Troublesome Topic: Were They a Married Couple at the Time of its Writing?

The short answer is Yes!

Those who use a somewhat literal method of interpreting The Song are faced with a perplexing situation because The Song itself seems to present a variety of perspectives which do not agree. According to that interpretive method, there are times when the speakers in the Song seem to speak of what it was like before they were married; there are aspects of it which seem to reflect the customs involved in a wedding procession or wedding ceremony, and there are things which seem to require that they are already married and have been for some time. Our analytical minds say that it cannot be all three at the same time. But remember this song is a series of pictures. It is quite possible to paint a picture of the marriage relationship that includes snap shots from differing perspectives. When we see The Song as symbolism and strive to interpret the symbolism as the people of Solomon’s day would have, the question “Were they married?” becomes less of a problem. Interpreting The Song literally creates contradictions; interpreting it as ancient symbolism creates a coherent picture. I am convinced the two primary characters of the Song were indeed a married couple at the time of its writing, though some aspects of it may look back at their marriage ceremony and draw from it for its symbolism. However, keep in mind that quite often the words that seem to be most sexually charged are not the symbols that point that direction, and the symbols that do point toward sexual aspects of the relationship do not sound like it to our ears.

Unfortunately, in a more literal interpretation of The Song, a translator’s concept of whether or not they were married influences the way verbs are translated. If a translator believes they were not yet married he will make necessary changes so that the entire Song is consistent with that perspective; likewise, if the translator believes they were married through the whole Song, he will make everything fit that perspective. The problem is that not everything fits if you use a somewhat literal interpretation. For instance, the verb tenses used are all over the place. In English, when we write a story, we need to choose whether to write it in the past tense or in the present tense, and then stick with what we chose without bouncing back and forth. The Song bounces back and forth; it does so because it is a series of pictures, not a story. Seeing this as an intentional series of images frees me from the dilemma of choosing whether they were married or not and then sticking with that. This does not mean that the question is unimportant; it simply means that it is possible through symbolism to portray various pictures of the marriage relationship without being in conflict. I do believe they were married throughout the Song (see my series called the Life of Solomon), but that does not shape my translating or paraphrasing because it is not a story and thus the important thing is the word pictures that are used.

Some will try to get around this by claiming that the Song starts out with them as an engaged couple and then portrays their wedding ceremony in 3:6-11, and then they are married for the rest of the Song. There are numerous problems with this and I won’t dedicate the ink and paper needed to deal with all of them. Suffice it to say that there are things that are described through symbolism prior to that passage which portray things that should only happen in a marriage, not before. Even if a literal interpretive method is used, the same problem exists. Some verses use a future looking phrase and a past looking phrase as if they fit together. For instance, 1:4 says: “Draw me after you, we will run. The king has brought me into his chambers.” Here we see a simple command, a future verb, and then a past verb used together (symbolism can and often does mix things together like that). For translators who believe they were not married during the entire Song, or get married in chapter 3 of the Song, this verse is a problem and they are forced to translate it in some way other than “The king has brought me into his chambers (i.e. bedroom).” In other words, their presupposition forces them to abandon the text in some instances. However, in seeking to understand this Song as a series of images, we are freed from those problems to let the images speak for themselves as the original audience would have heard them.

The next lesson is: Who Is Speaking to Whom?