My God, My God, how have we misinterpreted you?

Easter-message-picMy final thoughts on the so-called Cry of Dereliction, after which I promise to abandon this subject (pun intended). We should finally consider the relevant texts themselves. In CWG (pp 770-774) Greg expounds his understanding of Christ’s cry “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46 and Mk 15.34) as the “paradigmatic judgment of sin.” Greg takes the words of the Cry to be the “most profoundly revelatory” words found in Scripture, for here God “experiences his antithesis” by “becoming the sin of the world” (2Cor 5.21) as well as “our godforsaken curse” (Gal 3.13), though Greg does not consider this to be the Father acting violently toward Jesus.

Evaluating Greg’s objections to the Ps 22 connection
Greg notes the Cry has always troubled theologians who were “invested in preserving the classical understanding of God’s impassibility and immutability,” aspects of which (viz., actus purus or ‘pure act’) he summarizes and dismisses; “How could God the Son truly experience abandonment from the Father if the Trinity is ‘above’ suffering and ‘above’ experiencing any kind of change?”

I’m not sure how “troubled” by the Cry theologians are who seek to defend a classical understanding of God’s impassibility. Greg doesn’t give any examples. Given the classical view of transcendence, I suspect there’s far less likelihood the Cry would trouble a classical theist than a kenoticist – truth be told. However, I don’t mind agreeing with objections to aspects of classical theism (as I understand actus purus). We’ve made them repeatedly ourselves here. But Greg’s account makes it appear as though any rejection of actus purus classically understood is a default adoption of his understanding of the Cry as the Father’s abandonment of the Son. But it’s worth pointing out that one could agree with Greg on all his substantive objections to classical theism and yet reject Greg’s thesis of divine abandonment as equally objectionable as whatever aspects of classical theism one has a problem with. There’s no default win for Greg’s view of the Cry if classical theism is proved to be wrong. But I got the distinct feeling in CWG that Greg construes his view of the Cry as following logically from certain weaknesses of classical theism, which of course it doesn’t.

Classical theism aside, however, there are serious theological problems with divine abandonment on the Cross as Greg imagines it. I’ve rehearsed these already. Even a thorough-going kenoticist could have as great a problem with Greg’s thesis as she does with Chalcedon. But what about the exegetical particulars of the Cry itself? Let’s take a look at aspects of it that Greg brings up in CWG.

First, consider the Greek transliteration of Jesus’ Cry in both Mt and Mk:

Matthew 27:46: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
Mark 15:34: Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?

The transliterations in both are followed by a similar “…that is to say, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’”

Second, Greg offers two reasons for thinking Jesus is not alluding to Ps 22 but is in fact offering his own, original composition expressing his personal dereliction. First, he notes that if Jesus was alluding to Ps 22, he would surely have quoted it in Hebrew. But he speaks in Aramaic (which we have in the form of transliterated Greek). That Jesus speaks Aramaic suggests he does not have Ps 22 in mind. Secondly, Greg quotes R. T. France’s objection that “if we read into these words an exegesis of the whole psalm…we turn upside down the effect which Mark has created by this powerful and enigmatic cry of agony.”

Let’s look at these shall we?

(1) There’s no argument in France’s quote. Yes, if we take Jesus to be alluding to Ps 22, we understand Jesus’ pain as not indicative of his belief that God had in fact forsaken him. But (a) this is the point of debate, so how is it an argument in favor of Greg’s view that if Jesus is alluding to Ps 22 his agony must be understood differently than Greg thinks? In addition, (b) no one who denies Jesus is forsaken by God thinks Jesus is not experiencing the agony of being crucified.

(2) More significant is the apparent fact that Jesus cries out in Aramaic. Jesus is a Jew whose Scriptures are written in Hebrew. It seems strange that in his dying moment Jesus should quote his Scriptures not in their original Hebrew but in his mother tongue, Aramaic. Greg reasons that this must mean Jesus is not alluding to the Hebrew Psalm 22 but authoring his own personal cry of abandonment.

In response, I suggest that it’s completely understandable that a dying person would cry out to God in his heart-language, which was Aramaic for Jesus, in spite of the fact that the text he alludes to is a Hebrew text. I don’t find this especially odd at all. I suggest that given the intensity of his sufferings and the nearness of death, it would be unusual to hear him cry out to God in a language other than Aramaic.

christ-on-the-mount-of-olives-1819But there are few other interesting facts about the Greek transliterations of the Cry found in Mt and Mk which Greg doesn’t discuss which I’d like to consider.

(a) Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic were different but very closely related languages. There’s no deciding what language (Hebrew or Aramaic) Jesus cried out in based on these mixed presentations in MT and MK. MK seems to be Aramaic straight through while MT is mixed.

(b) “My God” doesn’t settle the matter either, since it is transliterated differently in Matthew and Mark. Most ancient Greek MSS traditions try to normalize these differences between the two. Only the Byzantine text consistently preserves the distinction. (Nestle-Aland preserved the differences as well.) Matthew transliterates Jesus’ Cry with Eli (Ἠλί) for “My God” which, interestingly, is Hebrew. Mark has Eloi (Ἐλωΐ) which is Aramaic.

(c) Though there is some question over its precise origination and meaning, the verb shabaq is not biblical Hebrew but Aramaic. Were Jesus quoting the Hebrew text, he would have used azavthani (“forsaken” or “abandon”) which we find in the Hebrew of Ps 22.

(d) The verb shabaq, however, is not only Aramaic, it’s also Mishnaic Hebrew (a descendant of biblical Hebrew that developed under the influence of Aramaic following the Babylonian captivity). It’s entirely possible that Jesus is citing Ps 22 in Mishnaic Hebrew. And there are those who argue that presenting a biblical text in Mishnaic Hebrew was a well-known Rabbinic technique introducing a midrash (interpretation or teaching) on the text in question.

(e) What does seem unlikely is that Matthew would have changed the Aramaic Eloi to the Hebrew Eli and not change sabachthani to azavthani if he was interested in making the quote conform to the Hebrew text. But if Mishnaic Hebrew is in view, then things fit. There is the fact that Aramaic targums of Ps 22 do use shabaq, but these appear centuries after the NT. (For a very thorough summary and evaluation of the MT and MK texts here, see Randall Bluth’s essay.

What’s the point of all this?
The linguistic data isn’t easy to assemble into a coherent picture. It’s not altogether certain that Jesus was speaking Aramaic on the Cross. My point is that if he was, there is nothing about this that would suggest he was not alluding to Ps 22. Matthew’s account makes the Mishnaic Hebrew connection stronger because Eli is clearly Hebrew, and Mark’s passion narrative (cf. Rikk Watts on Mark’s use of Ps 22) has obvious allusions (besides the Cry) to Ps 22. I take it to be certain that Jesus is alluding to Ps 22.

However, Greg offers yet a further reflection. Let us grant, he suggests, that Jesus is alluding to Ps 22. This would not, he contends, “undermine the genuineness of Jesus’ experience of abandonment on the cross,” for it was only “after the psalmist had expressed his authentic sense of abandonment that he regained his composure, as it were, and expressed confidence that God would eventually rescue him.” So even if one understands Jesus as referencing Ps 22, it needn’t lead us to deny that Jesus “was genuinely experiencing godforsakenness” and “was even experiencing confusion as to why it was happening.”

But this seems confused. Does Greg want a genuine abandonment of the Son by the Father, a true withdrawal of the Father that occasions a genuine experience of godforsakenness, or not? His cruciform thesis itself requires that Jesus’ not simply confuse his agony and falsely conclude that God had forsaken him. But Greg’s proposed reading of the Ps 22 (on the assumption that Jesus is alluding to it) concedes that God in fact never abandons its author. The author only temporarily loses his composure and misinterprets his suffering. This, however, undermines Greg’s case for more than an apparent abandonment. So I don’t see how Greg can concede that Jesus has Ps 22 in mind and still secure the particular view of divine abandonment that defines his view of the Cross.

What in Jesus’ experience parallels Ps 22?
What about those who argue Jesus is alluding to Ps 22 in its entirety but who also argue Jesus never despairs of the Father’s love, presence, and filial affection? Surely there must be something in Jesus’ experience that parallels or fulfills the psalmist’s cry which, admittedly, seems to reflect some doubt or lapse in his belief or confidence in God’s faithfulness.

This is an excellent question. My own sense is that there is nothing in Jesus’ experience that parallels any suspicion the psalmist might have in God’s faithfulness, nor must we suppose there to be in order to make sense of Jesus alluding to the psalm. To begin with, assuming the psalmist genuinely interprets his suffering as God’s having abandoned him, it does seem strange that he would go to this same God in prayer. Biblical prayer presupposes at least some confidence in the faithfulness of God, some belief that God hears one’s prayer and is open to responding. Is his opening cry a poetic-rhetorical device to heighten suspense and drama? When we cry “God where are you?” does it follow that we’ve concluded God has forsaken or abandoned us? If so, why are we addressing our prayers to him at all? No prayer to God can be motivated by a belief that God has forsaken and abandoned us.

7511534I don’t want to belabor the point. I’ve already drawn out this series on divine abandonment too long. My point here is that whatever the precise belief of the psalmist may have been, there is no one-for-one parallel between every belief and attitude held by the psalmist from the beginning of his experience to his vindication, on the one hand, and existential carbon copies of each of those beliefs and attitudes that must obtain in Jesus. There’s no warrant for insisting on this kind of ‘fulfillment’ simply because Jesus alludes to Ps 22. It’s enough that Jesus responds to the taunting crowds who provoke him with their “Where’s God now?” and “Come on down if God’s on your side!” by offering them a well-known account of an innocent, scapegoated victim who was not in fact abandoned by God but who was vindicated: “You think God has abandoned me here? You think I’m cursed by God as I hang here on this tree? Go read Ps 22 and think again.”

What about the Garden?
It occurred to me that Jesus’ sufferings en route to the Cross have an important role to play in deciding what Jesus took to be the meaning of his pain and suffering, and the intensity of his suffering in the Garden (Mk 14:32-34; Mt 26.36-46; Lk 22.43-44) came to mind. How are we to understand this suffering relative to claims that it is divine abandonment experienced as godforsakenness which gives Jesus’ sufferings their redemptive value? In the Garden Jesus suffers beyond description, sweating blood. He confesses that he is at the point of death. He offers his humanity in all its finitude and natural weakness to God, truly wishing for there to be another way.

There is, however, no divine abandonment here. In fact, Jesus converses with his Father and is comforted by angels. At the center of his storm of pain there is the eye of the Father’s filial affection mediated to him by the Spirit. He is not alone (as he had made clear to his disciples, Jn 16.31-33). He knows the Father’s love and presence and still he sweats blood and feels like dying. So it doesn’t seem that ‘divine abandonment’ is required either to make sense of Jesus’ understanding of his own suffering or to give his suffering its unique healing, redemptive value – unless we wish to argue that Jesus’ suffering in the Garden, his flogging, or the pain he bears en route to Golgatha all have no healing, transformative value in our lives simply because they were accompanied by his belief that the Father was personally and affectionately with him through it all.

My fundamental point is that this suffering is healing and transformative in our lives precisely because the Father’s personal presence and affection are present, defining Jesus’ own self-perception and understanding of his pain at a level nothing could deconstruct or wrest from his heart. There, friends, is the saving act. The reason nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom 8) is because nothing can separate God from himself in Christ.

Happy contemplating!

25 comments on “My God, My God, how have we misinterpreted you?

  1. Mike H says:


    Your earlier thoughts on the lack of a definition as to what constitutes “divine violence” were very good. Lots of nuance needed.

    Along those same lines, since Boyd identifies the experience of divine abandonment as necessary for the cross to be salvific, does he identify specifically what he means by the “experience of divine abandonment” in the book?

    I don’t think “divine abandonment” can be treated as a sort of abstract variable in a salvation equation…Jesus + divine abandonment = salvific cross.

    Since he is not arguing for the penal substitution-ish “God turning his face away”, there must be some concept of what this abandonment experience is and why the experiences that constitute “divine abandonment” (whatever they are) are themselves objectively salvific (he distinguishes between subjective and objective atonement theories in a recent blog post).

    Is the experience neurological/intellectual? As the experience of doubt or a crisis of identity? An unshakeable suspicion of being wrong and a corresponding deep and terrifying conviction of having been abandoned? Is divine abandonment primarily physical/emotional? Just the sheer fact of fear and pain? If this is an experience of “spiritual” abandonment, what does that mean? What form does a misperceived metaphysical “abandonment” experience take? Is God “learning” how to save sinful humanity by Jesus “becoming sin” and misperceiving God’s abandonment?

    I think it’s nonsense, but I at least understand why the PSA “taking our punishment and appeasing God’s wrath” makes sense within a certain set of presuppositions. It’s awful, but I get it.

    I can’t understand why Jesus “misinterpreting his experience” (since Boyd concedes that there was no REAL divine abandonment) would be inherently salvific in any way.

    Any thoughts? How does he characterize the experience of divine abandonment?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Rob says:

      Mike, this is a question to which Boyd has provided no satisfactory answer. According to his thesis, the Father somehow withdrew from the Son in a way that allowed judgment for all of humanity’s sin to come upon the Son. But quite what that actually meant in ontological, theological and metaphysical terms remains unclear.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Really good questions Mike.

      There is a traditional reluctance to speculate what Jesus’ subjective state of mind was. How can we really get inside his head and say what his first-person perspective was on the Cross? And while there are obvious limitations to any such speculations, I think some position on these questions is unavoidable. Just from the conversations surrounding CWG, you can see how loaded the subject is.

      While CWG is more general in the description Greg gives of what he thinks is involved in Jesus’ experience of godforsakeness, it seems the reviews and discussions have given Greg an opportunity to clarify things ,which he recently did on ReKnew here: There’s more of a description of what Greg supposes is behind that experience.



      • Mike H says:

        There is a traditional reluctance to speculate what Jesus’ subjective state of mind was.

        Yeah, and I completely agree with that. And that’s part of the problem that I’m having understanding it. Ultimately though, if the ‘experience of abandonment’ holds a place of such prominence in the salvific drama of the cross, it seems unavoidable that we’ll want to understand what exactly that ‘experience of abandonment’ is.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Back to you, Mike. Sorry for the delay.

      Mike: Since he is not arguing for the penal substitution-ish “God turning his face away”, there must be some concept of what this abandonment experience is and why the experiences that constitute “divine abandonment” (whatever they are) are themselves objectively salvific (he distinguishes between subjective and objective atonement theories in a recent blog post).

      Tom: That’s right. As far as I can tell from reading Greg, the question about PSA only applies to God’s affective state and motivation in abandoning Jesus. In his qualified rejection of PSA, Greg only means to deny any felt angst the Father may have toward Jesus. So God isn’t “hatin’ on” Jesus or venting pent up rage. On an affective level, Greg agrees the Father only feels love and affection for Jesus. But the Father does turn his face away (i.e., ‘withdrawal’), and this withdrawal is in fact an expression of “wrath” (Greg uses the word “wrath” in CWG to describe all this – so there’s no mistaking that). So: Jesus is experience the felt absence of God (i.e., godforsakenness) which is God’s wrath as the natural (“intrinsic” is Greg’s word) consequence of our sin. Because the experience of godforsakeness is the natural “death consequence” of sin, it is also an experience of “cursedness” (to invent a word). So though the Father doesn’t feel rage or hate for the Son, he does will that the Son experience the godforsakeness that is the consequence of sin, and so he withdrawals from the Son on the Cross and abandons Jesus to experience the full horror of this cursed, godforsaken state.

      Mike: Is the experience neurological/intellectual? As the experience of doubt or a crisis of identity? An unshakeable suspicion of being wrong and a corresponding deep and terrifying conviction of having been abandoned? Is divine abandonment primarily physical/emotional? Just the sheer fact of fear and pain? If this is an experience of “spiritual” abandonment, what does that mean?

      Tom: I think Greg should have focused on this more because it’s precisely the sort of thing folks have questions about. Just take Greg’s kenotic Christology in hand and it should be clear. If Jesus is experiencing godforsakeness, it can only be described in terms your questions hint at. Jesus’ physical sufferings ‘occasion’ an existential crisis within the matrix of beliefs and convictions that have formed Jesus’ identity and self-understanding for his entire life. The inner, subjective sanctuary of Jesus’ most fundamental, self-defining acts of identity – which have never suffered the existential trauma of godforsakeness – come on the Cross to be vacated of all the truths that have defined Jesus up till now and are replaced by the belief that the Father has forsaken him.

      I take it this means Jesus comes to believe the filial affection, person presence, spiritual provision – all the things that human being derives its sense of personal value, meaning, and purpose from – that have been his entire life are no longer true. I think Greg has to say this much, because if Jesus continues to ‘believe’ the Father loves him, is faithful to him, his present with/to him, mediating filial affection and support via the Spirit, that would NOT constitutes an experience of godforsakeness. Quite the opposite. An experience of godforsakeness would by definition have to include the subjective falsification of all those convictions that constitute the belief structure and content of spiritual death and suffering which are the intrinsic/nature consequences of our sinfully removing God from our worldview. But where we suffering godforsakeness because we remove God from that structure, in Jesus’ case it’s the Father who removes himself from that structure so that an experience of godforsakenness can be obtain.

      Remember too that Greg makes an distinction between God’s essential, unchanging triune “being” (or “existence”) and God’s triune “experience” of himself. The former is ontological. It can’t be dissolved or broken or compromised. But – note – it is NOT itself an experience. God’s actual experience of himself is fully passible, mutable, determinable by us, and not even essentially triune. When the Son is gestating in Mary’s womb, remember, kenoticists hold that the divine “experience” is binary. Just the Father and Spirit are doing their thing. The Son is offline, out of touch.

      Mike: I can’t understand why Jesus “misinterpreting his experience” (since Boyd concedes that there was no REAL divine abandonment) would be inherently salvific in any way.

      Tom: Well, Greg posits the unchanging, ontological unity of the triune persons (an orthodox sort of thing to maintain) as a kind of unconscious, sometimes inaccessible, something-or-other, while the God’s experience of himself can be subject to all the changes and limitations of created being. In the former, unconscious, sometimes inaccessible, non-experiential/non-existential, “essence” of the triune persons there can be no godforsakeness. But it’s the latter dimension of ‘experience’ which Greg supposes comes to be defined by godforsakeness. So there there definitely is a REAL divine abandonment in God. It’s just limited to God’s ‘experience’ of himself.

      With you, Mike, I simply don’t see how God experiencing godforsakeness in the terms and existential categories Greg describes constitutes a redeeming, saving act – not once you concede (as Greg does) that God’s forgiveness of us precedes the saving act as its motivation.


      Liked by 2 people

      • Mike H says:

        Thanks for the thoughtful response Tom.

        Really interesting stuff. While the terminology is different & denying God’s “felt angst” does change the nature of things, I still see hints of a penal aspect. Reading all this, I can’t quite figure out if the whole thing is “misperception” or not.

        Perhaps Greg wants to go with a classical sort of “what Christ assumes, Christ heals” or envisions a “singular human nature” that Christ “brings to God” when he talks about “total solidarity”. Some of that is Christus Victor language. (And though that might all sound “logical”, none of that is self-validating – it can also be abstract and formulaic.) It just doesn’t seem to me that the “experience of forsakenness” is necessary for that – God was in Christ reconciling the world…..

        Also, does Greg discuss the presence of “Into your hands I commit my spirit” if there is this total experience of forsakenness?


      • Tom says:

        Mike: Does Greg discuss the presence of “Into your hands I commit my spirit” if there is this total experience of forsakenness?

        Tom: I’d have to check. Don’t recall off hand. I know that some who defend divine abandonment do so on the basis of the fact that Jesus addresses the Cry to “God” (“My God, My God”) in the Cry and not to “Father” (“My Father, My Father”) and they construe this as evidence that at that moment Jesus doesn’t see God as his Father but merely as God (a more impersonal term). Then when Jesus dies he’s back to “Father” which means the abandonment must be finished. All the divine abandonment some need is a minute’s abandonment. Because even a moment of experienced “estrangement” from what is “infinite” delight and joy for the Persons would be sufficient to save us (IF, that is, we’re saved by God’s self-estrangement). Moltmann, if I recall, holds that the estrangement endures until the resurrection, and he does so by arguing that Jesus’ final words (“Father, into your hands…”) are an interpolation into the text – Jesus couldn’t have addressed God as his Father then because he was still in despair of his identity and mission.

        More mythology.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Rob says:

        My feeling is that Boyd never even mentions Jesus’ utterance “Into your hands I commit my spirit”. I’ve just done some searches in both volumes and can’t find any mention of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        I think so, Rob. If I didn’t know Greg spent ten years researching, discussing, engaging in back-and-forths, composing – I would never guess that all that time and investment stood behind it. It just doesn’t read like it was that thoroughly thought-through at all – unlike his previous stuff actually.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Rob says:

    Again, really great work, Tom. I left this comment elsewhere earlier this morning:

    Greg wants to say that Jesus experienced the fullness of the human feeling of abandonment by God, but that he was not actually abandoned by the Father. But he also wants to say that God *withdrew* from Jesus to allow him to become the object of the due judgment upon sin.

    Anyone see the glaring contradiction here???

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Looking at his audio podcast where he says “all three are estranged from one another” and his ReKnew post where he says the abandonment of the Cry is analogous to a woman giving birth who in her pain temporarily loses her bearings and cries out to her husband, “What have you done to me!” … I think the only thing that remotely keeps Greg a monotheist is the mysterious, subterranean, unconscious, inaccessible realm of unity he posits underneath an otherwise purely polytheist drama of the divine life. Greg is a tritheist on all counts and in all respects except for this knot he ties underneath it all. This deserves a post of its own, but I’m off it for a while.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tom, you wrote: “No prayer to God can be motivated by a belief that God has absolutely forsaken and abandoned us.”

    Yes, and the idea that Mark 15:34 is a cry of prayer recalls a third interpretation, different in kind from the ‘dereliction’ hypothesis and independent of the idea that Jesus was ‘preaching Psalm 22’ from the cross.

    I think the least complicated interpretation is that Jesus was in his last hour engaged in a very common Jewish devotional exercise – praying the Book of Psalms from memory.

    This prayer-practice would usually be silent or inaudible, a personal devotion. The private aspect of Jesus’ prayer on the cross would explain why those who overheard him just at this point (opening verse of Ps 22) had no context for his words, but thought he was suddenly calling Elijah. I don’t doubt his voice might have suddenly elevated at this point due to emotions aroused by the content of the Psalm itself (the parallels). Of course there is a supreme irony in this interpretation – it means that the public hearing of these words was actually inadvertent on Jesus’ part.

    But the prayer-theory also justifies his vernacular speech – it is, as you say: “completely understandable that a dying person should cry out to God in his heart-language,”

    There is a second Passion text that I have never seen applied to this praying-the-psalms theory. The record shows (Mk 15:37/Mt/Lk) that Jesus cried out a second and last time, after he was offered a drink, and just before he expires. What did he say in that instance? I don’t think he let out an inchoate scream as if he were some cowardly movie villain falling off a cliff! At this point Luke, given to digging into these questions, claims it was “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Lk 23:46).

    Many scholars aren’t sure they believe Luke, but I am sure of one thing at least: those words have also been prayed from the psalms for thousands of years (Psalm 31:5). So the few minutes required for a dying man to pray his way from Ps22 to Ps31:5 might yield the true interval between the first cry and the second – and open a precious window upon the thoughts of the Son in his last incarnate moments.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tom says:

      Thank you John.

      Interesting. So Jesus isn’t quoting Ps 22 for anyone but himself. Others overhear him inadvertently. I’m not sure how we’d establish that for sure, but I don’t mind it.

      I don’t think it changes anything in this sense: Jesus’ understanding of Ps 22 relative to his circumstances wouldn’t change whether he was just contemplating these psalms for himself or intending them for others. They still reflect the sense in which he integrates these psalms into his own suffering, and that’s the point of debate for me (re: Greg). Greg could totally agree with you on who Jesus intends should hear his cry but still see the words as expressive of Jesus’ experience of being abandoned by his Father. I could also agree with you but see Jesus relating to these texts differently than Greg. That’s the essential point for me.

      But if one could establish the first-century popularity of what you’re saying, it’d be interesting for sure. It would just mean Jesus is narrating to himself the truth of his innocence in the face of the taunts of others and his confidence in vindication. If some are confused about what he said, evidently others hear it well enough to preserve a record of it Matthew and Mark trust – which we have. But either way, it’s a beautiful window into the enduring intimacy of God’s love and presence with Christ.


      Liked by 2 people

    • Tom, you write: “If some are confused about what he said, evidently others hear it well enough to preserve a record of it Matthew and Mark trust.”

      Yes, someone near the cross, a friend or enemy, understood the Aramaic and related it to the community.

      A phrase which sounded like a despairing confession to an unbeliever (or to a believer in the ‘Warrior God’) would have been recognized by the early church as a ‘bookmark’ placed by the Lord himself into the Songs of David, foretelling details of the Passion. As the earliest Christians were intimate with the Psalms, they would have cherished these words of Jesus for their homiletic value, not caring about the (insubstantial) note of dereliction. Only an editor with a largely gentile audience would be tempted to suppress it (Luke?).


  4. Tom says:

    Just ran across Bluth’s paper on the Cry and Ps 22. Interesting.


    • Matt Wright says:

      Just finished the Bluth paper…very interesting stuff. For me it adds a brand new layer of depth and awe to how powerful the life of Jesus is in total, but in the scene on the cross in particular. Two thoughts, especially as it relates to CWG:

      1) If we take Bluth’s perspective into account, could this lend more weight to Boyd’s assertion as to what’s happening “behind the scenes” (in his words) on the cross? Bluth posits that Mark’s use of Aramaic in the Ps. 22 quote ascribes a certain power to it, causing it to “pop out” to his audience. Furthermore, Bluth associates the Cry with the heavenly voice (“bat qol”) commonly associated with divine utterances from the Temple. This would seem to place a kind of stamp of divine authenticity on the Cry itself as not merely a psychological state, but a real perception of actual abandonment in the moment, even if for only a moment.

      2) To piggyback off of that, if indeed Jesus is utilizing a common tradition of quoting a part to reference a whole, then certainly the Cry is not of complete despair…it has to be seen as one of confidence in total vindication and salvation. Isn’t this Greg’s point when he references the essential unity of the Trinity in accordance with the divine plan? To paraphrase Psalm 30:5, the sorrow lasted for a moment (in God’s agreement with Godself), but the joy that came after persists forever. In total solidarity with our separation from God, God in Jesus enters it and destroys it, thereby making the way for us to be brought fully to the Father in him.

      Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this, I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated your perspective in this whole process.

      (Sidenote: I just realized that my use of Psalm 30 above would fall right in between Psalm 22 and Psalm 31…if John Anngeister’s theory above has merit, then Jesus himself would have prayed right through the “sorrow lasting for a night” verse after “my God, my God” and just before “into your hands”!!!)

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tom says:

        Hi Matt –

        I think the question of why Mark (not especially Matthew, since his audience knows Hebrew and Aramaic) would be explicit about Aramaic phrases at all, assuming his readers are Gentiles who aren’t going to depend upon the Aramaic original to decide what’s going on anyway, is very interesting. Mark’s readers are not in a position to make much of the Aramaic at all. They don’t speak it and aren’t going to pick through the transliteration of it. And you have other Aramaic phrases in Mark too (“boanerges” for ‘sons of thunder’ in Mk 3.17; “Talitha koum(i)” for ‘Little girl, get up’ at 5.41, and “Ephphatha” for ‘Open’ in ch. 7 hen healing the deaf man). None of these adds anything necessary to understanding the story or the words Jesus spoke.

        My guess is that the mention of Aramaic either:

        (a) has something to do with an Aramaic or Mishnaic Hebrew original that stands behind the whole gospel with the translator into Greek occasionally letting the Aramaic original through (but why?). Such an Aramaic original is a live option to several NT scholars, or

        (b) Assuming a Greek original of Mark not dependent upon an Aramaic original, it would simply be an affectionate fondness for the original-source language of Jesus that over time became naturally embedded in how Mark (and his community?) told the story – nothing special beyond that. “Abba” is another example. “Maranatha” is another. These survive into Greek Christianity in their Aramaic form. Why? There’s no reason other than a fondness and love for connecting to the original language of Jesus. It’s one way Christians connected in a tangible way to the history and life of Jesus. We even keep “Abba” and “Maranatha” alive in English – 2,000 years later. But there’s no real need to do so. “Father” and “Our Lord is Coming!” are prefectly fine translations.

        Regarding your point (2). There is now some debate on the CWG Facebook site (as you can see) about what Greg’s view even is. It’s a bit of a PR nightmare if you ask me. You don’t spend 10 years researching and hammering out your view and how to express it best (and do so in conversation with other theologians who help you anticipate the push back you’ll get) to discover 30 days after it’s released, and folks push-back, that your view is really quite different that you described and that it’s compatible with positions you previously dismissed as incompatible.

        All the while leading up to CWG, and in CWG itself, Greg was clear that though there remained an immutable, unbreakable union of the Trinity, this unity is *not* an abiding, transcendent “experience” that God has (of himself, as Father, Son, Spirit). On the Cross, all three divine Persons “experience estrangement from one another,” and Jesus’ Cry was to be “taken seriously” and not downplayed as just a tolerably bad day for Jesus. Jesus “became sin,” “became a curse,” “experienced hell,” and was abandoned by the Father whose abandonment was God’s “wrath” upon sin. There was for Greg never any room in Jesus’ consciousness (on the Cross) for anything like a transcendent self-contentment of his identity as beloved of his Father. That’s all changed very recently because of FB discussions. Now Greg admits that one can follow all his arguments and reasoning right down the line and consistently maintain that in the midst of his sufferings, Jesus possessed a self-contentment that transcended (i.e., that was not defined by) the Cross. That’s not a good sign if you ask me – I mean in terms of taking seriously the ten years Greg put into forging his view of the Cross (the Cry) at the center of CWG.

        So I agree with your (2) in the sense that the Cry is not a cry of despairing resignation to the conclusion that God had in fact abandoned him. But Greg’s references to the ‘essential unity’ of the Trinity (in CWG) have nothing to do with this because for Greg that ‘essential unity’ is not itself an “experience” of that unity. This is super important and it figures into how we approach understanding the Cry, because for Greg: God has no abiding, transcendent experience of himself. Greg distinguishes between God’s “existence” as such (that essential, unbreakable unity of the persons) and God’s “experience” on the other hand (and on the Cross the Persons experience “estrangement” from each other).

        Here the road diverges:

        The idea that God has no abiding, transcendent experience of his own unity is incoherent to me. So any notion that the Persons can agree to temporarily step outside an experience of their own triune identity to experience godforsakeness is nonsense. In addition, what is it about saving us that would make us think God would need to give that experience up? I wanna say so much on this but can’t here.

        As long as I’ve been following Greg on this question, and throughout CWG, Greg has insisted that the experience of godforsakenness which defines God’s experience of himself on the Cross is precisely where God bears our ‘death consequences’ and so is that which saves us. So for Greg to now suggest that believing there to have been a transcendent self-contentment defining Jesus’ core sense of self and mission while on the Cross is consistent with his view of the Cross totally torpedoes CWG.


        Liked by 2 people

  5. Matt Wright says:

    As always, thank you for the thoughtful response. I like to think I really am tracking with you, and agree in large part. I suppose where we diverge is that I don’t necessarily see an incoherence where you do, although I do understand why it appears incoherent. Maybe that is due to some very imprecise language used in CWG, as well as some equally imprecise analogies used to illustrate. (The whole “woman in labor” analogy did him absolutely no favors, in my opinion.) I understood Greg to be saying that other-oriented love *is* the triune identity, which Father-Son-Spirit enjoyed among each other in mutual submission and reception *except* at the cross…which is why Greg sees the cross as the “quintessential expression” of God: in essence, in character, in identity, etc. He steps into our separateness from God (a massive, incomprehensible paradox I admit), bears the wages of sin in totality, and comes out the other side intact. In this sense, the “abiding, transcendent” part of God would be in God’s identity/essence rather than experience of Godself. I do grant that this is counter to how we would expect it to work or think it should work…but reversing expectations seems like something that is right up God’s alley!

    Maybe this is all a semantic difference. Maybe he really is doing way too complicated of theological/philosophical gymnastics. It’s entirely possible that I’m reading Greg wrong, and the things I’m asserting on his behalf (assuming they make any sense) belong in a different book entirely. I can’t shake the feeling that we can hold the Cry as both a testament to genuine forsakenness as well as a purposeful reference to Ps. 22 with all its implications of vindication, salvation, and restoration. To me, this would make it all the more beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Matt: I understood Greg to be saying that other-oriented love *is* the triune identity, which Father-Son-Spirit enjoyed among each other in mutual submission and reception *except* at the cross…

      Tom: They did enjoy their triune identity without interruption sans creation, yes. But for Greg – this is the important point – this ‘experience of enjoyment’ is not itself the ‘triune identity’. The triune identity is one thing. God’s experience of it is another EVEN IF sans creation God was always in possession of an experience of it. It’s this bifurcation of ‘triune identity’ and ‘triune experience’ relative to God’s necessary existence that’s the problem. Greg’s PhD work is a sustained argument against this bifurcation. Now he argues for it.

      Matt: He steps into our separateness from God (a massive, incomprehensible paradox I admit), bears the wages of sin in totality, and comes out the other side intact. In this sense, the “abiding, transcendent” part of God would be in God’s identity/essence rather than experience of Godself.

      Tom: Right. That’s Greg’s view. My own sense is it’s an impossible view which is part of what our little corner shop of a blog here tries to expound upon.

      Matt: Maybe this is all a semantic difference.

      Tom: No, I think the differences are substantial.

      Matt: It’s entirely possible that I’m reading Greg wrong…

      Tom: Again, I think you’re getting his view basically right – as long as you recognize that the immutable ‘triune identity’ (as other-oriented love) is NOT ITSELF an immutable ‘experience’ of anything. Whatever God’s unchanging triunity is (for Greg) – it’s not an enjoyment of his essential triune identity as Father, Son, and Spirit isn’t it. It’s not even essentially conscious of itself (and yet it’s supposed to DEFINE the immutable other-oriented loving character of God).

      Matt: I can’t shake the feeling that we can hold the Cry as both a testament to genuine forsakenness as well as a purposeful reference to Ps. 22 with all its implications of vindication, salvation, and restoration. To me, this would make it all the more beautiful.

      Tom: It comes down to what you understand “forsakenness” to be and why you think God’s experiencing it is necessary to salvation. If by “forsakenness” you mean (a) human forsakenness – suffering THE WORLD’S abandonment, then yes. The Cross is testament that a nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ, that the world can exhaust its violence upon God Incarnate and NOT diminish the triune experience, so therefore, THAT experience can save us come hell or high water because we see it endure the Cross. But if by “forsakenness” you mean (b) something that “estranges” (Greg’s word) the divine Persons from one another, something that shatters God’s own triune experience of himelf and reduces God to the despair we seek salvation from, then that’s something entirely different.

      In BOTH cases (a and b) we need to ask “How’s this secure the redemption of the world? What part does it play? How do I actually integrate this narrative of the Cross into my life in transforming ways?” I can easily see the role which (a) plays. I can’t see any role that (b) plays which does not either involve God operating within a ‘penal’, scapegoating framework or which (if it insists it is not a penal-scapegoating model) cannot be better, more consistently integrated through (a).

      Let me ask this way, Matt. (Thanks for bearing with me by the way.) Let’s take the thought that the Father really did abandon Jesus (without rupturing his immutable ‘whatever-it-is-but-it’s-not-an-experience-of-anything’ triune identity). Let’s say that our salvation and transformation in Christ requires (b) above; that is, the ‘experience’ of the divine Persons have to be reduced to godforsakenness in which Father, Son, and Spirit are “estranged from one another” (Greg’s phrase). Let’s go with that. Now, if you can, tell me how you process your own sense of being saved in light of that. I’m seriously Bro. Take a couple days or weeks to ponder how you process the truth of (b) and turn it into the stuff of personal transformation. In other words, when you imagine divine estrangement and godforsakenness in your head, how do you integrate that into your own experience in saving, transforming ways?

      If you can show me how you turn Greg’s view into the stuff of personal transformation without any implicit appeal to a penal metaphysics or to scapegoating mechanisms, and show my how the same transformation is not also available through a view like my own, then I will – well, we’ll discuss what an amazing public confession I’ll make to Greg over all the grief I’ve caused him for 4 years of ranting against his Christology.


      Liked by 2 people

      • Matt Wright says:

        Challenge accepted, and I don’t mean that contentiously. The last thing in the world I want is to cling to a Godview that is as mistaken as you and others see this one to be. What would be the best way to send a response? Comment here, FB message?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Thanks Matt. Yeah, I hope I didn’t come across as bothersome. If you’re comfortable chatting here, here is fine.

        I’ll try to find some posts where we talk about how one actually DOES faith in transforming ways given the truth that God’s triune experience was *not* diminished by the Cross (though Jesus suffers the pain of crucifixion and rejection).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Another thought –

        I ask that question to a lot of people, Matt, because I notice that when there are disagreements (like between Greg and us), eventually we get to the personal, existential consequences of the differences as reasons for holding the positions we do. And this isn’t altogether wrong. All our beliefs and choices have a practical-existential base. But especially when it comes to salvation and personal transformation. Here we’re essentially disagreeing over the interpretation and meaning behind that transformation. What beliefs and perspectives make that transformation possible? What beliefs empower and facilitate it? What beliefs impair our progress? All we can do is be as honest as we can about the conscious thoughts we have and the deep convictions and beliefs we hold because THOSE beliefs define why and how we experience what we give the name ‘salvation’ to.

        Greg admittedly struggles with integrating into his life in saving and transforming ways any vision of God that doesn’t have God giving up or sacrificing his happiness for him, sacrificing his happiness by so identifying with Greg’s pain that Greg feels comforted by the fact that God shares his particular pain or despair (or whatever).

        I take a very different view – an older and more traditional view – namely, I don’t feel particularly helped or comforted or transformed by a God who is in the pain and despair I want out of. I want my pain lessened, not multiplied. For example, if I’m being tortured by somebody in a Middle Eastern holdout, I’m comforted by the thought that my wife *isn’t* sharing my pain. That’s on one level. On another level, yes, I’d be very comforted by somebody who has been through my tortures and did *not* lose hope, didn’t have his mind blown, didn’t despair of God’s presence and affections, etc. That sort of knowledge would be extremely empowering during my ordeal. But knowing there’s a guy next to me being tortured like I am and who falls into utter despair? Not a hope-inspiring source of transformation.

        Apart from the existential considerations, Greg also argues exegetically/theologically that, well, he’s constrained to interpret the Cry as he does because he believes the “death consequences” of sin are “intrinsic” to our sinful choices. Those consequences must be experienced. Greg supports this connect (partly) from 1Cor 5.21 (God make Christ to “be sin” for us) and Gal. 3.13 (Christ “became a curse” for us). He asked me here about those two verses. They figure in centrally in CWG. He asked and I answered here:

        But it makes little sense to say that suffering despairing godforsakeness is “intrinsic” to our choices and then argue that someone else can experience those consequences. If the consequences are “intrinsic” to the choices (which I agree they are), they have to be experienced by the subject of those choices, not some other innocent person. This is where Greg’s view of atonement shows its PSA colors.


        Liked by 2 people

      • Matt Wright says:

        Tom, again I appreciate you digging into this further with me, as well as elaborating more on your own position as well as the importance of this kind of dialogue. We are certainly on the same page when it comes to the importance of the “why” behind our “what” when it comes to belief…most especially what exactly it means to be saved, and how that comes about, and the way that transforms us. As I said before, the last thing I want to do is to cling to a Godview that is skewed as drastically as you think this one is. I’m still in process of gathering my thoughts to be as clear and concise as possible (not my strong suit), and I will definitely post them here soon. I do have an answer for you as to how this is transforming for me, as well as how I think it accomplishes our salvation. I can’t promise that it’s anything especially novel to you or in general, but since I value your opinion and experience so much I’d love the chance to hear your reactions to where my head is at. Theology is most definitely best done in community, and I am thankful for the communion I have with you through the magic of the internet!

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Tom says:

    Brad Littlejohn summarizes a Bruce McCormack lecture on the Cry:

    The darkness that comes over the whole land is often recognized as an allusion to Amos 8:9, where this is described as an effect of the eschatological judgment of God. The other obvious allusion is of course to Psalm 22, from which the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me are taken.” McCormack criticized the tendency of many exegetes to bring some light into the darkness of this scene by drawing attention to the entirety of Psalm 22, which ends in praise amid the congregation at God’s deliverance. But this misses the point of our narratives here–God does not intervene, Jesus does not live to praise God amid the congregation, the latter part of Psalm 22 is omitted for a reason. But, like Psalm 22, this is a prayer, but a prayer that is no longer from a standpoint of intimacy with the Father, as the earlier prayers in Gethsemane were–God is distant. This is not a prayer for deliverance; that prayer had already been made and refused in the garden; this is an expression of despair at the absence of God.

    I think this pretty much captures Greg’s view. David Congdon’s comments at the end (correctly I think) represent McCormack’s position (precisely what I said about Greg’s view of the Cry), that the Cry IS the saving event, it actualizes reconciliation. I think that too – I just think it actualizes reconciliation by virtue of Christ’s not surrendering self-contentment to despair or deconstructing the identity as mutual, filial affection.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:


      …the Father had imputed to him every sin of every one of his people…the most intense, dense concentration of evil ever experienced on this planet was exhibited. Jesus was the ultimate obscenity. So what happened? God is too holy to look at sin. He could not bear to look at that concentrated monumental condensation of evil, so he averted his eyes from his Son. The light of his countenance was turned off. All blessedness was removed from his Son, whom he loved, and in its place was the full measure of the divine curse… It was as if there was a cry from heaven, as if Jesus heard the words “God damn you,” because that’s what it meant to be cursed and under the anathema of the Father… [and] every person who has not been covered by the righteousness of Christ draws every breath under the curse of God.

      Sproul and Greg finally agree on something.


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