New Post at Christianity.Com: Intended Allegory in the Song of Songs?

Over at Christianity.Com I ask whether there is exegetical evidence that Solomon intended an allegorical layer of meaning in the Song of Songs. Here’s the opening:

For a number of years now learned interpreters of Scripture have been telling us that the Song of Songs is (primarily) about human love. I put the word primarily in parentheses in that last sentence for a reason. I had grown so accustomed to the emphasis on human love in the Song that I had begun to assume that’s all modern commentators said about it. As I was recently pondering this, I went back and looked at what they actually say. They typically add a word like “primarily” or “mainly,” leaving the door open to a spiritual meaning of the Song. But then when the get into it, all they talk about is human love.

In this post I want to pose a question: is it possible that Solomon intended the Song to have an allegorical layer of meaning?

Usually when you suggest that the Song is about something more than human love, people roll their eyes and write you off as a prude.

I’m not a prude, okay?

I do think the Song is about human love, and I think human love is great. Really great! I love my wife, and I can’t get over God giving us something so surprising, so pleasing, so good as marriage. Everything that happens within the context of this comprehensive interpersonal union of one man and one woman being one flesh is better than any of the perversions people use to ruin it. So I’m on board with human love in the Song.

My question, though, is whether there’s more to the Song than merely human love, more that Solomon, whom I take to have written the Song (cf. Song 1:1), intended his audience to get from this piece of poetry. I’m not out to defend the history of interpretation by asking this question, but it is worth observing that the idea that the Song has a spiritual meaning has been, well, dominant across the ages. Is there exegetical evidence for it, though?

I consider the exegetical evidence in the rest of the post.

Related: I’m preaching through the Song at Kenwood, and the sermons are on this page.

8 Responses to New Post at Christianity.Com: Intended Allegory in the Song of Songs?

  1. Matt Harmon September 5, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Great article as usual, Jim.

    While I agree with what you argue, my question is whether allegory is the right label. If God created marriage to reflect his relationship with his people, can we not instead label this typology? Human marriage is the type, while God’s relationship with his people is the antitype (seen initially in the OT with God and his people but escalating into the fuller revelation of Christ and the church in the NT).

    I understand that you are using the term allegory loosely, and that your audience is a popular level. And obviously the term typology has its own potential baggage! Just curious.

    • JMH September 5, 2012 at 9:01 am #

      Thanks for your encouraging note, Matt!

      I would say that the ways in which the character of Solomon in the Song point forward to a greater Son of David to come are typological, with their points of historical correspondence and escalation.

      The physical reality of marriage between a man and a woman having a spiritual correspondence to the covenant between God and his people, however, seems more like the simple definition of allegory to me. And I think this is along the lines of what Paul is doing in Galatians 4 when he uses the concept of allegory. I’m trying to do what Paul did, which is not the “free-association” technique that many have done in the past. What I see Paul doing, and what I’m trying to follow him in, is an approach that seeks to retain authorial intent and remain sensitive to biblical-theological concerns.

      • Matt Harmon September 5, 2012 at 9:21 am #

        Helpful. Thanks for clarifying, brother!

        I need to go download your sermons on SoS. I know I will benefit from them.

        • JMH September 5, 2012 at 9:24 am #

          I’d be honored if you did that, and would welcome any feedback you might have!

  2. Pete Scribner September 5, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    If my understanding of the Bible is correct (e.g., Ephesians 5:31-33), human marriage itself is but a shadow of the relationship which exists between Christ and his bride. Maybe I’m just a simpleton, but it seems to me that even if one were to say that the Song is SOLELY about marital love, we still end up with it ULTIMATELY being deeper than that.

  3. Saul Sarabia September 5, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    Im listening your sermons on song of songs now and i agree with you and Macarthur..i think that Driscoll’s view is wrong.

  4. David Perlmutter October 18, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    Pastor Jim,
    For unknown reasons, our family, ie. my wife and I, have deep unexpressed bad expressions toward the rowling person and her works, though we have really had no exposure to them….Somewhere,
    somehow, the info came to us a long time ago that books are evil
    and I am very very sad that I feel that way, now, esp. that you have
    read them and encourage people to do that.

    Pastor Jim, what I am saying is that as believers, if we are wrong because we have not been exposed to them for ourselves, have we been listening incorrectly? Sir, I feel if this affects me in my life, that I may have a world view that has been distorted irreparably and Jim,
    I am scared that I have prejudice like this which is unfounded..Can you
    help me.

    David

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