Comments on Matthew 27:46,
"Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?"
The purpose of this article is to provide some thoughts addressing the teaching of some regarding Matthew 27:46 (see also, Mark 15:34):
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama, sabaachthani?" that is to say, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Matthew 27:46
As is already well known, many view and believe this passage to show that Jesus was "forsaken", because He took upon Himself, literally, all the sins of man and that the Supreme and Just God could not look upon Him; that is, that God, therefore, turned His back, so to speak, on Jesus and divine fellowship was broken. This was the prevalent teaching in the denominational church in which I grew up and is still believed and taught by my relatives in that denomination. Recently, this view of this passage was also expressed to me by one of my co-workers, a disciple in a latter day revelation based religious movement.
What I have to say below about the previously mentioned view of Matthew 27:46 is in response to this prevalent teaching on the passage. As one would expect with limitations of time and limitations of one's own abilities, providing a complete or fully satisfactory response on all aspects of this teaching on this passage is not likely. I pray, however, that these thoughts will be worthy of the reader's further reflection and consideration as one seeks to know the truth on this passage. I humbly offer these comments and pray that clarification and eternal good may develop from them.
To begin, I would point out that Matthew 27:46 is a quote of the first verse of Psalm 22. The familiar saying of Jesus on the cross as recorded in John 19:20, "It is finished", is actually a quote taken from the last verse (vs. 31) of Psalm 22. It seems reasonable that Jesus invoked and appropriated the entire chapter of Psalm 22 as being applicable to that scene of the final hours of the cross. Psalm 22 is, of course, a Messianic prophesy well known to the Jewish mind of Jesus' day and, therefore, known and recognizable to those Jews who were gathered around the cross at the final hours of this terrible crucifixion event.
In light of the above noted context, my comments for the reader's consideration are as follows:
What would be the setting and context for Jesus appropriating to Himself and quoting this Psalm? Surely, it would include the terrible mistreatment and mockery and rejection expressed in Matthew 27: 19-44. The context (Matthew 27:19-44) of affliction and distress on this occasion for Jesus now on the cross would correspond to the contextual setting of David's great distress and David's powerful, heartfelt prayer for deliverance as expressed to God in Psalm 22.
I believe a valid exegesis of Matthew 27: 46 would have to be one that is first consistent with a valid exegesis of Psalm 22:1. If not, then on what basis would one give the Matthew 27:46 passage context and begin to give it meaning if one has detached the Matthew passage from its original significance? The point of this question for us is to bring us to appreciate that David did not conclude in his prayer of Psalm 22 that God had in reality 'forsaken' him; though it would / might would appear that way to man (i.e., all his enemies and detractors and every spiritually shallow- minded, casually observing outsider) who did not know the God of Israel that David knew.
The student of this Psalm should first take note of David's recollection of the record of God's mighty works in Israel as expressed in Psalm 22:4-5 that:
- .."our fathers trusted thee".. "and you delivered them"..
- .. "They cried unto thee, and were delivered."..
- .."they trusted thee and were not confounded."
The student of this Psalm should further take note of David's faith, courage, and trust throughout this prayer that God would in fact deliver him. Also, take note of the contrast - between what one on the surface might think or normally expect from what was happening to him (and note, too, how terrible and stressful these things were to him) as recorded in Psalm 22:6-18 and with how he actually expected it to finally turn out or to be. Notice:
- (vs. 19) "O Lord , my strength"
- (vs. 19) " haste thou to help me"
- (vs. 20) " Deliver my soul, my darling from the...dog"
- (vs. 21) "Save me" ... "for thou hast heard me"
- (vs. 22) " I will declare thy name..." "in the... congregation will I praise thee." [Note: This passage was quoted in Hebrews 2:12. Clearly, the Psalmist expected to yet "declare" and "praise"! Does this sound like a being who knows he is 'forsaken'?]
- (vs. 24) "For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard." Reading this verse and rereading it, I think we find this verse on its face is a powerful refutation of the usual views of Matthew 27: 46 to even the thought that God would 'hide his face' from Jesus!!
- (vs. 31) "that God had done this" corresponds to the final utterance of Jesus on the cross (John 19:30) when He said, "It is finished." "That God had done this" and "it is finished" are translatable between Hebrew and Greek as the same phrase. Psalm 22:31c (i.e., "That God had done this"), therefore, tells us this entire activity of the crucifixion and its appearance to the world as a worldly triumph was in fact prophesied to be a 'finished' ( or 'done' or 'completed') work of God through Jesus (see also John 19: 28 .."accomplished"..KJV) and that His part in that work was to be "counted unto the Lord for His generations" (22:30).. "unto a people that shall be born" (22:31). [Question: Does this not seem to parallel many of the thoughts and words of I Corinthians 1:17-31?].
To arbitrarily constrain Matthew 27: 46 to mean 'a turning of the back type of forsaking', because the Father could not look upon the Son as He supposedly became literally sin, would have to contradict Heb. 13:5-6. Which, by the way, is the expression of a recurring theme of promise throughout the Old Testament, including Psalm 22 and Isaiah 49:15, that God never forsook his faithful servants or His nation when they were faithful to Him. That was His committed promise:
"For He ('He, Himself '- some translations) hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say the Lord is my helper and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." (Hebrews 13:5-6)
Please note the very character of God is tied up in this verse and His promise:
- Is He able? Will He perform?
- What has He promised? Does He keep His promises?
- Isn't the Bible phrase about God that "God is faithful" timeless?
The Bible has always taught that the consequences of one's sins may have bearing on others, even innocent people. For example, the 'drunk's' children often suffer because of a father that is a wastrel and profligate. But, the Bible, clearly teaches per Ezekiel 18 that the children do not bear the sins of the fathers - "the soul that sinneth, it shall die". If this passage in Ezekiel teaches us anything, it teaches us the eternal principle that 'Sin guilt is not transferable' - nor by the same token, neither is righteousness transferable. Should one conclude that 'sin guilt' is transferable, then consistency of logic (and Calvinists seem to start at II Corinthians 5:21 and come to this very conclusion.) will call for righteousness to be transferable. This is the very foundation teaching of Calvinism!
[Incidentally, my religious background before becoming a Christian was as a member of a conservative, southern denomination. This denomination was Calvinist in their beliefs and teachings. I perceive this prevalent teaching of the religious world that is under consideration here on Matthew 27:46 misconstrues the passage so as to teach Calvinism. It remains Calvinism even when a Christian teaches it. I would further say that it is still just as unscriptural / un-Biblical and, therefore, just as dangerous when a Christian teaches it as when a denominationalist teaches it!]
While unbelieving Jews and some of the apostles (e.g., Peter) did forsake Jesus at the crucifixion, the scriptures would have us to understand that John and many women never forsook Jesus on the cross (John 19:25-27).
Question: On this occasion, were the unbelieving Jews and faithless apostles acting like God acted? Or were these women and John acting like God acted? Should we give credence to the Calvinist teaching of the Matthew 27:46 passage, then would we not have to say that John and these faithful women acted with greater character than God because they did not 'forsake / turn their back on' Jesus when God did?
To link the "cup of suffering" that Jesus prayed about (Matthew 26:37-44) to a 'dread' of His being separated from intimate fellowship with God when He took on the literal sins of all man, is providing a link that the scriptures do not make and takes a lot of 'supposing.' To be sure, the argument has emotional appeal. However, in the absence of a knowledge of any revelation on this subject, such a link when God has not given it, is to, in effect, write scripture where God has not written and that would be exalting man above God - would it not? Christians, of all peoples, know (see also Revelation 22: 18-19, for example) to not 'add or subtract' from God's word.
There is also a question of 'timeline' that must be laid out and analyzed, if God did indeed 'forsake Jesus literally and turn His back on Him because He literally bore the sins of man'. The question would be: 'When / at just what time did God turn His back on Jesus?
- Was it at the time before His death when His work was not complete and the acceptable offering had not yet been completed/'finished'?
- Or, was it at the very instant of time of death when He had commended His Spirit into the hands of God even as God was turning / had turned His back on Him?
- Or was it some time after His death when He was in Paradise to be joined there by the thief on the cross who had repented?
I believe a thoughtful answer to each of these questions will come up with the same answer, i.e., 'Not at this time!'. So that leaves us again with the initial question - 'When / at just what time did God turn His back on Jesus?' and the final answer has to be - 'Not at any time!'
Recall (Matthew 27: 54) that the centurion and the soldiers with him "watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly saying "Truly, this was the son of God." " Was not faith engendered and caused to develop here among those around the cross that day as they beheld His manner of behavior on the cross? Truly they did not see Jesus questioning or doubting God or failing because flesh was weak, but rather they beheld faith and trust at work in Jesus in an infinitely loving, omnipotent Father who never forsakes His own, though all the world forsakes. In fact this sounds like the basis of some of the inspiration for that great hymn, 'The Lily of The Valley' ("tho all the world forsake me and Satan tempt me sore, I shall still ..").
Hopefully, from the above comments, the reader will find some principles and insights that are useful in their study of Matthew 27:46. Prayerfully, I offer them for the reader's consideration.
-- Charles Bowen - July 26, 2005
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