Saturday, July 04, 2009

Song of Songs - can you read it this way?

I have advocated reading the Song of Songs first as about Christ and the church (corporate not individual), and then to secondly for marriage. In this 'She' is the church the bride, and He is Christ, who loves her.

Darrin Patrick notes: The transfer of the role of the bride from the community to the individual is one of the main theological errors that promotes consumerism.
And a whole lot of other problems!

Tom Gledhill, author of the BST Song of Songs and the article on it in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology is not so keen on this Christ-Church approach:
"Whilst the NT never quotes or alludes to the Song, it is nevertheless true that the OT uses the love and loyalty of the lover-beloved relationship as an illustration of the relationship between God and his people...  (citing Ezekiel, Hosea, Jeremiah and then Ephesians and Revelation) ...thus there is some biblical justification for a moderate typological approach. But the danger of this hermeneutic is that of thinking that the relationship between the believer and God is highly emotional or even erotic. It is far safer to look for spiritual stimulus, encouragement and rebuke concerning the spiritual life in the straightfoward and explicit admonitions of the NT. The typological approach also almost inevitably leads to excessive allegorization,... of the little foxes that ruin the vineyards as the little sins that spoil the church.."
So Gledhill says a moderate typology is fine, but we're to abandon it because:

a) we might take it too far, but can we not restrain ourselves? And what if we permit ourselves to ask whether a less cautious hermeneutic might be fruitful? I'm not saying be wreckless, but let's not run scared. Sounds like an argument for abstinence from alcohol for risk of drunkeness...

b) the NT gives us 'straightfoward' words but Matthew Henry suggests: "when the meaning is found out, it will be of admirable use to excite pious and devout affections in us; and the same truths which are plainly laid down in other scriptures when they are extracted out of this come to the soul with a more pleasing power" Can we not have poetic theology?

c) it's prone to excessive allegoratization, but it's ok for Mark Driscoll to follow Gledhill's lead and interpret the foxes as sexual temptation? Excesses all round I guess, but might we miss some of the riches if we pass over details?

I appreciate there are dangers, but I think Gledhill over reacts. Given he concedes there is some basis for this typological approach it seems a shame to throw away the opportunity for this book to testify about Christ and the church for fear of getting carried away with it. I accept it's possible to over-read the text, but perhaps we're more likely to under-read it...

Dave K takes an alternative and thoughtful approach this evening too


  1. Everyone is thinking about Song of Songs. Must me the sun!

    You may like a quote from RE Murphy in Provan's commentary (which tries to take a both/and approach):

    "The individual verses are not to be taken singly. From this point of view, the Canticle can be compared to the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We accept, for example, that here Almighty God is symbolized under the figure of the father; but we do not apply each pertinent verse to Him. Rather, the whole story is an imaginative description whose sole purpose is to convey the mercy and forgiveness of God. Similarly, the purpose of the Canticle is to express the beauty and fidelity which will characterize the People of God in its Messianic betrothal. The individual scenes are described solely to highlight this aspect."

    Maybe we should be cautious with the detail, and bold with the broad brush strokes.

  2. Must BE the sun.

    And it is Provan who tries to take the both/and approach.

  3. I increasingly love this book and have less and less problem not choosing between the two! I can now comfortably listen to a sermon on marriage from the book (as long as it takes me to Christ) and also just as comfortably sit and listen to "love the church." Are we just too precise in wanting to pin absolutely everything down into an "either/or" type of analysis? I'm preaching on Songs 8.6-7 for an upcoming marriage - and it's going to be an evangelistic sermon....