Why the difficulty in identifying the preacher in Ecclesiastes 1:1?

Why the difficulty in identifying the preacher in Ecclesiastes 1:1?              By Jack Kettler        

“The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” (Ecclesiastes 1:1)

Who is the preacher (Qoheleth) or teacher in Ecclesiastes 1:1? Taking the text in plain sight, it seems unusual not to identify the preacher as David’s son, which would be Solomon. 

Strong’s Lexicon:

“of the Teacher,

קֹהֶ֣לֶת (qō·he·leṯ)

Noun – masculine singular

Strong’s Hebrew 6953: 1) collector (of sentences), preacher, public speaker, speaker in an assembly, Qoheleth

Strong’s Concordance:

Qoheleth: “a collector (of sentences),” “a preacher,” a son of David

“Original Word: קֹהֶלֶת

Part of Speech: Noun Masculine

Transliteration: Qoheleth

Phonetic Spelling: (ko-heh’-leth)

Definition: “a collector (of sentences)”, “a preacher”, a son of David”

The Strong’s Lexicon and Concordance seemingly do not prohibit that interpretation either.

Nevertheless, there is scholarly hesitation on the identity of the preacher.

For example:

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible says:

“Preacher – literally, Convener. No one English word represents the Hebrew קהלת qôheleth adequately. Though capable, according to Hebrew usage, of being applied to men in office, it is strictly a feminine participle, and describes a person in the act of calling together an assembly of people as if with the intention of addressing them. The word thus understood refers us to the action of Wisdom personified Proverbs 1:20; Proverbs 8:8. In Proverbs and here, Solomon seems to support two characters, speaking sometimes in the third person as Wisdom instructing the assembled people, at other times in the first person. So, our Lord speaks of Himself (compare Luke 11:49 with Matthew 23:34) as Wisdom, and as desiring Luke 13:34 to gather the people together for instruction; It is unfortunate that the word “Preacher” does not bring this personification before English minds, but a different idea.” (1) (Underlining and bolding emphasis mine)

As Barnes notes, the feminine participle is a cause for uncertainty in understanding text.

In addition, the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says:

1.      “The words of the Preacher] For the title of the Book and the meaning of the word translated “Preacher” (better, Debater, or, perhaps, as the Hebrew noun has no article, Koheleth, as a proper name, carrying with it the meaning of Debater), see Introduction. The description “king in Jerusalem” is in apposition with “the Preacher” not with “David.” It is noticeable that the name of Solomon is not mentioned as it is in the titles of the other two books ascribed to him (Proverbs 1:1; Song of Solomon 1:1).” (2)

As E. H. Plumptre notes the Hebrew noun “Koheleth” has no article, thus adding a little uncertainty to the identity of the “king in Jerusalem.” In addition, as Plumptre notes, the description “king in Jerusalem” is in apposition with “the Preacher” not with “David.”

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has relevant information on the identity of the king in Jerusalem:

Qoheleth:

“The speaker in Ecclesiastes calls himself Qoheleth (1:1,2,12 and other places), rendered “the Preacher” in the English Versions. The word does not occur elsewhere, although it is from a stem that is in common use. Apparently, it has been coined for a purpose by the author of Ecclesiastes. In form it is a feminine participle, though it denotes a man. This is best explained as a case of the using of an abstract expression for a concrete, as when in English we say “Your Honor,” “Your Majesty.” The other words of the stem are used of people gathering in assemblies, and the current explanation is to the effect that Qoheleth is a person who draws an audience whom he may address. To this there are two objections: First, the participle is intransitive; its natural implication is that of a person who participates in an assembly, not of one who causes the participants to assemble. Second, the assembly distinctively indicated by the words of this stem is the official assembly for the transaction of public business. Worked out on this basis Qoheleth seems to mean citizenship, or concretely, a citizen–a citizen of such respectability that he is entitled to participate in public assemblies. It is in the character of citizen-king that the speaker in Ecclesiastes relates his experiences and presents his ideas.”

“This word for “assembly” and its cognates are in the Greek often translated by ekklesia and its cognates (e.g. De 4:10; 9:10; Jg 20:2; 21:5,8). So, we are not surprised to find Qoheleth rendered by the Greek Ekklesiastes, and this Latinized into Ecclesiastes.”

“King in Jerusalem”:

“The speaker in Eccl speaks not only in the character of Qoheleth, but in that of “the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (1:1). So far as this clause is concerned the king in question might be either Solomon or any other king of the dynasty, or might be a composite or an ideal king. He is represented (1:12 through 2:11) as “king over Israel,” and as distinguished for wisdom, for his luxuries, for his great enterprises in building and in business. These marks fit Solomon better than any other king of the dynasty, unless possibly Uzziah. Possibly it is not absurd to apply to Solomon even the phrase “all that were before me over Jerusalem,” or “in Jerusalem” (1:16; 2:7,9; compare 1Ch 29:25; 1Ki 3:12; 2Ch 1:12). It is safer, however, to use an alternative statement. The speaker in Eccl is either Solomon or some other actual or composite or ideal king of the dynasty of David.” – Willis J. Beecher (3)

In light of the grammatical sentence construction, and as Beecher notes:

“It is safer, however, to use an alternative statement. The speaker in Eccl is either Solomon or some other actual or composite or ideal king of the dynasty of David.”  

The Pulpit Commentary reviews the grammatical difficulties not readily apparent to English readers and reaches a satisfactory conclusion:

“Verse 1. – The words of the Preacher, the son of David, King in Jerusalem; Septuagint, “King of Israel in Jerusalem” (comp. ver. 12). The word rendered “Preacher” is Koheleth, a feminine noun formed from a verb kalal, “to call” (see Introduction, § 1), and perhaps better rendered” Convener” or “Debater.” It is found nowhere else but, in this book, where it occurs three times in this chapter (vers. 1, 2, 12), three times in Ecclesiastes 12:8, 9, 10, and once in Ecclesiastes 7:27. In all but one instance (viz. Ecclesiastes 12:8) it is used without the article, as a proper name. Jerome, in his commentary, translates it, ‘Continuator,’ in his version ‘Ecclesiastes.’ It would seem to denote one who gathered around him a congregation in order to instruct them in Divine lore. The feminine form is explained in various ways. Either it is used abstractedly, as the designation of an office, which it seems not to be; or it is formed as some other words which are found with a feminine termination, though denoting the names of men, indicating, as Gesenius notes (§ 107, 3. 100.), a high degree of activity in the possessor of the particular quality signified by the stem; e.g. Alemeth, Azmaveth (1 Chronicles 8:36; 1 Chronicles 9:42), Pochereth (Ezra 2:57), Sophereth (Nehemiah 7:57); or, as is most probable, the writer desired to identify Koheleth with Wisdom, though it must be observed that the personality of the author often appears, as in Ecclesiastes 1:16-18; Ecclesiastes 7:23, etc.; the role of Wisdom being for the nonce forgotten. The word “king” in the title is shown by the accentuation to be in apposition to “Koheleth” not to “David;” and there can be no doubt that the description is intended to denote Solomon, though his name is nowhere actually given, as it is in the two other works ascribed to him (Proverbs 1:1; Song of Solomon 1:1). Other intimations of the assumption of Solomon’s personality are found in Ecclesiastes 1:12, “I Koheleth was king,” etc.; so, in describing his consummate wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:13, 16; Ecclesiastes 2:15; comp. 1 Kings 3:12; 1 Kings 5:12), and in his being the author of many proverbs (Ecclesiastes 12:9; comp. 1 Kings 4:32) – accomplishments which are not noted in the case of any other of David’s descendants. Also, the picture of luxury and magnificence presented in Ecclesiastes 2. suits no Jewish monarch but Solomon. The origin of the name applied to him may probably be traced to the historical fact mentioned in 1 Kings 8:55, etc., where Solomon gathers all Israel together to the dedication of the temple, and utters the remarkable prayer which contained blessing and teaching and exhortation. As we have shown in the Introduction (§ 2), the assumption of the name is a mere literary device to give weight and importance to the treatise to which it appertains. The term, “King in Jerusalem,” or, as in ver. 12, “King over Israel in Jerusalem,” is unique, and occurs nowhere else in Scripture. David is said to have reigned in Jerusalem, when this seat of government is spoken of in contrast with that at Hebron (2 Samuel 5:5), and the same expression is used of Solomon, Rehoboam, and others (1 Kings 11:42; 1 Kings 14:21; 1 Kings 15:2, 10); and the phrase probably denotes a time when the government had become divided, and Israel had a different capital from Judah. Ecclesiastes 1:1” (4)

In conclusion, the notes of the Geneva Bible bests answer the question of who is the “preacher:”

“The words of the {a} Preacher, the son of David, king of Jerusalem.”

“The Argument – Solomon as a preacher and one that desired to instruct all in the way of salvation, describes the deceivable vanities of this world: that man should not be addicted to anything under the sun, but rather inflamed with the desire of the heavenly life: therefore he confutes their opinions, which set their happiness either in knowledge or in pleasures, or in dignity and riches, wishing that man’s true happiness consists in that he is united with God and will enjoy his presence: so that all other things must be rejected, save in as much as they further us to attain to this heavenly treasure, which is sure and permanent, and cannot be found in any other save in God alone.”

“(a) Solomon is here called a preacher, or one who assembles the people, because he teaches the true knowledge of God, and how men ought to pass their life in this transitory world.”

The Geneva Bible is the English translation of the Bible published in Geneva (New Testament, 1557; Old Testament, 1560). The Geneva Bible was brought to America by the Puritan Pilgrims.

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Notes:

1.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Ecclesiastes, Vol. 6 p. 124.

2.      Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, by E. H. Plumptre, Ecclesiastes, (Cambridge University Press, 1898), e-Sword version.

3.      Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for ‘Ecclesiastes,’” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), p. 896.

4.      H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Ecclesiastes, Vol.9., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 1.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. Jack Kettler .com

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