In Matthew 27:45-46 Jesus is recorded as saying:

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?

Based on Jesus the Phoenician Jesus called God 'EL'—which is a Phoenician God—when he was on the cross. Is this claim true or false? Did Jesus call God YHWH?

  • See also What language did Jesus commonly speak?
    – Dan
    Aug 7, 2014 at 19:34
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    This sentence is perfectly good Aramaic. El, Il, Ilum, Elohim etc. is the word for "god" in most Semitic languages, not just in Phoenician.
    – fdb
    Aug 7, 2014 at 19:40
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    "El" is not a "Phoenician" God, "El" just means "God" in many languages in the ancient near east. Elohim is just a derivative of El.
    – Robert
    Sep 6, 2021 at 20:30
  • I suspect He said the name "Yahweh" many times [John 5:43, John 17:5, John 17:26] and especially in Matt 26:64. The word “Power” in verse 64 was a popular ‘euphemism’ or substitution for the divine name Yahweh. According to the Mishna: “He who blasphemes is liable only when he will have fully pronounced the Divine Name. Said R. Joshua ben Qorha...Jesus said the name in front of the council, or those who gathered together on that night....Here's a good study on this issue: eliyah.com/did-the-messiah-say-the-heavenly-fathers-name
    – Yahuchanan
    Aug 24, 2023 at 23:58

3 Answers 3


No. The tetragrammaton was not used in Jesus' time. Faithful Jews would avoid saying it so as to not transgress the third commandment. The most common circumlocution was "Lord" (Andonai in Hebrew or Kurios in Greek), though he might also be referred to simply as "Heaven."

In answer to Jesus using El from the cross. El is the common word for God from all over the ancient near east. It appears in Biblical Hebrew to refer to the God worshiped by Jews in Psalm 18:2[H3]1, 30[H31], 32[H33], 47[H48]; 22:1[H2], 10[H11]; 68:20[H21]; Job 8:3, 4, and 13; and others. This name (El instead of Eloh or Elohim) is more common in poetry than in prose. It can also be used to refer to idols (as in Exodus 34:14; Isaiah 44:10, 15; Psalm 81:9[H10]; and others), but it is also a name for the Hebrew God as seen when Jesus quoted Psalm 22 from the cross:

Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?...

The Greek letters in Matthew 27:45 (ἠλι ἠλι λεμα) are a perfectly good transliteration of the first three Hebrew words in Psalm 22:1[H22], אלי אלי למה. Regarding the word for "abandoned", instead of the Biblical Hebrew 'azab (עזבתני) from the Psalm, Matthew transliterates the Mishnaic Hebrew word sabak with σαβαχθανι. The root sabak is found in both Aramaic and Mishnaic Hebrew.2

You will note that is the cry from the cross. The first two words are אלי אלי which is the Hebrew spelling of Eli, Eli. The long i ending is the first person possessive in Hebrew. אלי אלי means "My God, my God."

In the Hebrew Bible, it can be seen that El, YHWH, and Eloh(im) all refer to the same deity. For example,

18:30 [El] acts in a faithful manner; 
[YHWH]’s promise is reliable; 
he is a shield to all who take shelter in him.
18:31 Indeed, who is [Eloh] besides the [YHWH]?
Who is a protector besides our [Eloh]? 

You can see that El and YHWH act the same (reliably and faithfully). The next verse states outright that Eloh is the same as YHWH. Thus, YHWH, El, and Eloh are the same being in this Psalm. There are clearly places where El is not YHWH (see above for the idolatry references). However, in Psalm 22, it is clearly a reference to YHWH.

And thus, Jesus used El because that was an accepted name for YHWH, especially when quoting a poem that used it.

1In the Psalms, the Hebrew verse references are often 1 off of the English because the Hebrews count the heading as the first verse.

2David Bivin and Roy Blizzard Jr., Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, 10.

  • 4
    Good answer, apart from the fact that the words on the cross are not Hebrew but Aramaic. The verb shabaqtani gives it away.
    – fdb
    Aug 7, 2014 at 20:10
  • 2
    Yes, but it is a quotation from a psalm. The Hebrew original uses the verb עזב.
    – fdb
    Aug 7, 2014 at 20:29
  • 2
    Ps. 22:1 אֵלִי אֵלִי לָמָה עֲזַבְתָּנִי
    – fdb
    Aug 7, 2014 at 20:31
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    ʻ-z-b and š-b-q are totally unrelated roots, both with good Semitic cognates.
    – fdb
    Aug 7, 2014 at 20:38
  • 3
    I see you have changed it now.
    – fdb
    Aug 7, 2014 at 21:05

Jesus spoke primarily Aramaic followed by Hebrew and Greek. Since most of the new testament was written in greek, you will probably never find it recorded that Jesus said "YHWH" in scriptures. This doesn't mean he didn't say it, it's just a translation thing.

Furthermore, it was Hebrew tradition to interpose the name Adonai inside of "YHWH" which is translated in the old testament as LORD. Out of reverence for God, it was tradition never to speak the name of God, so when Hebrews read this word, they would say "Adonai" - lord. This was because it was believed that to know a god's true, secret name was to be able to control this god. There was power in a name (hence Moses' question at the burning bush - "Who should I say has sent me" and God's shrewd response). Therefore, we can assume Jesus probably did this, but we have no way to know for sure because if he spoke it in Hebrew, it was recorded in Greek.

One of the oldest recorded gods is El, the mountain god. When the Hebrew language evolved, it is thought that the word translated as "lord" or "lords" (lower case) - Elohim derives from the name of the oldest recorded god, El. El was a Sumerian and Akkadian god long before he was Phoenecian. Any reference to El, should probably be read as a reference to Yahweh. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_(deity)

  • 1
    This answer contains some factually incorrect or unsubstantiated information: they interposed the vowels of adonai, not adoni; adonai means 'lord', not 'father'; etc. Because Wikipedia is ultimately reliant on other sources, it would be best to cite those instead.
    – user2910
    Aug 7, 2014 at 20:09
  • another useful answer, thanks! btw if Mark is right about adonai v adoni, it's easy for you to edit your post to make a correction, did you know you can do that? Aug 7, 2014 at 20:53
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    @Mark what is wrong with quoting Wikipedia? There are many very useful links to Wikipedia on this site - they tend to give a useful overview and a route into further research if desired. Indeed I just edited two Wikipedia links into another answer. Aug 7, 2014 at 20:58
  • 1
    Sorry, that really was my own opinion, not a rule. I think Wikipedia can be helpful for general information, but more specific claims or arguments, I think, are best cited directly from reliable sources, since not every Wikipedian editor actually provides them (so we're left guessing what authority the information comes from).
    – user2910
    Aug 8, 2014 at 3:13
  • 1
    Fixed based on suggestions Aug 8, 2014 at 3:32

Not Elijah either This sentence of Jesus on the cross is narrated in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34. Some mistakenly thought Jesus was calling on Elijah (who was a respected and familiar prophet in Judaism). But rather, Jesus was calling on God while in deep pain and excruciating suffering! (Note that the word "excruciating" is derived from the word for "crucifixion.")

Rather Jesus, being intimately familiar with the scriptures, was applying a verse to His situation: My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me? (Psalm 22:1) Some manuscripts simply have "Eli, Eli" but others have "Eloi, Eloi." The NIV used "Eloi" in both crucifixion passages.

Jesus was speaking in Aramaic. "El" was the generic word for a god, used for centuries in different cultures. Then with the additional word-ending in Aramaic for "my", we have "My God." This is what Jesus used: Eloi. Jesus was not referring to an ancient Phoenician god. But was speaking in a modern Aramaic vernacular, in the possessive sense.

Addendum Some commentators have suggested that Jesus had lost faith in the Father, based on this exclamation. However, a reading of the whole chapter in Psalm 22 reveals just the opposite! Verse 8 mentioned the mocking that was thrown at Jesus: He trusts in the LORD, let the LORD rescue him.. The Psalm goes on, My heart is turned to wax...my strength is dried up like a potsherd...and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth...(v. 14-15). Further: I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them, and cat lots for my clothing... (v. 16-18). Sounds pretty bad, we admit! But...read on, and meditate on the next verses:

I will declare your Name to my brothers in the congregation I will praise You...For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted One; He has not hidden His face from Him but has listened to His cry for help!

From You comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear You will I fulfill my vows...All the ends of the Earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and He rules the nations.

Posterity will serve Him: future generations will be told about the LORD. They will proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn--for he has done it!!!

Triumph in the Making Reading the "whole" Psalm provides a picture of TRIUMPH and victory, in spite of the most horrible persecution. Certainly, Jesus identified with the description of all the events at Calvary mentioned in the Psalm; but Jesus also knew how the Psalm ended! His trust in the Father...in His God...was not misplaced. The result of all this trauma would result in the ends of the earth turning to the Lord! (v. 27) "Dominion" indeed belongs to the Lord, and so does the glorious results and rewards of those who trust in Him.

  • 1
    I don't think He lost faith at all, but I do believe He was being totally sincere when He said what He said. He took on the sins of the entire world, present and future, maybe even past sin, I don't know. The point is, at that point in time, the Set-Apart Spirit, i.e., the Father, had to leave Him, as He took on the sins of the world. He was suffering massively, and His cry, I think, was sincere. He didn't lose faith, He was stating a fact when He asked that question.
    – Yahuchanan
    Aug 25, 2023 at 0:10
  • I agree with Yahuchanan, I don't think Jesus had lost faith at this juncture. But he was in a very bad, or low, emotional state to say the least, and I think that affected his word choice. He knew his Father's name, but for emotional reasons he didn't feel comfortable saying it under the circumstances. So he distanced himself from it, out of just plain good old human frailty.
    – moron
    Sep 16, 2023 at 21:19
  • Excruciating Pain Recall the suffering of Paul: *We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed... we are perplexed, but not in despair...persecuted, but not forsaken...cast down, but not destroyed...always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus...For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus sake that the life also of Jesus might be manifest in pour mortal flesh.*(2Corinthians 4:8-11). But multiply the excruciating suffering of Paul by a million, and add the rejection of God on this sin sacrifice, and we would barely begin to comprehend what Jesus endured
    – ray grant
    Sep 16, 2023 at 21:47

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