Editorial: Recovering The Message Of Ecclesiastes For The Church Today -- By: Stephen J. Wellum

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 15:3 (Fall 2011)
Article: Editorial: Recovering The Message Of Ecclesiastes For The Church Today
Author: Stephen J. Wellum

Editorial: Recovering The Message Of Ecclesiastes For The Church Today

Stephen J. Wellum

Stephen J. Wellum is Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dr. Wellum received his Ph.D. degree in theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has also taught theology at the Associated Canadian Theological Schools and Northwest Baptist Theological College and Seminary in Canada. He has contributed to several publications and a collection of essays on theology and worldview issues.

How should we understand the book of Ecclesiastes? Should we view the book and its author as giving us God’s wisdom regarding the affairs of life, or does it reflect a skeptical, fatalistic, and unorthodox understanding of life “under the sun?” Is the message of the book constructive, realistic, and crucial for us to grasp if we are truly going to live wisely as God’s people today? Or does the message of Ecclesiastes reflect a more pessimistic outlook and thus something we should learn from only negatively? Ever since the book was first written and included in the canon of Scripture, the people of God have wrestled with these very questions and it seems, as many of our articles demonstrate, that these questions are still debated vigorously today.

In fact, Ecclesiastes has received a mixed review throughout Jewish and Christian history. In the first century the Jewish community wrestled with whether to retain the book in the canon, which obviously they voted in the affirmative. By the fourth century many Christian readers handled the perceived negative message of the book by interpreting it allegorically. Thus, for example, Ecclesiastes 2:24— “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink”—was interpreted as a reference to the Lord’s Supper and not everyday human activities. Or, Ecclesiastes 4:12— “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken,”—was taken as a reference to the work of the Triune God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even though there is nothing in the context which warrants such a reading. In the contemporary era, critical readings of the book not only discount Solomon as its author, they also interpret the author as a kind of skeptic, agnostic, even fatalist when it comes to discerning the purpose and meaning of life. One common way of overcoming the negative outlook of the book is to distinguish between what the Teacher (Heb. “Qoheleth”) says within the book from the overall author who frames the Teacher’s pessimistic outlook with a theological epilogue (12:9-14)

that reminds the reader to “Fear God and ...

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