MENU

Where the world comes to study the Bible

1. Introduction to Ecclesiastes

Preface

2 Timothy 3:12-16 3:12 Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 3:13 But evil people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived themselves. 3:14 You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you 3:15 and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 3:16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

Ecclesiastes is inspired scripture. As we continue in this study today, there is one fact that is not up for debate. That fact is that Ecclesiastes is inspired scripture and therefore profitable. While many may debate the author, date, meaning, setting, and even its divine inspiration—we will not debate whether or not it is scripture and inspired.

Ecclesiastes is capable of being understood. Often a study of the book of Ecclesiastes can be a daunting task to undertake. At times it seems confusing, at times self contradictory, at other times completely hedonistic. A presupposition that must be stated and understood in this study is that the Word of God was written to be understood. God has revealed himself in a manner which is understandable.

While we establish that the task in front of us is possible, it does not follow that it is easy.

  • It was written by the wisest man in known history (outside of Christ).
  • It deals with some of the most difficult subjects in our lives.
  • It is written in a form uncommon to us (circular instead of linear).

Background to Ecclesiastes

Author / Date

The author of Ecclesiastes is a hotly debated subject and has been for some time, specifically the last 3 to 4 centuries. (18th/19th)

Often in the discussion concerning the author, the divine author is only assumed if even considered. While most would simply start with the presupposition that the divine author is God, it is important at times to make note of that presupposition. Whatever the outcome concerning the human authorship, there is no doubt that God breathed into a man this revelation for our profit.

Terminology
Qoheleth

Qoheleth occurs seven times in the book of Ecclesiastes (Eccl 1:1-2, 12; Eccl 7:27; Eccl 12:8-10) and nowhere else in biblical literature. As a noun, designating the speaker, it also gives the Hebrew name Qoheleth to the book itself.

Ekklesiastou

Ekklesiastou is the Greek word used in the LXX which we find translated “Teacher.”

1:1 The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem:

1:12 I, the Teacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.

12:9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also taught knowledge to the people;

12:10 The Teacher sought to find delightful words, and to write accurately truthful sayings.

(1:2, 7:27, 12:8)

Non-Solomonic Authorship

1. Liberal view—the book was written by three men (preacher, wise man and skeptic)

2. Catholic view—musings or thoughts of a rational man attempting to reason himself to God. Man, if given enough data and evidence, can think himself into a corner where only God is.

3. Many more modern scholars [Margoliouth, Burkitt, Zimmerman (1945), Delitzch (late 1800’s)] thought the book was originally written in Aramaic and then translated in Hebrew. This thought dates the book in the third century BC. Obviously then the author would not be Solomon.

4. Some believe that it would have been unusual for Solomon to write 1:12 (I … was king over Israel) since Solomon was the king until the day he died.

5. Some believe that the book has a pseudonymous author. This position would state that the author wanted to offer the book a Solomonic feel, but was not truly written by Solomon.

6. There are a myriad of other extremely unconvincing arguments in favor of non-Solomonic authorship.

7. “Scott, for example, speaks for most in asserting the linguistic and historical evidence to indicate that Ecclesiastes was written in the late Persian or early Greek period. He bluntly states that claiming Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes is ‘like claiming that a book about Marxism in modern English idiom and spelling was written by Henry VIII.’”1

Solomonic Authorship

1. Christians and Jews have traditionally (up to the 18th and 19th centuries) held that Solomon is the author of the book of Ecclesiastes. Much of this is based on the first verse . . . “the son of David, King in Jerusalem”

2. The natural reading of the book is going to lead one to strongly consider Solomon as the author.

3. 1:12 says that the speaker was king over Israel in Jerusalem. Solomon was the last king to rule in Jerusalem over all of Israel. Following Solomon’s rule the kingdom was divided and ruling in Jerusalem would have allowed one to only rule Judah.

4. 12:9 establishes that the author arranged many proverbs. We know that Solomon wrote many of the proverbs in the book of Proverbs.

5. While some want to deny Solomonic authorship due to 1:12, it would make sense that Solomon wrote from that perspective as an old man looking back on his life.

6. Becoming the teacher in this book allows Solomon to set aside the mantle of king and take on the mantle of sage or wise man. Therefore the wisdom of Ecclesiastes is the advice of a wise man not the pronouncement of a monarch.

To accept Solomonic authorship presently puts you in the camp of very few scholars. Of the many books referred to in this study, all but 2 strongly deny the possibility of Solomon being the author. The majority of reasons offered for non-Solomonic authorship seem weak at best, yet the vast majority seem to espouse those same reasons.

The rest of this study will be approached under the belief that Solomon was the human author of Ecclesiastes and therefore the date of the writing would be placed in the 900’s BC (no later than 931).

Canonicity

It must be understood that canonicity is not establishing what books are part of the canon, but merely acknowledging what books are already part of the canon. The books of scripture are given inherent authority by God and the church merely recognized that authority.

Reasons for rejection
Contradictions

1. With the Torah

Num 15:39 You must have this tassel so that you may look at it and remember all the commandments of the LORD and obey them and so that you do not follow after your own heart and your own eyes that lead you to unfaithfulness.

Ecc 11:9 Rejoice, young man, while you are young,and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes, but know that God will judge your motives and actions.

1. With Proverbs

Pro 1:7 Fearing the LORD is the beginning of moral knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Ecc 7:16 So do not be excessively righteous or excessively wise;otherwise you might be disappointed.

Ecc 2:12-16 2:12 Next, I decided to consider wisdom, as well as foolish behavior and ideas. For what more can the king’s successor do than what the king has already done? 2:13 I realized that wisdom is preferable to folly, just as light is preferable to darkness: 2:14 The wise man can see where he is going, but the fool walks in darkness. Yet I also realized that the same fate happens to them both. 2:15 So I thought to myself, “The fate of the fool will happen even to me! Then what did I gain by becoming so excessively wise?” So I lamented to myself, “The benefits of wisdom are ultimately meaningless!” 2:16 For the wise man, like the fool, will not be remembered for very long, because in the days to come, both will already have been forgotten. Alas, the wise man dies – just like the fool!

1. With Itself

Ecc 2:2 I said of partying, “It is folly,” and of self-indulgent pleasure, “It accomplishes nothing!”

Ecc 7:3 Sorrow is better than laughter, because sober reflection is good for the heart.

Ecc 8:15 So I recommend the enjoyment of life, for there is nothing better on earth for a person to do except to eat, drink, and enjoy life. So joy will accompany him in his toil during the days of his life which God gives him on earth.

Secularity
Heresy

“The sages sought to store away the Book of Ecclesiastes, because they found words in it which tended to heresy.”

Jerome states “The Jews say that . . . this book seemed to fit to be consigned to oblivion, because it asserted the creatures of God to be vain, and preferred eating, drinking, and transitory pleasures to all things . . .”2

Even though these concerns were held by many Jewish Rabbis, the book was still accepted as canonical, primarily due to the truth stated in the beginning and end of the book.

Reasons for Acceptance

1. The overwhelming majority of Jewish history acknowledges the canonicity of Ecclesiastes.

2. It seems to be only a recent phenomenon to reject the canonicity of Ecclesiastes. While it is true that some Jewish authorities desired to reject it due to its seeming contradictions, those authorities were outweighed by the many who acknowledged its canonicity.

3. By the first century AD, Josephus implies (“contains hymns to God”) that Ecclesiastes is part of the inspired canon.

4. Fragments of Ecclesiastes were found at Qumran.

5. Many of the early church fathers call it canonical (Melito of Sardis, Epiphanium, Origen, Jerome)

6. Accepting Solomonic authorship allows one to easily accept canonicity due to the many other accepted canonical writings of Solomon (Proverbs, Song of Solomon).

7. Its continued preservation seems to strongly support its canonicity.

Structure

Many, naturally, want to look at Ecclesiastes as a linear writing. It does not appear to fall into that category. While it does have some structure, it more or less freely moves between many topics. While it is freely moving, it is moving into a specific conclusive direction.

Garrett3 offers a good outline of the book in the following . . .

1. Introduction (1:1-2)

2. On time and the World (1:3-11)

3. On Wisdom (1:12-18)

4. On Wealth (2:1-11)

5. On Wisdom (2:12-17)

6. On Wealth (2:18-26)

7. On Time and the World (3:1-15b)

8. On Politics (3:15c-17)

9. On Death (3:18-22)

10. On Politics (4:1-3)

11. On Wealth (4:4-8)

12. On Friendship (4:9-12)

13. On Politics (4:13-16)

14. On Religion (5:1-7)

15. On Politics (5:8-9)

16. On Wealth (5:10-6:6)

17. Transition (6:7-9)

18. On Wisdom and Death (6:10-7:4)

19. Transition (7:5-6)

20. On Wisdom and Politics (7:7-9)

21. Transition (7:10)

22. On Wisdom and Wealth (7:11-14)

23. On Wisdom and Religion (7:15-29)

24. Transition (8:1)

25. On Politics (8:2-6)

26. Transition (8:7-8)

27. On Theodicy (8:9-9:1)

28. Transition (9:2)

29. On Death and Contentment (9:3-10)

30. Transition (9:11-12)

31. On Politics (9:13-10:17)

32. Transition (10:18-20)

33. On Wealth (11:1-6)

34. On Death and Contentment (11:7-12:7)

35. Conclusion (12:8-14)

While other beneficial outlines are offered the outline above displays well the manner in which the book seems to have been written. While Solomon was working toward a conclusive point, he did so in a cyclical manner. Even though he wrote in such a manner, much of our study will be linear.

Recipient

12:1 So remember your Creator in the days of your youth – before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them . . . 12:9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also taught knowledge to the people; he carefully evaluated and arranged many proverbs. 12:10 The Teacher sought to find delightful words, and to write accurately truthful sayings . . . 12:12 Be warned, my son . . . 12:13 Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.

The wisdom that Solomon offers is most useful for the young. It appears that Solomon desired to teach young people these truths so that they could avoid the errors he made throughout his life.

While the hope is to offer wisdom to youth who have not already wasted their life away, the message is offered to the congregation. Any who might hear and heed ought to do so. “The Preacher sought to find delightful words and write them correctly.” As well the underlying truth of the book applies to every person.

1 Taken from Duane Guarett’s commentary on Ecclesiastes, pg. 256.

2 Both quotes are from Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon, p 287.

3 Outline taken from Duane Garrett’s commentary on Ecclesiastes, pg 269-270.