Phenomenon of Amazing Detail

Psalm 22 (Part 1) - A Christian Conspiracy? Or can it be?

Psalm 22 is an extraordinary passage of Scripture which describes in vivid details the suffering and ultimate victory of Jesus Christ centuries before the events occur.

Familiar verses include:

"My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1). Jesus cry before He gave up His spirit, same words in Matt 27:46.

"All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, 'Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him because He delights in him,'” (Psalm 22:7-8). "And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, 'He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.' The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” (same related in Luke 23:35-36, see also Matthew 27:39-43 and Mark 15-29-32).

"They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing, they cast lots," (Psalm 22:18). "And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take," (similarly told in Mark 15:24, Matthew 27:35, Luke 23:34, and John 19:24).

"For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet," (Psalm 22:16).

Surrounded by hostile gentiles ("dogs" and "evildoers"), "This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death," (in Acts 2:23).

"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint," (Psalm 22:14). "My tongue cleaves to my jaws," (Psalm 22:15). Jesus cries out from the cross, "I am thirsty," "I can count all my bones," (in John 19:28) as in accordance with the fact that Jesus' bones were not broken during the crucifixion. (see John 19:31-35).

There are Bible critics however, who suggested that what happened was that Christians in the first century A.D. are reading Jesus into a Psalm that was meant to describe only the author's own suffering {written at possibly 5- 10 centuries B.C.). They asserted that it was a poem about events contemporary to the writer and hence cannot be construed as a predictive prophecy at all, much less one about the crucifixion of Jesus that occurred many centuries later.

The skeptics consider the possibilities were:

A) It is an early Christian plot after the death of Christ in the first A.D. The details in the gospels were manufactured or amended to fit into Jesus' execution and making them matching to the Psalms.

B) Both the old and new testaments passages could well have both been amended after the crucifixion.

These claims and contentions, though may sound loud and apparent, do not stand on firm premises.

Life Application Study Bible NIV - Zondervan

First of all, crucifixion did not yet exist when the Psalms were written! How could such details have been described by the Psalmist? How would he know what happens at a Roman crucifixion? Unless there is good evidence to show that Psalm 22 was not 'original' and edited at a later date (a date after the crucifixion took place), the notion cannot stand. The punishment was probably only first mentioned in Greek history and the torturing execution of prisoners were known to have further developed by the Romans.

Do we actually know then wether the text of the Psalms as we know of it now was in place before the time of Jesus Christ?

The recent discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls throws unusual light on the historical authenticity of the Psalms:

From the Wikipedia:

"Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest Hebrew-language manuscripts of the Bible were Masoretic texts dating to the 10th century CE (AD), such as the Aleppo Codex. Today, the oldest known extant manuscripts of the Masoretic Text date from approximately the 9th century. The biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls push that date back a full thousand years, to the 2nd century BCE. This was a significant discovery for Old Testament scholars who anticipated that the Dead Sea Scrolls would either affirm or repudiate the reliability of textual transmission from the original texts to the oldest Masoretic texts at hand. The discovery demonstrated the unusual accuracy of transmission over a thousand-year period, rendering it reasonable to believe that current Old Testament texts are reliable copies of the original works...
While some of the Qumran biblical manuscripts are nearly identical to the Masoretic, or traditional, Hebrew text of the Old Testament, some manuscripts of the books of Exodus and Samuel found in Cave Four exhibit dramatic differences in both language and content. In their astonishing range of textual variants, the Qumran biblical discoveries have prompted scholars to reconsider the once-accepted theories of the development of the modern biblical text from only three manuscript families: of the Masoretic text, of the Hebrew original of the Septuagint, and of the Samaritan Pentateuch. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the Old Testament scripture was extremely fluid until its canonization around A.D. 100.
The conclusion, then, is that the Dead Sea scrolls have taken a Biblical scholarship to a new era where much of what was previously believed can now be confirmed, and some of what was accepted as fact should now be reexamined so Biblical texts can correspond precisely with what was originally written".

The Dead Sea Scrolls was a “library” of a Jewish sect, considered most likely the ‘Essenes’. Ancient ruins of Qumran, a village excavated in the early 50’s showed archaeological connections between the Essenes and the scrolls. The Essenes were a strictly observant Jewish scribes, who appear apocalyptic in thinking. It is likely that the library was hidden away in caves around the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 A.D.) as the Roman army advanced against the Jews. Based on various dating methods, (including carbon 14), archaeological assessment and writing styles, the Dead Sea Scrolls were dated to between 200 B.C. to 68 A.D. Many crucial messianic manuscripts (such as Psalm 22; Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 61) dated to around 100 B.C. As such, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been very important in revolutionizing textual criticism for the Old Testament books. Experts also found that the biblical text was in substantial agreement with the Masoretic (Hebrew written text, not necessary scriptural), as well as various translations of the Old Testament used today, such as the Septuagint.

In order to manufacture or amend the crucifixion story, the Christian writers would need to ingeniously find a suitable Psalm or some Prophetic verses to create the necessary new testament passages. Isn’t that an almost impossible task, (after the incidence has occurred), considering you have to first spot a “good” passage from among thousands of verses in the Old Testament and then create a “suitable’ crucifixion scenario to match in the New Testament! The contemporary readers would also have caught the errors if unrealistic scenarios are contrived to make Jesus' death connect with the Psalms.

Secondly, there are four gospel writers. While many scholars argue that Matthew, Mark, and Luke's gospels may have in some way relied on one another (most often claiming that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source), few would claim that John used materials from any of these three. Yet, in all four gospels, including the Gospel of John, the narrative of Jesus' death matches up strikingly well with the narrative of the Psalm. Did the four Gospel writers conspired together to defraud the public, and to evangelize about the Messiah? For what real purposes? For personal gains? And in the face of so much suffering and even death?

One may say then that Mark first invented the details, and the rest copied from him. That would even be a worse accusation. Remember the Gospel of Mark was written around 60 A.D. During that 30 years since Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians would not have read any of the gospels (because they have not been written), but they have firm faith in the incidents and the details. As a matter of fact, these disciples were willing to continuously suffer scorn, imprisonment, torture, and death for what they said about Jesus. It would be quite unreasonable to think that they were intentionally fabricating their testimony. These men believed what they were claiming with unsurmountable conviction and were willing to suffer and die for it. That does not fit well with the idea that they are holding onto forgeries created by a few people, does it?

Thirdly, it was apparent the Gospel writers had not turned back to Psalm 22 again and again, to say "as it was written," or "this occurred to fulfill the scripture..." as they often do with other passages elsewhere. Indeed, Mark and Luke did not cite the Psalm at all, and John and Matthew each only reference it once in passing. These writers pointed out the many places Jesus had fulfilled the Old Testament but made surprisingly little effort to direct the reader to Psalm 22 as a fulfilled prophecy. This would be again somewhat hard to believe if they were trying to manufacture a connection between Jesus and the Psalm.

Finally, as mentioned above, many of the details are directly connected to the method of torture and execution contemporary to the Roman society of Jesus' days. The gospel writers could not just make them up to match the Psalm unless those were what had actually happened. No one would have believed them and would have challenged them if those were not the practices that the Romans would really do.

In summary, it is very difficult to assume that both the psalm and the new testament gospels were amended at a later date in order to fit into each other. If one has the evidence now that the Psalms were as they were before the time of Jesus Christ, and steadfast convictions were already in place before any alleged "fabrications" had taken place, we can only say that the Old Testament had forthrightly been fulfilled in the Gospels.

Why not say: The prophecies are indeed Divine prophecies.

We are often asked by non-believers and at Sunday Schools as to why Christians always say that there are so many verses in the Old Testament that are claimed to be prophecies about Jesus Christ the Messiah and that all of them have been said to be fulfilled. Not that the old Bible scholars and teachers told us so, but it is Jesus Christ himself who had told us about this categorically. Turn to Luke 24 in which Jesus said in verse 44, “This is what I told you while I was still with you. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms"!

In the second Part, we will look at one of the most controversial and crucial Bible verses in Psalm 22: verse 16.