God the Sovereign Creator: A Reassessment of the Role of “Creation Theology” in Ecclesiastes

This paper aims to reassess the role that creation and “creation theology” (Schöpfungstheologie) play in the theology and message of Ecclesiastes. Following Zimmerli’s now seminal 1963 article “The Place and Limits of Wisdom,” it is virtually a time-treasured scholarly consensus that the theology of Israel’s ‘Wisdom Literature’ finds its proper place in the OT within the “framework of creation.” Considering the widespread influence this claim has had on the study of the Wisdom Books, the proposed paper will first examine the contours of Zimmerli’s often misquoted conclusions and discover that the meaning of the phrase “creation theology,” as Zoltán Schwáb has argued recently, has fluctuated from generation to generation. Not only so, but Zimmerli’s questionable assumptions regarding the nature and role of wisdom in the OT have also served to promote an ideological backdrop for the book Ecclesiastes that necessitates (or at least strongly suggests) a negative assessment of Qohelet’s thought. Having problematized the role and nature of Schöpfungstheologie in Ecclesiastes, I will turn to Eccl 3:10–15 to suggest an alternate ideological framework for understanding Qohelet’s theological assertions—namely, the sovereignty of God. Here it will be argued that Qohelet does not view “God’s work” as merely creatio prima (that is, comprised of only the material origins of the created world). Rather, Qohelet’s conclusions assume a bold theology based on creatio continua—that is, God’s ongoing governance and determination of created reality and human lives. In conclusion, replacing the ideological assumptions of “creation theology” with an emic emphasis on God’s sovereignty allows for a more nuanced assessment of the nature and theology of the book of Ecclesiastes.