Insights into Conservative Non-Literalism

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if the Genesis creation account and/or if the account of the Garden of Eden are to be interpreted literally. This is an important inquiry and it has left many in a quandary because no matter how you answer the question (literal interpretation or non-literal) multiple objections arise which need to be addressed.

If you take into consideration ancient near-eastern cultures and concepts and you compare the imagery, structure, and language of Genesis 1-3 with other writings from that era (ancient Egyptian, Ancient Mesopotamian, etc…) the similarities are vast which leads the rational reader to a non-literalistic approach. Some may see this as a liberal approach which necessarily leads to the rejection of infallibility of Scripture. Though I still have questions for both sides of the issue, I most definitely believe that you can remain orthodox in your adherence and belief in the infallibility and authority of Scripture while holding onto what some may refer to as a “less-than-orthodox” interpretation of Genesis.

Tremper Longman, an orthodox, evangelical academic, is a good example of this. Here’s a couple video clips of him explaining his openness to such views.


Who is Tremper Longman:
Tremper Longman is the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies. He came to Westmont in the 1998-99 school year after teaching for eighteen years at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. His teaching responsibilities at Westmont include Life and Literature of the Old Testament (a GE requirement) as well as various upper division classes. Representative of the latter is the course in Biblical Interpretation, Old Testament Psalms and Wisdom, the Pentateuch, and the Bible in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context. Dr. Longman has degrees from Ohio Wesleyan University (B.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and Yale University (M.Phil.; Ph.D.). He has written a number of articles and books including Fictional Akkadian Autobiography, Introduction to the Old Testament, How to Read the Psalms, Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind, Old Testament Commentary Survey, Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, and God is a Warrior. He has written a short commentary on the minor prophet Micah, as well as major commentaries on Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Daniel, and Nahum. In addition, he has teamed up with the psychologist Dan Allender to write four books: Bold Love, Cry of the Soul, Intimate Allies, and Bold Purpose. At present, he is engaged in research on the history of Israel, the biblical genres in the light of ancient Near Eastern literature, as well as commentaries on Proverbs and Jeremiah. He has also been active in the area of Bible translation, in particular he serves on the central committee that produced and now monitors the New Living Translation. I highly recommend this guys stuff! Along with Meredith Kline & Bruce Waltke, he’s been hugely instrumental in my understanding of the Old Testament.
Some of the Longman books I highly recommend:
Also worth considering:
How do Genesis 1 & Genesis 2 relate? (MP3 – stream and download from the Tim Keller Q&A) by Tim Keller. Keller understands Genesis 1 to be poetry and not literal historical narrative.