Longman’s New Genesis Commentary: A Critical Review

I’ve been reading through parts of Tremper Longman’s new Genesis commentary that is part of “The Story of God Bible Commentary” by Zondervan.  It’s been quite disappointing so far – to say the least.  Before I elaborate, I’ll explain the layout of the commentary.

This commentary has the complete 2011 NIV text broken up into units which form the text for each chapter in the commentary (sadly there is no extensive table of contents).  Each chapter has these three sections: 1) Listen to the story.  This part has the text and a brief summary of the text.  2) Explain the story.  This part gives more detail on the story, but not usually in an overly grammatical/syntactical way.  It’s more based on historical context (ANE studies) and focuses on the plot and characters.  3) Live the story.  This is the part of application, where Longman talks about NT tie-ins and how we should live/act/think based on the passage (in my opinion, some of his application sections were rather flat).

One strength of the commentary is the second section of each chapter (explain the story).  Longman is good at drawing out some highlights of the Bible story and explains them in light of ANE stories (although sometimes a bit too much in my opinion).  This part is good for the narrative aspect of it.  Longman also brings out how parts of the NT tie in to Genesis – with a focus on Christ.  I’m glad for a Christ-centered reading, but sometimes his jump from Genesis to Christ seems like a stretch.

Despite these two good aspects of this commentary, there are major weaknesses.  His commentary on Genesis 1-3 is a theological mess.  For one example, Longman says that the image of God in man simply has to do with the fact that God put man in the Garden to rule in his place (following Brueggeman).  He never says it has anything to do with holiness, righteousness, spirituality, or personality – things that surely are part of the imago.  In fact, Longman says humans are “animals that have a special relationship with God” (p. 52).  For another example, when talking about creation and gender, he says “in keeping with biblical practice, it is wise to refer to God as ‘he,’ though not heretical to call God ‘she’… (p. 39).

Another major weakness in his commentary is his belief that Adam and Eve may have evolved from earlier humanoids.  He says that because of the figurative descriptions in Genesis 2, it is “wrong” to ask if humans were specially created or if they evolved (p. 51).  Longman even writes that the actual historicity of Adam and Eve doesn’t affect his interpretation of Genesis 1-3.  Longman follows N. T. Wright, who believes that Adam and Eve were a “representative couple” chosen from among the earlier humanoids (p. 84).  Sadly, Longman even takes a few shots at conservative approaches to the interpretation of some texts in Genesis.

There is more: Longman denies original sin in his comments on Genesis 3.  He believes that the “idea” that we inherit guilt, a sin nature, and death from Adam does not come from the OT or Paul, but from Augustine (p. 72).   With these statements, Longman writes himself out of historic Christian thought.

Finally, Longman believes that there was suffering and pain before the fall.  After attempting to defend his position by talking about pain in Eve’s childbirth (Gen 3:16), he talks about the darkness and waters in Genesis 1 and concludes: “Already before the rebellion of humanity, suffering, pain, and even evil are present in God’s good creation” (p. 79).  Again, this statement is at odds with historic Christianity.

Because of these theological errors, I don’t recommend this commentary.  There are, of course, few commentaries that we all perfectly agree with and enjoy fully.  But this one is notably bad because it tries to be evangelical while denying some major teachings of evangelicalism!  To me it is inconsistent and troubling to try to point people to Christ through the story of Genesis and at the same time dismiss some doctrines of historic Christianity.  It might be trendy in broader Christian circles and in the academy to question some major historic teachings of Genesis 1-3, but it’s a departure from historic Christianity.  Alternatively stated, this commentary might be an example that shows the need for systematic theology to balance out biblical theology.  Whatever the case, I’d suggest looking for other commentaries on Genesis.

Tremper Longman, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).

Shane Lems

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8 comments on “Longman’s New Genesis Commentary: A Critical Review

  1. dantespencer says:

    “Sadly, Longman even takes a few shots at conservative approaches to the interpretation of some texts in Genesis.”

    A friend of mine took a course from him at WTS in the 90’s and he was already doing this there. Thanks for the honest and accurate review, but I’m not at all surprised.

  2. blund says:

    Sad to read this. Maybe it was clear to others, but it sure seems like this puts Longman on a trajectory far away from his WTS days.

    In speaking of original sin, if his emphasis is that we do not receive Adam’s sin genetically – as opposed to federally, or some other mechanism – then I could see that. (I haven’t read this, and the quote isn’t conclusive.) Is he rejecting a genetic (“inherit”) view of transfer of original sin, or the doctrine of original sin altogether?

    Thanks for the alert read, Shane!

    • Brian – I was surprised to read this from Longman myself. I read these troubling sections a few times, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.

      But after reading it again, I can’t read it favorably enough to not read a denial of original sin. He deals with it for about 2 pages, so I didn’t quote it all above. Longman’s position is that the Genesis story teaches the nature of sin, not the origin (as in original sin). He says that Adam and Eve “introduced” sin into the world, and the story tells us what “we all would have done in their situation,” but it does not mean that in Adam’s fall, we sinned all (to use the old phrase).

      (As a side, he’s wrong in that not only Augustine taught original sin, but so did Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Ambrose – see Bavinck vol 3 on original sin.)

      Hope this helps!
      shane

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