When modern interpreters imagine the literal sense of Scripture, they tend to conceive it in terms of the historical, grammatical, and literary elements of the text. For sixteenth-century commentators, however, to observe this narrow definition would be to sever the letter of Scripture from the Spirit, its divine author.

While Cardinal Cajetan’s (1469-1534) interpretation of the Psalms demonstrates a keen concern for the historical situatedness of their composition, we can see in his interpretation of Psalm 16 that he, like many of his contemporaries, applies a more immediate Christological interpretation than most modern exegetes allow. In this case, he uses the apostolic witness to expand the literal sense. The words of Psalm 16, he argues, could not be posited of David, and so rather than contend for a historical or grammatical conclusion, he recognizes that as Peter and Paul have applied these words to Christ, they are properly to be understood as applied to him.

The Apostles Have Proven That This Psalm Is Literally about Christ

The chief apostles, Peter and Paul, have informed us of this psalm’s subject matter. For Peter in Acts 2 uses several verses from this psalm to reveal Christ’s resurrection,Surely because these psalms, which are said to be about David, do not fit David himself, they are understood about Christ. affirming that David is not talking about himself but about Christ when he said, “You will not abandon my soul to hell, nor will my flesh see corruption,” because David’s body was in the grave all those years. Similarly Paul in Acts 13 quotes the same words and by the same reasoning affirms that David said Christ’s body would not see corruption.

From this not only do we see this psalm’s subject matter to be Christ’s resurrection, etc., but we also pick up a general rule for how to understand the psalms when they speak of David: surely because these psalms, which are said to be about David, do not fit David himself, they are understood about Christ. For by this reasoning, maintaining that the truth of these words—“do not let your Holy One see corruption”—concerning David is not possible, each apostle asserted that David’s words were about Christ’s promise. And note this: because we follow these rules in the literal exposition of the psalms, such expositions are founded on apostolic authority.


Psalms 1-72, ed. Herman J. Selderhuis, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, OT vol. 7, p. 119.