Today’s passage comes from the gospel of Matthew. It is Matthew 27:46 and it reads “And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying ‘Eli Eli Lama sabachthani?’ that is ‘my God my God, why have you forsaken me?’” This is one of the Muslims’ favorite argument. They say “If Jesus is God, why is he first of all crying out to God?”
Yes, I’ve heard this passage used in various ways to undermine the Christian faith and the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. One is: If Jesus Is God, is he praying to himself? How can he abandon himself? Then it gets a little more complicated. How can Jesus experience God forsaking us when he’s a God-man and was in perfect unity with the Father?
Let’s take the first one. If Jesus Is God, was he praying to himself? Absolutely not. That’s why we’re Trinitarians. We believe that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. If I were to use Islamic terminology to describe our belief, you have God the Father, his eternal Word who became flesh – the Lord Jesus Christ – and his eternal Spirit. So we believe Jesus is not the Father; he’s the Father’s beloved Son, his eternal Word, who is communion and fellowship with the Father. And that needs to be emphasized. Muslims take prayer to be merely worship whereas in the Christian context, worship is part of prayer but prayer is more than that. Prayer is also fellowship with God, intimate communion with God, being loved by God and loving God and having a conversation. So obviously if the Son is a Person distinct from the Father, we would expect them to converse with one another, to be in communication with one another. So from a Christian perspective, we have no problem with Jesus praying to the Father and then when you add the fact that Jesus isn’t simply God, we believe in incarnation – the word became flesh, he became a flesh-and-blood human being in order to become the kind of human being that God desires all of us to be – the perfect human in the sight of God is not someone who is prayerless or doesn’t care for spirituality or could care less for the commands of God. That’s far from being the perfect human being. If Jesus is the perfect man as God intends man to become and God is real, what kind of man would Jesus be, if not a perfect worshiper of the Father? So why would it be shocking from a Biblical perspective that Jesus is God, is in conversation with the Father because they’re not the same person? And as man, he’s the perfect human being living the perfect life that God wants all human beings to live which would include worshiping God perfectly. And that’s what Jesus did. This is what I would say to a Muslim. We have no problem with Jesus praying to the Father.
This is something that’s going to happen over and over again all the time. In several of the verses that we will be exploring in this series, we’re going to see the same thing over and over again, namely that Muslims will take a Bible verse and come at it from a Unitarian perspective. “You’ve got Jesus here and you’ve got God here, so obviously Jesus can’t be God.” If you approach it from a Trinitarian perspective, which is what we are, then that makes perfect sense. Jesus isn’t going to be an atheist after the incarnation. If you’re going to criticize our view, at least criticize it based on what our view is. Not let me give a Unitarian critique of your Trinitarian view. “This doesn’t make sense given a Unitarian view of God.” I agree completely that it doesn’t make sense if you have a Unitarian view of God.
Since the Muslim is assuming that Jesus, if he’s God cannot pray because who does God pray to – and he explained it beautifully, a uni-personal God will have a problem praying but if God is tri-personal as the Bible teaches, then one person praying to another or to the others thus poses no problem from our perspective. But let’s turn the argument against the Muslim because we find at least three verses in the Quran where Allah prays. Muslim says “Jesus can’t be God because he prays, otherwise he’s praying to himself.” That can be used more forcefully against Islam because they don’t believe in a Triune God; they believe Allah is a singular Consciousness. Surah 33:43 “He it is who prays (Arabic “yusallee”) for you and his angels too.
Does “yusallee” mean “bless”? Of course not. This is kind of a translation of convenience. “Blessing” in Arabic is “baraka”. It can’t mean bestowing mercy because there is a word for mercy “rahma”. It says yusallee, which is the verb use for prayer. It’s not the only place. Surah 33:56 which is even more problematic because it shows Allah joining a group that’s engaged in this act. Verily God (or Allah) and his angels pray (Arabic “yusalloona”). It’s “yusalloona” – Allah and his angels together are engaged in this activity. And then it says “They pray for the prophet. O you who believe, pray for him as well.” Notice why Muslims should pray. Allah himself with the angels pray for the prophet. How much more should you be praying for him?
I was hanging out with Hamzah Abdul Malik one day. He was a Muslim apologist who became a Quran-only Muslim. I asked him “Do you recite the shahada?” because we do have a version of the shahada in the Quran but Muhammad is not in there. So do you recite the complete shahada? He said, “No, its shirk.” Later on when I was talking to him on a different occasion, I was asking him about prayers and I wasn’t even asking the obvious question about the five prayers. I was asking about what he does during prayers and he says “Prayer means that I would go out and bless people in various ways. It says in the Quran that Allah and his angels pray but there it can’t mean that they’re actually praying so it must mean that they’re blessing people. Therefore, when it’s telling me to do the same, it must be telling me to bless people.” He’s noticing, at least to his credit, that it says to do what Allah and his angels are doing. He’s assuming that Allah can’t be doing that (i.e. praying). That’s circular reasoning. I think we would say that, given that the Quran claims to be so incredibly clear, that Allah would use the word that means whatever it is he’s actually saying especially when there are perfectly good Arabic words to describe the other things.
Muslims believe that the Quran has existed for all of eternity and it was in a preserved tablet next to Allah. Is Allah basically praying for himself “Guide us in the straight path.” Who is he praying to? Either the Quran is praying to Allah (so it’s a conscious agent distinct from Allah, even though it’s inseparable from them, so you get now a trinity of sorts) or that is a prayer Allah is reciting so he’s praying to himself. So this argument can be leveled more forcefully against the Muslims.
I just want to read the other passage for the benefit of the readers Surah 2:157. Unfortunately, depending on the translation you read, they’re going to obscure what the Arabic words mean. So we do recommend that you go to answeringislam.org, look up individual authors. I have an article on Allah praying and worshiping and we give you the Arabic words. Surah 2:157 there are those on whom are the prayers (Arabic “salawaat”) from their lord and mercy (Arabic “rahma”). So the word “prayer” cannot have the meaning “mercy” because “mercy” is used with it. Allah bestows mercy and praise for these people who follow the guidance. So you have three passages where the Muslim God is praying. My question to the Muslim is this: You got a problem with Jesus praying to the Father. We acknowledge he’s not the Father. He’s the same from Father and fellowship with him. So we have no problem with him praying, especially now that he has become flesh. But you don’t believe in the Trinity, you don’t believe that Allah exists as a plurality of consciousness right? It’s a single consciousness. Who in the world does Allah pray to when he is praying for Muhammad and other believers? To this date, no Muslim can give me an answer because they have to explain the Arabic away (it doesn’t mean that) or they’ll tell you that his prayer means that he’s praising Muhammad. But that makes it worse because praise is an act of worship and part of worship is praising. So if they tell you that his prayer includes praising Muhammad, they’re admitting that Allah is worshipping Muhammad because he’s praising him all day all night.
Doesn’t also this particular passage Matthew 27:46 have a connection to Psalms 22:1? There are two important objections that Muslims raise. One would be who’s Jesus talking to here but the other is that he’s being forsaken. And that problem arises when you have people who don’t know anything about the Bible hearing something and so if you read Jesus saying “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”, you would read that he’s just randomly crying out. To the Jews who actually knew the scriptures, who quote the Torah on a daily basis, who quote the Psalms on a daily basis, who quote the Prophets on a daily basis, when they hear him say that, they were going to know exactly what he’s talking about, they’re going to know that that is a quotation of the first verse of Psalm 22. So this isn’t randomly crying out. If I randomly cry out, the words can be anything. If I am randomly crying out an actual quotation, I’m telling you “You need to pay attention to what I just said.” Why would Jesus call out the opening verse of Psalm 22? It’s like if I say “Amazing grace, how sweet that sound”, I don’t need to complete, you know the rest of it. That’s the same thing because the Psalms would be sung in the temple. Many people don’t know this. The Psalms were the hymn book of the Old Testament worship. So they would actually sing these in praise. It’s not Jesus saying “Why you forsaken me?” Actually, Jesus is saying “How long will it take before you come to my vindication and deliver me?” I’m going to prove that. Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from delivering me and from my roaring words of distress?” By the time you get to the end of the Psalm, his prayer is answered. God delivers him because we believe that when Jesus died and was raised from the dead, that was the ultimate act of deliverance. And to prove it, Psalm 22:23-24. Notice after he says “Why have you forsaken me?”, you will fear the Lord, praise Him all you descendants of Jacob, glorify him and stand in awe of him all you descendants of Israel for he has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted nor has he hid his face from him but when he cried to him he heard. So it’s not “Why have you forsaken me?”. Basically it’s “How much longer before you come to my vindication and deliver me?” And the answer is: it’s done. That’s why Jesus afterwards says “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
This is a messianic song, so in crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” but doing it quoting the actual verse that’s here, is it Jesus claiming to be the Messiah who was mistreated and would ultimately be vindicated? Even pierced. Psalm 22:16 4.7 For dogs have emcompassed me, the assembly of the wicked have closed upon me like a lion, they pierce my hands and my feet. If you are a Jewish listener and you understand what he is saying, if you’re sitting there looking at Jesus, you’re thinking this is not the Messiah here, this is not what’s supposed to happen to the Messiah, and then Jesus, while you’re looking at him saying “There’s no way this guy can be the Messiah. The Messiah would not be disgraced and dishonored in this way. God would not allow this thing to happen and Jesus cries out “No, Psalm 22, you need to check it out, you’ve been hearing all your lies, now pay attention to the meaning because this is about me.” Hopefully that would sink in with some people. “That is a Messianic Psalm and that’s about someone being disgraced in all these ways and the things that are mentioned in here, that he is pierced, that they’re casting lots, these are all fulfilled right in front of us and ultimately the Messiah is vindicated, so maybe our view of the Messiah, has it really taking into account all the prophecies that we’ve been hearing all that lives.
What does this do to the Muslim position that say Jesus is the Messiah and yet the Old Testament says part of the mission is to die vicariously for our sins and be raised to life? What does that do for the Quran? They don’t understand what the term “messiah” means.