According to the Bible, King Solomon, the son of David, was one of, if not the, wisest men, apart from Jesus, who ever lived. (1 Kings 4:30) He’s got a few books of the Bible traditionally ascribed to him (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon), and even Jesus said he was a wise fellow. (Matthew 12:42) Which is why I found a couple of off-hand comments about him by evangelical writers Mary DeMuth and Matthew Paul Turner surprising and bit off-putting.

What am I talking about?

Mad at Mark? Blame Solomon

Calling out the tired trope of evangelical pastors referring to their “smoking hot wives” in a very helpful article over at the Her-meneutics page at Christianity Today, DeMuth took issue with pastors who look to the Song of Solomon as a handbook for relational and sexual advice, in the style of Mark Driscoll:

Besides, how can we uphold Solomon as a godly husband? He had thousands of “wives.” (See Ecc. 2: 8,10,11). He gave into every base desire, embracing fleeting passion to his detriment. To equate his encounters with the Shunnamite woman as prescriptive for married love seems shortsighted.

We find a similar comment made by Turner in an article criticizing some (admittedly problematic) remarks by Driscoll on the subject of “nagging wives”. In a discussion of marriage and submission, Driscoll compared having to listen to them to Chinese water torture, presumably on the basis of Proverbs 27:15 (“A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike”) and 19:13 (“a contentious wife is a constant dripping”). Turner writes:

Mark begins talking about “nagging wives”.

He says. “Proverbs talks about certain women…”

(It should be noted that Proverbs was written by a very “certain man,” one with 700 hundred wives and 300 concubines…

That “certain man” being, once again, Solomon. For both then, the implied charge is that since Solomon was sort of a shady dude when it comes to women, having had thousands of wives and hundreds of concubines, we should look at anything he says about women sideways and maybe even ignore it.

Now, before anybody thinks I’m questioning DeMuth or Turner’s faith in Jesus, or their love for the Bible, or even much of the sound corrective they give, I’m not. DeMuth’s suggestions in the back half of her article were particularly helpful. Also, just to be clear, the title of this article is not “Why Mark Driscoll is Right and Everybody Should Go Podcast Him and Get a Tattoo with His Face on It.” I am not defending, nor will I take as serious any accusation that I am defending, everything or even anything that Driscoll has said about marriage and sex.

What I am a bit concerned about is the way Christians go about disagreeing with him on those subjects.  Whether, in order to disagree with Driscoll, they’re writing off Solomon himself.

Yeah, But Have You Heard About His Dad And Bathsheba?

I hope I’m not reading too much into them, but as they stand, these comments are not appeals to take into account historical cultural context, or the special nature of wisdom literature as partially descriptive and not necessarily prescriptive, or the complexities involved or sensitivity required when applying the text in the 21st century. Both comments appear to be unsubtle, and hopefully unintentional, ad hominems implying the source is suspect, even though the source is in the canon of scripture.

Aside from possibly being an instance of the genetic fallacy, the problem is that by that same logic we can disregard half of the Psalms, because some of them were written by Solomon’s shady dad, King David. And we all know about him and Bathsheba. I mean, of course he would sing about God’s forgiveness and washing him clean after that whole mess (Psalm 51). Look what he did. And then there’s those letters by Paul. I mean, can we really trust what he’s got to say about people preaching “other gospels” being anathema (Gal. 1:8), when he admittedly was a murderous zealot at one point? Talk about baggage and personality issues.

You see where this line of thinking goes. Pretty soon half the Bible is gone, and the other half is there only because we don’t know who wrote it.

Without outlining a full-blown theory of inspiration, it needs to be made clear that the books of the Bible are not Scripture because their authors were perfectly holy, moral exemplars, or whose every recorded action is to be taken as normative. The books they wrote are there because God has set these writings apart and sanctified them for holy use. You’re not supposed to like that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Sure, it was a pragmatic move that secured him treaties with neighboring powers, but ultimately it led his heart astray, because he was trusting in human wisdom for security rather than God. Instead, you’re supposed to be amazed that empowered and inspired by God’s Spirit, even the words of a man who was led deeply astray in sin can still be used to shape and form God’s people for lives of wisdom and grace. That’s God’s grace at work in the forming of Scripture itself.

Wisely Apply Wisdom

This doesn’t mean that God’s people don’t need wisdom and caution in handling the wisdom literature such as Song of Songs. Accounting for the character and genre of the text is important, given that God set apart and inspired human words and thought forms. Conservative OT scholar Barry Webb notes that as part of the scrolls, the Song has always been a problematic book for interpreters. (Five Festal Garments: Christian Reflections on The Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, pg. 13)  The Song is beautiful poetry about the joy of love, the body, and physical romance, which saves us from a purely gnostic view of God’s gifts. Despite this, Webb cautions, “Its subject is love, but it is neither a philosophical treatise about love, nor a sex manual.” (ibid, pg. 18) DeMuth is right then to urge us to slow down before taking the Song and turning it into commands about our sex life, or even the sole source of our wisdom on that subject. But our caution ought to come not because Solomon was a pervert, though–which, incidentally, even conservative scholars question whether the author is even supposed to be thought of as Solomon–it’s because that’s the nature of the wisdom itself. Its teaching requires thoughtful, nuanced appropriation, set within the canonical context of the redemptive-historical drama as a whole. It is there that you find the “need for forgiveness, acceptance, forbearance, love, kindness, and selflessness” in marriage that DeMuth is looking for; it’s just not in every verse.

Or take Driscoll’s Chinese water torture. Tremper Longman III in his Baker commentary on Proverbs says that those verses do indeed compare a nagging wife’s criticism to “the torture of dripping water. It is not overwhelming, but it wears one down.” Yet he moves on to say that women can “substitute ‘husband’ for ‘wife‘” (pg. 368), in order to take into account the original patriarchal shape of the advice of a father speaking to a son. Anybody watching a hyper-critical husband destroy his wife’s soul can attest that this isn’t simply a liberal application of the text, but a wise appropriation of a basic psychological observation. It’s not that we’re dealing with a text to safely discard, because a man with hundreds of wives is to be expected to be a jaded and untrustworthy. What we’re dealing with is an ancient text that needs to be carefully applied to our present context in a way that doesn’t play into unhelpful gender stereotypes.

In other words, OT biblical wisdom on gender and sexuality isn’t always obvious. It needs to be wrestled with, chewed on, digested, and applied wisely–kind of like the rest of the Bible. We need to be careful to cultivate ways of speaking of Scripture that acknowledges the complexities and yet still leads us into a humble trust in God’s ability to set apart these specific texts to inform us of his redemptive will in both Law and Gospel, transform us by the renewal of our minds by the Spirit of truth at work through them, and ultimately, conform us to the image of His Son displayed in them.


  1. Upon re-reading DeMuth’s piece, I really think she’s making exactly the same point you’re making about how to use Scripture. She’s arguing that we shouldn’t try to make Song of Solomon a “prescriptive marriage manual” which installs Solomon in the role of “godly husband”. I don’t hear her saying that we should discount the book entirely because of Solomon’s sins, but that we should consider its context and genre more carefully.

    I do think MPA was sloppy in his writing on the subject…but at least he (unlike Driscoll) wasn’t speaking sloppily FROM A CHURCH PULPIT.

  2. Derek, what you’ve said here is deeply problematic for me in that I feel that you are not making space for the ways women (and in the process, men and children) have been harmed by these teachings.

    I don’t agree when you say that by the same logic we can disregard half the Psalms, because I do agree with you when you say the Bible needs to be “wrestled with, chewed on, digested, and applied wisely.” From what you’ve written here, you seem to have a great deal of concern that the Bible be an indisputable cornerstone at the expense of health and relationships. I get the sense that you are saying it is okay to demean women because Solomon did it, and you do not want to wrestle with the possibility that that was wrong of Solomon. What are your thoughts about this?

    (Also, if it gives you any context, I explained at length my problem with Mark Driscoll in this Amazon review of his latest book. I live in Seattle and I meet with a lot of women who have been deeply harmed by the teachings at Mars Hill Church. So if this gives you any context, I thought I would post it here.

  3. Yeah, and like I said, I mostly liked DeMuth’s article. She had a lot of great stuff to say in there and I think I said that in this article. I just saw the same line of thought twice in two articles and it seemed worth commenting on.

    Also, a little push-back on the MPT v. Driscoll thing. I’m all about people in the pulpit getting held accountable, especially when their pulpit is as large as Driscoll’s. Still, the whole, “I’m not a pastor, just a blogger” defense doesn’t hold as well when you’re teaching about Christian truth from a blog like MPT’s which is bigger than a few hundred pulpits, you know?

  4. I think that part of the problem is that talk about the inspiration and authority of scripture often steamrolls lived experience and poor ways that texts have been used to put people in place, shame people, or exact authority. Or, as we continuously see with Driscoll, use sacred texts to assert patriarchy and dictate lives around perceived gender norms/stereotypes.

    I agree with you that we need to read the biblical text carefully. I also think that it needs to be read and studied in a community of equals, where women and men can speak with the same amount of power and authority, and where we can “wrestle” and “chew”, but also be okay with NOT digesting.

    There is a lot of stuff in the Bible that is unhelpful to digest, and does not make one understand God more, or reveal God’s plan, or make Jesus more clear. Instead, a lot of it reveals an ancient way of living and moving about in the world. Looking at the text from a different angle or through a different lens does not unlock the true meaning and suddenly make patriarchy, inequality, slavery, rape, warfare or colonialism “OK” because it reveals God’s plan or God’s providence.

    If I’m reading you correctly––forgive me and correct me where I am off––you are saying that if we have trouble with particular biblical texts for reasons x, y, z, we just need to keep reading them until God becomes apparent in that text and mitigates our aversions/discomforts. I really do think that this way of engaging the Bible makes it into something that it isn’t, and is really a magical way of reading the text. Furthermore, the text is always right and always in authority.

    Ultimately, cultivating healthy communities of faith depends on creating space to disagree with and stand against the text. Granting greater supremacy to a doctrine of the Bible than to the emotional and relational health of people trying to understand God and participate in Jesus makes Christianity a difficult realm to navigate.

  5. good stuff, Derek. Keep the good, notice the mistaken, leave us with more truth than we came with. Exemplary.

    Incidentally, as a very conservative but no-axe-to-grind-here person, I’m curious what you think of the authorship of the Song.


  6. Hi Derek
    I read both blogs and felt they were both great.
    I really am not sure what your problem is with MPT. The only thing he points out is
    (It should be noted that Proverbs was written by a very “certain man,” one with 700 hundred wives and 300 concubines…)
    I am sure he knows that Solomon was a product of his heritage as King and the patriarchal society he was a part of. I am sure MPT was not wanting to negate half of scripture. From my time of following him, his stance is to support the outcast and rejected and those whose pedigree is seen to be suspect.
    I am happier with their blogs that call out Mark Driscoll and his awful teaching than yours that really does nothing but gives him a free pass of sorts.

  7. I take issue of the term “traditionally ascribed”. Traditionally ascribed by whom? Half of your post is dedicated to inking the Songs to the quasi-historical Solomon, but then you admit that even conservative scholars doubt the veracity of Solomon’s authorship (in fact, among credible historical scholars, it’s pretty much taken as a non-controversy that the book was NOT written by Solomon). Also, it seems like you fall into the apologetic trap of rallying around the canon without questioning why any individual book is canonized the first place. If we don’t have a likely explanation for its importance as source material, then we can’t understand the context in which it was truly written. And, if we don’t know the context, how can we reasonably cross-reference it to the “prescriptive” canonical works? And, if those arguments fall apart, is it possible that Driscoll is just using lazy make-’em-up exegesis to advance his own worldview?

    One additional thought: I think the very notion that Song of Songs might merely be a collection of “Author Unknown” love poems is a dagger to the heart of fundamentalist teaching. If there’s no more of a “life application” message in SoS than there is in, say, a poem by John Keats, who’s to say that it doesn’t lend fragility to the whole edifice of the Bible as a singular and inerrant source of truth? The standard approach is to ignore books like SoS, and focus on the very small collection of key books and verses that make up 99% of pulpit teachings– with maybe a few facile references thrown in on occasion to provide the illusion of Biblical completism. When people like Driscoll start to improvise on that approach, it becomes painfully obvious that canonical absolutism resides in very shallow waters.

  8. Yes, we should certainly hold people with large platforms to a high standard. I guess I’m a bit of a traditionalist, though, and tend to think that anyone who is ordained to a position of authority within the body of the church and speaks from that position of {installed, formally recognized} power ought to be held even more responsibly. I think my episcapalianism is showing :-)

  9. Amy– Oh sure, my Presbyterianism agrees with you. I’ve just been pondering what standards bloggers are held to, especially the ones without any formal, church position. My Elders could discipline for what I write if I ever taught false doctrine or promoted sin and such, but where does the local body have any say in the writings of some of these large-platform bloggers? I’m not saying I have an answer. I’m just wondering out loud.

    P.G.Epps — I’m not sure. I haven’t read enough. There apparently dozens of ideas for how this whole thing is supposed to play out. Is it Solomon writing about himself? Is the lover someone else? A young shepherd, with Solomon playing another character in the whole thing? I really don’t know. And I don’t think it’s a conservative/liberal thing, because the text never really claims Solomonic authorship. I haven’t spent a lot of time on it, though.

    Morgan– Yeah, I didn’t pick the title. I would have added “Or Don’t” at the end. But, yeah, whatever. Glad you don’t think I wandered over to the dark side.

  10. Well, I don’t have any control over that. I think the deal is, we have a delay on people who have not commented before. Also, if it’s super-dumb, derogatory, or violent. But, again, I don’t have control over that personally. I mean, you can go look at the amount of disagreeing comments on my Tim Keller story to see that we let most stuff through.

  11. I was just wondering because there is a conversation happening at Stuff Christian Culture Likes Facebook page. Stephanie Drury posted a comment that has yet to be published. I’ve never commented here and my comment got posted immediately.

    That just seemed weird to me. Is there a reason her comment hasn’t been posted?

  12. Stephanie Drury wrote a comment that wasn’t demeaning in any way, and rather challenging that I think needs to be allowed.

    As to my own comments…I’m not sure I get what you’re trying to say here. Is Mark wrong for what he said or not? Is Solomon wrong for how he said it or not? And could there be a problem with how someone interprets those verses? Could Mark be meaning something different by nagging wife than Solomon meant by quarrelsome, and could that in itself actually be where the backlash is coming from.

    Either way I don’t think the bible should be used, any truth in the Bible, to demean. And all Mark did was demean.

  13. Sorry, all! We have a new moderation system to keep out the real jerks and it was supposed to email us when we have comments for moderation. That didn’t happen, so we were behind a bit on approval!

    Disagree away!! :-)

  14. Stephanie — Glad I can see your comment now. Alright good questions and I’d love to clarify.

    My point, in a nutshell, is basically, “Just because you don’t like what Mark Driscoll did with a text, don’t write it off.” In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water. If you think what Driscoll says was unfair or demeaning, don’t attribute that to Solomon, or write off the canonical text. My point isn’t to allow for demeaning comments about women. As I said towards the bottom of the article, we need to be careful not to use the text in ways that play into unhelpful gender stereotypes. Also, like I said, I agreed with most of DeMuth’s article about being aware of the way teaching about sex connected to people who have suffered sexual abuse needs to be handled with wisdom.

    Also, I don’t think I am trying to defend the scriptures at the expense of relationships, but rather for the sake of relationships. It’s because I think there is great beauty and wisdom in the texts, I don’t want people writing them off simply because someone famous like Driscoll is mishandling them.

    Does that help?

    Josiah — “Traditionally ascribed” as in, by the ancient tradition. That’s relatively non-controversial. I didn’t say it should be, I’m talking about the way it is typically discussed in the tradition.

    Also, think of my article as an “Even if…” argument. I’m dealing with the comments on the assumption that both books were written by Solomon. So, “even if” they were, it’s still in the canon, etc. etc. When I go on to point out that they, in fact, might not be, that only makes my point all the stronger. If they’re not written by him, they can’t be written off through ad hominem. You see my point?

    As for this whole thing being a “dagger”, sure. I’m not advocating for a contextless approach, though. Just to be clear, I think I pointed out that it needs to be set in its context as well as the context of the canon as a whole.

    Pete Garcia – Too much to respond to, but I think some of what you’re asking is covered in these responses. Also, I think we have basic theological presuppositions at loggerheads. For me, the problem is usually not with the text, but rather with our understanding of it, or rather, misunderstanding of it, either in a conservative or liberal direction.

    Alright, blessings all!!

  15. Hi, Derek. I attended Trinity Pres. in OC for a few years so I’m pretty familiar with the conservative, Calvinist direction that church has gone since coming under the leadership of Doug Rumford in 2006. Which is to say, I’m not super surprised to see a Trinity staff-member writing a post like this one. :)

    The whole point of Mary DeMuth and MPT’s posts was to show HOW women have been hurt and ARE continuing to be hurt RIGHT NOW by Driscoll’s theology and interpretation of Scripture. But instead of definitively engaging THAT issue, you’ve missed the point by urging us not to dismiss the canon of Scripture and not “throw the baby out with the bathwater”–as you wrote in a comment.

    While I can understand your concern that Christians be careful about this, I would simply urge you to think outside your own experience and understand that there are MANY women, myself included, have suffered a direct hit based on teachings similar to Driscoll’s. Wouldn’t it be WISER to explain why Driscoll’s TEACHING is harmful? Because by faulting Mary’s and MPT’s posts on a “technicality” it seems like you’re refusing to look at the more damaging issue: what Driscoll’s teaching actually DOES to human beings.

    And when someone tells me not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” it’s like rubbing salt in the wound. Plus, we’ve heard that line 8,465 times. :)

    Still, from looking at your blog it appears you are only recently developing an “avid” interest in Calvinism. So, I definitely want to give you the benefit of the doubt, here. And while I am deeply grateful for my time at Trinity and bear no ill-will toward anyone there, I have to be honest and say that one of the reasons I left was because the sermons being preached were too similar to my abusive, fundamentalist past and triggered painful memories.

    Sure, that’s just my “subjective” experience and not an infallible opinion but I think it might lend some context to why you’re getting pushback from women who have been harmed by Driscoll’s theology.

    Anyway, hope this helps.

  16. I feel like you may be placing to much authority on the canon of scripture. It seems like your argument is that since Solomon’s writings are in the canonized scriptures we must accept his word as God’s word. Even though you say that context is important you seem to dismiss the context of Solomon’s marriages outright.

    This is problematic for me as a historian. The context of who is writing any given primary source is incredibly important. To understand the document you need to understand the perspective of the writer of the document. I think that both examples you gave (DeMuth and Turner) were trying to do just that. Knowing the marital lives of David and Solomon effects how I read their advice on marriage. I think that’s important to know.

    It seems like this may be a discussion about how different people view the scriptures, and questions about interpretations of them over time. Which, I think is a valid discussion.

  17. Will — I am nowhere arguing for a contextless reading of the text. But taking into account context does not necessarily invalidate its authority. I’ll be upfront and say I’m an unremarkably “confessional” Christian. I hope there is some nuance and thought behind it, but yeah, at the end of the day, I trust the Bible as God’s Word written. I try not to set myself over the text, but stand under the text, even if I don’t currently understand the text. My point is, I usually assume the problem is with me on my end, rather than God, on his end. I know you’ll disagree with the way I’m construing things, but, well, that’s where we are in the conversation.

    Now, I think he gave us his word in various genres, languages, and in the thoughts and words of particular people with their own specific voices and histories, but I don’t think that negates their inspiration. It just means we can’t read scripture flatly. For a good picture of how I think about this I’d point you to Kevin Vanhoozer’s work “The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Doctrine”; it’s a very thoughtful reworking of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, among other things.

  18. Not everyone believes that Song of Solomon was written by Solomon! There is a belief among some commentators that the original text was actually intended as a veiled criticism of Solomon and that the actual author’s intent was to satirize Solomon’s philandering ways by promoting monogamy as an alternative. That’s one reason why some Bibles call it “Song of Songs”. The man in the text is referred to only as “Lover” and nowhere in the actual book is it stated that he is Solomon.

    The book is labeled “The song of songs, which is Solomon’s”; this could be interpreted in several different ways:

    -It’s autobiographical (which most people just assume, but may not actually be the case).

    -Solomon wrote it, but intended it as a third-person perspective (i. e., as poetic literature rather than autobiography).

    -It “is Solomon’s” because it was composed during his reign, rather than specifically being written by him. This is analogous to Shakespeare’s literature being called “Elizabethan” despite the fact that Queen Elizabeth obviously didn’t write it!

    -It is intended to satirize or criticize Solomon.

    -It was dedicated to Solomon, perhaps not to criticize him, but rather because the author wanted to pay tribute to him in a way subjects of kings often did in the ancient Near East.

    -The word for Solomon (Shlomo) can also be an inflected form of “shalom”.

    There has long been widespread disagreement among both Christian and Jewish scholars regarding exactly who composed the book, and when.

  19. Is it “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” to say that many of Solomon’s teachings about women and relationships simply cannot be used as instructive in any way today? Is it possible to accept that his “wisdom” may have only been “wise” in his specific context (a horribly unequal power structure between a king and his subjects; hundreds of wives and concubines that are, quite frankly, written about more as objects than people), and that we can rightly reject said “wisdom” as inapplicable now? Can we do that while at the same time not rejecting his wisdom in other areas? Without throwing away the beauty of many of the other words attributed to Solomon?

    “God’s ability to set apart these specific texts to inform us of his redemptive will in both Law and Gospel…” Must we accept that God means for these passages to be prescriptive in all times, cultures and contexts, simply because they’re included in the Bible? That our discomfort with doing so is simply because of our inability or unwillingness to wring truth out of the words? To be honest, I don’t really see a way to “wrestle with” or “chew on” some of Solomon’s words enough for them to apply universally to our understanding of women and/or relationships. When removed from Solomon’s context and placed into ours, maybe these words are just wrong. And I think it’s okay to acknowledge that… and okay to harshly criticize those who would use these out-of-context words to push their own twisted agendas.

  20. Derek, I am having a difficult time with what you are saying on Twitter. I don’t know if anyone else would like to join the conversation there? I feel a lot of important stuff is being said there but the multiple forums is making it difficult for a real conversation to take place, maybe? If anyone wants to see what we’re saying on twitter it is in both my feed and Derek’s. (Mine is @StuffCCLikes and Derek’s is @DZRishmawy)

  21. I really think Michael just succinctly said what I and other commenters have taken issue with.

    Derek, in an above reply you said that you try not to set yourself over the text, but stand under it. I think that over/under dualism misrepresents the current approaches to engaging the Bible for a lot of us. I don’t necessarily think we are putting ourselves over the text as much as we are sitting beside the text on the same plane, because we see the deep humanity within the text.

    Anything you or I or anyone else writes can reveal God in deeply moving and incredible ways. Rilke causes me to meditate on God more than anything else lately. Is God in that? Absolutely. Is it divinely inspired and infallible? Those titles just seem unhelpful.

  22. Derek,

    If I am hearing you correctly, you are suggesting that ad hominem against Scripture is reflected in the ad hominem of Driscoll dissenters? Which, as you see it, is an inappropriate mode for how Christians should carry on in religious discourse from whatever pulpit they find themselves behind?

    If I am understanding you correctly, than I agree with this wholeheartedly; and I have likely played a part in the ad hominem in the process of personally repenting of what I view as the naive and idolatrous hermeneutical lens of Mark Driscoll; especially as it applies to gender ethics. Attacking the person is a far site from the goal of Christian religious discourse of repentance and conversion. Thank you for saying that, and I commend you for being the mature one to say it. It has convicted me personally.

    However, what, in your mind, is an appropriate way to engage such profound disagreement that does not submit to the old adage “you have your truth, I have mine” that seems to be equally as troublesome as ad hominem? The ad hominem comes variably because of the system of abuse oftentimes the hermeneutical tradition pastors like Driscoll espouse. Where is the ministry of reconciliation incumbent to the Christian pastor amidst a disagreement that has reached such a level of ad hominem because so many on the egalitarian side of things simply have little more to say anymore other than “Stop it!!”

  23. Furthermore, I will add this to the discussion of Song of Solomon. The debate on authorship is going to be dubious at best and most alternative theories on understanding authorship are theories of literary criticism more than hermeneutics.

    Walter Brueggann notes that the overarching metaphorization of SoS calls the reader beyond the ethical substance of its writer and into a larger geological

  24. Furthermore, I will add this to the discussion about Song of Solomon. The debate on authorship is going to have dubious conclusions at best and most alternative theories on understanding authorship are theories of literary criticism more than a matter of hermeneutics.

    Walter Brueggann notes that the overarching metaphorization of SoS calls the reader beyond the ethical substance of its writer and into a larger theological conversation concerning the “wooing love” of G-d for Israel. Thus, the eroticism of SoS can be understood from a greater theological framework than the limitations of the moral perspective of its writer and, therefore, calls the reader to recognize the passion of G-d articulated through SoS’s concept of the wooing “lover.” This frees the text from its institutional constraints and the moralism of the writer (and reader!) and, thus, frees the hermeneutist to creatively apply it as both 21st century people and people with Christian theological commitments and ethical limitations. And so, regardless of whether or not we want to agree with Solomon as a person in terms of holy practice, the wisdom incumbent to the text is not one discussing practice but WORSHIP. This means we can commune with each other in a vivid discussion about worship inspired by Solomon (or whomever wrote SoS) putting the polygamist’s milieu as a tertiary issue of literary criticism rather than exegesis or hermeneutics.

  25. Stephanie, don’t worry. I’m have trouble understanding what I’m saying on twitter. :) 140 characters is a super hard format for me. Still learning it. I’m going to try and summarize a few points from that conversation even though it’s kind of a rabbit-trail from the original post. Also, I hope you saw my clarification above.

    1. When you point to Jesus as your hermeneutical standard and then say that the text is peripheral at the same time, I’m left wondering where you get access to Jesus. Which Jesus are you speaking of? Is he the one given to us in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who affirms the Law and the Prophets (essentially, the OT canon) etc? Is it just the presentation of one of the Gospels? Is it a blend of the parts of those Gospels that you think connects well with your ideas of peace, equality, etc, a la the Jesus seminar? In which case, where do we get these ideas of peace and equality? From Jesus? Okay, which Jesus? Is he the one who made a rope into a whip? Taught the sermon on the Mount? Both together?

    I’m not trying to be confrontational, or rude. I’m simply pointing out that an appeal to Jesus over and against the text is problematic because, unless we’re just going on our feelings, or cultural leanings, we only have access to Jesus through the texts. If we’re not dealing with the Jesus of the texts, then we’re in danger of just taking our own culturally-relative sentiments and ideologies and slapping Jesus’ name on them. It’s like George Tyrell said about the 19th/20th Century historical critics: “The Christ that Adolf Harnack sees, looking back through nineteen centuries of Catholic darkness, is only the reflection of a liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well.”

    This happens on the right and the left and it happened back in the German liberal theology originating with Schleiermacher and Hegel, as it relativized the Bible, it inevitably divinized or absolutized the movement of cultural progress, identifying its “progressive” elements with the advance of the Kingdom of God. Some of my questions were not meant to be relativistic, but rather are intended to point out that so many of modern/postmodern criticisms of the text are unintentional exercises in cultural imperialism that assume that the moral stances of 21st Century, post-Enlightenment, pluralistic, Western Americans are the standard against which the Bible must be judged. What I’m saying is it that it isn’t all that obvious to me.

    I mean–c’mon–we invented reality TV.

    I think that instead, there are resources within the text that help me criticize bad interpretations of the text. Also, I think that there are moments when the text is going to grate on me because of my own cultural blind-spots, and so I need to be prepared to hear from my Majority-world sister in Christ who is not offended by certain passages of judgment, etc. that I find offensive as a liberal Westerner, while she needs to be ready to hear from me on the passages about mercy for violent enemies that she finds offensive in her more traditional context.

    There’s more to say, but that’s it for now.

    Pete – And this is where I see a certain gnosticism in thinking that God can’t set apart human words, creaturely words, and sanctify them for his own special use. We see this all over the scriptures, though. God consecrates and uses the ordinary to mediate his revelation and presence, as in the holy things of the Temple. Once consecrated, they were no longer simply pots and pans, but the Lord’s. They are ordinary human words, but, God, by his own authority takes them up as his Own. Or rather, he commissions humans to speak for him specially in a way that not everybody else will. To make an analogy, not every bit of bread, or sip of wine is communion–only that bread and that wine. Again, Rilke can write beautiful, moving things by the common grace of God. He can’t say by God’s specific grace as Isaiah did, “Thus says the LORD.” I think there is a qualitative distinction that must be observed and recognized. My blog doesn’t have the same authority as 1 Corinthians except for when I quote it.

    To erase that is to erase the very concept of revelation on which the Gospel is based–God bringing an outside Word, that enters in and humbly but authoritatively overturns the powers, issues a justifying word of grace through the Cross, and breaks the power of death in Jesus’ resurrection. It’s not a slow, diffuse word–that is closer to God’s providential, sustaining word. But God’s Gospel Word comes in like no other, in the middle of our human words, just like Jesus came in as a truly human one, but like no other.

    It’s actually the opposite of dualism. It’s the assumption that God can take ordinary human things and do extraordinary, special, unrepeatable things.

  26. I’ve followed this resulting convo with interest and I had to chime in on something. You said “Jesus affirms the Law and the Prophets ie the OT canon” . . .I’m sorry but that is completely projecting onto the text. Jesus altered the Torah dictate on divorce “because your hearts were hard” which is a nice way of saying “because I think it is wrong.” Jesus didn’t follow the purity laws and routinely was in contact with the ‘unclean,’ he radicalized Torah stances on nonviolence in his ministry (put together in the Sermon on Mount/Plane). Clearly, Jesus did not affirm the authority of all of Torah, but (in the vein of some of the Prophets who came before him) wanted to get to “the essentials” and what a community of God looked like ie he saw Torah as essentially the Golden Rule and all it entails. I’ve heard many clever hermaneutical gymnastics to dance around this, but Jesus clearly broke away from his tradition at certain times (which is partially why he was remembered and we are still talking about him centuries later; he wasn’t just another atypical 1st century Jewish holy man).

    As for “what Jesus” to follow, it’s not like the 4 Gospels (even John; although even many conservative scholars will even concede the “I am” statements in John are not literal quotes) show much controversy in terms of what Jesus preached. There are some notable differences in a few places, but recognizing that the Gospels are both history remembered and theological documents meant to express what Jesus meant for the evangelists and the communities they lived in, one can get a pretty solid idea of what Jesus’s ministry entailed by studying the history of the time-period and doing some rudimentary form criticism (ie the allegorical add-ons to the parables Matthew adds that Mark lacks etc.). The ideal of sacrificial love, seeing God in the everyday, love thy neighbor, be humble, show mercy . . .not easy to do but not that hard to discern from what we know about Jesus historically from the Gospels and other 1st century materials.
    And let’s not forget that in the 1st century (and beyond for several more in many communities) the primary means of spreading the Jesus message was from word of mouth, not written texts. It’s great we have the Gospels but Jesus is not confined to pieces of canonized paper.

  27. I don’t agree with the qualitative distinction applied to the entire canon. I cannot get on board with privileging particular groupings of words together because they are within the canon. I cherish that they have been preserved and the way that such preservation has shaped and formed history. I am fascinated by the Bible, and it has played a significant role in my own history and shaping who I am and how I engage others and the world around me. However, we can place two very similar sentences side by side, but because one is “Bible” and one is not, the biblical sentence is more authoritative? Authoritative for what?

    My point here is simply that God is revealed both within and beyond the biblical text, but not within the absolute entirety of the Bible.

    I do not believe that the Bible needs to be authoritative in our lives for us to be faithful to God and to participate in Jesus. I fear that the way biblical authority often plays out––as we see with Driscoll’s latest example––is that biblical authority means control. I think that participation with Christ and granting each other the freedom to yield to the Spirit is more powerful than an authoritative sacred text.


    “It’s actually the opposite of dualism. It’s the assumption that God can take ordinary human things and do extraordinary, special, unrepeatable things.”
    –Yes! I believe in a a less divinely provident variation of this: God is revealed in the ordinary, the earthly; poetry and wetlands. To quote Berry, “there are no unsacred places, there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” I’d follow that by saying that there are sacred words and desecrated words, sacred actions and desecrated actions. I certainly affirm that there is much sacred talk within the Bible, a human document.

    The language of common grace and special grace creates hedges around the revelation of God. It creates tiers of how God is revealed and how one encounters God and comes to experience the divine. What I hear you saying is that one can only approach Jesus and participate in God is by fully submitting to the authority of the Bible. It is difficult not to see this as a denial of God being revealed in and involved in ordinary things. I believe that God is overwhelmingly love, and love––regardless of who loves, how they are loved, or why they are loved––experiences God (1 John 4:12).

  28. General Note: Please know that I’m not arguing for a flat reading of scripture here. I think there is redemptive-historical movement whereby Christ brings us into a new stage of history where the OT law does not apply in the same way that it did, God’s OT covenant people. I think there are places where God was working with people where they were at and then bringing them forward in a sort of progressive-revelatory fashion. At the SAME time, I think those OT passages are instructive for us in some way, when properly understood. Those last three words is where I think things mostly go wrong.

    Elisabeth – Just saw your comment. Thanks for stopping by. A couple of things:
    a. Bummed we didn’t get to meet! Trinity has touched a lot of lives and I’m glad it blessed yours for a while. I’m sorry to see that weren’t a fan of Doug’s teaching. Ironically, it’s lead to some real spiritual growth on the part of the congregation from what I hear, but you know, God calls us different places sometimes.
    b. On the point about why I didn’t make my post about criticizing Driscoll. Umm, well, that’s been done. Actually, those two articles I cited did it, and I think I said they had some very relevant points. I wrote this article because these points are what stuck out to me and its ones that maybe people in the “criticize Driscoll on a regular basis” camp would benefit. Some of their points would be better made and better received if they were made without implying a deficiency in the scriptures, otherwise there are a lot of conservative believers who might simply disregard the point because you had to write off the Bible to do it. I mean, that’s just the pragmatic reality.

    Bobby – Good stuff. Too much to comment on, but thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed the additional perspectives on Song of Solomon.

    Pete – This is kind of why I originally said we’re basically at theological loggerheads. Let me say this: an affirmation of special revelation is not a denial of general revelation, just as an affirmation of common grace is not a denial of special grace. I can affirm as Calvin did that the Holy Spirit blessed pagan writers like Plato and Aristotle in a veiled way, yet still say that only by special revelation could Paul write, “God was in Christ reconciling the world” (2 Cor 5). I don’t put anything in Plato on the level of Paul. They might agree at points, which is great, but I don’t stake my life on one. I’m not saying that no one experiences God outside of the Bible. Anyone who is breathing knows his providence and kindness. That’s what common grace is about. Still, there is long-running theme in scripture about the all-present, transcendent God making his saving presence felt in particular ways at particular times–like in the Temple. God dwells in the heavens, and yet he shows up in the Temple in salvific ways. There are a number of other examples of this sort of thought, but it’s the essential movement of the incarnation–and that is a truth one only participates in by way of union with Christ. Again, we probably see this differently in a way I can’t get at in a short post.

    Andrew — Too much, I’ll just note that your version of Jesus that you’ve arrived at by way of rudimentary form criticism, etc. “The ideal of sacrificial love, seeing God in the everyday, love thy neighbor, be humble, show mercy . . .not easy to do but not that hard to discern from what we know about Jesus historically from the Gospels and other 1st century materials.” seems to leave out the eschatological prophet announcing the kingdom of God which splits families, up-ends history, forces a choice, drives back satan, etc. I mean, I believe it’s both, but you see what I mean?

    As for your other points, I think I got at some of them in my “general” note.

    Okay, gotta go. Blessings.

  29. Derek,

    I’m not familiar with your work, but I do appreciate you responding to everyone’s comments, I’m sure these endless debates must get tiring for you :)

    I think Jesus in an eschatological sense and the Jesus exhorting love, mercy and forgiveness go hand and hand . . essentially they are one in the same. To participate in the Kingdom and to recognize the Kingdom requires those aformentioned actions. Truly “loving they neighbor” forces a choice everyday, sometimes every hour, and “drives back Satan (evil).”
    If you are referring to the more specific apocalyptic pronouncements found primarily in Mark 13 (if you haven’t figured out I accept the theory of Markan priority), I don’t think that treastise goes back to Jesus historically and is a separate piece of apocalyptic literature (which is even acknowledged by scholars who affirm that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet like Dale Allison) that circulated Christian communities during the trying days of the Jewish rebellion around 70 AD (“let the reader understand”).

    Did Jesus speak of a coming judgment in the midst of the corruption and repression he witnessed . . probably, I don’t buy the Jesus Seminar’s contention that all of the Son of Man sayings are later additions, but I don’t think that was a central tenet of his ministry and the Gospels are curiously devoid of many direct apocalyptic pronouncements if Jesus’s major framework was one of imminent apocalypse (he also was accused of, and didn’t deny, that He and the disciples were not ascetics like the apocalyptic John the Baptist or the Essenses but came “eating and drinking”). I think a major theme of his parables and Kingdom sayings were that the divine is in places where you least expect it, but you won’t experience unless you actively participate. He also through his example and sayings about issues of cleanliness and purity and advocation of “common eating/meal sharing” demonstrated that he felt that the traditional barriers between humans and God were not real and needed to be breached.

  30. I’m kinda in weird tension here, considering I take a more absolutist understanding of scripture like Derek, but also affirm the struggles Stephanie and others have with taking scripture so literally that it leaves little room for differing ideas on different verses. Not that Derek is arguing for that, or at least believes he isn’t.

    Some short points.

    I do think the bible is divinely inspired, the words of God so to speak…but not God Himself. (“You search the scriptures, but you do not truly know Me” paraphrasing Jesus.)

    I believe that since Bible is Truth, it will stand up to Reality. That reality does not have to be reshaped to make scripture true, that if it in fact does not stand up to reality it is a problem with interpretation, not text. (i.e. the more Evolution is proven, the more I take an interpretation of the Creation story in Genesis to be a parable, and not a literal story, relating the deep and powerful truth that God Created, not how.)

    I believe no one person, theologian, teacher, etc. has the End All understanding of Scripture, and that all interpretations are up for question, and should be.

    I believe that many have used the scriptures as a weapon, or as I saw in an article on TheOoze a long time ago, as a jigsaw puzzle to create a system of theology that fits their current ideology, but is not in fact what the scripture is saying at all. I would personally believe Calvinism does this, but I don’t want to step on too many toes here.

    I believe even with the full knowledge of scripture, there is a relationship with God that needs be had, that through the Spirit we learn and grow in Truth, never quite reaching it, but processing through life into deeper understandings of that unknowable (not fully knowable cause where would be the adventure in that?) God.

    I do believe that there are some scriptures that very clearly say “This is the meaning of the whole thing.” and that if we build our foundation, our safety net, there, we can explore with full hope and safety all the rest in about as wide of bounds as we want. CS Lewis called theology a map, and I think that map is huge. But it does have boundaries.

    Jesus is a boundary. God’s existence is another one. Our sin and need for God is one, etc. but the main boundary, the big line is this…the Gospel is not about Judgement, or Wrath, but about Love. Love of God first, and love of others (including ourselves), but most beautifully of all, I find throughout scripture a God who is a servant, a God who loves his creation more than He loves Himself. And as I get to know God deeper, gaze upon Him, I see not only Him, but as if looking through a transparent stainglassed window, I see everyone else, through His Eyes…and wow…how He sees us…I cannot fathom the beauty.

    I could go on but there’s the crux of my understanding of the Bible. Interpretations are relative, but its truths are absolute. Even the hard things, like the genocides and the judgements, the words about sinners, the thoughts Solomon (for now I’m just assuming he wrote it til I know better) had about wives, they apply to us today, but I think in our current culture, we should be (and maybe they should have back then too) taking it as a genderless point. Quarrelsome is bad no matter what gender you are, married or not.

    My hope is that in our differing interpretations, we find common ground on the main things. Or as one of my former church’s motto was “Unity in essentials, diversity in nonessentials, in all things Jesus.” We might even disagree on what those essentials are, but in all things Jesus, right?

  31. Driscoll’s an idiot. I’m always inspired by nagging. It’s one of the most refreshing and delightful forms of communication we have as a species.

  32. I always struggle with this issue. I recognise I’m a man approaching it and that makes me conscious of my own bias, my need for humility and wisdom and I haven’t settled on an answer.

    One of the things I love about scripture is it’s timelessness. It is a voice speaking to us from outside the petri dish of our society and its ever evolving and vacillating views. It is unmoved by the cultural tide.

    I worry that my views are influenced by popular culture more than I’m aware. There’s a feeling of safety in sticking with the orthodox understanding on these issues.

    I’m not confident in my immunity to my culture to go it alone, and depart from tradition.

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