There are many views people take when talking about Biblical prophecy. One is that all the Old Testament prophecies can all be explained away by logic and reasoning. The other is that they are supernatural; that is, prophecies breathed out by God through man, and them coming to pass attests to God’s all-knowing power. I, of course, align with the latter. I don’t believe you can simply explain away Biblical prophecy. It has been proven time and time again to be historically true. Therefore, it is something that gives great authenticity to the supernatural nature of the Bible. Something that sets it apart from other cults and religions around the world, and has allowed it to be a timeless and historically rich document.
According to the Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy by J. Barton Payne, there are 1,239 prophecies in the Old Testament, 578 prophecies in the New Testament, and a total of 1817 prophecies. “These prophecies make-up 26.8% of the Bible’s volume,” according to Grace Thru Faith. Now, upon reading these statistics, there are a few different thoughts that come to my mind. One, that there is an insane amount of prophecies. Two, how many of these have actually been fulfilled? And three, can they be regarded as being manipulated in order for them to come true? (For example, did the people who wrote about their fulfillment simply lie about reality in order for it to seem as though these prophecies came true?)
According to accordingtothescriptures.org, there are over “353 prophecies” that were—or will be—fulfilled by Jesus Christ through his coming, crucifixion, resurrection, and return. So, back to our original question, did people lie about their fulfillment? First, we must know which prophecy we are talking about and how it came to pass; then, we can assess the validity of the claim against it. Let’s look at a few of the prophecies concerning Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
Prophecy: Psalms 22:16-17
Date: Written between 1440 B.C. and 586 B.C.
“For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me” (English Standard Version, ESV).
Commentary: Notice that this prophecy was written no sooner than 586 B.C, and that it clearly describes crucifixion, as well as the accompanied experience of being hung up for all to stare and surround. Now, consider when crucifixion was invented. Crucifixion was not even invented until between the years of 400 B.C. and 300 B.C. by the Persians. it was later practiced by the Romans in the first century B.C. and forward—which explains why it was already a practice when Jesus came around. So, how is it possible that Psalms 22 contains a detailed description of crucifixion that not only captures the process of crucifixion, but also the humiliating and public experience of it?
When I read this information from the various sites I pulled the information from, I felt a little uneasy about its reliability. After all, wouldn’t it be impossible for someone to make a prediction that is this descriptive of an event, especially one as peculiar as crucifixion, and it actually come to pass in the future? Now, it would not be very amazing if crucifixion was already a practice around 600 B.C., because the writer would have direct inspiration for the descriptors he used; but, the fact is that crucifixion was not even invented at the time of Psalm 22’s composition. So, where (or what) did the author of Psalm 22 get his inspiration from in order to provide such accurate descriptors?
Then, I came across something that questioned the translation of the words “they have pierced my hands and feet.” Apparently, there is some more recent debate as to how these words can be translated. Opponents of the supernatural nature of the Bible argue that these words in Psalm 22 have been mistranslated, and have been done so deliberately after the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion. Which, if true, would pose a problem with this prophecy.
However, there is historical support for “using the translation [as is traditionally used by modern translations as “they have pierced my hands and feet”] from sources before Christ was even born (Septuagint and Vulgate).” According to JewishRoots.net (Section 3, Para 11; my emphasis).6
So, it’s not even necessarily the case that Christians have taken liberty with the translation of the Hebrew text, because there was support for the “modern” translation before Jesus was even a part of the discussion. Therefore, it stands to reason that this prophecy is at the very least extremely interesting, and possibly supernatural. However, whether you believe it is the supernatural result of God’s omniscient power, that is another topic altogether. For the extreme skeptics out there, you will probably just ignore this and move forward because it does not fit your worldview. But to the natural—and honest—curious scholar, this should draw enormous investigation into the Biblical text, and propel you into further study as any phenomenon should. I implore you to be a curious scholar of the scriptures. Whether you be a Christian, atheist, or agnostic, it will at the very least teach you how to enjoy and analyze a historical document.
Fulfillment: The fulfillment of this prophecy, of course, is in the Gospel’s description of the crucifixion of Jesus. The piercing of the hands and feet, the people staring at Him and mocking Him. He could “count” all his bones because not a bone in His body was broken. All, obviously, are fulfilled in the New Testament documentation. However, the question still remains, was it all a fake? Was the crucifixion of Jesus a lie in order to falsely fulfill the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah? After all, it is a logical argument to consider, especially considering the people who wrote those books of the Bible were probably aware of the prophecy that needed to be fulfilled by the Messiah.
Secular Support: Unfortunately for the Biblical skeptic, there is secular support for the fulfillment of the Psalm 22 prophecy concerning the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, His existence as a real person, and the realization that Christ had a powerful influence.
According to Dr. Joseph Bergeron, “Cornelius Tacitus provides the most complete description supporting the biblical accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion in his Annal 15:44.”
This is the passage to which Joseph Bergeron was referring:
Christus [Christ], from whom the name [Christian] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. (Annal 15:44; my emphasis)
The conclusion here is that Christus (“a Latin transliteration of Christ”) suffered the extreme penalty of crucifixion. Which matches the Bible’s description of the event, especially since it includes Pontius Pilate.
Also, something incredibly noteworthy, is the phrase “a most mischievous superstition.” This phrase is Tacitus’ reference to the early Christians’ belief that Jesus rose from the grave. The belief was literally called mischievous by Tacitus. And according to Dr. Bergeron, “It appears to have fueled Roman hatred for Christians and their desire to restrain the growth of Christianity.” The belief by early Christians was so authentic that they were willing to be brutally mocked, crucified, and even burned alive—all to merely serve the purpose of being Nero’s personal night lights.
The early Christian’s belief was so authentic because they had a real reason to believe: Christ had risen from the dead. Christ had been crucified for their sins, and they were so thankful and moved that they were willing to die for Him in return.
Could you imagine being willing to die for something? Anything? I don’t think anyone would make the argument that these Christians did not believe in Christ. I also don’t think that anyone would make the argument that Christ did not exist or die on a cross as prophesied in Psalm 22. The real argument comes into play when we talk about whether or not Christ resurrected from the grave. A topic so intense and new to me that I will reserve its discussion for another post. I am still only a novice student of the Bible, so the evidence for the resurrection of Christ will be something that I will have to do a lot of research on.
Another topic that I will also address in another post is the significance and symbolism associated with the fact that not a bone in Jesus’ body was broken.
But for now, I think we all should meditate on the fact that Christ really did exist. That He did die on a cross. That He fulfilled Old Testament Prophecy, and that He had such a genuine impact in peoples’ lives that they were willing to be burned alive for believing in Him. We not only have the accurate description of the events in the Bible, but we have Tacitus’ words reaffirming the Bible—from his clearly skeptical viewpoint since he used the phrase, “a mischievous superstition.”[7,8]
Cite: Faucett, D. (2017). Psalm 22:16-17 Prophecy and Secular Support for Christ’s Crucifixion. Faucett Journal. Retrieved from http://www.faucettjournal.com/articles/prophecy-and-secular-support-for-the-crucifixion