The Puritans and Song of Solomon

Discussion in 'OT Wisdom Literature' started by TheThirdandReformedAdam, Sep 25, 2017.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. TheThirdandReformedAdam

    TheThirdandReformedAdam Puritan Board Freshman

    How would you characterize the Puritan view of the Song of Solomon? I have looked over some of the other threads on the board and I seem to get conflicting responses.
    • Some seem to suggest that the Puritans erred in that they could tend to be "hyper-allegorical," tying too specific a meaning to the text.
    • However, many, when asked how they view the Song of Solomon, would say that, though the book speaks to the union between a man and a woman, it ultimately speaks to the union of Christ and His Church.
    So, I simply ask, were the Puritans really that far off-base? If so, why; if not, why?
    (I ask this question because I'm writing a paper on the poems of puritan Edward Taylor, and I'm trying to get an accurate theological background before I make any drastic conclusions on his poetry concerning the Song of Solomon.)
  2. Joshua

    Joshua Administrator Staff Member

    Far from being off-base, I believe the Puritans were directly on-point. I do believe these words from Master Sibbes on Canticles are well-stated (Works, Vol. 2, p. 6 ):

    By shewing more noble, excellent, and fit objects, that the soul, issuing more largely and strongly into them, may be diverted, and so by degrees die unto other things. The Holy Spirit hath chosen this way in this song, by elevating and raising our affections and love, to take it off from other things, that so it might run in its right channel. It is pity that a sweet stream should not rather run into a garden than into a puddle. What a shame is it that man, having in him such excellent affections as love, joy, delight, should cleave to dirty, base things, that are worse than himself, so becoming debased like them! Therefore the Spirit of God, out of mercy and pity to man, would raise up his affections, by taking comparison from earthly things, leading to higher matters, that only deserve love, joy, delight, and admiration. Let God’s stooping to us occasion our rising up unto him. For here the greatest things, the ‘mystery of mysteries,’ the communion betwixt Christ and his church, is set out in the familiar comparison of a marriage, that so we might the better see it in the glass of comparison, which we cannot so directly conceive of; as we may see the sun in water, whose beams we cannot so directly look upon. Only our care must be not to look so much on the colours as the picture, and not so much on the picture as on the person itself represented; that we look not so much to the resemblance as to the person resembled.
    Here is a pretty good past thread, also, concerning the matter:
    • Like Like x 1
    • Informative Informative x 1
    • List
  3. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    John 5:39, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these [i.e. the Canticles] are they which testify of Me."
  4. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    Of course the whole OT speaks of the sufferings of Christ and the glories that will follow; it does not all speak of him in exactly the same way, however. Proverbs speak of Christ while at the same time directing us to what wise behavior looks like in our relationships, including the important issue of sex within marriage (see Prov 5:15-20). It is my contention (argued at length in my two commentaries on the Song) that the Song speaks of Christ in a similar way to the way Proverbs speak of Christ, not by means of an elaborate allegory. But I don't think the Puritans were wrong to seek Christ there, nor were their wilder flights of fancy any more stretched than some of the efforts of people holding to a "literal" interpretation to get application out of a challenging text. I'd also recommend the thread that Joshua highlighted as a good entry point into the issues.
  5. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

  6. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    A personal testimony.

    The Lord has been pleased to use the Song, as viewed as a love story between Christ and his bride the Church, in my life this past year to bring me to a greater degree of full assurance than I have ever known in my 44 years as a believer. The details of which are far too personal to ever share publically. Although I did not buy into every detail and alternate interpretation, John Gill's massive work on the Song was used in a special way in my life. Gill's work, originally presented as 122 sermons, contains over 339,540 words (not counting numbers). Below is Gill's outline of chapter 1.

    May the Lord be pleased to lead the modern Church in the rediscovery this life-giving Song of Songs.
    Song of Solomon 5:16 (KJV)
    His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.

    I am black but comely,

    Ed Walsh


    In this chapter, after the general title of the book, ver. 1; the church expresses her strong desires and most ardent wishes for some fresh discoveries of the love of Christ to her, and for communion with him, ver. 2; and having tasted of his love, and smelled a sweet savour in his grace, and enjoyed fellowship with him in his house, ver. 3, 4, she observes her blackness and un-comeliness in herself, and comeliness in him, the trials and afflictions she met with from others, and her carelessness and negligence of her own affairs, ver. 5, 6; and entreats her beloved to direct her, where she might meet with him feeding his flocks and giving them rest; to which he returns a kind and gracious answer, and gives proper instructions where to find him, ver. 7, 8; and then commends her beauty, sets forth her amiableness and loveliness by various metaphors, and makes promises of more grace and good things to her, ver. 9, 10, 11; when she declares what a value she had for Christ her beloved; and how precious he was unto her, like a bundle of myrrh, and a cluster of camphire, ver. 12, 13, 14; and Christ again praises her beauty, and particularly takes notice of her eyes, and her modest look, ver. 15; and she returns the encomium back to him, and expresses her pleasure and satisfaction in the house he had built for her, and the furniture of it, ver. 16, 17.

    Gill, J. (1854). An Exposition of the Book of Solomon’s Song; Commonly Called Canticles (p. 1). London: William Hill Collingridge.
  7. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    This perfectly illustrates the problem with the allegorical reading. The material here is all true, Biblical and deeply encouraging. It just obscures some of the important things that the passage is more directly about. For example, v.2 speaks of the woman's longing for kisses and (sexual) caresses from her future husband - the word our English translation coyly renders "love" is dodim which in the OT generally has sexual intimacy is in view. For example, in Ezekiel 16:8, it describes a young woman who has reached sexual maturity and is therefore ready for dôdîm. In Ezekiel 23:17, Judah shares a bed of dôdîm with her Babylonian lovers. Meanwhile, in Proverbs 7:18, the adulteress seduces the young man with the words, “Come let’s take our fill of dôdîm until morning.” It is thus a particular kind of “love” that she desires – sexual love – yet at the same time, the word also connotes a particular kind of sex – passionate sex, not simply an act of procreation. It is not easy to see how Gill's application flows from that. Notice too how he omits the fact that the man is not simply "a precious bundle of myrrh" but specifically she longs for him to be "like a bundle of myrrh between her breasts." The allegorical interpretation, in my view, while rightly seeking to recognize Christ in the passage, ignores the plain sense of the text, which (like Proverbs 5) extols the power and God-given beauty of sex within marriage. We don't have to choose between one and the other; by recognizing that the Song first speaks to us about love, sex and marriage we can then also see by analogy how it speaks to us about Christ and the church, the reality to which marriage is ultimately designed to point. Again, I develop all of that much more fully in my commentaries in the Tyndale OT and Reformed Expository Commentary series for anyone who is interested. Or you can listen to the sermons for free online at
  8. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    I would say they viewed it as a parable. As with parables, the literal sense of the words is not the sense of the Scriptures. I agree with their view for reasons such as what James Durham gives (or user MW in the linked PB thread). I additionally doubt that one can make sense out of the literal sense of the words for Christians without allegorizing anyway; and if one takes the literal sense of the words as the sense of the Scriptures, I'm not sure one can legitimately make application to Christ and his church.

    For an example of how to characterize the Puritan view, consider William Perkins and James Durham in their characterization of it.

    William Perkins says (in his Art of Prophesying),

    "4. The Song of Songs is an allegorical description of the relationship between Christ and the church in terms of the relationship between a bridegroom and his bride (or a husband and wife)."

    In his Key (already mentioned in the thread), James Durham says,

    "For there is a Two-fold Literal Sense of Scripture. 1. Proper and Immediate, as where it's said, Solomon married Pharaoh's Daughter. The Second is Figurative and Mediate, as when it is said, Matth 22.2. A certain King made a Marriage to his Son, &c. Both have a literal meaning. The first Immediate, fulfilled in Solomon: The second is Mediate, setting out God's calling Jews and Gentiles unto Fellowship with His Son; and so that Parable is to be understood in a Spiritual Sense. Now we say, this Song (if we would take up its true sense and meaning) is not to be understood the first way, Properly and Immediately, but the second way, Figuratively and Mediately, as holding forth some Spiritual thing under borrowed expressions, which will further appear from these things."

    In response to the typical view (which helps clarify his own view), he says,

    "Types suppose still the verity of some History, as Jona's casting in the Sea, and being in the Fishes Belly Three Days and Three Nights, when it is applied to Christ in the New Testament, it supposeth such a thing once to have been: Allegories again, have no such necessary supposition, but are as Parables proponed for some mystical end. Thus, while it's said, Matth. 22.2. A certain King made a Marriage, planted a Vineyard, &c. That place supposeth it not necessary as to the being of the Allegory, that ever such a thing was, it may be an Allegory without that; but a Type cannot be without reality in the thing, or fact, which is made a Type."
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2017
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page