Song of Solomon Allegorical View: Applications to Romantic/Marital love?

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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
From the traditional, allegorical view of the Song (which is sometimes called "redemptive-historical" now?), are there any applications of the Song to romantic love or romantic relationships? And if so, how can that application be made safely/correctly? For a couple of examples,

Can one understand "many waters cannot quench love" as describing/being characteristic of romantic or marital love?

Can one use the following passage to warn young people from too quickly forming romantic ties (as, for example, used here)? "I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please." Interestingly, other translations do not supply the "my" and simply say "love until it pleases." Which translation is more correct?

Can one apply various passages or the teaching in the Song to marriage (I don't know how this could be done; I guess "commitment" or "passion" in marriage might be applications?), seeing how Paul applies an aspect of the union of Christ and the Church to marriages in Ephesians 5?
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
From the traditional, allegorical view of the Song (which is sometimes called "redemptive-historical" now?), are there any applications of the Song to romantic love or romantic relationships? And if so, how can that application be made safely/correctly? For a couple of examples,

Can one understand "many waters cannot quench love" as describing/being characteristic of romantic or marital love?

Can one use the following passage to warn young people from too quickly forming romantic ties (as, for example, used here)? "I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please." Interestingly, other translations do not supply the "my" and simply say "love until it pleases." Which translation is more correct?

Can one apply various passages or the teaching in the Song to marriage (I don't know how this could be done; I guess "commitment" or "passion" in marriage might be applications?), seeing how Paul applies an aspect of the union of Christ and the Church to marriages in Ephesians 5?

The terminology can be tricky, since I would argue that many of the "natural" interpretations are as "allegorical" (in the commonly used sense of free association) as anything the Early Church Fathers dreamed up. I think it is better to divide interpretations into "spiritual" and "natural" categories. If you use allegorical in the strict sense (as some on this board would argue for) - i.e. that the Song was composed as a precise allegory of the relationship of Christ and the church, the question is not whether you can but why you would want to impose an alien application to the text. Suppose you could teach hiking tips from Pilgrim's Progress, why would you? That's not the purpose of the text, on this view. However, I would argue that redemptive-historical is by no means the same as the allegorical (in either sense).

At risk of self-promotion:
For a redemptive historical interpretation that balances application to human marriage with application to Christ and the gospel, see my commentary in the revised Tyndale OT series. For more developed application, see the Reformed Expository Commentary version when it is published next year. If you can't wait that long, the sermons are all online. And yes, I think Paul's discussion of marriage in Ephesians 5 suggests application of Christ's relationship with the church to human marriages. But it also works the other way round: wisdom literature doesn't just guide human behavior but also speaks to us about our relationship with God. That's the essence of redemptive-historical interpretation.

As regards your other question, "my" is italicized in the quote because it is not there in the original. It is an interpretive gloss on the part of the translators (that doesn't necessarily mean it is wrong - the italicized text in the KJV is often helpful, but they are flagging for us the fact that they are not representing something in the original text). In this case, though, (along with most modern translations) I do think they are wrong.

I hope that helps
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
My pastor is not in favour of interpreting this as an allegory. Many of the church fathers likely thought that an inspired book about a sexual relationship was beneath the dignity of scripture. I'm not so sure...
 

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
Wouldn't 'many waters cannot quench love' would be applicable in some fashion to all love -- 'Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things . . . . Love never fails.'

[edit: I always think of the way the dragon tries to drown the woman in Revelation when I read this.]
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Can one apply various passages or the teaching in the Song to marriage (I don't know how this could be done;

I don't see how it can be done either. Who are the virgins and daughters of Jerusalem in relation to the marriage? How do they run (in the plural) after the man at the man's drawing of the woman? It's just not going to fit a western monogamous relationship. But it perfectly fits the scenario of a collective people, which can be understood as one or many under different figures.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Can one apply various passages or the teaching in the Song to marriage (I don't know how this could be done;

I don't see how it can be done either. Who are the virgins and daughters of Jerusalem in relation to the marriage? How do they run (in the plural) after the man at the man's drawing of the woman? It's just not going to fit a western monogamous relationship. But it perfectly fits the scenario of a collective people, which can be understood as one or many under different figures.

The virgins are (by definition of the Hebrew word) the young women who have reached sexual maturity and are therefore of marriagiable age. This seems easier to understand naturally than figuratively; in chapter 1 they are the definers of male attractiveness, as they are in every culture. It is not them who run, but the young woman and the young man (in her desires; the young man is not physically present in the opening scene). The daughters of Jerusalem, who are addressed in the refrain, are young women who need to be warned not to stir up desire before the appropriate time.


As to which interpretation has more coherence, I have worked out my approach in full in my commentary, so it is available for any who wish to see what such an approach would look like. I'm not sure why monogamy is seen as a western concept: isn't it a key Biblical teaching?
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Thanks! Any further comments on the translation or application of 2:7?

iainduguid said:
The terminology can be tricky
Yes. Just recently, I heard someone distinguish the Papist position (which he called "allegorical") from the traditional Protestant position (which he called "redemptive-historical"), but from what he said and the answers to the questions I asked him afterwards, he was definitely taking the allegorical view along the lines of James Durham. I usually refer to this view as "allegorical" because James Durham uses that language, and his commentary played a large role in persuading me of it.

iainduguid said:
As regards your other question, "my" is italicized in the quote because it is not there in the original. It is an interpretive gloss on the part of the translators (that doesn't necessarily mean it is wrong - the italicized text in the KJV is often helpful, but they are flagging for us the fact that they are not representing something in the original text). In this case, though, (along with most modern translations) I do think they are wrong.
Why do you think it is wrong to supply the "my"?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
This seems easier to understand naturally than figuratively.

The "natural" fails to recognise the literal referent, which is brought out in chap. 6, "There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number." The connection with "Solomon" makes the meaning evident. The allegorical view allows the Scripture to be interpreted according to its grammatical and historical sense, whereas the "natural" view leads to all kinds of allegorical intepretations.

I'm not sure why monogamy is seen as a western concept: isn't it a key Biblical teaching?

Through the influence of the Bible and Christianity the ideal of monogamy has become a norm for western countries. The Bible itself, however, recognises the ideal is not always the norm of society, which is demonstrated in the case of Solomon. 1 Kings 11:3. The Song reflects this historical situation.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
This seems easier to understand naturally than figuratively.

The "natural" fails to recognise the literal referent, which is brought out in chap. 6, "There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number." The connection with "Solomon" makes the meaning evident. The allegorical view allows the Scripture to be interpreted according to its grammatical and historical sense, whereas the "natural" view leads to all kinds of allegorical intepretations.

I'm not sure why monogamy is seen as a western concept: isn't it a key Biblical teaching?

Through the influence of the Bible and Christianity the ideal of monogamy has become a norm for western countries. The Bible itself, however, recognises the ideal is not always the norm of society, which is demonstrated in the case of Solomon. 1 Kings 11:3. The Song reflects this historical situation.

As I demonstrate in my commentary, it is certainly true that interpreters on all sides have at times been guilty of allegorical interpretation of the Song. I've tried very hard in my commentary not to do that. It is hard to see what is allegorical in arguing that the Hebrew word "alamot" means exactly what Hebrew lexicons say it means. That seems a very idiosyncratic meaning of the word "allegorical"! I'd be interested to know where in my commentary you think I may have strayed into allegory.

I would (and have in my commentary) argued that Solomon's historical polygamy is a key reason for rejecting Solomon as the hero of the Song. I do argue at length that the Song portrays a positive view of a monogamous relationship between the man and the woman, which in turn enables it to convict us in our own relationships and to point us to the hope found in Christ and the church. Christ is no polygamist and pursues a model of love and marriage very different from that of Solomon! But it is hard to do justice to the full scope of the argument in a comment box.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I'd be interested to know where in my commentary you think I may have strayed into allegory.

I wasn't responding to your commentary (which I haven't read, and don't expect to in the near future), but to your comment made on this thread. If the reader is required to avoid the literal referent of the text in order to make it speak in praise of a monogamous relationship it is abundantly evident that allegorical exegesis is being utilised.

I would (and have in my commentary) argued that Solomon's historical polygamy is a key reason for rejecting Solomon as the hero of the Song. I do argue at length that the Song portrays a positive view of a monogamous relationship between the man and the woman, which in turn enables it to convict us in our own relationships and to point us to the hope found in Christ and the church. Christ is no polygamist and pursues a model of love and marriage very different from that of Solomon! But it is hard to do justice to the full scope of the argument in a comment box.

Solomon is idealised in the Song. Just as with parables like the unjust steward, it is not the immediate historical situation from which the moral is to be drawn; it is the the broader picture as an unified whole which provides the key. Christ is the Lover of the church and to believers individually. The singular-plural is appropriately applied in this case. The singular-plural cannot apply to a monogamous relationship.

Moreover there is a "kingly" element to the relationship which has no place in a relationship of equality. This kingly element is essential to the text. It cannot be washed away with allegorical exegesis without destroying the fabric.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks! Any further comments on the translation or application of 2:7?

iainduguid said:
The terminology can be tricky
Yes. Just recently, I heard someone distinguish the Papist position (which he called "allegorical") from the traditional Protestant position (which he called "redemptive-historical"), but from what he said and the answers to the questions I asked him afterwards, he was definitely taking the allegorical view along the lines of James Durham. I usually refer to this view as "allegorical" because James Durham uses that language, and his commentary played a large role in persuading me of it.

iainduguid said:
As regards your other question, "my" is italicized in the quote because it is not there in the original. It is an interpretive gloss on the part of the translators (that doesn't necessarily mean it is wrong - the italicized text in the KJV is often helpful, but they are flagging for us the fact that they are not representing something in the original text). In this case, though, (along with most modern translations) I do think they are wrong.
Why do you think it is wrong to supply the "my"?

Because the addition of "my" suggests that the "my love" that the daughters of Jerusalem are not to awaken is the man. That's how Durham takes it at any rate, and applies it to Christ - believers are to remember that Christ is sovereign over his visitations; it is not in our power to force his attentions.
But the woman in the Song always refers to her man as "my beloved" (dodi) not "love" (ahavah). Apart from the triple refrain, ahavah only occurs in the Song in 8:7, where it is very clear that it is the abstract notion of love that is in view ("Many waters cannot extinguish love..."). Durham's view is thus grammatically indefensible (as well as slightly strained logically: on his view the verse ought to warn the Daughters of Jerusalem that they can't stir the man until he pleases, not warn them against doing it). On the other hand, it makes perfect sense to warn the young women of the danger of stirring up love too soon, given its enormous power.
 

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
I had a question that ties into yours, Raymond, about chapter 2. It has seemed to me to divide into two main bracketed sections where there is a communion of embrace, and then a communion of voice (I'm sure I'm saying this badly). Both sections end with an odd injunction -- vs. 7 and 15, but both injunctions could be similar. Matthew Henry takes it that vs. 7 is saying essentially -- 'don't do anything to disturb the visit of love'. Vs. 15 would seem to be saying the same: that we guard against anything that spoils this communion of voice?

Rev. Duguid, is the triple refrain you spoke of the usage of 'love' in vs. 4 and 5 and 7? Then if I understand -- is it a different word used in vs. 8 of chapter 7 -- 'love is as strong as death?' What word is it there?

[Edit: I looked this up in Strong's: it lists these verses for that particular word: 2:2,4,7; 3:5,10; 5:8; 7:6; 8:4,6,7.
Is the phrase from 2:7 what was meant as the 'triple refrain'? -- Does it somehow include the other usages?
Also, how does 7:6 specifically fit into a pattern of abstract usage -- it would seem to be odd outside of the context of direct address?
I noticed that each time that phrase from 2:7 is used, it is in connection with a season of embrace -- as if to say 'don't disturb this'.]
 
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alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
Well it might be a bit of a cheat in answering the question, but if you want a trustworthy exposition of the Song you can't get better than Durham. There are other godly men whose commentaries would say similar things- Henry, Bradbury, Gill, Hawker- with maybe slight disagreements over understandings of particular verses/images, but they would all be taking the right approach to the text. Durham's commentary is especially precious because of his excellent "Key" to the book, where he explains why it is an allegory and not, for example, a type. One of his arguments against it being seen as a type is that Solomon, for one thing, married a heathen woman, expressly against God's command. Clearly such an unlawful marriage could not be considered as a type for the spiritual marriage between Christ and His church/the believer. I think such an argument would also negate any attempt to make the Song teach about human/marital love.

I think the argument that the Holy Spirit wouldn't concern Himself with writing a love manual has a lot going for it. In fact, I find it perplexing that people are so keen to see this book as nothing more than a "how to" book for married couples. But then the more the natural man is confronted with spiritual things, the more he rages against them and this is one of the most, if not the most, spiritual books in the Bible (by that I mean, it is from first to last experiential).

The Song has been a most beautiful and helpful companion to God's people throughout the ages: in showing them the love of Christ to His people; in putting into words their own experiences. Just look at the sermons (especially those of communion seasons) and letters of the godly from years past and you'll see how prevalent this book is; how its language and imagery saturate the devotional and experiential life of the believer.

It's also worth pointing out that if the Song is meant to represent the marital relationship, then it creates a strange picture where the wife is constantly grieving her husband, being lazy in her love to him, turning from him; whereas the husband is portrayed as perfect, always forgiving, always appeasing. Is this the sort of teaching we want to be putting across? It sounds more John Eldregde than Christian to me. I don't like to be speak so flippantly of God's Word, but I do think one needs to think carefully about what sort of "message" is communicated if we take this book as teaching about human love/marriage. Only when we understand it as an allegory exclusively about the spiritual union between Christ and the believer, does it make sense: the believer knows from his own experience how he constantly grieves Christ, and fails in his devotions, turns away from him, is lazy in spiritual duties. He also knows how Christ is always there to receive him when he turns back to him; how Christ is always merciful.
 
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alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
As to the issue of the italicised "my". If that is an incorrect "addition", and the line should just run onto "love", how does one explain the "he" at the end of the sentence, which isn't in italics? Also, taking the whole chapter into consideration, "my" (referring to Christ) makes far better sense than love considered in the abstract.

Chapter 2, generally, seems very much about the sweet communion between the believer and Christ: it is a dialogue between the two. It shows Christ coming to His beloved, and His beloved's sweet reception of Him and the believer's rest in Him, not desiring that He would leave; the believer's joy at His coming (verse 8) &c.

And whilst Christ is sovereign in His visitations, we can and do most certainly grieve Him away and turn from Him, creating a distance between us. Verse 9 wonderfully communicates the experience of the believer that Christ is often seen in glimpses, "through the lattice" (what would this mean naturally? that the husband is spying on the wife?); or heard as if "behind a wall". For the believer it is so often true that his times of communion with Christ are fleeting: of course he would not wish to do anything, or for others to do anything, to make those times even briefer.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
I had a question that ties into yours, Raymond, about chapter 2. It has seemed to me to divide into two main bracketed sections where there is a communion of embrace, and then a communion of voice (I'm sure I'm saying this badly). Both sections end with an odd injunction -- vs. 7 and 15, but both injunctions could be similar. Matthew Henry takes it that vs. 7 is saying essentially -- 'don't do anything to disturb the visit of love'. Vs. 15 would seem to be saying the same: that we guard against anything that spoils this communion of voice?

Rev. Duguid, is the triple refrain you spoke of the usage of 'love' in vs. 4 and 5 and 7? Then if I understand -- is it a different word used in vs. 8 of chapter 7 -- 'love is as strong as death?' What word is it there?

[Edit: I looked this up in Strong's: it lists these verses for that particular word: 2:2,4,7; 3:5,10; 5:8; 7:6; 8:4,6,7.
Is the phrase from 2:7 what was meant as the 'triple refrain'? -- Does it somehow include the other usages?
Also, how does 7:6 specifically fit into a pattern of abstract usage -- it would seem to be odd outside of the context of direct address?
I noticed that each time that phrase from 2:7 is used, it is in connection with a season of embrace -- as if to say 'don't disturb this'.]

Hi Heidi,
What I meant by the triple refrain was the fact that 2:7 virtually exactly matches 3:5 and 8:4. These are the only uses of ahavah with the definite article in the Song, apart from 8:7. Without the definite article,it shows up in the other places you mention. Nowhere does it refer to the man; everywhere else (with the possible exception of 7:6 [v.7 in Hebrew]) it refers to the abstract concept of love.

I hope that helps.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
As to the issue of the italicised "my". If that is an incorrect "addition", and the line should just run onto "love", how does one explain the "he" at the end of the sentence, which isn't in italics? Also, taking the whole chapter into consideration, "my" (referring to Christ) makes far better sense than love considered in the abstract.

Chapter 2, generally, seems very much about the sweet communion between the believer and Christ: it is a dialogue between the two. It shows Christ coming to His beloved, and His beloved's sweet reception of Him and the believer's rest in Him, not desiring that He would leave; the believer's joy at His coming (verse 8) &c.

And whilst Christ is sovereign in His visitations, we can and do most certainly grieve Him away and turn from Him, creating a distance between us. Verse 9 wonderfully communicates the experience of the believer that Christ is often seen in glimpses, "through the lattice" (what would this mean naturally? that the husband is spying on the wife?); or heard as if "behind a wall". For the believer it is so often true that his times of communion with Christ are fleeting: of course he would not wish to do anything, or for others to do anything, to make those times even briefer.

The "he" at the end of the line is quite simply wrong. The hebrew verb is clearly feminine, agreeing with 'ahavah, love. So the NASB, which retains the KJV's "my love" corrects the last part to "until she pleases". Other translations simply adopt the English neuter for "love".

The last paragraph demonstrates the problem with the allegorical method of interpretation. I agree with everything you say in principle, but that is not what the passage actually says. It doesn't warn the daughters of Jerusalem not to grieve love or quench (Christ's) love but not to arouse or awaken love (in general)before the appropriate time. So in pursuit of edifying application, you've turned the literal meaning of the verse on its head.

It's also a mistake to think that guidance on marriage is beneath the Holy Spirit. What is Proverbs 5:15-22, or Ephesians 5:22-32 except that? Of course neither of these is simply about human marriage, but then the whole thrust of my commentary is that the Song speaks to both - to our human relationships and to the relationship of Christ and the church. That is precisely what one would expect from wisdom literature. If you want to see what that looks like in specific passages, I would encourage you to read the commentary, or listen to the sermons which are online at Christarp.com.
 

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
Thank you, Rev. Duguid, that does make a difference. I was confused, seeing the abstract concept for love in my English bible a couple times in that one passage alone :) If I understood-- then a definite article is used with 'love' in vs. 7 that is not used in vs. 4,5. It doesn't need a definite article to be used 'abstractly', then (love vs. beloved)?

Are there explanations for why the article was introduced in verse 7?

The 'don't awaken love' would be more of a literal interpretation, if read as part of the progression of love in this passage? First she is brought to the banquet house, is sick of love, is embraced in a way suggesting that there is intimacy -- from which they do not wish to be stirred or wakened.

From an experiential lay standpoint, Matthew Henry's explanation makes most sense to me -- whether one is getting at the spiritual sense by way of allegory or application. I don't think we are meant to rest content when we don't have a vivid sense of Christ's love. The Psalms are full of pleas to awaken the Lord's love, and the whole Song (as well as Revelation) ends with a cry to 'come quickly'. It makes more sense that we are taught to be careful not to allow anything to encroach on our devotion (something I am still learning, rather badly I'm afraid); and it seems in keeping with other injunctions throughout the Song, and with the whole tenor of the King's treatment of the Bride and her response. I won't defend that as I'm not a scholar, but I found it edifying.

Raymond: I did mean to try to answer your original question by asking about Matthew Henry. I think a similarity from his interpretation to marriage would be obvious -- for we also observe this in marriage. When a man gets married, he may have to stop hanging out so much with his friends, or spending quite so much time playing Worms on the computer, or what have you. But all love is also like this. A mother is focused on her own children in ways that limit her focus on those of others. Love is necessarily an exclusive experience for limited people, much as we would wish to be more sufficient than we are. And yet -- the belonging to one another in special ways is also very sweet.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
What is Proverbs 5:15-22, or Ephesians 5:22-32 except that?

If the Song as a whole is about marriage it has NOTHING to say to singles. It has NOTHING to say to a believer as a believer. The so-called marriage guidance of Proverbs and Ephesians is taken up within the redemptive message of those books and subordinated to the believer's high calling. The counsel in both passages explicitly serves a higher purpose. Making the Song all about human marriage must exalt marriage as an end in itself, quite contrary to what is done in Proverbs and Ephesians. The interpreter then has to construct his own ladder to make it serve a higher purpose.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
What is Proverbs 5:15-22, or Ephesians 5:22-32 except that?

If the Song as a whole is about marriage it has NOTHING to say to singles. It has NOTHING to say to a believer as a believer. The so-called marriage guidance of Proverbs and Ephesians is taken up within the redemptive message of those books and subordinated to the believer's high calling. The counsel in both passages explicitly serves a higher purpose. Making the Song all about human marriage must exalt marriage as an end in itself, quite contrary to what is done in Proverbs and Ephesians. The interpreter then has to construct his own ladder to make it serve a higher purpose.

Not at all, as you would see if you read my commentary or listened to my sermons. Teaching on Christian love and marriage has a great deal to teach singles (indeed, most of my congregation in Grove City were single students). As I understand it, the daughters of Jerusalem in chapter 2 are single young women. I would argue that in exactly the same way as in Proverbs and Ephesians, the guidance about human relationships in the Song also serves the higher purpose of teaching us about our relationship with Christ. When I preach on Ephesians 5, I am preaching to both married people and singles, and my ultimate goal is to point people to the sufferings of Christ and the glories that will follow. I preach in exactly the same way from the Song. My goal is not to construct my own ladder to serve a higher purpose (that is a great description of allegorical interpretations of every description, including Alexander's above); rather it is to understand what the Holy Spirit has to say to his people by understanding the text within its proper Biblical and historical context.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Not at all, as you would see if you read my commentary or listened to my sermons. Teaching on Christian love and marriage has a great deal to teach singles (indeed, most of my congregation in Grove City were single students). As I understand it, the daughters of Jerusalem in chapter 2 are single young women. I would argue that in exactly the same way as in Proverbs and Ephesians, the guidance about human relationships in the Song also serves the higher purpose of teaching us about our relationship with Christ. When I preach on Ephesians 5, I am preaching to both married people and singles, and my ultimate goal is to point people to the sufferings of Christ and the glories that will follow. I preach in exactly the same way from the Song. My goal is not to construct my own ladder to serve a higher purpose (that is a great description of allegorical interpretations of every description, including Alexander's above); rather it is to understand what the Holy Spirit has to say to his people by understanding the text within its proper Biblical and historical context.

So you are saying the text does not literally speak of Christ, but you have some ability to make it serve that higher purpose, and if I would just read your commentary or listen to your sermons I would be let in on the secret. This sounds more esoteric than Origen.

Scripture utilises allegory. Even when it uses allegory it is to be understood according to the accepted grammatical, historical, and theological methods of interpretation. Your allegorical method of exegesis allows you to make the text say whatever you please. It does nothing to commend your commentary.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you, Rev. Duguid. Of course for God to speak directly to marriage is not under His dignity. After all, He instituted it in Genesis. Is a pre-fall institution of God in need of a "higher purpose"? The scriptures are supremely concerned with our sanctification, and this unto His glory, so it should not surprise anyone for scripture to deal with marriage without the necessity to see it as an allegory.
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
timfrost,

I don't think anyone has said that Scripture has nothing to say about marriage. What I question is the Holy Spirit's composing an entire book on human marriage. Scripture is spiritual: it is always concerned with talking to the soul of man. Even the most practical and ceremonial aspects of Scripture (e.g., Leviticus) is ultimately speaking to spiritual realities. But of course Leviticus is a law book, it's not a poem or a prophecy.

When Paul talks about marriage in his epistles he is drawing teaching about marriage from the realities of faith, not the other way around. Physical realities are an imprint of spiritual realities, not the other way around. What modern commentaries on the Song of Solomon do- if they bother to draw conclusions about the spiritual union of Christ and the believer at all- is turn this around: they make human marriage determinative for spiritual marriage.

Essentially the modern approach to this book is saying that generations of understanding were quite simply wrong; that generations of believers were wrong in seeing in this book a song which wonderfully expressed their experiences; that we know better today. Do we? Do we know better on anything? I don't think so.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Hi Alexander,

I appreciate your concern. I also have not done in-depth study on this, so I'm not speaking as one with any kind of authoritative grasp on the book.

I don't think anyone has said that Scripture has nothing to say about marriage. What I question is the Holy Spirit's composing an entire book on human marriage. Scripture is spiritual: it is always concerned with talking to the soul of man. Even the most practical and ceremonial aspects of Scripture (e.g., Leviticus) is ultimately speaking to spiritual realities. But of course Leviticus is a law book, it's not a poem or a prophecy.

I'm not persuaded that we can say that the Scripture "is always concerned with talking to the soul of man." This creates an unnecessary dichotomy. The soul and body are intimately intertwined and will be for eternity (after the second coming), so a book of the Bible that speaks specifically to a physical relationship is in no way divorced from the spiritual.
When Paul talks about marriage in his epistles he is drawing teaching about marriage from the realities of faith, not the other way around. Physical realities are an imprint of spiritual realities, not the other way around. What modern commentaries on the Song of Solomon do- if they bother to draw conclusions about the spiritual union of Christ and the believer at all- is turn this around: they make human marriage determinative for spiritual marriage.

Nearly all of the Pauline writings start with doctrine and end with life application. Paul understood the relationship to flesh and spirit and this is why he balanced the two in many of his writings. Would you argue that the primary focus of Philemon is a physical or spiritual application? Should we see the relationship of Onesimus to Philemon as an allegory since it focuses on the human experience of a slave? Certainly this book does not only speak about the physical, but the primary emphasis seems to be just that.
Essentially the modern approach to this book is saying that generations of understanding were quite simply wrong; that generations of believers were wrong in seeing in this book a song which wonderfully expressed their experiences; that we know better today. Do we? Do we know better on anything? I don't think so.

Very good point and very worthy of consideration. However, interpreting this book differently does not necessarily change any doctrines of the church, so my hesitation in defaulting to tradition on this matter is not of paramount importance to me.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
If God gave us a book about marriage I would happily receive it. If the allegory of the Song was an allegory formed on a monogamous view of marriage I would happily receive it. But the Song has to be twisted and tortured to make it speak of monogamous marriage. Ideas have to be read into the text in order to extract them out of the text; and those ideas are usually nothing more than a cultural milieu imposing itself on the interpreter. The end result is that sentimental views of human relationships are taught and preached as if they were the word of God; or worse, the word of God itself is relegated to a piece of "advice." All this only serves to diminish the canonical authority of the book.

The Song is of "Solomon." The historical record shows us quite clearly that Solomon never enjoyed a monogamous relationship. Moreover, the allegory is specifically spelled out in the first few verses, and it includes the love of the virgins.

Solomon is idealised. It is his "name" that is important, and what that "name" means in the progress of God's covenant relation with His people. His "name" is as ointment poured forth. He is the peace-bringer. In his days rest was brought to the promised people in the promised land, and the symbol of rest, the temple, was built and dedicated. The imagery of the book is centred around these things, not human qualities. His beloved bears an allegorical name which comports with his own. She is the peace-receiver. The conflicts in the book are not designed to help monogamous marriages overcome difficulties. What man leaves his wife exposed to beatings? These conflicts are precisely those which arose in Israel's relations to the foreign nations before she had rest.

Solomon was the promised Son of David who sat upon the promised throne. Israel is a precious people. The daughters are those dedicated to the service of the king, as Samuel had said. It does not require an imaginative ladder to arrive at a higher meaning when the book is read in its redemptive-historical context through the window of New Testament fulfilment.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Rev Winzer,

Very good points. I look forward to studying this book from various perspectives.

Thanks!
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
timfrost,

Apologies if my last post came across as confrontational, sometimes rhetoric takes over.

I certainly didn't mean to promote a soul/body dichotomy. Absolutely not. The life of the believer encompasses body and soul. The point I was trying to make was that the teaching of Scripture is ultimately directed to the life of the believer. So even historical books, like Judges, are to be understood by the Christian spiritually: what does this book say to the Christian; to the believer, or indeed the unbeliever, the seeker? It speaks to the individual as he is in relation to Christ, spiritually. So of course Scripture has things to say about our physical life on earth (e.g. it speaks to masters, slaves, husbands, wives, children, governments, nations). But when it is talking to slaves, for example, its focus is still spiritual. For example, Paul tells slaves/servants to be content with their position in this world, because if their hope is in Christ, they have a far greater inheritance awaiting them and obedience is also a requirement of the Christian.
 
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