In many English translations of the Bible, Ps. 22:16 says:

For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet (Ps. 22:16, ESV, also KJV; NASB; NIV; NLT; etc.)

Although this verse isn’t quoted in the New Testament (NT), it is often referred to by Christians as a prophecy fulfilled in the Lord Jesus’ crucifixion, where Jesus’ hands and feet were pierced when he was nailed to the cross. However, in most Hebrew manuscripts this verse says something closer to:

For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evil-doers have inclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet. (Ps. 22:17, JPS)

This sometimes raises a claim that the text of Psalm 22:16 has been corrupted by Christians for the purpose of making it fit closer the events of the Lord Jesus’ life.

However, the English translation of Ps. 22:16 in the ESV, et al., has been informed and supported by various ancient Jewish sources, some of which pre-date the NT — thus the reading of Ps. 22:16 as ‘they have pierced my hands and feet’ is not a Christian corruption, but a pre-Christian, Jewish reading. For example, Ps. 22:16 in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament (a translation into Greek by Jews, written c. 132 BC) says something close to:

For many dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked doers has beset me round: they pierced my hands and my feet. (Ps. 22:16, Brenton)

Additionally, an ancient (c. 50-100 AD) Hebrew version of Ps. 22, found in Nahal Hever, near the Dead Sea, reads as follows:1

For dogs are all around me; a gang of evil doers encircles me. They have pierced my hands and my feet.2,3

There are even some Hebrew Masoretic Text manuscripts (the family of texts that Jewish versions of the Bible, like the JPS, are based on) that have variants differing from the usual Masoretic “lion” rendering: some of the variants are from a Hebrew root meaning ‘they dug/pierced’.4

It’s also worth noting that there is only one character difference between the Hebrew words translated as pierced (כָּרָה) and lion (כָּאֲרִי). If the Hebrew text the JPS (quoted towards the start of this answer) is based on were the only text available, the “pierced” rendering of Ps. 22:16 could be a genuine mistake (as opposed to a deliberate mistranslation). However, the other ancient manuscripts witnessing to the ‘pierced my hands and feet’ reading legitimate the translation that some modern English versions make. As Michael L. Brown says, ‘… the bottom line is there’s no Christian tampering with the text, just honest efforts to accurately translate the Hebrew…’.5

And finally, either way the verses is translated — whether Ps. 22:16 actually reads ‘they have pierced my hands and feet’ or ‘like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet’ — the imagery still fits the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. If we focus on the less well known “lion” rendering of Ps. 22:16, the imagery is highlighted in some Jewish commentaries as meaning the Psalmist’s hands and feet were metaphorically ‘crushed in a lion’s mouth’.6 As Brown says:

‘…the imagery is clear: the metaphorical lions are tearing and ripping at the sufferer’s hands and feet. This mauling and biting graphically portray great physical agony.

… It’s entirely consistent with what occurs in a crucifixion. So either translation could be said to foreshadow the suffering of the Messiah.7

Not only does the imagery highlight the agony of the Psalmist’s suffering, but it could still be taken to refer to what physically happened to Jesus’ hands and feet: when a lion’s teeth sink into someone’s hands and feet their hands and feet are being pierced.


The Hebrew translated as lion and pierced are very similar (only one character difference). Both renderings of Ps. 22:16 have ancient witnesses (with the “pierced” rendering having the oldest witnesses). And, either way the verse is rendered, the connection to the Lord Jesus’ death is still evident.


  1. Peter W. Flint, The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms (The Netherlands: Brill,1997), p.43. Online (accessed 27/05/10).
  2. Craig A. Evans, Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), p.274. Online (accessed 27/05/10).
  3. James C. VanderKam & Peter W. Flint, The meaning of the Dead Sea scrolls: their significance for understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005), p.125. Online (accessed 27/05/10)
  4. See Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and Benjamin Kennicott’s Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum cum Variis Lectionibus (1776-1780), mentioned in Glenn M. Miller, Good Question–did the Christians simply invent the “pierced my hands and feet” passage in Psalm 22?, online (accessed 27/05//10).
  5. Michael L. Brown in Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zonderzan, 2007), p.222
  6. Rashi (b. 1040) on ‘Psalm 22:16’ in The Judaica Press Complete Tanach, ed. Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg (Judaic Press). Online (accessed 27/05/10). Also see, David Altschuler’s 18th century commentary Metsudat David: ‘They crush my hands and feet as the lion crushes the bones of the prey in its mouth’ (quoted by Michael L. Brown in Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zonderzan, 2007), p.222).
  7. Michael L. Brown in Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zonderzan, 2007), p.222
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2 Responses to Did Christians corrupt the text of Psalm 22:16 to make it refer to the crucifixion?

  1. Jay S kamble says:

    There neot be change verse Pslam 22:6 and not chnge Meanning :For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evil-doers have inclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet [pslam 22:16]
    and God is almighty is able to protect his words his not be change and not be meaning is change.
    so i carefully read all this massage about Massiha Oh jews brother bilif in Jesus. May i God Bless you

  2. Bible Study says:

    I think there is much evidence that it is speaking of the cross of Jesus, at the very least we know it is speaking of Jesus. It is a very good chapter in any regard. I like where he says every bone was out of joint, we know the word of God divides the joint, he is the word of God hence every bone is out of joint.

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