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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Paul, to the Galatians | Main | The Law Promised Life »

    Solomon's Song

    Question: I am trying to make sense of the Song of Solomon. I recently went to a Bible study where the teacher was saying that it is a book about Christ and His Bride (the Church) but as I read it, I am not sure about that and this interpretation seems to raise more questions than it answers in my mind. Any thoughts?

    Answer: Thanks for your question. I believe you are right to question the interpretation you heard for the simple reason that the Song of Solomon is not a book about Christ and His Church. What you heard is not a new idea, but though quite widespread, actually has no basis in Scripture.

    The concept stems from what theologians call the “allegorical” method of interpretation, which ignores the historical background and the actual subject matter on display to instead look for a “deeper” or “hidden” meaning, spiritualizing every word and detail to seek to make application to Christ. Though the method has noble motivation, the fact remains that Christ and His Church are never mentioned in the book.

    Actually the book is about romance and love, even erotic love between Solomon and his bride. I am told that in Hebrew society, young boys are not permitted to read the book until their “bar mitzvah” when they “come of age” so to speak, and are considered fully adult men by their community. That is because the Jews understood the book to be something of a handbook for marriage. More here. - JS

    Posted by John Samson on March 4, 2011 02:22 PM

    Comments

    Interesting... so if Song of Songs is "not a book about Christ" why is it in the Bible. The way I understand the Old Testament and, it seems, the way Christ understood it, is that it is ALL about Christ. The book of Hebrews rather liberally applies the temple, sacrificial system, and preisthood to Christ... why not the Song?

    Benjamin,

    It is a huge oversimplification to say that ALL the Old Testament is about Christ. Of course, much of it does point to Christ. Jesus was able to reveal much of this to the two who walked with Him on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:44 - "Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

    "Everything written about me" is not the same thing as saying "everything written is about me."

    There are countless things, people, places, etc, which simply are people, places and things.. and have no typological fulfillment in Christ. e.g. just at random, here's a passage in Judges 1:33 Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-anath became subject to forced labor for them.

    34 The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain. 35 The Amorites persisted in dwelling in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim, but the hand of the house of Joseph rested heavily on them, and they became subject to forced labor. 36 And the border of the Amorites ran from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upward.

    Its important to stay within biblical perameters in our hermeneutics (Bible interpretation). The Amorites here are the Amorites... Mount Heres is Mount Heres... Akrabbim is Akkrabim.. etc., etc. It would be grossly incorrect to seek to force the text to make these people and places refer to "Christ" in some way.

    The Song of Solomon is in the Bible because it is a wonderful God inspired love story and a reflection of God's own love for His people. That a whole book of the Bible would be devoted to such a thing is breathtaking, and so far removed from the Greek concept that all fleshly activity of the body is sinful. (Sadly Greek thinking has had a huge influence on the Church through the centuries).

    It is also true to say that the fact that an entire book of the Bible is devoted to the theme of romance, eroticism and sexual pleasure between a man and a woman in marriage shows us very clearly that God does not hate these things. He actually rejoices in them, being their Divine Author.

    Think about the profound ramifications of this for a moment. He could have said to couples, "just mix substance A with substance B, put it in a pot and leave it overnight and whammo - you will have a child." That was an option. Instead, God gave the human race sex with all that goes with it. God is certainly no killjoy, though He is quite clear regading the biblical boundaries for sexual enjoyment and pleasure, namely marriage (between a man and a woman).

    The Song of Solomon also teaches us that God has a wonderful purpose for marriage in and of itself. This is a wonderful encouragement for precious couples who for some reason are not able to produce children.

    The hyper-allegorical school of thought has brought much confusion and harm to the Body of Christ (and society and culture at large) through the centuries - none more so than in the arena of marriage. If properly understood (without all the allegorical trimmings) this book would have been a huge corrective in Church history when many leaders in the Church promoted the idea that all sex was sinful and that marital sex was only ever to be engaged for the purpose of procreation. The Song of Solomon clearly teaches us otherwise.

    Why could these gifted leaders of the Church not see what is obvious to us? Its actually fairly simple to answer: because they saw the Song of Solomon through the lens of the allegorical method of interpreation and therefore saw it as being ALL about Christ and His Church, rather than what it actually is, a book about romantic love.

    The Hebrew people never viewed this book as an allegory of God's love for Israel. As I pointed out before, that is why boys were not allowed to read it until they were considered adults in society. All understood what the book was truly about.

    It is a rich and deep book and worthy of our study.

    Now I'm really confused.

    First, you want us to take the Bible literally.

    Then, you say that, "The Song of Solomon is in the Bible because it is a wonderful God inspired love story and a reflection of God's own love for His people." Is that not allegorical?

    Then you want to say that Song of Soloman deserves a literal interpretation concerning, "romance, eroticism and sexual pleasure."

    What is obvious in Scripture is that both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself refer to Jesus as the Bridegroom! (Mat. 9:15; Mat. 25:1-10; Mar.2:19-20; Luk. 5:34-35; Joh. 3:29.) Are they speaking literally or allegorically?

    Then you say that the Book is not about Christ and His Church, rather romantic love. And as an authority on Scripture, you cite the Hebrews!

    I think I'll stick with allegory.

    Hi Bob,

    Sorry to learn that you are really confused.

    When talking of taking the Bible literally, I do not seek to intend to mean a wooden type of literalism that ignores the intent of the author. There is a vast difference between taking the Bible literally (which is what we should do) and what we call "literalism."

    When interpreting the Bible, nouns are interpreted as nouns, verbs as verbs, parables as parables, narrative as narrative.

    Song of Songs should be interpreted in the way it was intended, as a love story.

    Of course, Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is the Bride of Christ. However, Scripture never tells us that Solomon is a type of Christ or his bride is a type of the Church. A logical result of doing so would be to wrongly interpret the erotic and sexual word images of Song of Solomon as in somehow relating to Christ and the Church - and therefore lead to seeing Christ as an object of sexual desire. Some are doing that in our day as they speak of "making love to God" and that is NEVER what was intended.

    Hope that clarifies.

    Thank you for your quick (and lengthy) response.

    While I would disagree with you bluntly categorizing my legitimate question as "a huge oversimplification", let me carefully make the same observation about you opinion of allegorical method and the Old Testament.

    It is a huge oversimplification to say that an entire passage of scripture is categorically NOT about Christ, when Christ and the writers of the New Testament did not treat the Old Testament in the way that you state they do. "Everything written about me" in Luke 24:44 is not the same thing as saying "everything written is about me" as you wisely point out. It is also not the same as (since we're quoting verses now), Luke 24:27 "in all the Scriptures the things concerning me" or John 5:39 "the Scriptures [as a whole]... bear witness about me."

    No one is trying to force Christ out of or into random passage of scripture (although the text from Judges you cite does remind me of Hebrews 4:8). Mount Heres here IS Mount Heres, but the entire passage is also a reminder of an unfulfilled promise made "yes" in Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:20.

    Authorial intent is always a good starting point for interpretation, but as one who holds to the inspiration of Scripture I cannot see how the Holy Spirit would "intend" anything other than leading people to Christ through the scriptures. To leave the Song of Songs as simply a book about erotic love AND to claim that this was God's sole purpose in writing it removes any sense of inspirational intent. Christ came to fulfill/complete the Old Testament, is the Song complete without Him? Is this book about a God-approved some sexual enjoyment in marriage which Christ does not need to redeem? Can God rejoice in any created thing without rejoicing in the One for whom all things were created.

    The fact remains that God is never mentioned in the book. Because of this any interpretation which treats the Song as divine will require an answer to the question of God's intent for all of the Scriptures and for all of history. What other answer can we give but that it was written to bring glory to the Son he loves? In some way, it must be about Christ because everything is for him and his glory. (Colossians 1:16-17 if you need references). The Church Fathers who saw in the Song an allegory of Christ must've been on to something.

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