11

I am familiar with the interpretation of Song of Solomon which suggests that it is love poetry written by (or at the behest of, or in honour of, or later attributed to) King Solomon and that it is about human romantic love.

I recently found out that as early as Origen it has also been interpreted as being about the relationship of God and his people. I am struggling to find out what case was made for this interpretation of Song of Songs.

What is the case that song of Solomon is about the relationship between God and the church and who came up with this interpretation?

  • cf. Canticle of Canticles. – user13992 Nov 3 '14 at 19:03
  • Interpretation may be the wrong word. Both Jews and Christians have at times been reluctant to accept the Songs of Solomon into the canon of scripture because of its romantic content but have permitted it on the basis of its being an allegory of God’s love for Israel and of the Church. It is not considered an inspired writing by all denominations. – ShemSeger Nov 3 '14 at 20:38
4

Many interpretations argue that the Song of Solomon is about both the relationship between husband and wife and about Christ and his Church. This stems in large part from Paul's words to the Ephesians:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

(Ephesians 5:22-32)

Paul quotes from Genesis 2 in his letter, referring to God creating woman from man in order to be one with each other:

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

(Genesis 2:21-25)

Paul's point is that husband and wife were created to be one body, just as Christ and his Church are one body, and the Church exists because of Christ. With that in mind, you can see why Song of Solomon has been interpreted by the Church as referring to the relationship between Christ and his Church.

Even in the Old Testament, the relationship between God and His people was often compared to the marital relationship. In the book of Hosea, for instance, God has Hosea take a prostitute as a wife to demonstrate to the people of Israel how they have committed adultery against the Lord (cf. Hosea 1:2).

Then, in the New Testament this is seen most fully in Revelation at the marriage of the bride (the Church) and the groom (Christ) where they are united in perfect communion for eternity. See, for example, Revelation 19:7 and 22:2ff.

So, taken together, the marital relationship is good; it's God-ordained and provides us with an image of His relationship to His people. Thus, Song of Solomon can be seen as both a love song between husband and wife and between Christ and his Church.

1

One could ask why this poem, beautiful as it is, became part of Jewish and Christian scripture. After all, it is a story of sensual love. The singer is portrayed as a farm girl and her lover as a shepherd. “Do not stare at me because I am swarthy, because the sun has burned me. My brothers have been angry with me; they charged me with the care of the vineyards: my own vineyard I have not cared for (Songs 1:6).” Attribution to Solomon was based on a superficial reading of symbolic references in the song.

A midrash of the first millenium, Song Of Songs Rabbah interprets Song of Songs as an allegory for the relationship between God and Israel. This provides a potential background for the later Christian notion of the song as about the relationship between God and the church.

In spite of the obvious sexual theme throughout the Song of Solomon and the unmarried status of the singer and her lover, the Introduction to the Catholic New American Bible states that it is a parable in which the true meaning of mutual love comes from the poem as a whole, and that it is also possible to see in it an inspired portrayal of ideal human love. In an apparent eisegesis, the Introduction goes on to say, " Here we would have from God a description of the sacredness and the depth of married union." I suggest the beauty of the Song has clouded clear thinking.

Perez Zagorin says, in How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West, page 9, that, during the Protestant Reformation, Calvin interpreted the biblical Song of Solomon as a spiritual allegory of Christ's love for his church, in accordance with existing Christian tradition, whereas Castellio maintained that it was a shameless, lascivious love poem by the Hebrew king. Calvin accepted that the Song was about a married couple, and Castellio, while disagreeing with Calvin, accepted the tradition that the Song was written by Solomon.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.