Interpreting Ecclesiastes

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Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Junior
I'm trying to figure out how to interpret the writing. With a lot of it, was Solomon way off? I feel like if I believed a lot of the thoughts in the book, I would get some stern correcting from my pastor.

For example:
So I said to myself, “Since I will end up the same as the fool, what’s the value of all my wisdom? This is all so meaningless!” For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten.
Ecclesiastes 2:15‭-‬16

We all know this isn't true, so what do we make of it along with the other things he says that are way off?
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
Continue reading. When you come to verse 26 the dawn may come up like thunder. Pleasures, wisdom, folly, and toil are indeed meaningless when one's motives are not aright.

Nothing can be more true.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
I am just starting a Sunday School class on this book. I believe Michael Eaton is on to something with his thesis that the book has an apologetic intent. This involves a very particular understanding of the phrase "under the sun." If that phrase means to consider this world from the perspective of the Fall as if God were out of the picture, then what Qohelet is doing is following the various philosophies of life to their logical conclusion and finding them hebel (vanity). He examines hedonism, nihilism, materialism, idolatry of education, and quite a few other things, only to find that they are lacking. He does a great life experiment, still keeping his wisdom with him, to find out if there is any profit to what we do under the sun. Now, to be fair, this is not a majority opinion among scholars. However, I do think it has a lot of explanatory power.

Another very important perspective on the purpose of the book can be gained by looking at David Gibson's book Living Life Backward. He argues that we (fallen humanity) are just trying to pretend that death is unreal most of the time. Only by acceptance of the end of death can we start to make sense of what leads up to it. Romans 8:20 is very important to understand Ecclesiastes. I also highly recommend Ryken's commentary on the book. Ryken's position is that without the fear of God, nothing has any significance: with the fear of god, everything has significance.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
This involves a very particular understanding of the phrase "under the sun." If that phrase means to consider this world from the perspective of the Fall as if God were out of the picture,
This is almost exactly what I've been taught. Whatever its interpretation, the sheer repetition of the phrase demands a closer look to understand Ecclesiastes.

Recognizing its place in the wisdom literature is also key for interpretation. Like its cousins Proverbs and the Psalter, the writer is often observing life -- the crook man that gets ahead, the seemingly endless cycles, the pointlessness of death. These verses don't give a one-to-one instruction like you find in the law. But boy do they give you a sense that others have been through these trials; wisdom comes from applying the didactic portions of the Bible to what we're experiencing right now.
 
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