It’s a Long(man) List

Some numbers on testaments of Temper Longman III



reference works

edited books

scholarly articles

If you’ve studied the Old Testament formally or informally, in a church group or in your neighborhood, any time in the last 35 years, odds are you’ve encountered the work of Tremper Longman III. That’s been deliberate. Back in the 1970s, Longman says, he ran into a relative scarcity of helps with reading and understanding the first testament. He set out to fix that. Since then, Longman has effectively redefined the cliched term “prolific writer.” He’s been the author, co-author, or editor of upward of 40 books, studies, and commentaries about or related to the Old Testament. And that doesn’t include the Bible itself: He’s also a senior translator for the New Living Translation of the Bible, which is on the cusp of publishing its first major revision. You’ll also see Longman’s name attached to the BioLogos Foundation’s “science for seminaries” program, and he’s currently an advisor for a special exhibit at the Museum of the Bible. In a way, whether or not you’ve been to the schools where Longman spent his career, Westminster Theological Seminary and Westmont College, Longman is sort of your Old Testament professor, too.   

Longman talked to Common Good in May.

How do you conceive of all the teaching and publishing and consulting you’re a part of? Are they one thing, or a bunch of side-hustles?

I think they’re different manifestations of the same thing. I’ve always thought my work’s purpose is to help people, first of all appreciate but also understand the Old Testament as it is relevant to the Christian life. That’s why I got into this field to begin with.

Speaking of the beginning, in the late 1970s, when you’re working on a seminary degree, did you intend to go into the pastorate?

I went to seminary hoping that God would lead me in a more academic direction. I felt for myself and for others, there was a real need to provide resources for understanding scripture better. People who weren’t alive back in the late 1960s and 70s may not realize that the abundant resources that we have now were not available to us. Even in terms of Bible translation, we basically had a choice of the Living Bible, the King James Version, or the Revised Standard Version for a whole Bible. At Westminster Theological Seminary, I came under the influence of a charismatic young Old Testament professor named Raymond Dillard, who got me excited about the Old Testament and encouraged me to go on to Yale University [for doctoral studies] and then hired me at the end of that process.

What is the relationship between resourcing pastors and Christians and pastoral work?

I’ve always thought of my writing as going along three different trajectories, with overlap. Some of my writing is mainly for scholars. Some of my writing is for seminarians and pastors. Some of my writing is for lay people. And these all connect to teaching in that when it comes to my work’s relationship to clergy, my purpose is to give them the resources to read the Old Testament well, so they can teach and preach it well.

What does it mean to read the Old Testament well?

I advocate that Christians do two readings of the Old Testament. The first is to put yourself in the position of the original readers before Christ came, and the second reading is to look at the text from the perspective of its fulfillment in Christ. That helps preserve well what Brevard Childs called the discreet message of the Old Testament, while also embracing a theological reading in light of later revelation.

You’ve written several books with psychologist and therapist Dan Allender. Does that grow out of your own interests and expertise, or is there a particular use for biblical studies for mental-emotional wellbeing?

Dan and I have been best friends since eighth grade. We went to high school, college, and seminary together. There was actually a one-day conference in Houston recently, a retrospective on our work together. When Dan was working on a follow up to The Wounded Heart, which has been an important, influential work about sexual abuse, I was working on the divine warrior theme. Dan saw an interesting connection between the two — between forgiveness and the divine warrior. So I contributed a chapter to that book, Bold Love. For our next book, I happened to be writing on the Psalms and Dan was of course working on emotions, so we wrote a book together called Cry of the Soul, which looks at the lament Psalms as resources for Christians to deal with their emotions using John Calvin’s idea that the Psalms are a mirror of the soul. In all, we’ve written more than 15 books together.

It’s not just about friendship. We also want to encourage each other to do good, integrative work.

What advice would you give to young Old Testament scholars?

Understand you’re on a long journey of hopefully deeper and deeper understanding of the Old Testament.

Other advice: Avoid only reading and discussing the Old Testament with people who think exactly like you. Read broadly to understand that the Bible as a whole, the Old Testament in particular, teaches things that are — as the Westminster Confession of Faith says — essential for salvation in a perspicuous way, but that are a number of issues for which there is room for discussion. That doesn’t mean anything goes, but there are different gradations of confidence in our interpretations. Read broadly in terms of theological viewpoints, and also read broadly in terms of ethnicity and gender. And we should read in the community of our predecessors: Don’t just read 21st century people, read the Reformers and read the early church Fathers.