“Ask a Priest: How Can We Know Psalm 22 Was a Prophecy About Jesus?”

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Q: I am looking into the psalms and have noticed that Psalm 22 closely parallels the death of Jesus. I have found that many people believe this psalm to be a prophecy, but am not so sure about the latter myself. How can we be sure that this is a prophecy? That is, what textual evidence do we have to make that assumption? I realize of course that the psalm closely resembles the narratives of Christ’s death. But how can we be sure that we aren’t just reading something into the psalm that wasn’t meant to be read into it? – M.D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: First, Jesus himself quotes from the start of Psalm 22 when he is on the cross (Matthew 27:46). This has enormous importance. We can imagine that all the words spoken by Jesus in the moments before his death have particularly heavy significance.

Second, Jesus himself said the Scriptures of his time (what we call the Old Testament) spoke about himself and pointed toward him. “You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf” (John 5:39). And then there is the moment with the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27).

One reason the early Christians kept the Jewish Scriptures was precisely because Jesus himself quoted from them and affirmed, as we see above, that they pointed the way toward his coming. This alone counts more than any simple textual analysis.

None of this takes away from the fact that the psalms and all the Old Testament were written for a particular audience in a particular historical moment, and thus they have a meaning that was relevant in that time, long before Jesus appeared on the scene. Still, this doesn’t preclude our seeing a deeper meaning in Old Testament passages, in the light of Christ.

As the Catechism says in No. 140: “The unity of the two Testaments proceeds from the unity of God’s plan and his Revelation. The Old Testament prepares for the New and the New Testament fulfills the Old; the two shed light on each other; both are true Word of God.” I hope some of this helps.

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