The big numbers, referred to as Chapters and the smaller numbers referred to as verses were not in the text when it was written. This was added much later, about the time that printing starting being used. If someone knows the background of when the numbering was started I would appreciate hearing about it.
Section headings like the ones in the NIV translation are also added. These are meant to help the reader find a certain story or section, but if you read in the pages before the Genesis, they usually explain what they have added.
In Song of Solomon there are headings that indicate that a section was said by her or him, or friends. These heading have been added. Different translations vary as to who they thing is speaking. I will tell you who I think is speaking and you can compare it to the various translations. I won’t agree 100% with any translation, at least none that I’ve read, but who I say is speaking agrees with at least one translation in every case.
This is especially hard in Song of Solomon, because there are times when she is telling us what he said. And there are times when she will be speaking in the first person ‘you’ and then switch to the second person ‘he’. Just keep in mind that you can read it, see what others say and then decide for yourself who the author means to be talking in each section.
Translation. In English we have many versions of the Bible. The translations usually fall into two categories. The first is literal word for word. They try to translate each word from Hebrew (the language that Song of Solomon was written in) into English. Sometimes this is difficult to come up with a one for one relationship with words.
The second is to try to translate a phrase or sentence from Hebrew into English. This can lend itself to the translator’s opinion of what is said in the original language being interjected.
Paraphrase. This one goes a little farther in trying to take the original text and put it into the type of language that the expected reader will understand. This can help make a section very clear, and it can miss the important parts that are written into the section by the author.
My preference is to use four or five translations and/or paraphrases and compare. This usually allows me to decide what I think that the author was trying to say. We provide the web site address for a couple of sites that provide many translations in a number of languages. Making use of this resource is very useful, and doing it on the computer works better for me now than the way I would do it back in the ‘70s. I’d go to the library and spread out six translations around me on a big table. Then I could look from one to the other and compare.
The most important part of this is that we want to come to an understanding of what the author meant by what they said. It isn’t some kind of make your own meaning writing. The author meant something by what they wrote. Figure out what that is. Then you can decide if you believe it and if it is something that changes the way you will think and act..
Commentaries (So Called Experts). Commentaries are written by people who have usually studied a lot, and have book knowledge about the language, customs, history, events in the Bible. They try to expand on what each section says, about how they think it should be translated in this particular case, and they provide some conclusions about how the meaning should be applied in the readers life. They can be very helpful in some areas and can convince you that they are right and you are wrong because obviously they have so much schooling. We careful with them. I like to take a section and compare what several commentaries say about it. Many times you can develop a valid conclusion about the text by reading about why they agree or disagree with each other.
Paper, Pencil, Bible. The method that works best for me, and that will be used here is to start with a Bible translation that I can understand and read a section. Then with pencil, write down what you observe about the text. What does it say, Who is saying it. What point is the author making. What questions does the text raise for me. So these days, you might pass on the pencil and paper and do it on-line. That is great. The main idea is that you read it through and for your initial ideas about what is says. Then you can expand to other translations, paraphrases and commentaries. But take a shot at it yourself first. This keeps you from just getting one perspective and believing that. If your professor says something is it true? Hopefully it is most of the time, but you still want to check it out, get other opinions instead of just listening and agreeing 100%. THINK, then decide what you believe.