitrarily apply the various meanings of shabaq to this verse:

1. “My God, My God, for what have You permitted me?”

What was he permitted to do that surprised him that he didn’t know about before?

2. “My God, My God, for what have You preserved me?”

Christ was preserved from dying on the cross? Isn’t his literal death and blood atonement for mankind’s sins a central theme in Christian dogma?

3. “My God, My God, for what did You release me?”

Christ was released from the crucifixion?

This would lead to some very controversial suggestions dogmatically a la “Did Christ survive?”

It’s in the Chrisitans’ best interest to stick to “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me”, even though that poses even further questions to those who would say Christ is one and the same as the Father. However, those who say he was the blessed Messiah of Israel and not one and the same as God might be satisfied.

Nonetheless, trying to reinvent the wheel gets you into some trouble dogmatically.


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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Please permit me to give you my personal and literal Arabic translation of this phrase, which is the same as in the Aramaic. The verb in question is defined at the beginning of the first entry under the root s-b-q in The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Arabic and can mean, “to outdistance s.o.,” to leave behind s.o.,” or “to turn spontaneously, instinctively, without knowing why from s.o.”

    elohi, elohi, lama shabaqtani (Aramaic) God-my, God-my, for-what forsook-you-me

    ilahi, ilahi, limaatha sabaqt-ani
    God-my, God-my, for-what forsook-you-me

    “sibaaq” means “a race” in Arabic. I could, therefore, translate the verb in question as meaning “My God! My God! Why did you turn suddenly and race away from me?”

  2. For a similar study of Apostle Thomas in the Gospel w.s.r.t. My Lord and My God cf. The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India Ed. George Menachery, Vol. 2, 1973, Article by Dr. Mathew Vellanickal

  3. Jerry, to interpret Biblical Aramaic with an Arabic lexicon is just as futile as interpreting the Qur’an with a Syriac lexicon *cough*..Christoph Luxenberg..*cough* 😉

    Though, later Arabic etymological descendants of Aramaic etymons may have hints of their original root meanings, the interpretive taint they undergo through the ages renders them outright inadmissible as an evidence regarding the earlier Aramaic etymon’s actual meaning. Whew, that was a run-on and a half.

  4. I believe the issue can be discussed better if we know the exact Aramaic root of the word “Shabaqtani”. So, just as you gave the three letters of “lama” (lamed, mim, and alef) please give us the letters of the word “Shabaqtani” or just the verb “Shabaqa”. My mother language is Arabic and I beleive I can help. But I am a little confused because sometimes the word is written “sabachtani” and other times it is “shabaqtani” and there is way big difference.. you can go from east to west if one consonant is changed. The “ba” sound in the middle seems to be there in all versions of the word, but the other two sounds (beginning and ending) change from one version to the other.

    There are only two possible alternates of the beginning consonant: either “sheen” (Arabic “ش”), or “seen” (Arabic “س”)
    For the ending consonant, a number of alternatives can be considered:
    a) “qaf” (Arabic “ق”),
    b) “kha” (Arabic “خ”),
    c) “ha” (Arabic “ح” — don’t confuse with “هـ”). The “ha” might seem an unlikely option at first, but it is a very valid one since the word usually is written “sabachtani” where the “ch” here can equally be referring to either “خ” or “ح” especially since the Greek tongue can not distinguish the two.
    I will also include a forth alternative
    d) the sound “k” (Arabic “ك”) although it is very unlikely because if it were a possibility it would have been the only possibility, because it can not be confused and would be clearly written with the letter “K” and won’t leave any room for speculation.

    So, we now can expect the following possible roots:
    1) seen-ba-kha … sabakhtani سبختني
    2) seen-ba-ha … sabahtani سبحتني
    3) seen-ba-qa … sabaqtani سبقتني
    4) seen-ba-ka … sabaktani سبكتني
    5) sheen-ba-kha … shabakhtani شبختني
    6) sheen-ba-ha …. shabahtani شبحتني
    7) sheen-ba-qa … shabaqtani شبقتني
    8) sheen-ba-ka … shabaktani شبكتني

    From my knowledge in Arabic I can give the meaning of only the following candidate combinations:
    2) sabahtani = you swam me (verb: to swim)
    3) sabaqtani = you outran me, or got there before me
    4) sabaktani = you made me into a sabeeka (metal alloy)
    6) shabahtani = you hung me on a stick, a pole, or a wall
    8) shabaktani = you hooked me up

    Finally, to Said I must exclaim, if we don’t turn to Arabic or Hebrew for help in interpreting an Aramaic word, what should we turn to? Chineese?!!!

  5. In working on this text I stumbled across your article. You do give a fairly good breakdown of the problems that such new meanings bring. Of interest, especially to the lexicon thumpers, may at least be to look at how Matthew himself translates the phrase into Greek: egkataleipes̄. This does have the notion (especially when dealing with a corpse… or in this case a near corpse) abandonment/desertion/forsaking… leaving to rot. It also is not entirely inappropriate then to look at how Jerome treats this in the Vulgate: Heli Heli lema sabacthani hoc est Deus meus Deus meus ut quid dereliquisti me. What ever sense that fourth word has, Matthew (whom I admit was probably more knowledgeable of the Hebrew language than myself) and then Jerome, both understand Christ’s words to be as we currently translate: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

  6. To “Abduhu” who states:

    “Finally, to Said I must exclaim, if we don’t turn to Arabic or Hebrew for help in interpreting an Aramaic word, what should we turn to? Chineese?!!!”

    I am not aware of any “Chineese” language. Perhaps, you meant Chinese.

    To answer your question: “..if we don’t turn to Arabic or Hebrew for help in interpreting an Aramaic word, what should we turn to?”

    You turn to an Aramaic Lexicon to understand an Aramaic word. Not Arabic. Not “Chineese” (sic). We’re talking about Old Judean Western Galilean Aramaic.

    To turn to Arabic which is a Nabatean offspring to understand Western Aramaic of the 1st century CE is just plain ridiculous to put it as politely as possible.

  7. mlorfeld, your hypotheses rest upon the assumption that Matthew wrote the Gospel attributed to him, or that there even was a disciple named “Mattiyahu” or “Mattai”. Both assumptions are severely lacking of any historical evidence. Historians don’t even know who he was or what Hebrew name the Greek “Matthaios” even referred to.

  8. in conclusion, with my limited knowledge, was jesus scared opf death, just like i will cried to to God in distress?

  9. I agree with lamsa on saying this is what i was preserved. Not that he was preserved from death but he was presee for death and atonement for our sins.

    It would definitely make way more sense to say. This is what i have been destined for instead of saying why has thou forsaken me. What? God has a split bipolar personality all of a sudden? He was God yet abandoned himself in sin?

  10. I have read many articles about what did Jesus say when he said Eli Eli lama sabachthani. It is obvious that no one in this century have a clue as to what he said, or the interpretation of what he said. what he said was clear.”Eli Eli lama sabachthani” this is what he said, the interpretation of what he said isn’t clear. If it was clear there would be no need to write down what he said and then try to interpret his words. Why not just translate these words into our language, like they translated all the other words that Jesus spoke into our language, and not right the exact words that he spoke. I’m not a bible scholar, nor am I well versed in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, but I don’t believe Jesus ask God “why have you forsaken me” if one would look closely, that statement is in the form of a question. And if God would’ve forsaken Jesus, Jesus why

  11. I am going way out in left field and pose this question: Why do we even think that Jesus was speaking to His Father when he uttered these words? When He spoke to His Father, He called Him “Father”, not “my God”. The first thing He said on the cross was “Father forgive them—“. The last thing He said was “Father into thy hands I commend My spirit”. How could His Father forsake Him when Jesus said that His Father was with Him for He always did the things that pleased His Father. Did Christ going to the cross and dying not please the Father? What did Jesus ever do that was not pleasing to His Father? If His Father then forsook Him, Jesus would be a liar. If Jesus was a liar, then He would be a sinner and could not die to save us.

    The bible tells us that there are many gods and lords both in heaven and in earth. Doesn’t it make more sense then that Jesus was speaking to a “God” that actually forsook Him than to His Father who was in Him reconciling the world unto Himself?

  12. Based on what is written in the Syriac Peshitta, it seems “relatively” clear to me what was said in Matthew 27:46:

    אִיל אִיל למָנָא שבַקתָּני

    -iyl -iyl, l:mau:nau- sh:baq`tau:ny

    Iyl Iyl, to-what-this thou-relinquish-me?

    It is a rhetorical question, in my opinion. If I were to paraphrase it differently, I might opine that he is kind of saying:

    El El, why do you leave me here to die like this?

    We know from context that the bystanders had difficulty understanding his words on the cross, so we should not be surprised that Matthew literally records the high tone voice of “iyl iyl”, though one can suspect that he was actually calling out to “El”; a short Hebrew form for God.

    If there is a word that might be a substitute for “relinquish”, it may be “dismiss”. These are the only two words I know of that can fit the bill for Sh-B-Q on a consistent basis. And you don’t have to look very far to find the next usage of Sh-B-Q; in Matthew 27:50:

    Yeshua again yelled in a high voice, and relinquished his spirit.

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