Is Song of Solomon a shadow of the love between Christ and the church? If so, why hasn’t it been quoted in the New Testament showing that it is a sort of Christ and the church?
This is an interpretational issue which evangelical Christianity has been struggling with for a long time due to a lack of awareness of what typology is all about. Interpreters going as far back as the 3rd and 4th centuries have looked for hidden meanings and tried to spiritualise what was written. This is known as allegorical interpretation.
The majority of the attempts have been done to allegorise Old Testament texts but, in doing so, they have gone beyond the authorial intent that the writers had. Those involved in allegorical interpretation tend to connect anything and everything in the passage as something pointing to Christ. Song of Solomon is one such book that has been subject to various interpretations. To answer this question effectively, we must understand a few things:
A type or shadow is a person, event or object designed to point to a reality. For anything to be a type, there are a few criteria to meet:
Any attempt to find a type that does not fit all these criteria cannot be regarded as a shadow or type. Let us now apply these rules to Song of Solomon to see if it truly is a type of Christ and His church.
The majority of attempts have been done to allegorise Old Testament texts but, in doing so, they have gone beyond the authorial intent that the writers had
A plain reading of Song of Solomon indicates that it is a book that speaks extensively of the sexual joy and romance between the male and female characters involved in the book. It is considered to be an anthology of love poems revolving around two lovers who take joy in each other and eagerly anticipate the union they will have in marriage. This is at best seen as a fictional work of Solomon, because although he is alluded to as one of the characters later in the book, he cannot be the character involved here. King Solomon had 700 wives (1 Kings 11:3) and there is no reason for him to find one so special to be worth waiting for. The contents in the book are less likely to be a historical event. This is not odd, considering that there are many stories found in the Bible, such as the parable that Nathan told David, the illustration found in Judges 9:7-15 and so on.
Regarding points of similarities, there is the uniqueness of the beloved as the fairest among ten thousand that many try to connect to the uniqueness of Christ among all of mankind. The comparison of the bride to a garden locked has also been regarded as a reference to the church. What’s more, one may even find similarities between the bride and groom in Song of Solomon and Christ and the church in the New Testament.
Unfortunately, there is not a single quotation found in the New Testament from the book of Song of Solomon by any author in relation to explaining the relationship between Christ and the church. Apparently, the reference cited with regards to connecting marriage and the Christ-church alliance is Genesis 2:24. Hence, we would have to take the position that even though Song of Solomon is inspired by the Holy Spirit to be Scripture, the same Holy Spirit didn’t move any of the human authors of the New Testament to quote any verse from Song of Solomon for any purpose. This isn’t necessarily odd or unfair, as there are other books, such as Esther, that have not been cited in the New Testament. That does not devalue the book of Esther at all or make those other books less inspired than other parts of Scripture.
We find that the attempt to typologise Song of Solomon with Christ and the church meets only one out of three criteria. Therefore, it cannot be considered as a type of Christ and the church. Doing so would lead to ridiculous interpretations that would go against the intent of the Spirit who inspired Solomon to write the wisdom literature.
This article would be incomplete without a word on the intent of the book. One would benefit from understanding that Song of Solomon wasn’t available in Jewish settings to read for anyone under the age of 30 or for anyone who was unmarried. That tells us how they understood the book. It is best to see the book as an expanded commentary on Genesis 2:24 and God’s design for marriage, rather than bringing a later idea of Christ-church relationship into the text.
One would benefit from understanding that Song of Solomon wasn’t available in Jewish settings to read for anyone under the age of 30 or for anyone who was unmarried
While Christ and the church cannot be the meaning of the book or the type pointing to it, we can draw out applications for engaged couples who look forward to being married and consummating their marriage. As far as the relationship with Christ is concerned, we, as the church, can draw an application based on this meaning: that just as the woman is exclusively for the man and not for anyone else, we as Christians have our exclusive alliance to Christ and no one else. The eagerness that the character expresses in the poem to be one with her beloved is the same earnest desire that we ought to have as we live in the world as sojourners. Just as the woman sees the uniqueness of her beloved, we ought to see the uniqueness of our Saviour in every way. He is unlike anyone else — even if others don’t see His uniqueness as our Saviour. It is always safe — and ideal — to see the book in its immediate context and understand the meaning in light of the biblical context. Then, as believers, we can find the apt applications that pertain to our particular situation in life.
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