Song of Solomon method of approach

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Puritan Board Post-Graduate
For my entire life I have always been told that Song of Solomon was an analogy of Christ and the church. A few months back though my unit started going through a video series by Tommy Nelson on the book. He believes that the book is an instruction book on courting and dating. There is no need to allegorize the book. I do say that the series has been great and guys are on a waiting list to borrow the DVDs so they can watch them with their wives, but it got me wondering........

Is SoS allegorized or a poetic description of a couple?


Puritan Board Senior
If it's not allegorical, I don't see why it would be in the Bible. It would just be some ancient, erotic literature. Since it has been canonized I'm inclined to believe it was probably viewed allegorically by the Jews. I don't see why else they would include it in the Canon if it was just an erotic poem.

If it's an erotic poem, what are the lessons we can learn from it?


Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Quite a few things can be learned from it if it is not allegorical. Mr. Nelson (reformed pastor in Denton, TX) broke down the book and showed how this was God ordained way of courting, of marriage, of romance, and of fight resolution.

On the other side of the coin, let's say that the book is allegorical. What is the meaning of God telling the church that it has a beautiful body and systematically describing the beauty of each and every part?

I am not choosing sides, just putting both out there.


Puritanboard Librarian
Here is James Durham's understanding:

The Second Proposition is, that this Song is not be taken properly or literally, that is, as the words do at first sound; but it is to be taken and understood Spiritually, Figuratively and Allegorically, as having some Spiritual meaning contained under these Figurative Expression, made use of throughout this Song: My meaning is, that when it speaketh of a Marriage, Spouse, Sister, Beloved, Daughters of Jerusalem, &c., these Expressions are not to be understood properly of such, but as holding forth something of a Spiritual Nature under these.

I grant that it hath a Literal meaning, But I say, that literal meaning is not immediate, and that which first looketh out, as in Historical Scriptures, or others which are not figurative, but that which is spiritually, and especially meant by these Allegorick and Figurative Speeches, is the Literal meaning of this Song: So that its Literal Sense is mediate, representing the meaning, not immediately from the Words, but mediately from the Scope, that is, the Intention of the Spirit, which is couched under the Figures and Allegories, here made use of: For, a Literal Sense (as it is defined by Rivet out of the School-men) is that which floweth from such a place of Scripture, as intended by the Spirit in the words, whether Properly or Figuratively used, and is to be gathered from the whole complex expression together, applied thereunto, as in the Exposition of Parables, Allegories, and Figurative Scriptures is clear; And it were as improper and absurd to deny a Figurative Sense (though' Literal) to these, as it were to fix Figurative Expositions upon plain Scriptures, which are properly to be taken.

For there is a Two-fold Literal Sense of Scripture. 1. Proper and Immediate, as where it's said, Solomon married Pharaoh's Daughter. The Second is Figurative and Mediate, as when it is said, Matth 22.2. A certain King made a Marriage to his Son, &c. Both have a literal meaning. The first Immediate, fulfilled in Solomon: The second is Mediate, setting out God's calling Jews and Gentiles unto Fellowship with His Son; and so that Parable is to be understood in a Spiritual Sense. Now we say, this Song (if we would take up its true sense and meaning) is not to be understood the first way, Properly and Immediately, but the second way, Figuratively and Mediately, as holding forth some Spiritual thing under borrowed expressions, which will further appear from these things.

First, There can be no Edification in setting out Humane Love (amongst Parties properly understood) so largely and lively; and yet Edification must be the end of this Song, being a part of the Scripture; it must have therefore an higher meaning than the words at first will seem to bear.

2. There can be no Parties mentioned, beside Christ and his Bride, to whom this Song can agree; nor can any proper meaning thereof be assigned, which can make it applicable to these Parties: and therefore it cannot be understood Properly, but figuratively, and that not of any other, but of Christ and Believers: To Solomon it cannot agree in its Application, nor to his Queen, yea, to no Man, if it be taken in a Proper sense: For, 1. These Commendations given to the Bridegroom, Chap. 5 to the Bride, Chap. 4.6,7. If properly understood, would be monstrous, blasphemous, and ridiculous; such as to have Teeth like a Flock of Sheep, an Head like Carmel, &c. and so in many other things. 2. Some things are attributed to this Solomon, who is the Subject of this Song, that were not within Solomon's reach, as that, his presence at the Table, Chap 1.12. Maketh her Spikenard to smell, which influence cannot proceed from one Man more than another, and Chap. 3.10. where it is said, He made a Chariot, and paved it with Love, which is no material thing, and so could be no Pavement in Solomon's Chariot. 3. That Solomon being the Penman of this Song, yet speaketh of Solomon in the second Person, Thou, O Solomon, Chap 8.12. makes it appear that some other was designed than himself; and many such like expressions that fill up the matter of this Song (such as Spices, Gardens, &c.) cannot be understood properly of these very things themselves, but of some other thing vailed under them; And so also, when she is called Terrible as an Army with Banners, it cannot be understood of Solomon's Queen, and applying it to the Church, we cannot understand it of any carnal terror, which the external aspect of the Church doth beget in Beholders.

3. The Stile and Expressions will bear out more than any Humane Love, or any Humane Object, upon which Men set their love: We are sure, no such love would be proponed to Believers as a warranted pattern for their imitation, as if it would be commendable in them to be so much ravished and taken up, even with the most lovely Creature.

4. Many things here are inconsistent with Humane Love, and that Modesty that is required in it (as the Hebrews themselves, apud Mercer, observe) as to propone him to others, to excite them to Love him, others undertaking to follow after him, her speaking to him in her Sleep, Chap. 5.2. Running in the Night through the Streets, and slighting him at the Door; which by no means can admit a Proper, Literal, Immediate Sense, but must needs aim at something Figurative. Besides, what reason can there be to plead a Proper Sense here, more than in other Figurative Scriptures of the same sort, as of these that speak of the Soul's Union with Christ, under the Similitude of a Marriage, and particularly that of Psal. 45. which is (as it were) a compend of this Song, and is looked upon by all as Figurative?

If it be enquired in what Sense we call this Song figurative, whether as Typical, or Allegorical? The answering and clearing of this Question will further us in the Interpretation of this excellent Scripture. We shall therefore shew, 1. How Allegorical properly so called, differeth from Typical. And 2. Why we call this Song Allegorical, and not Typical.

Allegorical Scriptures, or Allegories (we take Allegory here as Divines do, who take it not as Grammarians, or Rhetorians, for a continued Discourse of many Figures together) properly and strictly taken (for sometimes Allegory may be taken largely, and so may comprehend whatever is Figurative, whether Typical, Tropological, Analogical, &c. As the Apostle taketh it, Gal. 4. speaking of Abraham's two Sons, which is yet properly a Type) differeth from Types, or Typical Scriptures, thus,

First, Types suppose still the verity of some History, as Jona's casting in the Sea, and being in the Fishes Belly Three Days and Three Nights, when it is applied to Christ in the New Testament, it supposeth such a thing once to have been: Allegories again, have no such necessary supposition, but are as Parables proponed for some mystical end. Thus, while it's said, Matth. 22.2. A certain King made a Marriage, planted a Vineyard, &c. That place supposeth it not necessary as to the being of the Allegory, that every such a thing was, it may be an Allegory without that; but a Type cannot be without reality in the thing, or fact, which is made a Type.

2. Types look only to Matters of Fact; and compare one Fact with another (as Christ's lying in the Grave for such a time, to that of Jona, who did ly so long in the Whale's Belly) but Allegories take in Words, Sentences, Doctrines, both of Faith and Manners, as in the former Examples is clear.

3. Types compare Persons, and Facts under the Old Testament, with Persons and Facts under the New, and is made up of something that is present, prefiguring another to come: Allegories look especially to Matters at hand, and intend the putting of some hid Spiritual Sense upon Words, which at first they seem not to bear, whether the Allegory be only in the Old Testament, or only in the New, or in both, it looks to the Sense and Meaning, being so considered in its self, as the Words may best serve the Scope, and teach, or manifest the thing the Spirit intends, without any comparison betwixt this, and that of the Old Testament and New: Yea, an Allegory may be in Precepts, as Muzzle not the Mouth of the Ox, and cut off thy right hand, &c. which have an Allegorick Sense in them.

4. Types are only Historical, as such, and the Truth of Fact agreeing in the Antitype, make them up, it being clear in Scripture that such things are Types; for we must not forget Types without Scripture warrant: But Allegories are principally Doctrinal, and in their Scope intend not to clear, or compare Facts, but to hold forth and explain Doctrines, or by such Similitudes to make them the better understood, and to move and affect the more, or the more forcibly to convince, as Nathan made use of a Parable, when he was about to convince David, 2 Samuel 12.1,2, &c.

5. Types in the Old Testament respect only some things, Persons, and Events, as Christ, the Gospel, and its Spreadings, &c. and cannot be extended beyond these: But Allegories take in every thing, that belong either to Doctrine, or Instruction in Faith, or to practise for ordering ones Life.

Hence we may see, that Allegories are much more Extensive and Comprehensive in their Meaning and Application, than Types, (which cannot be extended further than some one thing) and so are much more Doctrinal, and concern both the Faith and Manners of God's People much more, and may for that, more warrantably be applied, and made use of for these ends.

2. We say, that as this Song is not Typical, as being made up of two Histories, to wit, Solomon's Marriage, and Christ's, nor doth it in any way intend the comparing of these two together in the Events, as to their Facts, or Deeds: But it is Allegorick, nor respecting Solomon, or his Marriage, but aiming to set out Spiritual Mysteries in Figurative Expressions, in such a manner as may most effectuate that end, for enlightening the judgment, and moving of the Affections, without any respect to that Story, or Fact of Solomons: For,

First, the strain and Series of it, is clearly Allegorick, as the reading and considering of it will clear. 2. There can be no History to which it can relate, unto which the things spoken in this Song can be properly applied, as is said. 3. Solomon's Marriage was at least Twenty Years before this Song was written; See on Song 7.4. concerning the Tower of Lebanon, and compare it with 1 Kings 7.1,2. and Chap. 6 ult. Therefore it cannot be thought so much as to be Penned on that occasion, as an Epitalamium which was to be Sung that Night on which he as Married, (and altho' occasion of penning of it were taken from that, yet would it not prove it Typical, and to respect that as its Type.) And 4. What more is this Allegory of a Marriage to be accounted Typical, than other places of Scripture, where this same manner of expression is used? 5. If it be partly Typical, how is this Type to be made up? For Christ's Love unto, and Marriage with His Church, is not only set out here as peculiar to the New Testament, but is applicable to Believers under the Old: There can therefore be here no comparing of Facts of the Old Testament, with any thing answering to them in the New. If it be said, Solomon's Marriage Typified Christ's Marrying of the Gentiles. I answer, beside that there is no Scripture for this conjecture (and it's hard to coin Types without Scripture Authority, otherwise we might make Solomon a Type in as many Wives, possibly, and in many other such things; also that of his Marrying Pharaoh's Daughter was against the Law, as well as this) it cannot be said that this Song setteth out only Christ's Love to the Gentiles; or the believing Gentiles, their carriage and love to him: for, was it not fulfilled (in that which they could make its Anti-type) before Christ came in the Flesh, in the believing Jews? yea, before ever that Marriage was: and therefore, there can be no typical respect had to that Marriage here. Besides, it would much darken the Spiritualness and Divineness of this Song, to make it in such a way typical, as having any proper fulfilling, or meaning, that were possibly verified in the Deed of any Man. We conclude then, that this Song is simply Allegorick.


Puritan Board Freshman
Couldn't it be both allegorical and a poetical description of a couple? A better word for this may be typological-it is a literal, poetical description of a husband and wife and their love for each other, but it is also typological of Christ and the Church.


Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Dan, I agree with your correction of terms.

I guess rephrased the question should be, "Is the main focus the relationship between a man and woman or the relationship between Christ and His bride?


Staff member
It is not an either/or here. With respect to the Puritans, I think they got it only half right. This is just about the only place, by the way, where I think the Puritans got it skewed (although there are one or two Revelation commentaries that could be mercifully forgotten!). The typology (not allegory) is there, especially if one compares the Song with Ephesians 5. However, the literal meaning is not what Durham says it is, but a literal marriage, and literal language about their physical relationship. God created sex. He created it good. If there is a book in the Bible that addresses this, why is that bad? The marriage bed is pure. The Song of Songs is not designed to tempt people to sin, but rather to point people to where sex is good, clean, enjoyable, and pure. The only answer I can come up with for why some people do not like this is that some Christians view sex in marriage as a necessary evil, rather than not only allowed, but commanded (in the creation mandate to multiply and fill the earth, sex is commanded between husband and wife). Probably what is underlying this discomfort is a Platonic (or, rather more correctly, Neo-Platonic) hatred of everything physical. It is unfortunate that we Christians have abandoned the topic of sex to the world. We don't educate our children about its joys in the proper context, and so they learn about sex from the world, rather than from the Bible. As a result, we see sexual sin rampant in the church.


Puritan Board Freshman
The Song of Songs is not designed to tempt people to sin, but rather to point people to where sex is good, clean, enjoyable, and pure. The only answer I can come up with for why some people do not like this is that some Christians view sex in marriage as a necessary evil, rather than not only allowed, but commanded (in the creation mandate to multiply and fill the earth, sex is commanded between husband and wife). Probably what is underlying this discomfort is a Platonic (or, rather more correctly, Neo-Platonic) hatred of everything physical. It is unfortunate that we Christians have abandoned the topic of sex to the world. We don't educate our children about its joys in the proper context, and so they learn about sex from the world, rather than from the Bible. As a result, we see sexual sin rampant in the church.


in my opinion there is no way to simply deal with this text and come to the conclusion it is allegory without reading into and laying things on top of the text.

Let the text say what it says.


Puritanboard Brimstone
The typology (not allegory) is there, especially if one compares the Song with Ephesians 5.

Thank you! Exactly - the Song is typological, not allegorical.

In as much as Eph 5 presents marriage as a living picture of the relationship between Christ and His Church, any book of the Bible that gives an ideal image of what marriage should look like is also going to give us a picture of the Christ/Church relationship.

But it IS a book about marital love and the marraige bed.

moral necessity

Puritan Board Junior
I tend to like Luther's assessment:

"Many commentators have produced all manner of interpretation of this song of King Solomon's - and they have been both immature and strange. But, to get at the simplest sense and the real character of the book, I think it is a song in which Solomon honors God with his praises; he gives Him thanks for his divinely established and confirmed kingdom and government; he prays for the preservation and the extension of this his kingdom, and at the same time he encourages the inhabitants and citizens of his realm to be of good cheer in their trials and adversities and to trust in God, who is always ready to defend and rescue those who call upon Him.

"Moses did the same in Ex. 15. He composed his song about the work being performed at that moment in the Red Sea; and all the songs found in Holy Scripture deal with the stories of their own times. Of this sort are the song of Deborah in Judg. 5, the song of Hannah in I Sam. 2, and a good many others, including the majority of the psalms, with the exception of those which contain prophecies about Christ. Doubtless, therefore, Solomon, too, wrote his song about his own kingdom and government, which by the goodness of God he administered in the finest, happiest peace and the highest tranquility. All of this will become clear from the text itself too.

"Moreover, since every kingdom, principality, or state which has the Word and true worship of God is forced to sustain many afflictions - to be a laughingstock and abomination to the whole world, to dwell in the midst of enemies, and every single hour to await death like a sheep bound for the slaughter, such a kingdom or state is deservedly called "the people of God" and has every right to place this song, and Solomon's state, before itself as an example, to praise God in the same manner, to glory and rejoice in God, and to proclaim and marvel at His divine mercy and power, by which He protects His own against the snares of the devil and the tyranny of the world.

"We use the psalms of David and the writings of the prophets in this way as examples, even though we are not David or the prophets, but because we have the same blessings in common with them - the same Word, Spirit, faith, and blessedness - and because we sustain the same dangers and afflictions on account of God's Word. So we rightly take over their voices and their language for ourselves, praising and singing just as they praised and sang. Thus any state in which there is the church and a godly prince can use this song of Solomon's just as if it had been composed about its own generation and state.

"And so from this Song of Songs, which Solomon sang about only his own state, there spirings as it were a common song for all states which are "the people of God," that is, which possess the Word of God and worship reverently, which acknowledge and truly believe that the power of governments is established and ordained by God and that through this power God preserves peace, justice, and discipline, punishes the guilty, defends the innocent, etc. They praise and proclaim God with thanksgiving for these great benefits.

"Again, godly governments and states place no hope or trust at all in riches, power, wisdom, or other human defenses that are neither stable nor lasting, but they console, admonish, and arouse themselves to flee for refuge to God in all their afflictions and dangers and to trust in Him as their true and only Helper and Preserver, who never deserts His people when they suffer persecution for the sake of His name and Word. For it is certainly the case that a people which is zealous in godliness and loves the Word is always exposed to many evils with which it is assaulted by the devil and the world.

"This is why this poem is called the Song of Songs, since it deals with matters of the loftiest and greatest kind, namely, with the divinely ordained governments, or with the people of God. It does not treat a story of an individual, as other songs in the Holy Scripture do, but an entire permanent kingdom, or people, in which God untiringly performs a host of staggering miracles and displays His power by preserving and defending it against all the assaults of the devil and the world.

"What is more, he does not sing of these exalted matters in the common words that most people ordinarily use, but he illustrates and adorns his theme with lofty and figurative words to such an extent that when the crowd hears them, it supposes that the subject treated is something very different. For this is the custom with kings and princes: they compose and sing amatory ballads which the crowd takes to be songs about a bride or a sweetheart, when in fact they protray the condition of their state and people with their songs. This is precisely what 'Teuerdank' has done in joining 'Ehrenreich' to Maximilian as his bride [The Dangers and Adventures of the Famous Hero and Knight Sir Teuerdank was an allegorical peom by Emperor Maximilian I, recounting his own exploits. The emperor is knight Teuerdank ('Precious Reward' or 'Lofty Thinker'), who woos and wins Lady Ehrenreich ('Honored Realm' or 'Rich in Honor'), representing Mary of Burgundy. This vain and bombastic allegory was first printed privately at Nuremberg in 1517 and published at Augsburg in 1519]. Or if they speak about hunting, they want to signify by this language that the enemy has been routed and put to flight and that they have gained the victory, as when they say, 'The wild boar is speared, the savage beast is taken,' and other things of the same sort.

"Solomon proceeds in just this fashion in this song of his. He uses magnificent words -words that are worthy of so great a king - in describing his concerns. He makes God the bridegroom and his people the bride, and in this mode he sings of how much God loves that people, how many and how rich are the gifts He lavishes and heaps upon it, and finally how He embraces and cherishes the same people with a goodness and mercy with which no bridegroom has ever embraced or cherished his bride. And thus Solomon begins by speaking in the person of the whole people as the bride of God: 'He is kissing me.'"

Luther then adds as further introduction:

"We take up this book for exposition not from any fondness for display of erudition, like some who lavish every effort upon obscure books because, of course, on the one hand it provokes praise for their cleverness to have dared address subjects which others flee on account of their obscurity and on the other hand because in obscure books each of them is free to make divinations and to indulge in speculations or private musings; rather, we take it up in order that after the absurd opinions which have so far obscured this little book have been rejected, we may demonstrate another, more suitable view, useful for life and for a right appreciation of the good gifts of God.

"For we know that the purpose of the whole of Scripture is this: to teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness, so that the man of God may be perfect for every good work, as Paul says in II Tim. 3:16-17. Those who fail to observe this purpose, even if they create the impression of erudition among the unlettered by their divinations, nevertheless are ignorant of the true essence of Scripture. Their learning is not unlike bodies infected with dropsy - inflated by inordinate swelling, they give an appearance of vigor, but the swelling is all corrupt and noxious. In the course of this exposition, therefore, we shall direct our reflections to the end that this book, too, may instruct us with doctrine useful for life, and secondly, with consolations.

"For we shall never agree with those who think it a love song about the daughter of Pharaoh beloved by Solomon [This was the interpretation of Theodore of Mopsuestia]. Nor does it satisfy us to expound it of the union of God and the synagog [This was an interpretation favored by most Jewish commentators], or like the tropologists, of the faithful soul [Beginning with Origen, most Christian commentators, both Greek and Latin, had followed this interpretation]. For what fruit, I ask, can be gathered from these opinions? So even if this book, amidst all the variety of Scripture, has had its place in the shadows until now, yet by pursuing a new path, we shall not depart from the substance of the thought even if we may perhaps err here and there in details. Accordingly, my view is as follows.

"There are three books of Solomon in the Holy Scripture. The first, Proverbs, deals mostly with the home and sets forth general precepts for behavior in this life. It does so not as the philosophers of the Gentiles do, but it is diffused throughout with that weightier doctrine of faith and the fear of God, which the Gentiles did not perceive.

"The second, Ecclesiastes, is a political book, which gives instruction not only to all in general but especially to the magistrate: namely, that the man who governs other men should himself fear God, perform with vigor the tasks that lie before him and not allow himself to be so discouraged either by the difficulty of the task or by the ingratitude of men that he fails to perform his office.

"The third is the book before us, which is entitled "Song of Songs." It rightly belongs with Ecclesiastes, since it is an encomium of the political order, which in Solomon's day flourished in sublime peace. For as those who wrote songs in the Holy Scripture wrote them about their own deeds, so in Solomon this poem commends his own government to us and composes a sort of encomium of peace and of the present state of the realm. In it he gives thanks to God for that highest blessing, external peace. He does it as an example for other men, so that they too may learn to give thanks to God in this way, to acknowledge His highest benefits, and to pray for correction should anything reprehensible befall them."

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