George Athas reviews Song of Songs

George Athas reviews Song of Songs

Rev Dr George Athas is Director of Postgraduate Studies at Moore Theological College and Lectures in Old Testament, Hebrew and Church History. George provided this review of Song of Songs in The Passion Translation (TPT):

This translation of the Song of Songs is truly awful. As a professor of biblical studies who works with the original languages, I can assure you that this translation does not reflect either the words or the meaning of Song of Songs, contrary to what it claims. It’s not that the translation is careless—rather, it’s eisegesis. It is imposing pre-conceived ideas onto the text and then claiming that the change is due to the translation strategy. It’s terrible!

I’m honestly stunned at how off the mark this translation is. It claims to be bringing out the real meaning of Song of Songs, but it’s really just thrusting someone’s own wishful ideas about it onto the readership. If you want to understand Song of Songs, then please, avoid this translation. This will only dupe you into thinking you know the Song of Songs better after reading this “translation,” because it sounds fresh and cogent. But you won’t. You’ll only know the translator’s fanciful ideas about the book—not the book itself. I’m saddened and almost angry that so many have already been duped by this translation already. Please, please, please in God’s name avoid this so-called “translation.” It is a travesty to biblical translation.

Some examples:

1:2 is translated “Smother me with kisses—your Spirit-kiss divine.”

The Hebrew literally says, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” That’s it. But the note for this translation claims that this Spirit-kiss is what made Adam from clay into a living expression of God. No, that’s not even what Genesis says. In Genesis, God breathes a breath into the inanimate man’s nostrils. Here in Song of Songs it’s a woman longing to be kissed by her man on the mouth. Even if you go for the allegorical translation, this is really stretching it very far.

The first common plural “we” at 1:11 is interpreted as the Trinity speaking.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I believe in the Trinity. But this ain’t the Trinity speaking here. It’s the Daughters of Jerusalem.

“Spikenard” (1:12) is translated as “praise perfume.”


The phrase “I adjure you, Daughters of Jerusalem” is translated, “Promise me, Brides-to-be.”

Where did this notion of brides to be come from? It’s certainly not there in the text. If anything, the daughters of Jerusalem are Solomon’s harem—already married to him.

A comparison of how the lines of 2:14 are translated (PT=Passion Translation; Heb=A sense of what the Hebrew actually says):

PT: For you are my dove, hidden in the split-open rock. It was I who took you and hid you up high In the secret stairway of the sky Let me see your radiant face and hear your sweet voice. How beautiful your eyes of worship. and lovely your voice in prayer.

Heb: My dove on the ledges of the cliff, in the footholds of the slope, show me your figure. Let me hear your voice, for your voice is pleasant, and your figure is lovely.

3:8 is interpreted as warrior angels

The Hebrew doesn’t mention angels at all. The translation has read a particular angelology into its allegorical reading.

A comparison of 4:1b–2:

PT: What devotion I see each time I gaze upon you. You are like a sacrifice ready to be offered. When I look at you, I see how you have taken my fruit and tasted my word. Your life has become clean and pure, like a lamb washed and newly shorn. You now show grace and balance with truth on display.

Heb: Your eyes are doves under your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending Mount Hermon, Your teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep coming up from the wash, All of them twins, with none bereft among them.

The differences here are quite stark! Not only do the lines hardly bear resemblance, it’s plain to see that the translator has decided to read notions of sacrifice and atonement into the verse. Again, don’t get me wrong: these are biblical notions. But they’re simply not here in this verse. You have to impose the ideas onto the text. That’s not interpreting or exegeting the Bible. That’s called eisegesis—reading your predetermined ideas into what a text is saying.

I could go on, but this translation is simply not going to give you a good sense of what Song of Songs means. All it will do is give you the translator’s own ideas which might have been sparked initially by the text of Song of Songs, but they have strayed well beyond what the book is trying to convey.

In short: This is a highly flawed and misconceived translation. I do not recommend it if you want honestly to know more about Song of Songs.