When we read about the crucifixion in John 19:31-37, it is written that Jesus' legs were not broken to speed up his death. The author claims this fulfilled Psalms 34:20, which reads:

he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. (NIV translation)

If we read Psalm 34, the psalmist was writing about the goodness of God. Why was this verse associated with Jesus?

There are more verses like this which are associated with Christ but they fit in the context from where they are taken from.

  • This is a good example of how you get different answers here versus C.SE. cheers
    – Mike
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 23:54

5 Answers 5


One argument that has been made is that the care for the righteous, i.e. the preservation of a man's (David's) bones in suffering, imagery is joined up with the passover theme. In the passover they were not to break any bones of the sacrificial Lamb.

46 “It must be eaten inside the house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. (NIV Exodus 12:46)

It is argued that even prior to Christ's death the passover lamb was associated with Psalm 34 in early Judaism.

Exod. 12:46; Num. 9:12; Ps. 34:20 in Judaism. The requirement that none of the bones of the Passover lamb be broken was observed in Judaism. Belief in God’s protection of the righteous is amply attested in Jewish biblical and extrabiblical literature. The presupposed identification of the Passover lamb (Exod. 12:46; Num. 9:12) with the righteous sufferer (Ps. 34:20) is attested as well (see references in Menken 1996a: 160–64, with special attention to Jub. 49:13; see also Daube 1956: 309; Schuchard 1992: 139). (COMMENTARY on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament Edited by G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, P503)

  • Mike, Is it Jewish tradition or believe that Psalms have hidden prophecies about Christ?
    – shakAttack
    Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 12:18
  • @shakAttack - Yes. Here is a helpful list of documented verses in the Bible ancient Jews regarded as containing hidden prophecies about Messiah. (This list was compiled by a Jew converted to Christianity who was a scholar on Jewish history) juchre.org/life/appen09.htm
    – Mike
    Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 12:55

The question and the answers suffers from the assumption that the Psalms are prophecy, rather than statements of fact or faith, and also from the inconvenience that in context, Christologic explanations make no sense.

The theme of Psalm 34, written by King David, is God's relationship with the righteous and evildoers. According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Psalm 34 is derived from an event that took place in David's own personal life (when he was running from Saul and sought shelter with King Abimelech's kingdom by pretending to be a feeble-minded beggar). Despite his troubles, of which he has many, David nevertheless "glories in the Lord" (verse 3) and seeks to tell others that God will help them too should they choose a path of righteousness. David even gives advice for those who want to be righteous: "keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech; keep away from evil and do good without hesitation; seek peace and pursue it." Ps. 34:14-15.

But David's psalm acknowledges that even the righteous will have troubles, as he has: "Many, too, are the ills [or troubles] of a righteous man, but the Lord delivers him out of them all." Ps. 34:20. He finishes the Psalm at verses 22 and 23 asserting that evildoers will be destroyed by their own evil, and God will redeem the souls of His servants, and no one who takes refuge in God will be desolate.

I skipped over verse 21. If it were a prophecy about Jesus, it is sorely out of place. The words of verse 21 - "He keeps all of his bones and not even one of them is broken" according to Rabbi David Kimhi (the "Radak") - refers to bones to describe the entire body because the skeletal structure is the body's mainstay. According to Radak's book Sefer HaBris (Pt. 1, Essay 11) God ensures that a special part of the skeletal structure will remain intact for the righteous after death so that He may use it to resurrect their bodies in the Messianic Age.

The verse can also be understood in accordance with the ancient Jewish tradition that at Sinai God gave the Jewish people a total of 613 commandments -- 365 negative commandments and 248 positive commandments, and these numbers are the 365 sinews, ligaments and tendons and the 248 bones and major organs in the human body (according to tradition). So, when David says that God guards "all of his bones", he is saying that God reciprocates man for observing His commandments by protecting man's body for the World to Come. See Rabbi Eliyahu HaCohen, Tehillos Hashem (1738).

Beyond presenting an alternative reading of Ps. 34:21, there are good reasons to not conclude that a Christological interpretation is tenable. As noted above, in context of David's Psalm, a messianic prophecy just doesn't belong. The Psalm is clearly descriptive of classes of persons -- righteous people and evildoers -- whether in plural or singular form.

Finally, the attempt by Gospel writers to include as a fact that Jesus was crucified without his bones being broken shows a confusion about the sacrifices. Sacrifices meant to atone for sins -- e.g. the burnt offering -- did not preclude breaking bones after the slaughter of the offering. Only the Passover offering, which did not extend atonement, but was meant as an offering of remembrance of the Exodus, prohibited the breaking of bones, while requiring that the owners of the Passover offering eat all edible parts of the animal (including the bone marrow, which they would access by burning holes through the animal's bones). If Jesus was meant to be a substitute sin offering, the Pascahal lamb analogy doesn't work. Finally, as a practical matter, if none of Jesus' bones had been broken while he was crucified, it is unlikely that anyone would die from crucifixion quickly under those circumstances. Jewish law (Babyl. Talmud, Yevamos 120) states that a widow seeking to prove her husband's death could not rely on testimony that someone saw her husband being crucified (but not yet dead) because people were known to survive the ordeal. To die in 4 or 5 hours on an afternoon would have required breaking the leg bones so that he could not support his weight and avoid asphyxiation.

  • It was the will of God that none of Christ's bones were broken, being the Paschal lamb was a type of Christ. The fact that none of His bones were broken demonstrates the truth that Christ's life was not taken by man, but was laid down on His own accord. Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 20:04
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    @wilberteric It appears that you down-voted my answer b/c it isn't the Chistian answer. The verse had meaning for Jews before Jesus,you should know, and has meaning even for those not desperate for post hac rationalizations. Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 8:03
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    I down-voted your answer because in my best estimation this is a biblical-based Q&A site (both Old and New), and I believe your answer does not reflect the full counsel of scripture. Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 12:44
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    @wilberteric: because Christianity has a different answer does not justify a down-vote for a thorougly-sourced answer from the Jewish perspective. If so, I would have to down-vote every Christian answer for which Jewish sources disagree, especially since many of those sources pre-date Christianity. Consider that the Gospels arguably could have been written to add "newly-discovered details" that "fulfilled" prophecy. Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 13:35
  • The statement Psalms are not prophetic is inaccurate. From the Jewish Encyclodedia (jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12409-psalms): Synagogal liturgy and strictly regulated Temple ceremonial are productions of the Maccabean and post-Maccabean conflicts. Apocalyptic ecstasy, didactic references to past history, and Messianic speculations point to the same centuries, when foreign oppression or internal feuds led the faithful to predict the coming glorious judgment. The "royal" or "king" psalms belong to the category of apocalyptic effusions... Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 2:35

Reading only that part of John 19:31-37 and Psalm 34:20 can make seeing the association difficult. However, reading additional context and another, earlier Psalm of David helps.

John 19:31-37, besides having “Not one of his bones will be broken,” has piercing and the flow of blood and water.

John 19:33-36 (NIV)

But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,

It’s easier to see an association with that and Psalm 22 (which includes what Psalm 34 does and quite a bit more). Psalm 22, with its detail, more clearly describes what happens at Jesus’ crucifixion. It includes, beyond just no bones being broken, the piercing, pouring out of water, garments being spread and the casting of lots.

Psalm 22:14-18 (NIV)

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. 15 My mouth[d] is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce[e] my hands and my feet. 17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

Seeing how Psalm 22 and John 19:31-37 connect makes it easier to see how the later, smaller Psalm 34 can be associated with John 19:31-37. The later Psalm of David is a short continuation of the former.

  • I also enjoy how the writings to the psalms occurred prior to crucifixion being the general form of punishment. At the time, stoning was the preferred method of capitol punishment. So the description being so close in proximity to the details of crucifixion amazes me.
    – Decrypted
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 22:41
  • Ps. 22:16 does not say "pierce" in the original. Some Christian translations acknowledge this. The verse in question says "k'ari yadi v'ragli" - "like a lion [they attack] my hands and feet." The word K'ari in Hebrew is spelled kaph, aleph, resh, yud. Ari is a lion, and the kaph prefix means "like" or "as." Many Christian argue that the word is "koari," yet no such word exists in Hebrew with the same spelling. Closest to it is a word that is used to mean to dig, or to bore (a hole), but the spelling is much different and there is no letter aleph and no grammatical reason for dropping it. Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 16:23
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    Hebrew scholar Walter Kaiser shows grammatically how ka'ari can be the irregular plural for ka'arim. The pre-Christian LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls also render 22:16b with a verb, as do some rabbinic interpretations.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 19:55
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    @FrankLuke: Do you have any citations, especially to "rabbinic interpretations"? I've got a pretty good library; I'd like to see how anyone creates a verb that means "to pierce" out of the letters in k'ari. Merely saying that there are authorities that support your point without saying what they are is not helpful. Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 20:08
  • @BruceJames Some citations were already in the link I provided. For example, Kaiser does so in The Messiah in the Old Testament, footnote 10 pg. 115 and 116 of my edition. It's in the chapter that covers Ps 22. For the rabbinic, I believe it was Midrash on Psalms, but it was a long time ago that I read it. Other sources (Aquila, Symachius, and the DSS) varied on what verb it should be, but they were consistent in using verbs.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 20:32

You should note that when this verse says that those Scriptures are fulfilled, this does not necessarily mean that a prophecy was made and now carried out. Fulfillment is not always about prophecy. Sometimes fulfillment is about character being brought out again in its fullness. The same God who, in all of His goodness, cared for David as expressed in Psalm 34, now protects His Son's bones from being broken (although protect seems the wrong word).

Another way I see this reference is in thinking of God's mindset as He inspired David to write Psalm 34. Would it be far fetched to think that the future death of His Son, and Christ's bones not being broken, were also on God's mind as David wrote those words?

Bottom line, when God's character, spoken of in His promises to the people of Israel, is again demonstrated to those in Christ's time, or even now, His words, as they express His character, are again fulfilled.

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    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 21:18

Not breaking the bones is most surely a type and shadow of Jesus. The old testament points to Jesus it is packed full of types and shadows of the messiah. Not breaking the bones protects the marrow. The marrow is the source of the blood. The blood must flow. It has always been all about the blood. Peace.

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    What evidence can you present for this?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 0:48

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