The Divine Pursuit: Seeking Love and Holiness in the Song of Songs

Part 2: Title, Authorship, and Historical Interpretation

Read Part 1 of this series


The Song of Songs is a literal English translation of the book’s Hebrew title, Shir Hashirim (lit. “Song of Songs”). The book has also traditionally been referred to as The Song of Solomon. In fact, the full English title of the poem is The Song of Songs, Which is Solomon’s, in keeping with the Hebrew tradition of referring to Old Testament books by the first line of text (Song 1:1). This is not always the case in English translations. For example, the text many English speakers know as the book of Leviticus has traditionally been referred to by the Hebrews as Wayiqrah’ (lit. “And he called”), which echoes the first line of text: “And the LORD called (wayiqrah’ yhwh) to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting” (Lev. 1:1).

Song of Songs is a Hebrew idiom. This figure of speech is used in the Hebrew language to indicate the superiority of the subject. You’ve heard the expressions “King of Kings”, “God of Gods”, or “Lord of Lords” (for example, Deut. 10:17) to refer to God — it’s the same general expression. In English, we might express this idea by saying “This is the song that supersedes all other songs”, or, “the best song.” What better way to draw your reader in! Imagine sitting down in a theater to watch a movie and a message from the director scrolls across the screen saying, “This is the best movie you’ll ever watch. It is the movie of all movies.” A bold claim, which makes the subject matter of the Song of Songs all the more interesting (as if it weren’t before).


The first line of The Song of Songs seems to tell us all we need to know about the identity of its author. Solomon wrote it! While some scholars do hold the view that the text was authored by King Solomon himself, there are a few problems with this understanding. The most obvious problem for many interpreters is the fact that Solomon was a philanderer of literally biblical proportions. Boasting 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3), the man wasn’t exactly a shining example of holiness when it came to his relationships, to say the least. Add to this the fact that Solomon’s actions clearly went against the Law of God (1 Kings 11:2), and you can see why many scholars take issue with Solomon being the author of a biblical book that champions God’s good gift of love, romance, and marriage. This is not to say that Solomon can be ruled out altogether as the author of the Song of Songs, but Solomonic authorship not at all a closed case.

If Solomon did not in fact write the Song of Songs, it does not mean that the author of the Song was pretending to be King Solomon. The attribution to Solomon may be a dedication, similar to how a modern author will include a dedication page in a book. Another interpretation suggests the attribution in verse 1 indicates that the Song of Songs follows the wisdom tradition of Solomon. According to this view, the clause, “of which is Solomon’s” may indicate that the text was written according to the style, tradition, and practice of Hebrew wisdom literature pioneered and made famous by the Israel’s wisest king, similar to how many modern musicians make music according to the styles and techniques of innovators like the Beatles, B.B King, or Elvis Presley. This is the theory I find to be most plausible. [1]

The identity of the author in this case does not affect the meaning or value of the text. Accordingly, I will refer to the author of the Song as “the poet”, or “the author” from here on as I believe the author of the Song of Songs to be anonymous.

Historical Interpretations

Some critical scholars have likened the Song of Songs to a pagan liturgy for the cult of the fertility goddess Ishtar. However, imagery, language, and style that is unique to other Old Testament texts is also present in the Song of Songs. There is no evidence that the Song is non-Israelite [1], and though the book has had its detractors over the centuries, it is widely accepted as a legitimate Scriptural text that rightfully belongs in the Hebrew canon. So how do we read, interpret, and apply the text? How was it relevant to the Israelite people and their privileged standing before God? How is it relevant to followers of Jesus today?

It should not be surprising that there are a wide range of interpretations for the Song of Songs. I will briefly describe four popular interpretations below. I do not believe that they are mutually exclusive. There is value to be found in reading the Song through each of these hermeneutical lenses:

Character Portrait – The Song of Songs is an idyllic representation of the “pattern into which God wishes to shape his faithful people, which is also the pattern toward which they will freely give themselves to be shaped” [2]. In this view, the Song is an attractive portrait of redeemed humanity in relationship to God and one another: eagerly receiving, and gratefully giving. The purest human metaphor for this divine give-and-take is a romantic sexual relationship between a man and a woman.

Allegory – The Old Testament prophets frequently brought Israel to task over their betrayal of God’s faithfulness, likening the unrighteous nation to an adulterer or a prostitute (ex. Hosea 1:2). In the New Testament, the Church is depicted as “the Bride of Christ” (Revelation 21:2) adorned for her husband, eagerly anticipating an eternal union with God. Proponents of the Allegorical view of the Song of Songs understand the imagery of a faithful husband pursuing his bride to be an idyllic depiction of God as he lovingly pursues the affections of his beloved Israel. Some argue for a Christocentric reading of the Song as a depiction of Jesus’ devotion to the Church [3].

A Theology of Human Sexuality – Some scholars interpret the Song of Songs simply as a celebration of God’s good gift of marriage, pleasure, and sex. Whereas many world religions spurn earthly pleasures as unholy or carnal, the Israelites understood sex and physical pleasure as divine gifts from a loving God who takes pleasure in blessing his people. Commentator Tremper Longman phrases it beautifully [4]:

What is a book like the Song of Songs doing in the Bible? Without the Song we would be left with only spare and often negative words about a reality that is crucial to the human experience: love and sex. God in his wisdom has spoken through the poet of the Song to both encourage and warn us about the unquenchable power of love and desire. The Song celebrates the joy of physical touch, the exhilaration of exotic scent, the sweet sound of a lover’s voice, and the taste of another’s lips. The Song is a divine affirmation of love and an acknowledgement of the pain that often accompanies it. 

Solomon’s Love Poem – Proponents of this interpretation argue that the Song was written by Solomon himself, or at least from Solomon’s perspective, and depicts a real romantic relationship between Solomon and his first lover in the days before he added several hundred more lovers to his harem [5].

The beautiful, provocative Song of Songs is often forgotten and overlooked by teachers and preachers in favor of more straightforward, preachable, and applicable texts. I include myself in this group – I have never so much as quoted it in a lesson or sermon! My research so far has led me to appreciate this book as a literary masterpiece, which deserves to be preached, taught, researched, and ultimately celebrated.

Up Next…

In Part 3 of this series, I will begin working through the Song of Songs starting in Chapter 1. I will point out literary features throughout and suggest interpretation and application where possible.


[1] Robert W. Jenson. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, “Song of Songs”. (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville 2005), 2-3.

[2] The ESV Study Bible (Crossway, Wheaton 2008), 1213.

[3] Song of Songs, “Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching”. (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville 2005), 5.

[4] Tremper Longman III, Song of Songs (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2001).

[5] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: Wisdom and Poetry: Job-Song of Solomon, 540.

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