John Owen’s White and Ruddy Jesus

In his Communion with God, John Owen reflects on Jesus’ grace in his “personal presence and comeliness.” During the discussion, he cites Song of Solomon 5:9-10 (his wording is used). The others say:

What is thy beloved more than another beloved,
O thou fairest among women?
What is thy beloved more than another beloved?

The woman replies:

My Beloved is white and ruddy,
the chiefest among ten thousand.

Reading Song of Solomon as speaking about Christ and the church certainly has huge precedent in Christian history. John Owen is not doing anything strange here. However, he goes on to expound three ways Jesus is “white and ruddy” in his “beautiful complexion.”

First, “He is white in glory of his Deity and ruddy in the preciousness of his humanity.” He cites Daniel 7:9 with the Ancient of Days having white garments and hair like pure wool. He also brings in the transfiguration here. As to his ruddy humanity, “Man was called Adam, from the red earth whereof he was made. The word here used points him out as the second Adam, partaker of flesh and blood, because the children also partook of the same, Heb. 2:14.” He cites the Hebrew text of Song of Solomon 5:10 where the Hebrew word translated “ruddy” seems to have the sense of “red” and seems to be connected to the word for “Adam.”

Second, Jesus is “white in the beauty of his innocency and holiness, and ruddy in the blood of his oblation.” Jesus was a Lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet. 1:19). However, he was also crucified and blood and water came from him (John 19:34). Moreover, he was ruddy “morally, by the imputation of sin, whose colour is read and crimson. ‘God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin,’ 2 Cor. 5:21.”

Lastly, “His endearing excellency in the administration of his kingdom is hereby also expressed. [footnote of Rev. 6:2] He is white in love and mercy unto his own; red with justice and revenge towards his enemies, Isa. 58:3; Rev. 19:13.”

There is a decent chance none of these points are original to Owen. In fact, for all I know, they might be rather common. Nonetheless, they are fascinating to consider. To take a text that many today read simply as love poetry and say that the word includes all of this about the Word goes against the grain of so much of our reading. This reading might make us see red in the ways it does violence to the text in our eyes, but possibly it is holy, pure, and white in God’s sight.

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