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 (KJV)
Eli – Do you want to know why your translation of the Bible is not completely reliable? Compare this verse with Mark 15:34.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Obviously the translators had some confusion. Which was it that Yeshua spoke? Was it Eli or Eloi? They aren’t the same. But what’s more interesting is the confusion that arose from the bystanders who heard Yeshua speak these words firsthand. They thought that maybe He was calling for Elijah.
Only one of these two transliterations would work to justify the confusion of the bystanders.
Eloi is an Aramaic word meaning “my God”. But it doesn’t have a secondary meaning for “Elijah”.
Eli is a Hebrew word which has the double meaning of “my God” AND can be used as shorthand for “Elijah”. The proof is in the confusion of the bystanders. Only Eli works here – not Eloi.
This tells us that Yeshua was speaking Hebrew, not Aramaic. But what about the rest of the sentence? “lama sabachthani” is Aramaic, right? Yes it is. So how do we justify this?
We come across this all the time in English; words that are rooted in other languages, but are understood in English without having to translate them. Here’s a list. These words don’t need to be translated, and English speakers can understand them just fine. In fact many people might assume they are English words because they are so common. If I were to say the word landscape, no one would assume I’m speaking a Dutch word because it’s so commonly understood. This is the same for the Aramaic words “lama sabachthani”. They are rooted in Aramaic, but the words themselves are commonly used in Hebrew. Whether Yeshua spoke Aramaic or Hebrew on the cross is not defined by these words… only by the use of Eli which is clearly shown above.
Yeshua did speak Hebrew on the cross, not Aramaic. And the confusion of the bystanders was because Eli means both “my God” and “Elijah” in Hebrew. And as we’re aware, Jews believe that the spirit of Elijah comes to visit them every Passover to affirm the circumcision of all males who partake in the Passover offering as dictated in the law (Exodus 12:48). So the confusion about Elijah is honest and expected. And the confusion only exists if Yeshua was speaking in Hebrew, not Aramaic.