Psalm 22 is a popular place to look for Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by the life of Jesus. Christian apologists (that is, defenders of Christianity) claim that it closely parallels the crucifixion story, even though it preceded Jesus by roughly a thousand years.
This argument is compelling only if we examine verses that support it and ignore others. Taken as a whole, this chapter is no prophecy of the crucifixion.
Let’s first consider verses that support the argument.
• The very first verse of Psalm 22 is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” which are the last words of Jesus according to the gospels of Matthew and Mark.
• “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. ‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say, ‘Let the Lord rescue him.’” Sure enough, Mark records the onlookers insulting Jesus and mocking his inability to free himself.
• “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing,” as noted in Mark.
The author of Mark was surely familiar with Psalm 22 and could have added the distribution of clothes, the mocking from the crowd, and the last words to his gospel. No supernatural prophecy is needed if Mark lifted these elements from Psalm 22.
Let’s reconsider those last words, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Not only does forsaking Jesus not sound like part of God’s plan, this doesn’t sound like the cool-headed Jesus we find in the crucifixion stories in Luke and John.
The apologetic argument points to intriguing little fragments, but taken as a whole this doesn’t look at all like the crucifixion story. Consider the entire chapter, and we find verses that paint a different picture.
• “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you”—again, this sounds like an ordinary man. The first person of the Trinity wouldn’t need to make the second person of the Trinity trust him.
• “Many bulls surround me…. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.” Bulls and lions? That sounds like a spectacle in an arena, not crucifixion.
• “I can count all my bones.” This unfortunate man must be starving, but (again) this isn’t the gospel story.
• “Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.” Yet again, not the gospel story.
A final problem with shoehorning Psalm 22 into the gospel story is that there’s no reference to the resurrection. This can hardly be the story of the sacrifice of Jesus if it omits the conclusion.
When read completely and without presupposition, Psalm 22 doesn’t sound at all like a summary of the crucifixion story.
Continue to chapter 8.
Image credit: Manik Roy via Unsplash
the last words of Jesus according to the gospels of Matthew and Mark: Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34.
Mark records the onlookers insulting Jesus: Mark 15:29–32.
“They divide my garments” … as noted in Mark: Mark 15:24.
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