Saturday, October 08, 2011

Christ, Passover, and the marriage of Yahweh and Israel

I want to write something briefly here today.  Christians generally affirm that per John 5 and Luke 24 that the scriptures, properly understood, point to Christ, and that Christ said He fulfilled the scriptures.  As N. T. Wright and countless other theologians have noted Christ established the Lord's Supper as a Passover with a difference, redefining the Exodus and Passover around what He would accomplish on our behalf in winning victory over Satan, sin, and death. 

But then there's Song of Songs, which has been read at Passover celebrations for generations.  What does this set of romantic love poems have to do with Passover?  Passover celebrates Yahweh delivering His people out of bondage in Egypt and leading them into the wilderness where He established His covenant with them.  God betrothed Himself to Israel in the wilderness and promised them a home.  The covenant itself and the prophets reveal that apostasy and rejection would precede full and ultimate restoration.  This means that Christ is the one through whom and to whom God's marriage to His people is redefined.  The Wedding Feast of the Lamb takes the marriage of God to Israel and reinterprets this metaphor for relationship in light of Christ, who becomes the Groom. 

The implications for this on how both Jews and Christians have interpreted Song of Songs should not be that difficult to grasp.  Jesus said that the law experts and Pharisees searched the Scriptures because in them they were sure they would find eternal life.  If Song of Songs, then, is part of the scriptures, then the great  interpretive paradigm of the perspicuity of Scripture means that if in John 5 Jesus says unequivocally that "the scriptures point to me" a biblical book must be about Christ, properly understood. 

What, then, do we make of pastors who reject this interpretive lens provided by Christ Himself through apostolic testimony regarding Song of Songs?   Song of Songs can certainly be a set of poems about romantic love but if Christ spoke the truth through apostolic witnesses then Song of Songs can't be interpreted as only referring to romantic love.  Otherwise Jesus' words in John 5 and Luke 24 cannot be true. Then we have to ask why those pastors who have invested so much in an interpretive approach to Scripture that sees Song of Songs as only chiefly about sex are forced to implicitly say Jesus was a liar, don't we?  After all, if Song of Songs does not point to Christ when it is properly interpreted then Jesus wasn't telling the truth about the scriptures as we have received them or about why the Holy Spirit inspired the scriptures for the benefit of God's people.

Either Christ was a liar (because Song of Songs does not speak of Him) or the person who refuses to see Christ in Song of Songs is a liar (by refusing to accept the truth about Christ's claims that Scriptures point to Him and He fulfilled the Scriptures and that this must include Song of Songs).  There doesn't seem to be a legitimate third option here for any conservative professing Christian who affirms the Trinity and the inspiration and authority of the canon of Christian scripture. The only people who can stake out a legitimate third path by saying Christ is not in Song of Songs are liberals who cordon off parts of the scriptures as not speaking authoritatively about doctrine or ethical teaching. 

I am not concerned here to discuss how liberals interpret Song of Songs because they are open and upfront about their intepretive approach.  The liberal, a conservative will say, already refuses to accept the Lordship of Christ except on his terms.  So it is the otherwise "conservative" pastor or teacher who claims the Lordship of Christ and the authority and authenticity of the Scriptures, who nevertheless refuses to grant a typological element in Song of Songs, and that person alone, who is in the peculiar position of saying Jesus is a liar only about one book in the canon. On this subject in general and a case study in particular I will have much more to say down the road, God willing.

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