The crowd’s confusion over ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani’

Question 173, from Christel, Germany

When Jesus cried out ‘Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani’ as he was being crucified, why did the crowd think he was calling to Elijah? [This text is found in Matthew chapter 27, verses 46-47]

There are a number of reasons why “some of the crowd” witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion may have said this. CH Spurgeon, for example, believed it to be a continuation of the mocking jeers of the crowd (chapter 26, verses 39-44)[1].

However, the most likely reason is that they misunderstood his words because he was speaking in Aramaic, the common language of Galilee and Judea, which was not spoken widely elsewhere. The text says only some of the crowd were confused, and it may be they were primarily Greek speakers, who would have heard ‘Eloi’ and thought of the famous Jewish prophet, Elijah. (more…)