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For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. [Psalm 22:16 KJV]

One of the biggest objections to this verse not being used to refer to the crucifixion of Jesus is that it is never quoted in the New Testament. Isaiah 53 is quoted in various places, Zechariah 12:10 (looking on the one who was pierced) as well as other parts of Psalm 22 but not verse 16.

One answer I've come to think as somewhat likely is that the gospel audiences would have already been very familiar with this verse. The gospel authors then chose to emphasize other lesser known aspects of the messianic prophecies. For example, Matthew makes allusions to other aspects of Psalm 22 like Jesus' garments being divided, his trust in God, onlookers wagging their head at him but not the piercing of Jesus' hands and feet.

Something doesn't seem right about this interpretation but I also can't think of any arguments against it.

Any thoughts?

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  • Hi Zakb, Hermeneutics is about understanding what a piece of text says. This is not a general religion discussion forum - you can go to christianity stackexchange for those questions. If the question is about the best interpretation of Psalm 22.6, then please modify it to make this clear, and you will get answers that discuss what this verse says. – Robert Mar 13 at 19:02
  • Thank you, I'll take my question there. – Zakb Mar 13 at 19:06
  • The similar text ... they will look upon him whom they have pierced (Zechariah 12:10) is quoted in the NT (John 19:37). – Nigel J Mar 13 at 20:05
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    Are you complaining that the Bible is not written the way you would have written it - do you not like the way the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible? – Dottard Mar 13 at 21:27
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    Yes, this is an argument I’ve heard from the Jewish Rabbi Tovia Singer. I should have clarified better in the question. His argument is that if this psalm literally said “they pierced my hands and feet” that it would have been used by the NT authors. It is so unambiguously clear that it’s about Jesus that it doesn’t make any sense to him why they would not use it. Part of his argument is that Christians today use it all the time in apologetics but why not Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul etc. – Zakb Mar 15 at 13:04
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Jesus did quote the beginning of Psalm 22 on the cross (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 24:44)

אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי (Psalm 22:2a, MT)

 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, ESV)

περὶ δὲ τὴν ἐνάτην ὥραν ⸀ἀνεβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγων· ⸂ηλι ηλι⸃ ⸄λεμα σαβαχθανι⸅; (Matt. 27:46, NA28)

Scriptures were referenced then by the beginning words. The Hebrew scriptures still are.

Genesis is בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית, in the beginning

Exodus is וְאֵ֗לֶּה שְׁמוֹת֙, these are the names

Leviticus is וַיִּקְרָ֖א, and he called

An example of a passage: the Shema or Shma שְׁמַ֖ע Deut. דברים) 6:4-9)

Thus, when Jesus said, אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani, he pointed us to the entire Psalm 22 passage.

By the way there are parts of Psalm 22 referenced in the New Testament such as v19 in Matt. 27:35. Mark 15:24. Luke 23:34. John 19:23-24.

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Jews were familiar with the Old Testament in much the same way as Christians are familiar with Paul, and stories from the Gospel - if you knew the first part, you knew how the rest of the story went.

As such, when someone quotes Scripture in the New Testament, they quote minimal portions, and expect the reader to remember the whole story, and thus the place of that quote in it. This explains a lot of the quotations where entire arguments are built upon a tiny piece of one chapter - even sometimes, one verse. It's not because it's being taken out of context, but because the context resides in the mind of the reader already, making its explanation redundant.

So on the cross Jesus quoted Psalm 22 when he cried out its first words: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" People would be familiar with this psalm with its memorably desperate tone; "my God, my God" is very emphatic in Hebrew in particular, but in any language.

It is not safe to assume that unless an apostle quotes an Old Testament book, that it doesn't "concern" Jesus, or isn't prophetic in that regard. This is a pretty arbitrary rule, and I don't think it's a reasonable one.

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After the resurrection, Jesus met two men near Emmaus in Luke 24.

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

There are plenty of messianic prophecies that are not quoted in the NT. Ps 22:16 is just one of those. According to Jesus, it does not make it less messianic.

John 21:25

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

The writers had to choose what verses to quote and other verses to be left out. If they had included Psalm 22:16, someone would complain about how come Psalm 22:17 is not quoted in the NT. Ultimately, it is up to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

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    I would agree with most of that. The claim that I've heard made is that it is so explicitly about Jesus that this would have been quoted numerous times. Other Old Testament prophecies could be more ambiguous but the lack of ambiguity in this one makes it difficult to see why no one would have mentioned it. – Zakb Mar 13 at 19:15
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    Ultimately, it is up to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. – Tony Chan Mar 13 at 19:21
  • I agree with your answer and your comment. We should not tell the Holy Spirit how to write the Bible. – Dottard Mar 13 at 21:25

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