Which is the most popular error today:
1. Saying the Song of Solomon1 is only allegorical?
2. Going crazy with sermons about sex based on the book, and with really annoying and juvenile ads about the sermon series that tend to offend even non-Christians?2
I’m not sure which is more prevalent; however, I do know I hear more of the latter extreme.
But recently I heard another presentation of the former view: The Song of Solomon is clearly allegory.
And a related thing Christians often say is something like: I am the bride of Christ.
That’s one of the few3 words or phrases in Christian-ese that I tend to nitpick. The reason: because I, along with many Christians, long to balance how God works with individual Christians and how He works with the Church. And I don’t see confusing the Church’s comparison to a bride as helping things much.4
Faith and salvation are absolutely personal. Yet Christ’s “Bride” is made up of many people, gathered together in churches that are part of the Church.
I’m sure some Christians overdo the whole “the Kingdom is many people” thing. Worse, some professing Christians are claiming or acting as though personal repentance and faith in Christ is not necessary; instead, Jesus died to save everybody, and you’re a part of the Kingdom even if you don’t know it!
That is a hurtful lie, and true Christians should oppose it.
But an equally tragic lie is overemphasis on one’s self as Christ’s “bride.” We may not mean to do this, but such unclear language minimizes the truth that He has died to secure the salvation of many people, His Church, those who repent and believe in Him. He has a special relationship with that entity, the Church. And Scripture’s analogy for the saved Church is a bride. For someone being personally, individually saved, Scripture gives us another metaphor: being adopted as a son.
Nowhere in the Bible does any writer compare someone personally to Christ’s bride.
So, before relating the metaphor of human marriage to His love for individual people — and I’m not saying I wouldn’t do this at all — I would relate marriage to His love for His Church. That’s closer to Scripture. If one can say that Christ’s has “romantic” love (if I dare use the word), it is not for individuals, but for the Church.
Christians who say this are not saying He doesn’t love people. They’re only reminding themselves that the Bible reserves the marriage metaphor specifically for Christ and His Church, not Christ and us personally. For that, it’s better to follow Scripture’s metaphor: Christians are His lovingly adopted sons and heirs to His riches.
An allegory of love
Meanwhile, the Jews didn’t originally think the Song was allegorical. And Christians do see today that any marriage is an allegory of Christ’s love for His Church (Ephesians 5), and that the Song of Solomon might reflect that. But it’s not only allegory. Instead, the Song encourages real, passionate, intimate, wild, awesome-marital-love.
Read the Song carefully and note this: if everything is allegorical about Christ and His Church, things get really gross. Pay special attention to the grapes.5
The Song of Solomon is not either allegory, or not-allegory. At best, it is both/and.
I’m not sure I’d go as far as Christian leaders who tend to over-expose all of the Song’s lovely little comparisons in front of whole congregations, perhaps including singles and children. But the Song started out as real love poetry about real lovers, for real lovers. Christians shouldn’t minimize that or imply that it’s only allegory.
Lord willing, it won’t be oversimplifications of the Song of Songs, or other mushy Jesus-and-me songs that remind us of God’s love. Instead, it will be Christians’ marriages that will help show His love for His Church to each other, and to the still-rebellious world that needs to see His love in action. And with this goal, Christian couples can feed off the examples from the Song for their own love, and the truth of Christ’s love for His Church that was in some way the template for human marriage from the beginning (Ephesians 5: 22-33).
- Or The Song of Songs, if you prefer. ↩
- Some of these megachurches with their absurd yes-God-wants-you-to-have-awesome-married-sex! sermon series make me think of immature teenagers. Guess what! Stacks of Christians — even thousands of those supposedly irrelevant old people — have known about sex longer than you, and they’ve also already known God encourages it between married couples! Big deal, yes, but in another way: big deal. Can we go back to teaching the Gospel now? ↩
- I hope few! ↩
- Unfortunate side-effects: oft-maligned songs about me-and-boyfriend-Jesus, minimizing the Jesus-my-incredible-infinite-Lord-and-Savior parts. ↩
- Song of Solomon 7: 6-10. ↩