In our church in Arnhem and Nijmegen I have started a series of sermons on the Psalms of the Lectionary. I have made it my goal to read the Psalms ‘through the eyes of Jesus’. As the Psalms were to a large extent the “prayer book’ of Israel, Jesus must have prayed them all. How would he have understood these prayers, given his knowledge of the history of Israel and his own self-understanding?
The Early Church (until ca. 1700AD!) in general interpreted Old Testament texts in four different ways. Many Churches still do this!
Each passage in Scripture was assumed to have four meanings:
Literal: What the passage says about past events
Allegorical: What the passage can tell us about Christ
Moral: What the passage can teach us about how to live
Anagogical: What the passage tells us about our ultimate fate
An example of this is the crossing of the Red Sea.
It was literal because Moses and Israel actually crossed it.
It was spiritual because it represents our baptism and new life.
It was moral because we cross-over life’s difficulties (Egypt) into our personal earthly blessings (Promised Land).
It was eschatological because we look forward to the final crossing-over from death to eternal life in heaven.
The exegetes of the church were seldom rigid in trying to extract these four means from every text, but it was always in the back of their mind.
I think that the question of how Jesus understood the Psalms in regard to himself, fits very well in this scheme of interpretation of the Early Church.
Sadly, the Church has almost completely ‘delegated’ the task of exegesis to Academia. This is a great loss for the Church, as Academia per definition only looks at the literal meaning of text. And the Church has to a large extent, it seems, allowed Academia to dictate that the only real meaning, is this (supposed) literal meaning. This has made the Od Testament a historical book for many Christians, instead of the living Word of God that it was for Jesus, the Apostles and all exegetes in the Early Church.