Psalm 22:16

ESV For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet —
NIV Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.
NASB For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet.
CSB For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet.
NLT My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet.
KJV For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
NKJV For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet;

What does Psalm 22:16 mean?

This verse contains a phrase which is often contested by those who reject Psalm 22 as messianic prophecy. The psalm itself matches no specific incident in David's life; instead, it is a symbolic description of his anguish over what seems to be unanswered prayers for deliverance (Psalm 22:1–2). What follows closely matches the experience of Jesus during His final days, something that both Christ (Mathew 27:46) and New Testament writers noted (Psalm 22:22; Hebrews 2:12).

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.

That, in combination with other Scripture, makes Psalm 22 an even more potent prophecy about the suffering of Jesus, the Messiah. In the ancient middle east, dogs were almost always wild. They were despised as unclean scavengers. They roamed in packs, lived among garbage dumps, and attacked defenseless people when given the opportunity. Christ's enemies descended on Him at His crucifixion like packs of wild dogs that had smelled blood. This statement, "they have pierced my hands and feet," graphically explains what the Roman soldiers did to Jesus at the crucifixion. Like wild dogs that tear a victim's limbs apart, the soldiers tore Jesus' flesh apart by driving nails through His hands and feet.

Following the resurrection, when the disciples thought He was a spirit, Jesus said, "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39). Then He showed them His hands and His feet (Luke 24:40). The print of the nails was visible in His resurrection body (John 20:24–29). David described this piercing about 1,000 years before Jesus was crucified and long before the Romans practiced crucifixion. This fact is a strong testimonial to the divine inspiration of Scripture and to the accuracy of prophecy.
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