What I Mean by Historical-Grammatical Exegesis Why I Am Not a Literalist -- By: Tremper Longman III

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 11:2 (Fall 1990)
Article: What I Mean by Historical-Grammatical Exegesis Why I Am Not a Literalist
Author: Tremper Longman III

What I Mean by Historical-Grammatical Exegesis
Why I Am Not a Literalist

Tremper Longman III

It is again the privilege of the Grace Theological Journal to present to a wider public papers given at the annual meeting of the Dispensational Study Group. The 1990 gathering took place on November 15 on the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus in New Orleans, Louisiana. The topic for discussion was a most significant one, that of the literal interpretation of the Bible. Dr. Tremper Longman was invited to present a Reformed view of the issue and Dr. Elliott Johnson shared a Dispensational approach. Dr. Longman’s response to Dr. Johnson is also included here.

Grace Theological Seminary and the Grace Theological Journal committee espouse a Dispensational approach to theology. In light of the larger purpose of an academic journal, it is our desire to present the current status of issues relevant to the development and articulation of this position. Thus it is with pleasure that GTJ publishes these papers.

I would like to thank the Dispensational Study Group for their invitation to come and address it on the subject of historical-grammatical exegesis.1 I especially would like to express my appreciation for the work of Elliott Johnson with whom I will be interacting, particularly for his new book Expository Hermeneutics2 which I read in preparation for today’s lecture.

To begin, I would like to expose my shortcomings in relationship to the topic I have been asked to address. I probably should have confessed them to Craig Blaising when he invited me to participate in the conference, but Vern Poythress had such a positive and enjoyable experience here last year that I could not resist the temptation.3

My confession is that I have a second-hand understanding of dispensationalism. Virtually all my colleagues at some point in their lives were dispensationalists, most notably Bruce Waltke. I have never been a dispensationalist, not even becoming aware of dispensationalism until seminary. Since I went to Westminster Theological Seminary you can imagine that I did not get an extremely positive assessment of it. Nonetheless, Clair Davis, our church historian, was always fond of saying that Dallas Theological Seminary was the closest seminary to us in many ways.

However, before I had heard the term “dispensationalism,” I had read Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth4 in high school and had been deeply affected by it. I must admit that I now find significant hermeneutic...

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