(Eccl. 4:9-12) Should we quote this passage at weddings?

CLAIM: The book of Ecclesiastes is a view of human purpose apart from God. But Christians often use this passage to apply to Christian marriage. Solomon writes, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. 11 Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? 12 And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart” (Eccl. 4:9-12). Pastors often say that the third cord is God in Christian marriage. But is this a misappropriated verse?

RESPONSE: We have no problem critiquing a devotionalist use of Scripture (see “Faulty Hermeneutical Systems”). If this passage is being misinterpreted, then so be it. This interpretation could be an example of right message, but wrong passage.

The two lie together (Eccl. 4:11), but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are husband and wife. The purpose of lying together is for warmth—not sexual intercourse. Garrett writes, “It is an image derived from that of travelers who must lie beside each other to stay warm on cold desert nights.”[1]

The portion about the “third cord” being God is questionable, because the point of this book is to explain what life is like apart from God (see verse 7). Solomon might just be saying that there is safety in numbers.[2] Kidner[3] speculates that children are in view, but this probably too specific in his estimation. In context, Solomon has nothing to say about marriage. Instead, his focus is on work and having security in relationships. There may be a tangential application to marriage. As Wright explains, “This proverb applies to all relationships and is certainly relevant for members of the body of Christ.”[4] But marriage does not seem to be Solomon’s focus.

[1] Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 308.

[2] Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 18, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 109.

[3] Derek Kidner, The Message of Ecclesiastes: A Time to Mourn, and a Time to Dance, ed. J. Alec Motyer and Derek Tidball, The Bible Speaks Today (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), 51.

[4] J. Stafford Wright, “Ecclesiastes,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 1166.