In reading Christy’s rabbit trails for Matthew 27-28 there is an article mentioned which is written by George Lamsa entitled, “Jesus Was Not Forsaken” where there is an argument made that the traditional reading of Matthew 27:46 is not the appropriate reading. I would like to offer a defense of the traditional translation of Matthew 27:46. Personally I always love looking into ways to read Scripture which are divergent from traditional readings. Many of these adventures I’ve taken into alternate readings have been extremely eye opening and have blessed me greatly. So I’m always ready to consider one of these alternate readings. I say all of that so that it’s a little more evident that my disagreeing with Lamsa’s hypothesis has no bearing on my love and respect for Christy and the entire Seeking Scripture team. In fact, Christy was actually the one who asked me to put this together so that we can provide an alternative view.

Before we get to the actual argument that Lamsa makes, I wanted to point out a problem I have with the premise of the argument. I’m a little cautious to accept the theory presented by Lamsa because its assumption, by its very nature, may call into the question the transmission of Scripture that we have, and if this has been relayed wrong, there seems to be an argument for anything having been relayed incorrectly. In this case we’re not talking about a poor translation from Greek (and in this case Hebrew, and Aramaic in Mark) to English, we’re saying that the initial autograph (the Greek manuscript) recorded the information incorrectly. This, I believe, can be dangerous. If we allow that the earliest manuscripts we possess have been changed (or recorded incorrectly from the very beginning), what’s to stop us from making the same accusation anytime Yeshua (or Paul) says something that we find difficult?

On to actual arguments for the traditional reading.

First, there is conjecture that Psalm 22 “may have been part of the Scripture recitation at this time of day[1].” If this is the case, Yeshua would have been using the liturgy to call attention to His being the Messiah by quoting psalm 22.

Second, and this is really my main argument, if we have trouble with thinking that Yeshua was accusing God of looking away from Him, I suggest that it’s because we’re reading with a western mindset and not a contextual Hebrew mindset. It was very common for a teacher to recite the first line in a passage of Scripture and the entire passage of Scripture would be brought to mind. By Yeshua doing that here, He’s bringing up not just the beginning of the psalm where the psalmist conveys the lament of the righteous sufferer, but also the conclusion of the psalm where the righteous sufferer becomes triumphant (from The Jewish New Testament Commentary: “In Judaism, when a Bible verse is cited its entire context is implied, if appropriate. Thus Yeshua refers all of Psalm 22 to himself…[2]”).

In verses 22-24 we read:

“I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”

So, when Yeshua was quoting, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” the hearer was also hearing that “He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted,” and “He has not hidden His face from Him, but has heard, when He cried to Him.” When we remove our western eyes and allow ourselves to look at it Hebraically, we see that Yeshua was leading us on an adventure. He was showing us, through Scripture, that even when it seems like God has left you, He’s been with you all along.

…Queue imagery of Footprints in the Sand…

But some might say that this is a bit of a stretch and that you can’t assume this more contextual reading because it doesn’t actually say that it should be read that way. While I disagree, I’m alright with that because there are more arguments.

When reading Matt 27:46 with Lamsa’s eyes we have to accept that what Yeshua actually said was, “My God, My God, for this I was kept.” If we see it this way, we would have to explain away why Yeshua calls his Father God. This is the only time in the book of Matthew that Yeshua refers to the Father as ‘God’. It is usually postulated (through the lens of the traditional reading) that he used this language because he felt further away (more in touch with our sin), or even that he was merely quoting Psalm 22, and that’s what the verse he’s quoting says. Using Lamsa’s explanation, there’s not only no explanation as to why he’s depersonalized what he’s saying, we’ve also taken away a reference to Psalm 22, “to which we have already seen allusions in vv. 35–36, 39, 43[3].” In Matthew’s narrative, the crescendo had been building for more than ten verses and verse 46 is the denouement.

This shouldn’t be glossed over and is actually an extremely exciting part of this reading. Matthew was going out of his way in his writing, dropping Psalm 22 breadcrumbs throughout his telling of the crucifixion. If it was just one reference then it would be just that, a reference. But Matthew was using it as a tool. His readers would read the entirety of Psalm 22 into Yeshua’s words precisely because Matthew had already been laying the foundation for that in his writing. The problem we have is that we’re not familiar enough with the Hebrew Scriptures so we read the narrative at face value, not catching the nuggets he dropped along the way. And, in this case, there are numerous Psalm 22 nuggets through the crucifixion narrative.

Another point is that in Lamsa’s article he states, “In this last hour of agony, intense thirst and suffering, Jesus words were so weak that the people who stood near the cross could hardly understand them,” but there’s a problem with this. Lamsa seems to let his theory get in the way of what the Bible actually says. Matthew 27:46 states, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice,” (emphasis added). According to Lamsa, Yeshua was speaking so softly that nobody could hear him. According to the Bible, Yeshua cried out in a loud voice. Furthermore, if there is a question as to why some onlookers accused Him of calling on Elijah, we should keep in mind this is all taking place over Passover, when tradition has it that Elijah will return, heralding Messiah. It’s possible that this was in their minds when they were jumping to that conclusion.

In his article, Lamsa says, “Had Jesus in this last hour said that God had forsaken Him, the Jews would have used this saying against Him. They would have taken it as a confession that He was a blasphemer and therefore God had deserted Him in His darkest hour; because God never forsakes the righteous, but He may forsake the sinners.” The problem with this is that, if Yeshua was indeed quoting Psalm 22, as Matthew had been leading up to in his narrative, He would be quoting King David, and David’s questioning why his God had forsaken him. He questioned, but then he also went on to praise Him, and he, himself was vindicated by the end of the psalm. Yes, Yeshua was asking why God had forsaken Him, but He was doing it by quoting David, and it seems more than unlikely that the Jews would’ve used against Him that He was too much like David. Lamsa’s problem, here, appears to be that he’s dealing only with the words and divorcing them from their context.

According to my research, George Lamsa was a native Aramaic speaker, born in Turkey. He made his own translation of the Bible where he used Aramaic texts when translating the NT, as he believed the NT was originally written in Aramaic. Saying nothing of whether the NT was originally written in Aramaic, or Greek, or even Hebrew, Lamsa used sources which were very far removed from what would’ve been the primary source material. In fact, the sources he used are dated so much later than what would’ve been the first sources that they were even using a later form of Aramaic. My opinion is that he was so caught up in Aramaic Primacy that he looked past the problems in order to get to his intended outcome. I would argue that his big problem here was what is called confirmation bias; he read into the Bible the outcome he wanted to have it say.

In the end, though, I’m always ready and willing to look at alternate viewpoints on pretty much anything, but the first thing I mentioned here should be enough to cause us to be careful when looking at this. With that being said, I think that there are more than a few good reasons to continue with the traditional reading of Matthew 27:46. But, we all should also be willing to stretch our minds in order to see things from a different vantage point. While I appreciate the willingness to seek out viewpoints different than the ones we’ve grown up with, my gut tells me there is credence to the traditional reading. I pray that you have been blessed by the reading of this article.


[1] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Mt 27:46.
[2] David H Stern, 1996. Jewish New Testament Commentary : A Companion Volume to the Jewish New Testament. (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996), Mt 27:46..
[3] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 1075–1076.

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Aaron Baker
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