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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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    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, 2021 at 20:05
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    Most of the Hebrew Bible isn't quoted in the NT. Is there anything in particular that makes you think this single verse should have been? How much of Psalm 22 is quoted compared to how much isn't?
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 14, 2021 at 4:12
  • My understanding of the question is he is trying to counter someone else's argument. He's not arguing it himself.
    – Perry Webb
    Mar 15, 2021 at 9:15
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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, 2021 at 13:04
  • It's an odd argument, since John makes a fairly big deal of the holes in Jesus' body towards the end of his gospel. Allusion without quotation still constitutes 'use'. Mar 17, 2021 at 14:52

8 Answers 8

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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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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, 2021 at 19:15
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    Ultimately, it is up to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
    – user35953
    Mar 13, 2021 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, 2021 at 21:25
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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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  • Most Jews back then did not own a personal copy of the Book of Psalm as each one had to be hand copied and only the wealthy could afford them. Nov 20, 2023 at 15:58
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Rabbi Tovia Singer
The comments state the basis of this question comes from Rabbi Tovia Singer who argues if this was understood at the time as it is today, the writers of the period would have used it. Therefore, since it was not used in the Gospels, it is a misuse of Scripture by the Christian Church.

The Rabbi contests many Christian interpretations of Scripture. For example, he argues "the Church" distorted the English translation of Psalm 16 so it would agree with Peter's message:

For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.
(Acts 2:27 ESV)
ὅτι οὐκ ἐγκαταλείψεις τὴν ψυχήν μου εἰς ᾅδην οὐδὲ δώσεις τὸν ὅσιόν σου ἰδεῖν διαφθοράν
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
(Psalm 16:10)

As he points out, the Hebrew should be rendered as faithful one:

For You will not abandon me to Sheol, or let Your faithful one see the Pit.
(Psalm 16:10 NJPS)

The Rabbi's error lies in characterizing the issue as coming from the Christian Church:

because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. (LXX-Psalm 15:10)
ὅτι οὐκ ἐγκαταλείψεις τὴν ψυχήν μου εἰς ᾅδην οὐδὲ δώσεις τὸν ὅσιόν σου ἰδεῖν διαφθοράν

If the text was corrupted, it was done by Hebrew scholars 200 years before Peter used their interpretation. In other words, just as the Talmud explains the meaning of texts in ways which do not necessarily agree with a literal translation of the Hebrew, those who translated the LXX made a similar "change" to convey the meaning to a Greek audience. The fact the Greek deviates slightly from the Hebrew is not from "the Church" nor is it a "corruption" any more than explanations in the Talmud are corruptions.

Furthermore, an argument based on an omission is hardly convincing. Since there are hundreds of OT prophecies Jesus did fulfill, how is one more going to make a difference? The Rabbi is arguing in effect, "Yes the writers of the time gave many examples of fulfilled prophecies, but, since they failed to use Psalm 22:16, which I think is the most important, they must not have believed it was fulfilled. Therefore, I reject their conclusion that Jesus was the Christ and claim the Church uses the Old Testament differently from the original writers."

I fail to see the logic in rejecting the conclusions the early writers made on the basis of how later writers add to the evidence. Even if the addition is inappropriate, doesn't the fact the early writers did not need this verse to reach a conclusion settle the question?

Why the verse is omitted
Suppose the early Church used the Psalm as the Rabbi believes they should. Would that really satisfy a non-believer? Highly unlikely since that use would open the door to another objection.

Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler explain the overall sense of Psalm 22 [my added emphasis]:

The Psalm opens with a plea from a person in dire straits, apparently from a serious illness. His prayers have been answered, he brings the offerings vowed and gives public acclaim to God as he promised.1

Despite the severe affliction, the Psalmist's prayers were answered and death was avoided. Clearly that was not the case for Jesus. Just as Isaac nearly died and can be called a parable, the Psalmist describes the horrors of crucifixion and nearly dies. The Psalm accurately describes physical crucifixion; it also states the Psalmist avoids death. As applied to Jesus the Psalm is only partially correct as it describes thanksgiving for being rescued from death, not raised to life after death.

A second reason is the LXX deviates from the Hebrew:

ὅτι ἐκύκλωσάν με κύνες πολλοί συναγωγὴ πονηρευομένων περιέσχον με ὤρυξαν χεῖράς μου καὶ πόδας

The LXX understood the wounds as being ὤρυξαν which means to dig, not pierce. Now "dig" properly describes what the Romans would need to do in order to locate the correct place before driving a spike without breaking a bone or sever an artery, causing immediate death. But "dig" falls short of describing the actual wounds.

In terms of the actual crucifixion, neither the Hebrew or Greek expresses the full extent of what happened to the hands and feet. First, the soldiers "dug" around to locate the correct place. Then they drove the spike piercing the hands and feet, without breaking any bone.

The wound to the hands and feet were not fatal. Nor were they the Scripture fulfilled before death:

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19)

The last Scripture fulfilled before death was Psalm 68:22 (69:21). The "piercing" which would fulfill Scripture took place after death:

33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” (John 19)

1. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 1305

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  • The Q relates to P22:16 - which you completely avoid explaining. Soldiers dug around to find the right place to place the nails – Really! Your A just seems fanciful, NO, desperation. Sep 20, 2023 at 9:39
  • @anothertheory If the spike was driven without carefully locating, it could sever an artery and the victim would bleed to death. Similar to one who cuts their wrists to commit suicide. The purpose of crucifixion was to inflict an excruciating death. So digging to locate the spike is 100% correct. Likewise to avoid breaking a bone in the foot, unless Scripture is wrong. This is not fanciful. It is applying what we know about the human body to the act of crucifixion. Sep 20, 2023 at 15:44
  • Crucifixion numerous issues, would they nail the hands which would tear the flesh or the wrists, would someone be already near death having gone through what Jesus allegedly did etc... Would the soldiers really care, these are all assumption with nothing to back it up. No mention of any holes in Luke 24:39-40 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. [no flesh torn, no would, all 11 there) Albeit we have this 'Thomas' story Sep 21, 2023 at 9:47
  • There is no Psalms that states Jesus died, something for you to downvote me on - hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/83957/33268 Sep 21, 2023 at 9:53
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The original septuagint was only of the Torah. Psalms was not translated before Jesus's time, nor was Isaiah concerning 7:14. A lie many are taught.

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  • This answer is incorrect. NT writers clearly had access to the Psalms, as they often quoted from them. Nov 20, 2023 at 16:26
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Psalm 22:16 is not quoted in the New Testament, likely because a controversial word of it had been known at that time. The argument is the word "pierced", Ellicott's commentary read;

They pierced.— The word thus rendered has formed a battle-ground for controversy. As the Hebrew text at present stands the word reads kāarî (like a lion). (Comp. Isaiah 38:13.) But no intelligible meaning can be got out of “like a lion my hands and my feet.” Nor does the plan commend itself of dividing the verses differently, and reading, “The congregation of wicked men have gathered round me like a lion. On my hands and my feet I can tell all my bones.” The punctuation of the text must therefore be given up, and a meaning sought by changing the reading. The necessity of a change is supported both by the ancient versions and by some MSS., and also by the Masora; though considerable difference exists as to what the word should be read. If the authority of the ancient versions alone were to decide, some verb in the past tense must be read, but the most reasonable course is to accept the present text, but with a different vowel, treating it as a participle, with suffix, of kûr, whose root-idea, according to Ewald, is “to bind;” but according to most other scholars is “to dig.” It is, however, so doubtful whether it can mean to dig through—i.e., to pierce—that it is better to understand here a binding of the limbs so tightly as to dig into them, and wound them. Render: “The band of villains [literally, breakers] surrounded me, binding my hands and feet so as to cut them.”

Another reference from BibleRef.com says:

The controversial phrase here is translated in the ESV as "they have pierced my hands and feet." Critics claim the term translated "pierced" was originally the word for "lion," as these two are extremely similar in Hebrew. That would make the translation "like a lion, at my hands and feet." This would make the phrase much less suggestive of Roman crucifixion (John 19:16–18; 20:26–27; Luke 24:39–40). It would also fit the pattern of someone being attacked by savage animals.

However, history and evidence do not support the replacement of "lion" for the term "pierced." In the oldest known copies of Psalm 22, the term is clearly "pierced." This is not only true of Jewish materials like the Dead Sea Scrolls, but also of the oldest Latin Vulgate and Arabic copies. It is also translated as "pierced" in the Septuagint: a Jewish translation of Scripture into Greek, completed centuries before Christ. "Lion" occurs more often than "pierced" only in Masoretic texts produced a thousand years after Christ. Literary and historical evidence strongly indicate "they have pierced my hands and feet" is the psalmist's intended message.

Hope it helps.

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The authors of the NT may not have made the connection between this verse and Jesus, or else they may have thought it did not apply because of what is said in vs. 31 (see below)

John 12

4 Jesus found an ass and sat upon it, as is written: 15 “Fear no more, O daughter Zion; see, your king comes, seated upon an ass’s colt.” 16 His disciples did not understand this at first, but when Jesus had been glorified they remembered that these things were written about him and that they had done this for him.

Here we see an example of how Jesus' disciples came to understand only later the way in which a messianic prophecy applied to Jesus. The quote from Zechariah was clearly messianic, but the verse in the Psalms was not considered to be a messianic prophecy yet. So perhaps it did not occur to the writers of the NT that Psalm 22:16 was among the scriptures that spoke of Jesus.

In addition, there is a question about vs. 31.

And I will live for the Lord; my descendants will serve you. (NABRE)

Christians understand "descendants" here to refer to believers rather than to the sufferer in the psalm having physical children, and many translations leave out the word "descendants" completely. Thus, Jesus' disciples might have ignored Psalm 22 because the psalmist seems to speak of the sufferer surviving his torment and having physical descendants, which was not the case with Jesus.

Conclusion: Psalm 22:16 not quoted in the New Testament either because it had not yet occurred to its authors that this was a messianic prophecy and/or they did not think it applied on account of the fact that Jesus had no descendants.

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This passage never existed at the time.

Otherwise, they would have repeated it thousands of times. Numerous passages are pounced upon as relating to Jesus even when they don’t.

The translation has been corrupted - Kā-’ă-rî, means like a lion.

Psalm 22:17 should read: "For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evil-doers have inclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet."

See: How should Psalm 22:16 read?

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    Actually, in the Septuagint, and even in the Dead Sea Scrolls, it sais "pierced". "The oldest surviving manuscript of the psalm comes from the Dead Sea Scrolls, first discovered in 1947. Significantly, the 5/6 H. ev–Sev4Ps Fragment 11 of Psalm 22 contains the crucial word in the form of what some have suggested may be a third person plural verb, written כארו (“pierced/dug”). This may suggest that the Septuagint translation preserved the meaning of the original Hebrew." (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/They_have_pierced_my_hands_and_my_feet)
    – Leonard
    Sep 19, 2023 at 11:50
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    " This Dead Sea Scroll, found at Nah. al H. ever, contains several lines from Psalm 22. Published here for the first time with magnification and darkening, this fragment clearly shows that the final letter in the crucial word vrak is a waw (v), not a yod (y). This confirms that the text should be translated “they pierced/dug,” rather than “like a lion.”" (Source: scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/…)
    – Leonard
    Sep 19, 2023 at 11:52
  • @Leonard - please see the link at the bottom of my answer it deals in detail with this passage and also the very weak argument of - Nahal Hever Cave (which are not the DSS). It will answer all the points you raise. Sep 19, 2023 at 12:24
  • Many passages are "pounced on" as revealing Jesus even though they don't? Yet the writers failed to use one Rabbi Tovia Singer says is proof positive. Equally mystifying is how the early writers did not need Singer's proof positive to reach the unshakable conclusion Jesus was the Christ for which they all died. Amazingly, Singer focuses on what is lacking, and for the first writers, completely unnecessary to reach a conclusion, in order to claim the first writers were wrong despite their willingness to die for what they believed. Is there a more convoluted and distorted line of reasoning? Sep 19, 2023 at 20:05
  • You may not follow Singer but your answer indicates you agree with him. In that case you agree with his absurd logic that claims the beliefs held by the original writers must be rejected on the basis of the Church misusing a passage the original writers did not need to establish their conviction. It is the classic use of a straw man argument. Create a plausible argument of deliberate misunderstanding of Scripture to prove a position…except in this case the phantom is a verse the original writers did not use. Which proves their faith was not dependent on the verse in question. Sep 20, 2023 at 15:50

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