Tremper Longman gives plausible reason for why New Testament takes Genesis 1-11 literally

This is a quote from John Walton and Tremper Longman’s “Lost World of the Flood”.

We can witness the diverse interpretations of the flood account when we examine the earliest interpretations found in the intertestamental period. When we turn attention to them, we should not be surprised that interpreters are less interested in the rhetorical shaping of the narrative provided by the narrator in Genesis. These Second Temple Jews have their own theological agendas connected to their own time. As is true of many interpreters throughout history, they are engaged in repurposing biblical narratives for a contemporary focus.2 The main issues that we find in that literature are the godliness of Noah; the role of the Watchers; the connection between Eden, Lubar (where they say the ark came to rest), and the Promised Land; chronology of the flood and the festival

Longman III, Tremper. The Lost World of the Flood (The Lost World Series) (pp. 96-97). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

calendar; reversal and renewal of creation; connecting the flood with eschatological judgment; and focus on the implications for the present and the future. In these documents, just as in the New Testament, we can see an interaction with 1 Enoch. In that work, the flood is interpreted primarily as an act of judgment meant to purify the earth.3 These texts demonstrate some attention to the issues we have identified in the context of Genesis (reversal and renewal of creation), but do not limit themselves to that interpretation. God’s anger and the motivation to punish sin take center stage in these Hellenistic treatments. At the same time, significantly, they are not giving much attention to reconstructing the event. They do not manifest strictly empirical interests; they assume universalism

Longman III, Tremper. The Lost World of the Flood (The Lost World Series) (p. 97). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

universalism based on their understanding of the event as archetypal (i.e., an act of judgment connected to eschatological judgment). These interpretations are treating the text figuratively (a figure of future judgment, a figure of divine grace, a figure of theological and thematic relationships). The scientific scope of a literal event assessed on the basis of empirical evidence is of little interest to them. As we turn to the New Testament, we find that the authors focus on the judgment aspect of the flood in the same way that Second Temple literature did. This judgment was so memorable that it was used in the New Testament to illustrate the type of judgment that would come to the wicked. Peter used it, for instance, in connection with the judgment he saw coming on the false teachers. About them, he says: But there were also false prophets among

Longman III, Tremper. The Lost World of the Flood (The Lost World Series) (p. 97). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. (2 Pet 2:1-3) The judgment coming on these false teachers is then related to the great judgments of the Old Testament: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment [a reference to Gen 6:1-3]; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people” (2 Pet 2:4-5).

Longman III, Tremper. The Lost World of the Flood (The Lost World Series) (pp. 97-98). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Thus, the flood story anticipates future judgments, as is common in Second Temple literature. Indeed, the judgment at the time of the flood was so dramatic that the authors of the New Testament utilized it in anticipation of the greatest judgment of all, the one coming at the end of history when Jesus returns for a second time: As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Mt 24:37-39) The New Testament thus adopts the flood story

Longman III, Tremper. The Lost World of the Flood (The Lost World Series) (p. 98). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

as an illustration of the truth that our God is a God who judges sin. He does not tolerate disobedience, since he understands our propensity to promote ourselves above himself does not lead to our flourishing but to our detriment. In this it is used as an archetypal narrative for future eschatological judgment. Before we conclude our look at the theme of judgment in the flood narrative, we need to address one more question. It is not unusual for people who advocate that a straightforward reading of Genesis 6–9 insists on a historical worldwide flood to say that these New Testament references to the flood show that the New Testament authors (and Jesus himself, who is quoted in Matthew 24) believed the flood was historical and global. If they believed the global flood was historical, then who are we to say otherwise even if there is no scientific evidence for the flood? But this argument is faulty. The New Testament

Longman III, Tremper. The Lost World of the Flood (The Lost World Series) (pp. 98-99). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

authors (and Jesus himself) are referring to the story in Genesis 6–9, which, we have readily admitted, describes the flood in worldwide terms. We argue that the New Testament authors (and Jesus himself) were sophisticated enough to understand that (even if some modern readers are not). From this survey of Second Temple literature and the New Testament, we have seen that it is not unusual for different authors to use an event they know well to make a variety of theological and rhetorical points. Having surveyed what the Second Temple literature does with the flood account, we need to turn our attention to the interpretive task of determining what the compiler of Genesis is doing in Genesis 1–11 in general and with the flood in particular.

Longman III, Tremper. The Lost World of the Flood (The Lost World Series) (p. 99). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

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Why wouldn’t it? And its main subject?

The contents of the New Testament taking Genesis 1-11 literally when the subject contained within those passages clearly are highly symbolic and probably shouldn’t be taken literally has been a big hangup of mine in switching from fundamentalism to theistic evolution. To me that’s a contradiction, a contradiction that I know there is a way to reconcile as the God of the Bible has spoken to me clearly at least twice in my life and I know for a certainty he exists. This writing by Tremper Longman shows a highly plausible way to reconcile the contradiction. I don’t think that it was an accident that I came across this after offering a prayer to God about the subject.

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Seek and you will find Clovis. But I do not see how Jesus could have humanly been divinely sophisticated with regard to His non-moral epistemology. Ignorance is fundamental to the human condition. So my rhetorical question stands.

Your argument was that Jesus was fully human as well as fully God and thus limited himself, shed omniscience, and was subject to the cognitive limitations of the humans of his time? Yes, I believe that at least as a possibility but because the Bible is divinely inspired and God-breathed I cannot chalk up these statements up to mere ignorance. Plus I think that even at that time many would have known that these stories were heavily symbolic in nature.

They didn’t, couldn’t differentiate. Symbol, vision, dream, myth, superstition were all as real as day to them all, apart from the odd Greco-Roman cynic. Jesus therefore believed that He was God the Killer.

Wow, if i understand this quote rightly, not knowing the rest of the context, i appreciate their principles of interpretation at least… I honestly have trouble understanding how anyone can read the account in Gen 6-9 and not think that its author actually intended to communicate anything but a worldwide flood.

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As translated in English the flood account in Genesis does sound like a worldwide event. If we know such an event did not occur do we have a mistake by the author or by the translators? I would offer up the translators as the likely culprits. If we know the Hebrew har can mean either mountain or hills, and eres could be translated as earth or land we can see what the translators couldn’t - a local flooding of the Euphrates River that obliterated the Adamite population leaving the nearby Sumerians intact and the rest of the world untouched.

I’m more struck by the need to build an ark to repopulate the earth… if a local flood, why not just wait until animals simply migrated back to the area where the flood had been… that was a whole lot of work Noah did for no good reason.

…not to mention what a truly bizarre (and obviously false) promise God made…

I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth

If God was referencing a “local flood event” as the one Noah just survived, and the consequent loss of life in that local event, and promised on solemn oath and covenant never to do such a thing again… then we have to acknowledge that God has broken this promise countless times, no?

The purpose for the flood was to destroy those whom God viewed as evil. This required keeping them in place. If Noah had taken his family and took to the hills likely he would have been followed by people wondering where he was going. The covenant was established with Noah and his descendants who have never experienced another devastating flood, … and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the land. Promises made, promises kept.


None of Noah’s descendants ever experienced a devastating flood?

Not to mention, I’m now curious how you would rationalize the promise that “Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.”

“All” and “every” in Hebrew look to us as all encompassing in English. Put yourself in the Hebrew mindset. Every nation came to Joseph to buy corn. Some neighboring nations came, most didn’t. He made from one every nation … - all Semitic nations. In Genesis 10: “by these (the sons of Noah) were the nations divided in the earth.” Those are all Semitic nations. Heck, skip all the way to Revelation. There will be a new earth and a new Jerusalem and this massive city with streets of gold will have twelve doors, each one named for a tribe of Israel. To which tribe do you belong?


Just like in English, “all” sometimes is literal, sometimes is used colloquially as you observe.

But if we remove the implication of “every” or “all” from God’s promise, then we are left with God having promised, “Neither will I ever again strike down some living creatures as a I have done…”, which God has quite obviously done. repeatedly. That makes his promise all the more empty and meaningless.

I hardly see how this helps your position.

When a person realizes that:

  1. the word often translated “earth” can also be translated “land” and
  2. the word often translated “mountains” can also be translated “hills,”
    then a local flood becomes a reasonable understanding.

And the fact that an olive branch was available long before the germination and growth period of an olive tree makes that understanding all the more reasonable.

Also, the existence of unique flora and fauna thousands of miles from the story’s landing spot of the ark, the hills (plural) of Ugarit, further reveal the story is about a local flood. How do (planet-wide flood believing) people think dodos made it from the Middle East to an island in the Pacific and nowhere else?

Well, if a local flood, I’d also be interested in your understanding of exactly what God meant by this solemn promise that he would never, ever again allow such a thing to happen…

Thanks for asking, Daniel.

I think the first 11 chapters of Genesis were written to:

  1. Give spiritual insights and
  2. To replace and make obsolete the stories of surrounding pagan societies.

And they were written to ancient Israel, not to us. They may have been written, in part, for us. But they were not written to us.

The first creation story, for example, both replaces pagan creation myths and describes the sun and moon (both gods to some pagans) as simply lights. The story did not even use the names of the sun and moon.

The moral of the first creation story is that man has dominion over the earth and must care for it.

The moral of the second creation story is that man is to leave his parents and take care of his wife.

The flood story replaces the earlier flood story of Gilgamesh, and morals of the flood story include

  1. don’t sin and
  2. God cares for humankind.

The promise not to destroy again reinforces item 2.

We can’t take the early chapters of Genesis as literal history. That is clear from the existence of two creation stories with different orders and methods of creation.

What is your take on why these 11 chapters are taken literally in the New Testament and elsewhere?

(I most strongly disagree that #1 is one of the morals, but leaving that aside…)

OK, I see what you’re saying, but my question is as to whether you acknowledge that the author of Genesis 8-9 wrote and described the flood as universal and worldwide?

  • It is one thing to acknowledge that Moses presented this account as a truly worldwide flood (and thus a worldwide promise), but that he was only presenting a story never intended to be literal, or he was reworking a previous story, or he himself did believe it but was mistaken, etc.

  • …it is another entirely to claim that in the account itself in Genesis 6-9, that Moses was trying and fully intending to describe a local flood, as then we are left with this bizarre “promise” that there will never again be local flooding…

The Jews of the time had no way of knowing any differently, except for the fact that two different creation stories with different orders and methods of creation could not both be literally true.

But I think the main difference is that the ancient Jews were not brought up with the Western literal mindset that many of us have today.

Jesus was not on earth to correct their misconceptions about science and history. He came for more important reasons.

The Jews of the time also thought the Messiah would take David’s throne on earth and overthrow the Romans through military means. They thought God desires sacrifice, not mercy. They were wrong on many things.

There is no reason to think that Moses wrote those chapters, as they are anonymous.

The New Testament referring to those as the “books of Moses” can simply mean Moses was the central figure and driving force in the Torah. We know Moses could not have written the final chapters of the Torah, as they describe the death, burial, and continuing legacy of Moses.

To the people who originally wrote the flood epic of Gilgamesh, the local area was likely the entire world that they knew. To the writers and editors who compiled the scriptures from what was likely different oral stories, keeping the stories similar enough to supplant the pagan legends may have been more important.

Even today, many Christian holidays are replacements for pagan festivals. It is easier to replace and overshadow than to eliminate.

The promise is not so bizarre when you realize that every rainbow would be a reminder of God and an opportunity to share His story.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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