Guidelines for Understanding and Utilizing the Song of Songs -- By: Greg W. Parsons

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 156:624 (Oct 1999)
Article: Guidelines for Understanding and Utilizing the Song of Songs
Author: Greg W. Parsons


Guidelines for Understanding and Utilizing the Song of Songs

Greg W. Parsons

According to LaCocque the Song of Songs presents the interpreter with the “greatest hermeneutical challenge” in the Old Testament, if not the Bible as a whole.1 Because of its erotic and highly figurative language and its absence of any references to religious institutions, practices, or themes (including any indisputable reference to God),2 the book seems to be “even more irreligious” than the Book of Esther.3 Delitzsch called it “the most obscure book of the Old Testament.”4

Should modern readers accept the opinion of medieval Jewish commentator Saadia that the various facets of the Song of Songs are like locks to which the keys have been lost?5 The long history of allegorical interpretation of the Song, which subjectively applies these verses to God’s love for Israel (as in Saadia’s interpretation) or Christ’s love for the church, has contributed to this feeling of uncertainty about the message of the book.

* Greg W. Parsons is Professor of Biblical Studies, Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary, Jacksonville, Texas.

However, largely because of the modern discovery of love songs in Egypt and Mesopotamia and the preservation of wedding songs and customs among certain Arab peoples, the quest for the meaning of the Song has received fresh impetus. On one hand these discoveries have spawned new theories that tend to add to the confusion. On the other hand a careful look at these possible cultural backgrounds may provide the proper literary canvas on which to paint a more accurate picture of the biblical Song.

Stuart,6 Hubbard,7 and Brug8 have offered helpful suggestions for understanding the book. Yet no single work has provided guidelines that adequately summarize all the components essential for a proper interpretation of the Song.

Also insufficient information is available concerning how to utilize this book for the church. The recent trend of evangelical writers is to use the Song as the basis for practical teaching on courtship and marriage. Yet some of these books or videos are not adequately grounded in the text of the Song of Songs or they misinterpret certain details of its original meaning. This article seeks to present sp...

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