Love is as Strong as Death: Interpreting the Song of Solomon

The medieval Jewish scholar Saadia compared the Song of Solomon to a lock for which “the keys have been lost.” Most modern commentators agree with his assessment. “The Song is the most obscure book of the Old Testament,” according to Franz Delitzsch. G. Lloyd Carr says, “The whole question of its overall interpretation is unparalleled in the Old Testament.” Dennis F. Kinlaw writes, “No book in Scripture has had such varied treatment. The options are so broad that some have despaired.”1

The Interpretive Challenge

On the surface, the book appears to be a lyrical poem authored by Solomon2 in which he and his bride celebrate the joys of marital love. But the book’s metaphorical language, erotic subject matter, and canonical status have led interpreters to look for deeper meaning. Yet after more than twenty centuries, there is still no consensus. In his Introduction to the Old Testament, Edward Young identifies at least eight different interpretations.3

The purpose of this post will be to survey and assess the major interpretive approaches to the Song of Solomon, and then to commend an interpretation that combines the strengths of each, while seeking to avoid their weaknesses.

A Survey of Interpretive Approaches

To simplify the study, the various interpretations have been arranged under three broad interpretive approaches: the allegorical, the natural, and the typical.

The Allegorical Interpretation

Until modern times the allegorical interpretation of Song of Solomon has prevailed both in the synagogue and also in the church.4 Allegory is an extended metaphor, usually employing highly figurative language in order to convey timeless truths.5 Perhaps the most well-known modern example of this genre is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. The characters, places, and details of the text are not historical, but are merely literary vehicles for spiritual realities.

When applied to Song of Solomon, this interpretation has traditionally viewed the book as a portrait of Yahweh’s love for Israel (Jewish) or Christ’s love for the Church (Christian).6 Guided by this divine-human love paradigm, Rabbinic and Christian exegetes alike have sought redemptive-historical and theological referents among the many expressions, descriptions, and details of the text. Thus, the Shullamite’s dark complexion and comeliness (1:5) are said to represent sin and conversion; her two breasts (1:13) are either the two cherubim between which the Shekinah glory appears (Jewish) or the Old and New Testaments (Christian); her navel (7:2) is the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem which is in the middle of the world (Jewish) or the church’s baptismal font (Christian).  The “voice of the turtledove” (2:12) refers to the preaching of the apostles, and Solomon’s eighty concubines (6:8) represent the eighty heresies that would afflict the church.7

Advocates have argued that the allegorical method is necessary to give Song of Solomon religious value and also to avoid moral obscenities, as well as descriptive absurdities.8 To interpret Song of Solomon literally, they caution, not only misses the divinely-intended meaning, but it also places a soul in spiritual danger.  “Anyone who would dare treat this book as a secular love poem,” warns Rabbi Akiba, “forfeits his share in the World to Come.”9

The Natural Interpretation

Despite the strong warnings, a few early interpreters10 and many modern interpreters11 view the book as depicting an emotional and physical relationship between two young lovers. Most have classified the genre as lyrical poetry, whether a single poem or an anthology,12 while a few have suggested that Song of Solomon is a drama.13 The more traditional variation of this interpretation sees the book as a love song written by Solomon about his romantic relationship with his Shullamite bride. Others, however, see a “love triangle” and posit a third character, a rustic shepherd, whom the Shullamite chooses over Solomon.14

In defending its place in the canon, proponents point to the divine institution and approbation of marriage (Gen 1:31; 2:18-25) and argue that Song of Solomon provides the reader with an example of ideal marital love. Writes E. J. Young,

The Song does celebrate the dignity and purity of human love. This is a fact which has not always been sufficiently stressed. The Song, therefore, is didactic and moral in its purpose. It comes to us in this world of sin, where lust and passion are on every hand, where fierce temptations assail us and try to turn us aside from the God-given standard of marriage. And it reminds us, in particularly beautiful fashion, how pure and noble true love is.15

The Typical Interpretation

Attempting to combine the strengths of both the allegorical and natural interpretations, other commentators advocate the typical approach to the Song of Solomon.16 Unlike the allegorical, the typical view affirms the grammatical-historical meaning of the text. It interprets the book, like the natural interpretation, as a love poem, celebrating the joys and virtues of marital love. Nevertheless, the typical view, unlike the natural, sees beyond the immediate historical referents to theological and redemptive-historical realities. Proponents of this approach base their interpretation upon the analogical and typical nature of human marriage. God designed the marital relationship to replicate the archetypical inter-Trinitarian love, as well as divine-human communion (Gen 1:26-28). Furthermore, in the context of redemptive history, the marriage relationship serves as a type of Yahweh’s relationship to Israel (Isa 50:1; 54:4, 5; Jer 3:1-20; Ezek 16, 23; Hos 1-3) and Christ’s relationship to the church (2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:23-32; Rev 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17).17

The typical interpretation has been applied to Song of Solomon in two ways. The more common approach sees Solomon as a type of Christ and the Shullamite as a type of the church.18 But others, following the “Shepherd Hypothesis,” interpret the Shullamite as a type of the covenant community, Solomon as a type of the world, and the shepherd as a type of the Lord. Summarizing this view, Samuel Schultz, writes,

The bond between Israel (the Shulammith maiden) and her shepherd lover (God) was so strong that no worldly appeal (the king) could alienate Israel from her God.  In the New Testament this relationship is paralleled by Christ and the church.19

An Assessment of Interpretive Approaches

Each interpretive approach exhibits certain strengths and certain weaknesses. The natural interpretation correctly interprets Song of Solomon as a poetic expression of romantic love, involving real human beings. In doing so, it properly recognizes the dignity of marital affection and conjugal intimacy. However, the natural interpretation sometimes fails to appreciate the larger theological and redemptive-historical context of Canticles.20 As canonical literature, Song of Solomon must have a theological-redemptive aim (2 Tim 3:14-17).21 Furthermore, as Christ constantly reminded the Jews and his disciples, the entire Old Testament canon bears witness to him (Matt 5:17; Luke 24:25-27; 44, 45; John 5:39).

This theological-redemptive focus has been the major strength and attraction of the allegorical interpretation. Jewish and Christian allegorists have intuitively and correctly perceived the higher purpose of Song of Solomon. Yet their disinterest in the book’s historicity and preoccupation with deciphering its minute details22 clearly undermine the allegorical view as a valid and reliable interpretive method. Moreover, the allegorical view often appears to be motivated by an unbiblical view of marriage and human sexuality.23

The typical interpretation utilizes the strengths of the natural and allegorical interpretations, while avoiding their weaknesses. As pointed out above, the typical view follows the allegorical in recognizing the theological and redemptive-historical focus of canonical revelation.24 But, unlike the allegorical view, typical exegesis does justice to the grammatical and historical facets of the text without forgetting the larger canonical context. And like the natural interpretation, the typical view fully appreciates the God-given gift of marital love.

This does not mean the typical view is without its own weaknesses. The main objection to the traditional typological interpretation is the obvious incongruity between Solomon and Christ. As a polygamist on a grand scale (1 Kings 11:1-6), Solomon hardly provides an example of ideal marital love—especially of that exclusive love which Christ demonstrates towards his church (Eph 5:25)! In defense, it is often urged that the Scripture does identify Solomon as a type (Ps 72; Matt 12:42; Luke 11:31) and that a type need not correspond to its antitype in every detail.25 But the undeniable fact that the incongruity occurs at the very point where the analogy is intended, together with the fact that the Shullamite, not Solomon, is portrayed as the heroine and primary teacher in the book,26 render the traditional typical view unlikely, if not untenable.27

The “Shepherd Hypothesis” seems to overcome this impasse by positing a third character, a country shepherd, to whom the Shullamite remains faithful in spite of Solomon’s attempt to woo her into his harem. To the objection that Solomon as the author of the Song would never incriminate himself thus, defenders point to Ecclesiastes, where Solomon seems to expose his own folly.28 Nevertheless, as attractive as this view may be, its basis is more eisegetical than exegetical. The lack of any clear reference to a third character requires conjectural distinctions between the words of Solomon and those of the shepherd, which in turn result in arbitrary conclusions.29 If Solomon were not a polygamist, it is doubtful that the “Shepherd Hypothesis” would ever have been suggested.

Toward an Integrated Interpretive Approach

Having surveyed and assessed the various interpretive approaches to Song of Solomon, one is inclined to agree with Delitzsch’s observation that no single interpretation is problem free.30 Yet one must not allow past failures to deter future attempts. It seems possible to integrate the strengths of the various approaches into a more satisfactory interpretation.

The Sanctity of Marital Sex

It seems best to begin with a natural interpretation of Song of Solomon. J. Paul Tanner has offered the best overall treatment, in which he demonstrates two levels of meaning. At the first level, Song of Solomon is “about the enjoyment of God-ordained sex in marriage.”31 Here, both Solomon and the Shullamite have something to teach us. But as Tanner notes, “the book has a deeper plot.”32

The Strength of Monogamous Love

This deeper plot is hinted at in the references to Solomon’s harem (1:5, 6; 6:8), in the Shullamite’s apprehensive dreams (3:1-5; 5:2-8), and finally, in book’s conclusion, in which the Shullamite, not Solomon, provides the moral lesson (8:6-12). This she does by highlighting the exclusive and jealous nature of her love (8:6-7), as well as her chastity, which she has retained until marriage (8:10-12). And so, as Tanner points out, “There is a level of love far beyond sexual satisfaction, a love that is exclusive and possessive, having no room for intruders.”33 This interpretation does justice to the grammatical-historical demands of the text, while taking seriously Solomon’s deficiency as a paradigm for ideal marital love.

The Silhouette of the Savior

Tanner’s natural interpretation, however, fails to do justice to the theological and redemptive-historical demands upon Song of Solomon as canonical literature. Yet to avoid the pitfalls of the typical interpretation, one must on the one hand avoid making Solomon an ideal type of Christ, and on the other hand avoid introducing a third character.

Perhaps two suggestions may help: in the first place, it should be noted that women, as much as men, are visible replicas of God (Gen 1:26, 27). It is interesting to note that the woman’s role as a “helper” (‘ezer) is often predicated of God in the Old Testament (cf. Gen 49:25; 1 Sam 7:12; 2 Chron 26:7; Pss 10:14; 20:2; 30:10; 54:4). Thus, the Shullamite’s love, not Solomon’s, may point upward to God’s love for His people and forward to Christ’s love for His church.

Second, it is possible that Solomon may function as a type by way of contrast. David’s decayed body pointed forward to a greater David who “would not see corruption” (Ps 16:9-11; Acts 2:29-32). So too Solomon’s deficient love may point forward to the love of a Greater Solomon—a love that would correspond to the Shullamite’s in exclusivity and chastity (contrast 1 Kings 11:1-4 with Eph 5:25-32).

B.G.

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  1. The citation of Saadia is taken from Marvin H. Pope, Song of Songs: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, in The Anchor Bible, ed. William F. Albright and David N. Freedman (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1977), 89. For the other quotations, see the following works respectively: The Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes, trans. M. G. Easton (1872; reprint, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1986), 1; The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 17 in Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. D. J. Wiseman (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 9; “Song of Songs,” in vol. 5 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 1202. []
  2. For a defense of Solomonic authorship, see Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 537-40. []
  3. Edward J. Young, Introduction to the Old Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1964), 333-36. Marvin Pope lists sixteen categories under “Interpretations of the Sublime Song.” []
  4. For more thorough surveys of the allegorical approach to Canticles, see Weston W. Fields, “Early and Medieval Interpretation of the Song of Songs,” Grace Theological Journal 1:2 (Fall 1980): 222-33; J. Paul Tanner, “The History of Interpretation of the Song of Songs,” Bibliotheca Sacra 154:613 (January 1997): 24-47. Marvin Pope also provides a helpful historical survey in his introduction, 89ff. []
  5. A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1989), 231-235, provides an extended discussion of this literary device. []
  6. There are, of course, variations of the allegorical approach. For example, Pope refers to later Rabbis who portrayed the Song as the spiritual intercourse between the faithful Israelite (Solomon) and Wisdom (the Shullamite), 106-12, and to later Christians who portrayed it as the spiritual intercourse between the believer (Solomon) and Mary (the Shullamite), 188-92. Another example would also include the more modern cultic interpretation, which suggests Canticles is actually an adaptation of a pagan depiction of marriage among gods and goddesses (cf. Pope, 145-53; for a refutation of this view, see G. Lloyd Carr, “Is the Song of Songs a ‘Sacred Marriage’ Drama?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 22:2 (June 1979): 103-121). Like the more traditional allegorical view, these views deny the historicity of the text and spiritualize its meaning. []
  7. I gleaned these from Fields, 227-31; Pope, 93-132; Tanner, 26-30; Young, 333-34. []
  8. See the arguments in James Durham, Clavis Cantici: An Exposition of the Song of Solomon (1840; reprint, Minneapolis: Klock and Klock, 1981), 28-30. []
  9. Cited by Fields, 229.  The church father Origen agrees: “But if any man who lives only after the flesh should approach it, to such a one the reading of this Scripture will be the occasion of no small hazard.” Origen then alludes to the Jewish custom of forbidden young men to read the book. Cited by Pope, 117. []
  10. Pope identifies Theodore of Mopuestia and Jovinian (4th century), 119, 120, as well as Sebastian Castellio (16th century), 126-27, who, as a consequence of his natural interpretation, rejected the book’s canonicity. []
  11. Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament; G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon; Tom Gledhill, The Message of the Song of Songs, in The Bible Speaks Today, ed. J. A. Motyer (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994); J. Paul Tanner, “The Message of the Song of Songs,” Bibliotheca Sacra 154 (April 1997): 143-62. []
  12. Robert Gordis, The Song of Songs and Lamentations, revised and augmented edition (New York: KTAV, 1974); Tremper Longman III, Song of Songs, in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, ed. R. K. Harrison and R. L. Hubbard (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001); Greg W. Parsons, “Guidelines for Understanding and Utilizing the Song of Songs,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (October 1999): 400-23. []
  13. This view was first suggested by Origen and later revived by Delitzsch. But in his article, “Is the Song of Songs a ‘Sacred Marriage’ Drama?” G. Lloyd Carr effectively demonstrates that Canticles does not bear the marks of an ancient drama text. []
  14. This view has been called, “The Shepherd Hypothesis.” According to Zoekler, The Song of Solomon, trans. W. Henry Green, vol. 10 of Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Charles Scribner, 1871), 38, this view was first suggested by J. C. Jacobi (1771) and later defended by H. Ewald (1826). Modern exponents of this view include Brian Green, The Shepherd of the Hills: A Unique Approach Unlocking the Mysteries of the Book (Greenville, S.C.: Ambassador, 1997); Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., More Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 232-35; Samuel J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980), 294-97. []
  15. Young, 336.  Cf. Gledhill, 13. []
  16. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes (1872), 4-6; Archer, Survey of Old Testament Introduction (1994), 541-43; Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Chicago: Moody, 1981), 1107; Kinlaw, “Song of Songs,” 1207-09. []
  17. For, as Dennis Kinlaw notes, 1208, “If divine love is the pattern for marriage, then there must be something pedagogical and eschatological about marriage.” []
  18. Delitzsch, 6, represents this view: “But the congregation is truly a bride (Jer. Ii. 2; Isa. lxii. 5), and Solomon a type of the Prince of peace (Isa. ix. 5; Luke xi. 31), and marriage a mystery, viz. as a pattern of the loving relation of God and His Christ to the church.” Cf. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 477-78; Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 261-62. []
  19. Schultz, 296. Cf. Green, 14. []
  20. Young comes close when he concedes, “The eye of faith, as it beholds this picture of exalted human love, will be reminded of the one Love that is above all earthly and human affections—even the love of the Son of God for lost humanity,” 336. But I must issue two caveats. First, marital affection, which assumes a covenant, is not analogous to God’s love for “lost humanity,” but rather it is analogous to God’s love for redeemed humanity. Second, Young’s concession is inadequate, since it sees marital love only as an illustration and not as a revelatory type of divine-human redemptive love. Carr, The Song of Solomon, 34-36, manifests this same deficiency. []
  21. So Q4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us that “The Scriptures [including Canticles] principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” []
  22. As Gleason Archer observes, “The allegorical method if consistently carried out requires a spiritual counterpart for every physical detail. Certainly it is objectionable to equate Solomon and his enormous harem with the figure of the Lord Jesus Christ at least upon an allegorical method.” Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 541. []
  23. Kinlaw notes how Greek philosophy influenced many church fathers to adopt ascetic views regarding marriage and sexuality, 1205-07. []
  24. Those who, like Tanner, object to the typical view on the ground that “The text itself gives no indication that it is intended as typology, nor is there any indication from the New Testament that the Song is to be interpreted or applied Christologically” (“The History of Interpretation of the Song of Songs,” 32) need to come to grips with the implication of Christ’s words in Luke 24:27: “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” The significance of these words for an interpretation of any unit of canonical literature cannot be underestimated. Those who see Song of Solomon merely as an expression of human love need to have Christ do for them what he did for his disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (45). []
  25. So Delitzsch, 6, argues, “The typical interpretation proceeds on the idea that the type and the antitype do not exactly coincide; the mystical, that the heavenly stamps itself in the earthly, but is yet at the same time immeasurably different from it.” []
  26. As Tanner, “The Message of the Song of Songs,” 158, remarks, “If the bulk of the conclusion to the book comes from the bride, and if she is the one who provides the moral lesson, then more of the book should  be seen through her eyes.” []
  27. Of course, this criticism would also apply to the natural interpretation which sees Solomon as a paradigm for ideal marital love. []
  28. Green, 12. []
  29. Tanner, “The History of Interpretation of the Song of Songs,” 34. []
  30. To be precise, Delitzsch remarks, “Whatever principle of interpretation one may adopt, there always remains a number of inexplicable passages” (p. 1). []
  31. Tanner, “The Message of the Song of Songs,” 159. Some modern interpreters have endeavored to provide more specificity in their interpretation of the sexual metaphors. See Joseph C. Dillow, Solomon on Sex (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1977); Tommy Nelson, The Book of Romance: What Solomon Says About Love, Sex, and Intimacy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998); Daniel Akin, God On Sex: The Creator’s Ideas About Love, Intimacy and Marriage (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003); Mark Driscoll, “The Peasant Princess: A Love Story from the Song of Songs,” a sermon series (accessed July 24, 2012). []
  32. Ibid. []
  33. Tanner, “The Message of the Song of Songs,” 161. []
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7 Responses to Love is as Strong as Death: Interpreting the Song of Solomon

  1. We had to chime in. The one thing that we have discovered is that every sermon we have ever heard or read that takes the allegorical approach has been incredibly God glorifying, Christ exalting and has filled our souls with a renewed and sweeter love for Christ. We cannot say the same for the others. One might ask, “Which Interpretive Approach, if wrong, can do the most harm”. We think the others can and have done a great deal of harm.

    It seems, based on the quotes below, that this is a Book not to be taken lightly or attempted to dissect in a merely academic way.

    CERTAIN DIVINES have doubted the inspiration of Solomon’s Song; others have conceived it to be nothing more than a specimen of ancient love-songs, and some have been afraid to preach from it because of its highly poetical character. The true reason for all this avoidance of one of the most heavenly portions of God’s Word lies in the fact that the spirit of this Song is not easily attained. Its music belongs to the higher spiritual life, and has no charm in it for unspiritual ears. The Song occupies a sacred enclosure into which none may enter unprepared. C.H. Spurgeon

    “The Song of Solomon is undoubtedly a picture and a prophecy of the relationship between Christ and his church. Written in a poetic, dramatic form, it is a perfect representation of the church as the bride of Christ. This is a New Testament term but the Song of Solomon sees it long before it came to pass. This is how Solomon describes God’s overflowing love: ‘He brought me to the banqueting house. . .’ and that is where He always brings us. It is not to some kind of ‘soup kitchen’, or to some temporary place where we can be given just a little food to keep us from starvation. No, no! It is a ‘banqueting house’! . . . and His banner over me was love. Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick with love’ (Song of Solomon 2.4-5). There is so much love that it is almost overwhelming me.” LLoyd-Jones.

    The book of the Canticles is not in any part of it, much less in the whole, a meet subject for every ordinary undertaker to exercise upon. The matter of it is totally sublime, spiritual, and mystical; and the manner of its handling universally allegorical. So did God think meet in his manifold wisdom to instruct his church of old, whilst it tabernacled under those clouds and shadows, whose departure and flying away it so earnestly breathes after in this very book. God committed unto it then, in his oracles, the same treasure of wisdom and grace, as he doth now unto us under the gospel, only he so folded them up under types and allegories, that they could not clearly and distinctly look into them, he having provided “some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” John Owen.

    In Contrast:

    “I emphatically agree with those who say the Song of Solomon is not mere allegory. It is best understood when we take it at face value, like any other text of Scripture. Many interpreters whom I otherwise hold in high esteem have unfortunately done more to confuse than clarify the Song’s message by treating it in a purely allegorical fashion that eliminates its primary meaning. Solomon’s Song is, as I’ve said from the outset, a love poem between Solomon and his bride, celebrating their mutual love for one another, including the delights of the marriage bed. To interpret this—or any other portion of Scripture—in a purely allegorical fashion is to treat the interpreter’s own imagination as more authoritative than the plain meaning of the text.” John MacArthur (Pulpit Magazine – April 16, 2009)

    As my wife would answer, “If these men are guilty of confusing people and of eliminating the primary meaning of the book, as Macarthur’s accusation states, confusion never looked so good to me!”

    As always – GOOD STUFF!

    • admin says:

      Michael and Dianna,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I’m definitely with you in viewing this part of canonical Scripture as pointing to Christ. That’s why I argue for the typical view rather than a purely natural (marital love) interpretation. However, I can’t endorse the allegorical approach advocated by Spurgeon and some of the Puritans. While it has much to say that’s Christ-centered and edifying, it’s methodology is based more on eisegesis (reading ideas into the text) rather than exegesis (reading ideas out of the text). And that’s not a healthy way of interpreting Scripture.

      Grace and peace!

  2. Mike Waters says:

    Mr and Mrs Wood. Wonderful quotations. I agree with CHS, MLJ, and Owen.

    Dr Bob, I can appreciate your concerns with the Allegorical approach, but it seems to me to view it primarily or foremostly “about the enjoyment of God-ordained sex in marriage” misses the mark. As you pointed out, Marriage itself is typical (or a shadow of Christ and His bride, Eph.5:32), and as you know, types, are primarily intended to point toward their reality. My concern is, few contemporary RB men rarely, if ever, mention this book outside of marriage seminars.

    Have you considered a few other thoughts? For example:

    1. The title “The song of songs.” That is, the song of all songs can hardly refer merely or even primarily to marital love between a husband and wife. “The name by which Solomon calls this song, confirms me in it that it is more than an ordinary love song, and that it was designed for a divine song, and of divine authority…This he calls the Song of songs, that is, the most excellent of all his songs, which it seems very probable to me to be upon that account, because it was a song of the most excellent subject, treating of the love, union, and communion between Christ and his church; of which, marriage and conjugal love was but a shadow. these are the most excellent lovers, and their love the most excellent love” (J. Edwards).

    2. It’s close relationship to Psalm 45, which is nothing less than a miniature Song of Songs, and is either prophetic of Christ and the church or typical.

    3. There are several difficulties within the book if understood merely or purely literally. (1) The groom is both king and shepherd, as was not true of Solomon. (2) The groom refers to his bride as both his sister and spouse. (3) Figurative language is used throughout that can hardly be interpreted literally. [4] The daughters of Jerusalem are encouraged to love the groom along with the bride. “Another thing that shows this to be no common love song, is that the bride seeks a company in her love to the bridegroom, endeavors to draw other women to join with her in loving him, and rejoices in their communion with her in the love and enjoyment of her beloved (1:3-4; 6:1-2; 8:13)” (J. Edwards).

    4. The typical view (if not allegorical) fulfills the overall purpose of Scripture, which is to point to Christ (Lk.24, etc.).

    5. The church has ALWAYS heard the voice of her Beloved within it. “The true believer who has lived near to his Master will find this book to be a mass, not of gold merely, for all God’s Word is this, but a mass of diamonds sparkling with brightness; and all things thou canst conceive are not to be compared with it for its matchless worth. If I must prefer one book above another, I would prefer some books of the Bible for doctrine, some for experience, some for example, some for teaching, but I prefer this book above all others for fellowship and communion. When the Christian is nearest to heaven, this is the book he takes with him” (CHS).

    • admin says:

      Mike,

      Thanks for your thoughts. As I indicate to Michael and Dianna above, I’m fully with you on viewing this portion of canonical literature as having a primarily Christo-centric gospel aim. For this reason, I support the typical interpretation in which both the type, i.e., marital love and intimacy, as well as the antitype, i.e., Christ’s love for his church, are preserved intact.

      But I cannot support the allegorical approach. For one, it tends to read NT truth into the text rather than deriving it from the text. Moreover, it tends to be selective and (somewhat) arbitrary in its methodology. One employing it can, as you note above, argue that the bride’s endeavor to draw other women into loving the groom proves that the book is calling a “community” to love the groom rather than an individual woman. Yet she also wishes that the groom could be her brother and join her nursing at her mother’s breast. Would that imply that the church has a mother? If so, would that imply that God is a female? I could multiply absurdities, but my point is that if one plays fast-and-loose with details in order to deny that the poem could really be about a man and a woman and marital intimacy, another could play the same game and undermine orthodoxy, creating whatever creed he chooses.

      For this reason, I think it’s best to follow that method of interpretation that does justice both to the original historical settings and referents of the Song as well as to the redemptive-historical realities and referents to which the Song ultimately points.

      Grace to you, brother, and thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughts!

  3. Mike Waters says:

    Bob,

    I too prefer the typical view over the allegorical for the reasons you mention above. My basic points were two, that the literal view has nearly as many problems as the allegorical, and even more importantly, that if we do view the book typically, we get to the Antitype!

    Thanks for the post. Press forward dear brother, “the right Man is on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing.”

    • admin says:

      Thanks, Mike. We’re on the same wave-length, bro. The Song of Songs, like all the other books in the biblical canon, points to Jesus. And any interpretation that stops short of that is deficient. Pure and simple! May the Lord help us to point folks beyond the bliss of earthly marriage to the infinitely greater joys of that heavenly union of which the earthly institution is but a faint shadow!

  4. Michael & Dianna says:

    Great dialogue! Makes us want to re-read all 63 sermons Spurgeon preached on this book to make sure he has not undermined orthodoxy or created whatever creed he fancied. (Smiling – hopefully along with you)

    Thanks again for posting on this topic. It’s always great food for thought.

    The Woods

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