“Is Song of Solomon About Christ and the Church?”

Categories: Bulletin Articles

Spoiler up front:  For this week’s reading and half of next week’s reading, I’m not going to do chapter summaries.  The readings in question come from Song of Solomon, and though some of the poetry of the book can be hard to understand, for the sake of our bulletin-reading children, I’d prefer to keep it that way! 

As the above implies, I’m firmly of the opinion that Song of Solomon is about marital intimacy.  However, as obvious as it seems to me, that’s not the only interpretation.  Indeed, theologians have been arguing for centuries that the text is an allegory of the relationship between Christ and the church.

Oddly, this view is adopted by many of our hymns.  The title phrase of “The Lily of the Valley” comes from Song of Solomon 2:1 (though in context, “the lily of the valley” is female).  The same is true for “Jesus, Rose of Sharon”.  Many hymns, chief among them “In Christ Alone,” cite “My beloved is mine, and I am his,” from 2:16.  “You are altogether lovely,” in “Here I Am to Worship” is taken from 4:7.  Few books of the Old Testament feature as prominently in our worship of Christ as Song of Solomon does!

However, the justification for such application is quite thin.  For one thing, Song of Solomon is among the books of the Hebrew Bible that are never cited nor even alluded to in the New Testament.  If Paul had said that Jesus was the lily of the valley, that would be one thing, but he didn’t.

Additionally, if the Song of Songs is intended as Christian allegory, it is an allegory that gets quite detailed in perplexing ways.  For instance, breasts are mentioned frequently throughout the book, appearing eight times in eight chapters.  No other book of the Bible is as concerned with breasts as Song of Solomon.  If it is about the relationship between husband and wife, that makes perfect sense.  However, if the wife of Song of Solomon is the church, I am at a loss to explain their significance.

From this, I think there are two lessons we should draw.  As always, we should be concerned with how the hymns that we sing influence our thinking.  If we adopt romantic, even sexual language from Song of Solomon and apply it to Christ, that’s likely to romanticize our view of Him in unbiblical ways.  I don’t think that we should remove these hymns from the repertoire (especially not “In Christ Alone”!), but we should be aware that they are using Biblical imagery in ways that the Holy Spirit did not intend.

Second, we should not shy away from the true meaning of the book.  It is meant to be a celebration of married sexuality, and married sexuality is something we should celebrate.  Even though the capacity for intimacy can be corrupted and misused, it is still a gift of God, and like all of God’s other gifts, it is good.  We should not allow Satan’s corruption of it to corrupt our understanding of it too.