Last week, I shared some blog articles on the Song of Songs talking about whether and how we could/should apply it to Christ and the church. You’ll notice that whilst I’ve been writing that the Song is meant to be about Christ, that I’ve been careful to distinguish things like prophecy, metaphor and typology from allegory. I agree with Ros Clarke whose PhD is on Song of Songs and has summed things up as follows.
Why do we say that Song of Songs is about Christ but is not allegory? Well in her twitter contribution, Ros went on to explain that:
This is important and I think helps to explain why some are reticent to make that direct application, not just of the Song but of other parts of the Old Testament to Jesus. There has been a tendency running throughout history, going back to people like Origen to use allegory as a hermeneutical method for interpreting the whole of Scripture. When that happens, the interpreter pretty much ignores the original genre of the text, disregards historical detail and flattens out the Bible into a source code to be mined for information detached from what the original text is saying on what appears to be authorial intent.
This doesn’t just happen with the Song. For example, I remember reading one commentary on the farming parables in Matthew 13. One of the parables goes like this
31 Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.”
The commentator suggested that the seed represented God’s Word planted -so far so good- and that as it grew into a plant, that represented the growth of God’s kingdom in the growth of he church, again there’s nothing particularly problematic with that. However, they went on to argue that when it grew into a large tree, that this represented the arrival of Christendom and the Roman Catholic Church as an institution. Birds (because they eat the seed in the parable of the sower) must be exclusively seen as bad and therefore represent false leaders in the church, specifically in the context of the interpreter’s day and perspective, the popes.
Suddenly, a positive parable about God growing great things from small things takes on a darker meaning. Suddenly the growth is a bad thing. The result is that the parable is interpreted in a way that puts it out of context with the rest of the chapter. We are second guessing and finding things in the parable without any evidence that these were things Jesus intended us to say. Allegorical method enables us to commit eisegesis, to read into the text whatever message we want to communicate. It enables us to use Scripture as a vehicle for our own pet projects rather than exegeting it to find out what God is saying.
Coming back to Song of Songs. As Ros said in her tweets and as I’ve been arguing in my posts, it’s important to remember that as Scripture Song of Songs is about Christ but also important not to treat it as allegory. When we use allegorical method to interpret the Song, we rinse it dry of all of the sensuality, vividness and emotion in the language because instead of reading a description of an intimate relationship, we read a dry code. Whereas, when we read it as intended, we discover a song dripping with intimacy and that teaches us to enjoy intimacy with Christ.
Now, the other consequence of retaining that story of love and intimacy is that we can then learn to apply Song of Songs, through Christ to marriage relationships today. Is The Song about Christ or is it about the beauty of marital love, including the sexual intimacy within it? What if we were to say “It’s both.” However, instead of treating the Song as manual for marriage guidance devoid of Christ and the Gospel, we apply it first to Christ and then through Christ to us. The result is that the application is Gospel application for the whole of our lives.
This is in effect what Paul does in Ephesians 5. He writes about human marriage, about wives submitting to their husbands as heads and husbands sacrificially loving their wives. Whilst Paul doesn’t directly quote Song of Songs, he does, in my opinion, very clearly allude to it and so we might see Ephesians 5:21ff as an application of Song of Songs. Paul says:
32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
So, when talking about marriage, we can tell the intimate love story of a lover who comes searching and a beloved who is found leading to them taking deep delight in one another. We can go on to say that this points to Christ as the one who seeks out his people, finds us and takes delight in us, prompting us to delight in him, glorifying and enjoying him. We can then go on to say that because of this, the believer’s marriage as a picture of Christ’s love for the church should reflect that intimacy and delight also.