Was Jesus really “Abandoned”?

June 17, 2015


As I have noted previously, both in essays and in various word studies, I consider the Lord Jesus himself to be the final and the only reliable arbiter of either “doctrine” or “destiny”, and our only reliable resource for information about his directives to be the New Testament writings.
In more than a half-century of careful study, I have found no evidence of his having made any effort to dictate what his followers should “think” or ”believe” about any topic, idea, or event, whether historical, philosophical, or theological. I see him rather inviting all manner, sorts, and conditions of people to choose and to demonstrate personal loyalty to him, and a determined commitment to “follow him in life” as mutual and faithful citizens of the Kingdom that he came to establish.
As the Author of life (whether “temporal” or “eternal”), and the Sovereign of that Kingdom, all subsequent decisions, directions, or decrees are rightfully his, and his alone.

Through the centuries, however, hierarchies, both political and ecclesiastical, have tried to usurp the power of our King and to impose their own complexities of theory and practice upon their followers (or perhaps “victims” would be a better word). It is these self-styled “authorities” and their descendants who have shamefully distilled and distorted the message of the New Testament, preferring to heap blame upon their audiences for Jesus’ suffering and death, rather than to encourage faithfulness by declaring the power of his glorious resurrection; and to flog those hapless listeners to the point of paralysis with accusations of “guilt and shame” (please see word study #128), rather than to teach and encourage their active, loyal participation in the continuing work of the Body of Christ on earth.

One of their most insidious tools in promoting their distorted views is the claim that because of that purported “guilt”, and to avoid the threatened penalty (which, for the record, Jesus neither initiated nor endorsed) of capital punishment for even the slightest infraction, God actually “turned his back” or “turned his face away” from his own Son in his hour of death. This claim is totally without support anywhere in the New Testament! Jesus never said it, and neither did ANY of the gospel writers! In fact, careful perusal of the Gospel accounts reveals its polar opposite!
The proponents of this grisly scheme base their case upon the badly misunderstood quotation by Jesus, noted only in Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34), of the introductory verse of Psalm 22. They zero in on a single word, “forsaken”. There are three major errors here: (1) the poor translation of the word, (2) the failure to consider the psalm as a whole, and (3) the failure to read all the way to the end of the witnesses’ report.

First: the word “forsake, forsaken”. It is used in conventional translations to represent five different Greek words:
apostasia – appearing only once (Ac.21:21) in the accusation that Paul had been “teaching people to forsake Moses”.
apotassomai – also only once translated “forsake” (Lk.14:33), of the need to leave behind all else for the Kingdom, and elsewhere rendered “bid farewell” (2x), “send away” (1x), and “take leave of”(2x).
aphiemi – rendered “forsake” (5x), usually about simple physical departures, but which is more frequently translated “forgive” (47x) – please see W.S.#7 — , or simply “leave” (52x), as well as 30-some ideas similar to the latter.
Likewise, kataleipo (22x as “ leave”) is only twice rendered “forsake”: of Moses’ departure from Egypt (Heb.11:24) and of a person’s departure from the right way (II Peter 2:15).
The word that appears in the psalm, egkataleipo, which bears a double prefix (emphatic), is the only one where the translation “forsake” predominates, and even so occurs only 7x, including the two Ps.22 quotations (which could, with equal fidelity to the vocabulary and grammar, be rendered “Why have you left me here?” as in “couldn’t I please come home now”?) The others are II Cor.4:9 (“NOT forsaken”), I Tim.4:10 and 16 of companions who had left Paul, Heb.10:25 in the admonition “not to forsake” fellowship, and 13:5 in the promise that the Lord will neither “leave nor forsake” his own.

Classical use of the word, according to L/S, include primarily “to leave behind” (by departure, or in a race), and only secondarily “to abandon.” They also note that it is closely related to the word usually referring to a “remnant”, whether human or material. The two references in Matthew and Mark are the only ones connected to Jesus, and this is not picked up by any other New Testament writer. Although Matthew is the writer most careful to reference all possible Old Testament parallels or prophecies, he is not the only one.

Secondly, it is important to notice that the source of that quotation, Psalm 22, also complains of the scorn of the hierarchy (v.7-8), noted in all the synoptics, and the casting of lots over clothing (v.18) noted in all four gospels, neither of which the “doctrine people” have emphasized to a similar extent.
Is it even possible that the psalmist (unwittingly) anticipated the error that would arise centuries later from his words, when he specifically included (v.24) the affirmation that God had NOT “scorned” or “hidden his face” from the complainant? And please notice that the remainder of the psalm is occupied with triumphant thanksgiving!

Finally, what, then are we to make of the rhetoric about Jesus’ having been abandoned, and his prayer being ignored, or at least unanswered?   These (well-meaning ???) folks totally ignore the rest of the very same story! John and Luke, for example, both note Jesus’ emphatically committing his spirit to the Father with his last breath, and all three synoptics describe his last “word” as a “great shout”! A “shout” is NOT characteristic of the weak expiration of an exhausted crucified victim overcome by his agony. One “shouts” in triumph!!!
John, the only one to record Jesus’ actual words, tells us that it was because he “knew that everything had been completed” (19:28-30) that Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished!” as he deliberately “handed over” his spirit. (Please see W.S.#154). And if that wasn’t enough, the immediate destruction of the temple’s veil (see former post), and the opening of tombs, and the solar eclipse made the triumph unmistakable! I wonder why no one has made more of the eclipse. Such phenomena, although spectacular, are temporary. It does become very dark; but after the hours of deepening darkness, the sun does emerge, totally unscathed! A lovely figure of the resurrection on the third day!

It took Sunday’s resurrection to display the whole truth of everything being “finished” in a way that others could see the final defeat of the power of death. But the events of Friday can only have been, for Jesus, a glorious answer to his prayer.

Thanks be to God!