Solomon and Canon

I apologize for the disjointed and incoherent organization here, but I need to squeeze this out; maybe I can clean it up later, or hash things out in the comments…

Last time, I asserted (hopefully convincingly) that Solomon’s lack of perseverance (1 Ki 11) demonstrates that he was reprobate. “But what about,” I hear the optimist cry, “all the inspired scripture he wrote?” Let’s look at what Solomon wrote, and consider how it fits in the canon. Proverbs of course, Ecclesiastes (although I’ve heard it hypothesized that maybe Solomon didn’t write this after all), Song of Solomon (although I’ve heard it hypothesized that SoS was actually written against Solomon and his way with wimmins), maybe Psalm 72 (but just as likely written by David for Solomon).

It is my contention that Solomon’s writings are non-redemptive, which is even to say, non-Christian (not explicitly, exclusively Christian). There is nothing in them (that I’ve ever found) that any Jew or Muslim or Mormon or even Buddhist would take issue with (common grace gives us all common sense). And some passages I would even consider anti-Christian. The doctrine of death in Ecc 9 is entirely lacking in Christian understanding of resurrection, eschatological hope, or even dread of final judgment. Proverbs 17:15 might actually be my least favorite verse of the bible (I bet Finney loved it though):

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.

What hope is there then, if the Righteous one is not condemned, so that my wicked self can be justified?

Some would also point to Solomon’s “last words” as evidence that he repented late in life:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV)

That absolutely does not say to me “Gospel,” but only law. I know “Fear God” doesn’t mean “be scared of God,” but still, “revere and respect God” is a far cry from “trust in God’s mercy.” Indeed, the last sentence precludes any hope for mercy. No, Solomon’s final words of, “All this I must do” do not convince me that he trusted in a messiah to come.

My usual go-to source for biblical wisdom, Calvin’s Commentaries, reveals that Calvin never wrote a commentary on any of Solomon’s works. Could that be an indication that Calvin considered them of less (or at least different) value? In the introduction to his commentary to James, we see that this does appear to be the case. Calvin addresses the accusation that James “seems more sparing in proclaiming the grace of Christ than it behooved an Apostle,” not by demonstrating that James really does proclaim the grace of Christ, but by reminding us that

it is not surely required of all to handle the same arguments. The writings of Solomon differ much from those of David; while the former was intent on forming the outward man and teaching the precepts of civil life, the latter spoke continually of the spiritual worship of God, peace of conscience, God’s mercy and gratuitous promise of salvation.

A few posts ago, James Jordan had quite an amusing take on Proverbs and (vs.!) Ecclesiastes:

[Ecclesiastes] never became the bestseller that Proverbs had been. It got included in Hebrew One Year Bibles, but never as a daily reading. … In Proverbs, Solomon had said that life makes sense: You can figure it out. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon said that life does not make sense, and you can’t figure it out. Both are true. But like the Israelites and Pharisees of old, Americans really don’t want to hear Ecclesiastes. …

How can both statements be true? I’m sure J. J. wouldn’t approve, but isn’t the solution to this Gordian knot to affirm with Meredith Kline that Israel was in a republication of the covenant of works, so they earned (Deut  28) blessings or cursings as a condition of performance under the law (as Proverbs describes); whereas in Ecclesiastes, Solomon is describing the arbitrary nature of life under common grace, outside God’s special covenant arrangement with Israel?

So what good are Solomon’s writings? Well, they fit the bill of the typical evangelical view of scripture nowadays: a user’s manual for life; Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. That doesn’t mean they’re not scripture, or not canonical; God gave them to us, and they are indeed inspired, inerrant, infallible. “Yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.” They are inspired, inerrant, and infallible guidelines for 2nd kingdom life.

Put more directly, they are not Gospel, they are Law. So they can be used profitably as  long as they are recognized as such. For instance, a while back, my church included a chapter of Proverbs every week as a liturgical reading of the Law, leading into confession of sin and declaration of pardon. I love WSCAL, and I love that they teach seminarians to preach Christ in all the scriptures. But there’s preaching Christ, and there’s preaching the Gospel. From Solomon’s writings, we can see perhaps that Christ is the Wisdom of God, a mark that we fall short of, but we must turn to other books to find the remedy. One of the benefits of this view of Solomon and his contributions to the canon (if it is correct) is that advocates of Redemptive-Historical preaching can avoid the Where’s Waldo-like absurdity of trying to preach Christ and all his benefits, from the writings of an apostate — one who was very wise, but only in the wisdom of this age.

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31 Responses to Solomon and Canon

  1. Lacie says:

    Hold on, you’ve said many contradictory things.
    You seem to say that if a portion of the Bible doesn’t speak of Christ and redemption it’s second-rate. And you now make a distinction between preaching Christ and preaching the Gospel.
    I think you have a set of beliefs (repub theory) and are trying to read back Scripture into it. Are you a pastor in a Reformed denomination?

  2. RubeRad says:

    I’m not a pastor, and where did I say second rate?

  3. Lacie says:

    You said Solomon’s writings were “non-Christian”. I think that’s second-rate (in my book it is; I think you have a different book). Your definitions are a little odd, to understate it.

    Imagine me speaking to an unbelieving colleague and giving him a Bible. Would I need to add caveats–there are books in here that are non-Christian”?

    Please start with God’s Word, holy, inerrant, inspired. Don’t start with presuppositions that every page of the Bible must deal with redemption (by that I suppose you mean, justification).

    The problem with some of the folks you link to is that they confuse justification & sanctification, and have a fear of the latter which is nowhere upheld by the Bible. What do you do with Matthew 25:31ff.? Or, “be ye holy as I am holy”, which is spoken to Christians, not unbelievers, so justification cannot be in view.

    Try to study the Word without the spectacles of men. Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus said would lead you into truth. Let it stand alone and see what you come up with.

  4. todd says:


    I think (never thought I’d say this) that Jordan gets it right on Proverbs vs. Eccl. Proverbs has Israel under the Law in mind, with its blessings for obedeince and curses for disobedience, and Eccl looks outside the Law to the curse over the whole world, where in reality the righteous often suffer and wicked prosper. And I don’t think Solomon wrote Eccl, but that may be for a follow-up post. Interesting thoughts though.

  5. RubeRad says:

    Proverbs has Israel under the Law in mind, with its blessings for obedeince and curses for disobedience, and Eccl looks outside the Law

    Isn’t that what I said?

    And it’s actually kind of immaterial whether Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes; whether he did or not, I still see no evidence that he was finally perseverant; and I see no Gospel in Ecclesiastes.

  6. RubeRad says:

    You said Solomon’s writings were “non-Christian”.

    And I immediately qualified that with “(not explicitly, exclusively Christian).” Christianity has much in common with other religions, such as “do not murder”, and the rest of morality and Law. What Christianity has that other religions don’t, what is “explicitly, exclusively Christian”, is Gospel. But from what I can find in Solomon’s writings, he didn’t get that part.

    Would I need to add caveats–there are books in here that are non-Christian”?

    No, you would tell him, “Look, this book has stuff on morality which is not fundamentally different than any other religion (especially Proverbs and Ecclesiastes — which anybody from any religion would agree is chock full of common sense). But the real point of the Bible is to present the Gospel, which is Christianity’s unique solution to the failure of man to fulfill the universally-recognized standard of morality.”

    What do you do with Matthew 25:31ff.?

    I would focus on v34, where the gospel is tucked away, and also lean heavily on the fundamentally reformed distinction between justification and sanctification (LC77). Same for “be ye holy”.

    Don’t start with presuppositions that every page of the Bible must deal with redemption

    That’s the point; I’m combatting that presupposition by arguing that Proverbs and Ecclesiastes have nothing to do with redemption.

  7. todd says:


    Yes you said it, but in disagreeing with J.J. you said both statements could not be true, but they can with those two distinct perspectives in mind. And the fact that there is no gospel in Eccl is the point – it drives us to Christ, but it is orthodox teaching opposed to Longman, which I think you are saying, right?

  8. RubeRad says:

    I didn’t say they can’t both be true, I asked how can they both be true, and then I answered. I presume that J. J. disagrees with me and you and Kline that Israel was in a republication of the CoW. But let’s not waste too much energy agreeing with each other here.

    And Yes, the Gospel-free, Law-full book of Ecclesiastes drives us to… a need for Christ, but it doesn’t point us in the necessary direction. We must rely on other special revelation for that.

    but it is orthodox teaching opposed to Longman

    I don’t understand that question. Does Tremper Longman argue that Prov/Ecc are redemptive, or that they are unorthodox or something?

  9. todd says:


    Longman argues that that the body of the letter was written by a different man than the conclusion, the Preacher being a skeptic which the second author corrects, so that the body of the letter is not orthodox teaching. And btw, given the nastiness of Internet discussion, agreeing isn’t such a bad thing, certainly not a waste of time.

  10. RubeRad says:

    Interesting. So is either of the men Solomon in this scenario? Where is the demarcation between body and conclusion?

    It’s kind of like Job though, where probably over 50% of the book consists of speeches from Job’s three “friends”, all of which turn out to be wrong at the end when God vindicates Job and rebukes the others.

  11. todd says:

    Neither men is Solomon to Longman, but the second author begins in 12:8 (to him). Having preached through the book, I see one author, the Preacher simply a literary device for a wisdom teacher, but perfectly orthodox, only he is a preacher describing the effects of the fall on life, so there is nothing wrong about his observations as far as they go, and a much needed book in today’s American evangelical (and transformationalist) climate

  12. RubeRad says:

    So when you preached through Ecclesiastes, did you try to wrangle a Gospel message out of the text, or turn to other books to fulfill the Law’s driving to Christ, or starve your congregation of the Gospel until your expositional preaching schedule brought you to a new book? (Maybe there are other options too)

  13. todd says:

    I preach how the new covenant answers Eccl.’s lament over life’s vanity, in the Lord (Jesus) nothing is in vain from an eternal perspective, yet in the not-yet of the kingdom explain how the Eccl truths remain true even for the believer in this life. I wouldn’t say Eccl is law driving them to Christ, but the fall driving them to Christ.

  14. "Michael Mann" says:

    You said:

    Proverbs 17:15 might actually be my least favorite verse of the bible (I bet Finney loved it though):

    He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.

    What hope is there then, if the Righteous one is not condemned, so that my wicked self can be justified?

    Really, Rube? Sounds perfectly compatible with Romans 13 and a host of other scriptures condemning injustice of a magistrate.

  15. RubeRad says:

    Sure, that reinforces my assertion that Proverbs is “inspired, inerrant, and infallible guidelines for 2nd kingdom life“. But it’s in completely another world from the Gospel that we find in Rom 4:5

  16. todd says:

    For what it’s worth, I provided two of my sermons from Eccl if anyone is interested.

    [RR: very long comment (entire manuscripts of two sermons!) removed; see the link below for audio of the sermons: ]

  17. todd says:

    Sorry, I indented when I sent, but it didn’t work

  18. John Harutunian says:


    I can’t get into details like you and some of your correspondents can. But it does seem to me that your view of Solomon as unregenerate has two major problems.

    1. He wrote three books of the Bible. Call them not exclusively Christian, or sub-Christian, or whatever: plenary verbal inspiration would demand that they be divinely inspired in the same sense which Paul’s Epistles are, would it not? If so -then in Solomon’s case you seem to have adopted a “mechanical dictation” view of inspiration. Surely there’s a very slippery line here?

    2. If Solomon was a reprobate, isn’t it strange that in Matthew 12:42 Christ should compare Himself with him (though of course as One who is “greater than” Solomon)?

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  20. RubeRad says:

    Todd, that’s awfully long for a comment box. Do you mind if I copy the text out for myself and delete the comment? Do you have links to sermon mp3s online maybe?

  21. RubeRad says:

    He wrote three books of the Bible.

    Well that’s exactly my point; so what? He was of course exceedingly wise with God-granted wisdom, but if that wisdom was not sufficient to lead him to salvation, what was it wisdom OF? I contend of this world only; of things “under the sun” only. I don’t see that this necesitates a mechanical dictation view; surely Solomon was writing out of the wisdom that God had given him.

    If Solomon was a reprobate, isn’t it strange that in Matthew 12:42 Christ should compare Himself with him

    I don’t think that’s strange at all; it’s an argument from the lesser to the greater (there’s a fancy latin name for that which I can’t remember at the moment), and the lesser the lesser is, the stronger the argument.

  22. John Harutunian says:

    >He was of course exceedingly wise with God-granted wisdom

    But an unregenerate mind is in darkness (check Romans 1:21, and [especially] Ephesians 5:8). Granted, that mind may nevertheless express wisdom. But what’s the difference between a)the wisdom God gives it and b)the wisdom it acquires on its own?
    If there is a difference, then it does sound like Solomon was really acting as a mechanical scribe. If there’s no difference, then what are Solomon’s writings doing in the Bible? What’s uniquely inspired about them?
    Re: your last point, one can of course argue from the lesser to the greater. The strangeness of the comparison is that it’s a comparison between God’s [ultimate] Chosen One and a [rejected] reprobate. How can one regard them as points on a continuum?

  23. todd says:


    Yes, whatever works – I am not very computer literate, and here is an Eccl sermon on-line audio

  24. Lacie says:

    As to the canon, one translation has it, “holy men of God wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21b

    I think the problem is this (and I know I’m not part of RR’s “groupthink” as he calls it; BTW, that’s the problem with groupthink, one never goes outside the box). The R-H people have this syllogism:
    1. “Every page” of real Scripture mentions Christ.
    2. Solomon’s writings do not;
    3. Therefore Solomon’s writings are sub-Scripture, or sub-Christian.
    It’s a valid argument, but not true because at least premise #1 is false.
    Where does premise #1 come from? If it comes from Scripture, then it cannot be false, but it does not. The Road to Emmaus passage says He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.” H. Krabbendam (of Covenant College) says that the misinterpretation of this verse is “almost criminal” (see his commentary on James).
    See also also Luke 24:44 “all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” Jesus showed them the places in Scripture that spoke of Him. If indeed it was “every page” I don’t think He could have finished so soon, for a starter, and second I don’t think the grammatical construction allows RR’s interpretation.

    I’m curious, RR, what’s your view of the book of Esther?

  25. todd says:


    We wouldn’t say “every page of real Scripture mentions Christ.” We would say the Old Testament is about Christ – his person and work. The question then is – how is Eccl about the person and work of Christ? And the answer would be that Eccl presents the need for a Savior in revealing the vain condition of humanity under the curse. In that way it is Christian.

    Vern Poythress (God Centered Biblical Interpretation) says it well when he writes,

    “…Christ himself indicates that the OT from beginning to end is about himself. Sometimes people have thought that Christ is claiming only that a verse here and a verse there speak of the coming Messiah. And it is of course true that some verses speak more directly in this way. but the whole of the Old Testament is about God working out salvation. And salvation is to be found only in Christ. So the WHOLE (emphasis crb) OT, not just a few isolated verses, speaks of Christ.”

    About Luke 24:45 Poythress adds: “Here the entire Scriptures are in view, not just some of them, and certainly not just a few scattered messianic tests… The whole OT, we conclude, has as its central message the suffering and resurrection of Christ….The whole OT is about the work of Christ, in that it points forward to this work as what ‘must be fulfilled’… Few would challenge the idea that Christ is the core of the message of the NT writings. But Luke 24 is striking in making an analogous claim about the OT. Christ’s work is the core of the purpose and import of the OT as well as the New…. the alternative to a Christocentric understanding of the OT is not understanding it rightly, not understanding it as Christ desired.”

  26. RubeRad says:

    Jesus showed them the places in Scripture that spoke of Him.

    Yes, I have toyed with this non-exhaustive interpretation of Luke 24:45, as in “I took my family on a tour of San Diego, and showed them all the places where there was a taco shack” Indeed, there are a lot of taco shacks in San Diego, such that one might with a straight face say “San Diego is full of taco shacks”, and be understood.

    But in the end, I think it makes more sense to see Christ in ALL the scriptures, even if there is not Gospel in all the scriptures.

    I’m curious, RR, what’s your view of the book of Esther?

    First off, I think that the fact that the word “God” never appears is a red herring.

    Second, I’ve heard of an allegorical interpretation in which Esther is Christ, Mordecai is the Father, etc. I don’t know the details, but it sounds fishy to me.

    Recently, our church went through Esther (I’d give you a link, but our church is in transition, website-wise), and had some interesting things to say. In the beginning, Mordecai and especially Esther, were not admirable characters. Esther was a sell-out, and even her famous “if I die I die” was more an expression of nihilistic surrender than gritty determination. But God redeemed those flawed vessels and used them to deliver his people.

  27. Lacie says:

    Here’s the logic. BTW, I’ve read Poythress before.

    1. The whole of the OT is about God working out salvation.
    2. Salvation is found only in Christ.
    3. So the whole, not just a few verses speaks of Christ.
    It’s like saying:
    1. Congress meets to pass federal legislation.
    2. All federal laws have a basis in the Constitution.
    3. The Congressional Record will be filled with references to the Constitution. NOT!

    Of course, I agree the central message of Scripture is about redemption in Christ. Note that Poythress uses the term “central” clearly implying there are other messages. As his colleague and website-sharer, John Frame has pointed out, in addition to narrative and history, there are ethics and prayers and songs and poems. Naturally they all relate to our salvation.

    I don’t believe Jesus went through the whole of Scripture to show verse by verse how they relate to him. I think His intent there was to show that He was prophesied and that they didn’t see that. He was the Lamb of the sacrifices, etc. I don’t think He talked about “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.” According to one Reformed teacher/pastor, students have been given this by an extreme Redemptive-Historical teacher and asked to find Christ.

    See where I’m coming from?

  28. Lacie says:

    RR: I agree with your last statement about Esther.
    I understand the book to give us the history of the situation. God’s people would continue and not be wiped out. This is how it happened. Satan’s plot was foiled. Flawed people did it (I don’t believe Esther was a bit nihilistic, however).

    So much of the Bible is about God the Father’s plans and providences to bring to pass the salvation brought about by the life and death of Christ. We should see all persons of the Godhead throughout the Bible, not just Christ, though He is our precious Savior.

  29. RubeRad says:

    I don’t believe Esther was a bit nihilistic, however

    Maybe nihilistic is not the right word, pessimistic? Defeatist? But I found this to be utterly fascinating: compare the end of Esther 4:16 with the end of Gen 43:14.

  30. RubeRad says:

    I definitely see where you’re coming from, and I’m here to argue that all of Solomon’s writings are in the class of “dont’ seethe a kid in its mother’s milk”. I’m against the kind of “where’s Waldo” preaching strategy that might, for instance, claim that Ecc 12:11 is a reference to the crucifixion. (Todd, I haven’t read/heard your sermons yet, I hope you don’t go there!)

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