in praise of “fair” over “beautiful”

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away…

Song of Solomon 2:10

This is probably a well intended yet rather erroneous post as far as the Hebrew word goes, but just the same I proceed, and I think and hope for good reasons based on Scripture and life. Both the NRSV (we’ll see whether this remains in the soon to be released NRSV-UE) and the CEB translate the Hebrew word יָפָתִ֖י “fair” whereas at least most all other translations render it “beautiful.” It does mean beautiful, and form is not excluded in some biblical passages. That is all well and good.

But conception of beauty in our age and in ages past has differed. Add to that the Biblical emphasis on inward beauty (see this helpful article). Today’s idea of beauty in women is not far removed from some image of Playboy: sexy, a knock out, one whom others can’t help but notice with wows. Diminishing women to nothing more than objects of pleasure.

Fair might mean beautiful in Biblical times, but depending on culture, while there surely was overlap, I think at least for us, “fair” is a better way of putting it, since really all women should be seen as having this inherent quality about them. A woman is a woman is a woman, none of them to be taken for granted, all gifts from God (and we could add a man is a man is a man, and make some corresponding connections related to what we call handsomeness). Sadly some do in the mystery of life seem lacking in beauty as we see it, outwardly, in whatever way. But that’s where inward beauty can make the woman an honestly beautiful person, so that the outward appearance does not in the least cancel that out. Whereas sadly, women who can be quite attractive in outward appearance might be overall simply ugly people because of character deficit, in need of help so that their God-given beauty inside and out can be experienced.

There is nothing at all wrong with women being beautiful in face and form, nothing at all. Though difficulties come with that. But it is most important that we come to realize that beauty is most important inwardly, outwardly having its limits due to aging and other problems that can arise. Every single woman on earth has a fairness about them, so that this book, Song of Solomon can be applied in every marriage. I can celebrate my wife’s beauty, and never compare her with any other woman that way, thanking God for the fairness, indeed beauty God has given her inside and out.