Useful Bible Studies > Ecclesiastes Commentary > Study Guide

Ecclesiastes: A study guide

About the Book of Ecclesiastes - its author, date and purpose.

Our desire is to study the Bible itself, and not to study peopleís opinions about the Bible. So when people ask about the author or date of a Bible book, we try to answer that question from the Bible.

The author of the Book of Ecclesiastes and its date

The Book of Ecclesiastes is a book about wisdom. We know that people in Israel were studying wisdom very carefully during the rule of King Solomon (1 Kings 4:29-34). That was probably 1000 years before Christís birth.

Ecclesiastes does not mention Solomonís name, but it does describe his work in Jerusalem (Ecclesiastes 2:4-9). It seems clear that Ďthe teacherí in Ecclesiastes means Solomon (Ecclesiastes 1:1).

But that does not mean that Solomon was the author of Ecclesiastes. In fact, the words in Ecclesiastes 12:9-10 seem not to be by Solomon.

Also, 1 Kings chapter 11 explains that Solomon was not loyal to God towards the end of his life. But the author of Ecclesiastes was teaching people to be loyal to God (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

So, perhaps one of Solomonís students collected and arranged the book in its present form. If so, the author probably used words and ideas that Solomon had taught to him.

If that is correct, then the author would have become one of Israelís wise men. He would have taught his own students. One of them may be the Ďsoní who appears in Ecclesiastes 12:12. (The Book of Proverbs also uses the word Ďsonsí to refer to students - see Proverbs 4:1).

Perhaps the author was a great man who advised kings. But he may have been a poor man whom nobody respected, as in Ecclesiastes 9:14-16 or Ecclesiastes 10:5-7. Solomonís own son chose not to follow the advice of wise men (1 Kings 12:8).

Another idea about the date of the Book of Ecclesiastes

Some people choose a much later date for the book. They choose a date during the period when Greece became a very powerful nation. In their opinion, the book refers to ideas that were popular in ancient Greece. For example, Ecclesiastes 8:15 is like the ideas of the people called Epicureans. That is their opinion, but I cannot agree because of the reason below.

The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us clearly what its author believed. He followed the laws that God gave to Moses (Ecclesiastes 12:13). So, the author did not follow the ideas that came from ancient Greece. And the author taught people that they must respect God (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7). He certainly did not serve the many false gods that people served in ancient Greece. Clearly, this book comes from Israel, and not from ancient Greece.

It may not matter who wrote the book, or when. The book has the same meaning whoever wrote it. But it is very wrong to imagine that the bookís ideas come from the ideas of ancient Greece.

The purpose of the Book of Ecclesiastes

Next, we must think about the authorís purpose. There was a very clear reason why he wrote the book. It was that he wanted to teach people about the importance of wisdom. He wanted them to study how they could become wise.

For the author, that meant the same as to have a right relationship with God (Ecclesiastes 9:1). If people have a right relationship with God, then God considers them wise. But even the most intelligent person is foolish if he does not have a right relationship with God. And Godís law teaches people how to have a right relationship with him (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

That is not, of course, an unusual message for the Bible. We expect the Bible to teach such things. But what is unusual is the authorís method.

Unlike a prophet (holy man), the author does not declare that God has spoken to him. And the author does not include reports of wonderful things that God has done in this world.

Instead, the author does something that is quite extraordinary. He describes the true state of peopleís lives in this world. He shows how weak people really are. He emphasises certain facts that people usually deny. And he uses these things to prove that people must trust God. By careful study of peopleís lives, the author shows that people really do need God to save them.

The result is a book of the most beautiful poetry, but its contents are very severe. Perhaps the author was dealing with people who opposed God strongly. That may explain why the author warns people in such a severe manner. He emphasises that people will suffer trouble during their lives. In the end, they must die and then God will be their judge. He tells people that they are not ready for the judgement of God. And he urges people to begin a right relationship with God. They should do that without delay.

This is clearly not the same as the ideas that belonged to ancient Greece. But now we can see the reason why some of the authorís explanations may seem similar. The author was constantly describing the attitudes of people who do not serve God. Such people have the same basic attitudes wherever they live. Whether they belong to Israel or Greece or anywhere else, they still try to satisfy their own desires. People love food and drink, and often they become greedy. People love money and possessions, and often they become selfish. That is evil, but it is part of human nature. Anyone who studies the attitudes of people will see these things.

But the author could see something more. Peopleís evil behaviour proves that the Bible tells the truth about people. So the author could see that peopleís weakness proves Godís greatness. He insisted that the Book of Genesis is right (compare Ecclesiastes 12:7 and Genesis 2:7). So, people must remember that God created them (Ecclesiastes 12:1). And they could be sure that God would be their judge (Ecclesiastes 11:9).

Next part: A summary of each chapter in the Book of Ecclesiastes

 

Please use the links at the top of the page to find our other articles in this series. You can download all our articles if you go to the download page for our free 450 page course book.

 

© 2014, Keith Simons.