Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Significance Of The Nakedness And Clothing In Psalm 22

I want to address some details of Psalm 22 that don't get discussed enough. My focus here is on verses 17-18.

The references to seeing bones in verse 17 and the dividing of garments in verse 18 make more sense if the man is naked than if he isn't. And the Romans usually stripped people before crucifying them. "Artemidorus (Oneirocritica 2:53) states categorically that people are crucified naked." (Joel Marcus, Mark 8-16 [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009], 1043) (See, also, Martin Hengel, Crucifixion [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fortress Press, 1977], approximate Kindle location 2317; Raymond Brown, The Death Of The Messiah, Vol. 2 [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1998], 953; John Dennis, in Joel Green, et al., Dictionary Of Jesus And The Gospels [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2013], 174.) The fact that lots are cast for his clothing (verse 18), without a mention of casting lots for other possessions, makes more sense if he's being executed in a context in which his clothing is all that he has on hand (in contrast to other settings, like a sickbed in a home or a travel setting in which other possessions have been brought along). Notice, too, that a historical setting is needed in which people would want the clothing that's involved. They would have to be of a low enough social status to want such clothing (as Roman soldiers would), unlike people of a higher social status in the ancient world or people in the modern world who have more clothing and consider clothing more dispensable (along with having other reasons for not wanting the sort of clothing involved in Psalm 22). Also worth noting is how well a scene like a public execution of a slower nature, like crucifixion, explains the pace at which the people in verses 17-18 and the psalm in general are operating. They're taking the time to do things like make certain comments and cast lots for the individual's clothing rather than operating more quickly, as they would in other settings (quickly leaving a house after murdering somebody there, quickly leaving the scene of an ambush, etc.).

It needs to be kept in mind that there are so many details in Jesus' fulfillment of the psalm that were determined by the Romans, not by Christians. The Romans decided to use crucifixion, to strip the crucified person rather than keeping him clothed, to do the stripping at the crucifixion site rather than elsewhere, etc.

We don't just have the general practices of the Romans to go by here, though those are significant. We also have the historical records of Jesus' death in particular. Critics often object to alleged disagreements among the gospels and how certain details aren't found in all of them. But all four of them refer to details like the ones I've highlighted above. Though all of the gospels report these things, John's account is the most significant. He goes into the most detail (19:23-25), including an allusion to the historically accurate detail of the quaternion of soldiers at the cross (verse 23; see Lydia McGrew, Testimonies To The Truth [Tampa, Florida: DeWard, 2023], 39-40), and nearby he mentions and emphasizes his witnessing the crucifixion (verses 26-27, 35). So, we not only have reason to trust John's account because of his general trustworthiness (Lydia McGrew, The Eye Of The Beholder [Tampa, Florida: DeWard Publishing, 2021]; Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability Of John's Gospel [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2001]), but also have other reasons for trusting him in this context in particular. And Jesus' crucifixion was a highly public event. That's the way his opponents, both Roman and Jewish, wanted it. They took the trouble to crucify him, and they were monitoring what was going on. They had no choice but to do so in some contexts, and even where they had more of a choice, they had enough interest to watch what was going on to make it likely that they monitored the situation. So, the early Christians would have been in less of a position to misrepresent what happened accordingly.

I've discussed other relevant details elsewhere, other details in Psalm 22 and in other passages, like the Servant Songs. I've often recommended Robert Newman's work on how well Jesus' life lines up with Daniel's Seventy Weeks prophecy. And all of that lines up well with what Daniel predicted about a fourth great empire (the Roman empire) and the arrival of a kingdom of God during the time of that fourth empire, a kingdom that would gradually grow to cover the world (2:35, 2:44). So much of what's involved in these fulfillments isn't in the category of something like Jesus' riding into Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9), but instead involves events brought about by non-Christians. Many of the events involved are supported by a large amount of evidence and are seldom disputed by critics. For more about these and other prophecy issues, see our collection of links addressing prophecy here and a lot of other relevant material in our archives.

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