Longman III, Tremper. How to Read the Psalms. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
[The critical evaluation and conclusion of this book review will be included here. If you missed the Introduction and Summary, you can find it here.]
Tremper Longman III makes many claims in his work on interpreting the Psalms. Longman’s work needs to be evaluated in light of his purpose in writing. It would not be fair to critique his work on any other basis than on what he had intended to achieve in writing. Longman wished to lead his readers to a deeper love for God through providing greater understanding of the Psalms. He successfully did that and any reader of this work would have to agree that he maintained his purpose throughout. What Longman was without a doubt consistent with is his support for his claims. Throughout this book, he gives substantial evidence for his claims—there are no weak claims made in this book. For example, Longman in his chapter on Christ in the Psalms gives overwhelming support for his claim that all the psalms are messianic in a general sense (67).
Up to this point, Longman had been demonstrating the New Testament’s use of the psalms and how we get insight into messianic psalms through Paul’s frequent use of the psalms. Longman explains how Paul saw Jesus in the Psalms, how Jesus used the Psalms, and how Jesus saw himself in the Psalms (64-66). But Longman takes it a step further and claims that every psalm generally anticipates Christ Jesus. He stops short of the claim of some scholars who say that some psalms specifically prophecy about the messiah without having any significance for the Old Testament period (67).
I find it to be significant that Longman mentions this position, considers it, and then refutes it with Scripture. He takes their claim into consideration and then uses their argument to prove his point. In doing so, Longman remained consistent in his thought by affirming the importance of the historical and cultural context of each psalm when interpreting as he had argued for in the first few chapters. At the same time, Longman supported his point that these specific messianic psalms do indeed anticipate a coming Savior and then argued that in a general sense, every single psalm looks forward to this Messiah King. And as a result, more to his purpose in writing this book, he argues that the way we interpret the Psalms changes when we see Jesus on the lines of these ancient poems (70-73).
With this as just one example of many that could be chosen, Longman is consistent in thought and thoroughly biblical in making his case for a certain interpretation of the Psalms. He covers all ground by including the importance of knowing and considering the cultural and historical reality of when the Psalms were written and who they were written by and by arguing that the Psalms anticipate a future Savior who would bring all peoples to himself to sing everlasting praises to the God of the Psalter in a eternal kingdom.
Another thing to consider in this work is how the author closed out the book. This is the most intriguing, important, and integral part of How to Read the Psalms. After laying out a method by which to interpret the Psalms, Longman puts his own method into practice. In other words, if you didn’t understand, follow him, or agree with him in the first two sections of the book, he gives a practical example of what he actually means by interpreting the Psalms. He breaks down the historical meaning and significance of three different genres of Psalms in the final three chapters of the book. He then proceeds to break down the literary aspects of the psalm at hand.
By doing these things, and then drawing out sound biblical interpretations which include reference to the gospel and the Messiah, Jesus, Longman places his work about all others that this reviewer has read in this field. He goes above and beyond the call of duty by practically putting his words into practice which is what so many young seminary students, Christians, and pastors need when they come to this large, and somewhat difficult to understand book of the Bible.
In closing, I was thoroughly impressed with Tremper Longman III’s work on interpreting the Psalms due to his consistent logic, thick biblical support, and massive practical implications through his examples and study questions at the end of each chapter. This work is one that is needed in the pastor’s library, the layperson’s desk, and the seminary student’s dorm. It speaks to all Christians and is helpful in drawing greater insight into the Psalter, which leads the reader to a significantly deeper love of God.