This commentary is the final volume in the interpretation series. The series
markets itself as a ``A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching''.
I have two other volumes in this series (Job and Lamentations) and
have found them excellent works. These volumes are specifically written
for those who teach, preach or study these books within a community of
faith. So the purpose differs from that of the historical-critical
commentary which should be the place a person starts when they begin
to study a book. As with other volumes in the series this one assumes the
reader has access to the Revised Standard Version or the New Revised
Standard Version so no translation of the book or smaller units is
I found this volume of the series to be wanting compared to the other
two I have. At the heart of the problem is the fact that the editors violated
their stated principles when choosing a commentator. The dust jacket
says ``The writers were chosen for their proven abilities as biblical
scholars and their experience as teachers and/or preachers.'' For this
volume they chose a systematic theologian rather than a Biblical scholar.
Any serious student of the Song will know that there are very deep issues
with interpreting the text if you want to be honest and deal with the text
and the subject matter of the text which is before us. The text is erotic
love poetry. Given the type of people this volume is aimed at, readers
will be reading the Song as scripture and so many will be reading the book
for theological meaning. The first question which springs to mind when reading
the Song is -- how did this erotic poetry get into the bible? Once the reader
gets over the shock of the subject matter the second question is -- how are
we to understand this? Removing the content by allegory doesn't seem the
right way to address the problem. On those two questions either Murphy's or
Garrett's commentaries provide good overviews in their introductions and
Garrett's is very good on trying to address the second.
At some point in the study of the Song a student should read a defense
of the allegorical method of interpretation. This volume uses allegory
but simply assumes that allegory is the right method of interpretation.
The author does not make a defense of this. The introduction is a bare
15 pages which is not enough space to engage the problems of allegorical
interpretation. Compare that to, say, Garrett's almost
110 page introduction to the Song in which he does engage the problem
of allegory for the present day reader. For the preacher and teacher
Garrett's commentary is far more useful.
The author engages in some unnecessary and unhelpful twisting of meaning
of common words. For example, if someone were to ask -- what is the plain
sense of ``Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth?'' and you replied,
well, she wants to be kissed by her boyfriend, then you would be
understanding and answering the question as almost everyone
else would. Here Jenson makes ``plain sense'' mean the allegorical
interpretation and uses the words ``overt sense'' for what
everyone else means by ``plain sense''. I simply don't see the
sense in doing this.
After the introduction the author proceeds through the book commenting
on what he calls ``poems''. Given that this is a song it was not clear
to me if he considers these to be the individual songs which make
up the complete song. For those familiar with other attempts to divide
the Song into songs, his units tend to be smaller than other commentators'.
If I counted right he identified 31 ``poems'' only one of which crosses
and English chapter boundary.
He breaks his comment in to three parts. The first is a comment on his
``overt sense'', the second is of his theological allegory. The third
section, if I understand his purpose correctly, is to apply the allegory
to our current views of love between a man and a woman. The amount of
space devoted to each of these three sections varied considerably through
the book, but were never long. The whole book was only 106 pages long
so with 15 pages of introduction and 2 pages of bibligraphy you are
down to an average of less than three pages of comment per unit.
There were a number of places I felt the author was simply evading issues,
nodding to them off in the distance and then himself heading away elsewhere.
The final section of the commentary was the bibliography split into
some suggestions for further study and a list of works cited.
There was no index.
As I said earlier, the basic problem with the commentary is that the
author is not a biblical scholar. In preparing a sermon or other teaching
the preacher must carefully do his exegetical work of understanding the
text in front of him before moving on to development of a message for his
congregation. This commentary doesn't provide much material to help
the preacher in his preparation either in the difficult exegetical
phase or in the application phase. There are some kernels in the book
worth developing, but the preacher will be pretty much on their own in
trying to develop something out of them.
Haddon Robinson in ``Biblical Preaching'', makes it clear that he does not
believe that allegory deserves the name ``Biblical Preaching''. While I don't
agree with Robinson on every point in his very fine book, I agree with him on
that. As I mentioned above Garrett's commentary in the conservative Word
Biblical Commentary series is actually more useful to the the teachers and
preachers than this commentary, even though it is supposed to be quite
different type of commentary.
That said, if you are wanting an allegorical commentary, you don't need
a scholar to write one. I no longer own Watchman Nee's commentary but I
did have a copy many years ago and if allegory is what you are after I would
suggest to try to get that one. But I think a preacher needs to deal with the
text as we have it, so I don't recommend the allegorical method at all.
I always find the task of assigning stars difficult because I do not like
simple measures for complex issues. I believe reviewers award stars far
too easily and three stars should indicate a worthwhile, if unremarkable,
book. I have assign two stars because there is value in this commentary,
but of the four commentaries I currently have on the Song (Pope, Murphy, Garrett,
Jenson) this is the least useful.