The Gospel In The Book Of Ecclesiastes -- By: Eric Ortlund
JETS 56:4 (December 2013) p. 697
The Gospel In The Book Of Ecclesiastes
* Eric Ortlund is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Briercrest College and Seminary, 510 College Drive, Caronport, SK S0H 0S0, Canada.
Out of many difficulties in the interpretation of the book of Ecclesiastes, surely one of the most vexing is whether and/or in what way the gospel is expressed. While biblical books in both Testaments will differently express God’s forgiveness and redemption of his people and restoration of sinners to life in his presence, it would be troubling indeed if a canonical book had nothing to say about these great biblical themes. But it is exactly this troubling possibility that faces the reader of Ecclesiastes: one finds nothing corresponding to (for instance) the Passover (Exodus 12) or the death of the Servant (Isaiah 53), texts which easily intersect with the presentation of the cross of Christ in the NT. Indeed, when Qohelet1 does address different subjects, such as wisdom or money or work, he hardly seems to have much good to say about them at all.
A common response within Christian interpretation of Ecclesiastes is to understand Qohelet’s insistence on vanity or meaninglessness as a conclusion about life without God: the negative or apparently pessimistic sections of the book count as Qohelet taking a secular worldview to its inevitable conclusion.2 It is difficult, after all, when reading Qohelet’s opening salvo in 1:2, not to think of Paul’s promise in 1 Cor 15:58 that our labor in the Lord is not in vain. Tremper Longman presents a stronger version of this approach in his commentary.3 Longman understands Qohelet to be entirely skeptical, such that he contradicts the normative teaching of Scripture. According to his position, the epilogue in 12:9–14 warns the son about the dangers of Qohelet’s position.4 By analogy, Eccl 1:12–12:7 is like the speech of the adulteress in Proverbs—it is communicated by the wise father only to inoculate the son against it. According to Longman, the gospel is present in the
JETS 56:4 (December 2013) p. 698
book only in the sense that Qohelet describes that from which Jesus Christ saves us.5
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