Tremper Longman on Genesis

Tremper Longman on Genesis August 10, 2019

Tremper Longman III 
The Story of God Bible Commentary, Zondervan 2016.
Available at Zondervan.

By Jill Firth

The Story of God Bible Commentary has a “story-centric” approach which locates the biblical text within the whole sweep of the biblical narrative. The series firstly examines the text in its original context, but also looks at each text from a New Testament perspective and considers how to “live the story.” Tremper Longman is the General Editor of the Old Testament series, with an international team of associate editors: George Athas (Moore College, Australia), Mark J. Boda (McMaster Divinity College, Canada) and Myrto Theocharous (Greek Bible College, Greece). The commentary authors are also diverse, intentionally including women scholars such as Lissa M. Wray Beal (Joshua), Athena E. Gorospe (Judges), Marion Taylor (Ruth/Esther), Carol M. Kaminski and Christine Palmer (1-2 Chronicles), Elizabeth R. Hayes (Psalms), Wendy Widder (Daniel), and Beth Stovell (Minor Prophets), along with Myrto Theocharous on Deuteronomy.

Longman “shamelessly” confesses that he assigned the book of Genesis to himself. His enthusiasm shines out for Genesis, which he describes as “beautifully crafted, historically interesting, and theologically rich.” In his introduction, Longman notes that Genesis is a kind of prequel to the main story in the rest of the Pentateuch (Exodus–Deuteronomy). Genesis begins with the origins of the universe and focuses the family of Abraham and the origins of the people of Israel. Christians read this story within the Christotelic grand narrative that culminates in the story of Jesus. Genesis contains some stories that are inspiring for today, while others are morally ambiguous or distressing (such as the murder of Abel by Cain, Abraham’s loan of Sarah to foreign kings, or the rape of Dinah). Longman invites us to observe subtle cues given by the biblical narrator in evaluating these stories, but also to read the stories in light of the fuller revelation of God that we find in the New Testament.

I found the commentary to be succinct and helpful in addressing issues of interest in a balanced and thoughtful manner. Longman brings his expertise in Hebrew and in background studies in the Ancient Near East to discuss the creation stories in Genesis 1-3. In Genesis 6, Longman examines the strange story of the Nephilim and gives a judicious explanation. He notes that Abraham “treats his wife like property” in Genesis 10, and is condemned by Pharaoh (Gen. 12.19). In a similar story in Genesis 26, Isaac imitates his father’s selfish behaviour, and pretends that his wife Rebekah is his sister, then is confronted for his duplicity by Abimelech the Philistine king. In his practical application for the twenty first century, Longman reflects on the tendency of children to be impacted by the shortcomings of their parents’ behaviour, often following the same unhealthy patterns. He invites the reader to consider this as warning to be wise in noticing our own sinful tendencies, without giving in to fatalism, as Jesus can help us to resist sin.

The heightened awareness of misogyny and sexual abuse in this #MeToo era may lead us to even deeper reflection on the tragic flaws of the characters in Genesis. Yet the overall story of the book shows God using even the active ill will of Joseph’s brothers to bring good to Joseph, and looks forward to God’s grace in the long history of God’s people which culminates in the person and work of Christ.

In these days where many commentaries sprawl into two volumes, Longman is to be commended for constraining himself to one volume (593 pages), keeping his work affordable and usable for pastors, students, Sunday school teachers, and everyday readers.

Jill Firth is a Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne and holds a PhD in Psalms studies.

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