Thursday, January 13, 2011

First Impressions of MacArthur's Slave

Update: Find my final thoughts on Slave here. 

So I've read the Preface and Chapter One of MacArthur's new book Slave. I will of course continue reading the book but I think my first impressions are worthy of being captured here before they are lost in a whatever new thoughts come from exposure to the rest of the work.

MacArthur's pride is NOT my issue with his theology. That being said, one initial reaction to the promotion of the book (See this promo video for example) has been consistent and this sentiment as written by Bruce Bauer in his review at Amazon.com is a great example:

The back paper jacket to the book caught my attention: “A COVER-UP OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS: Centuries ago, English translators perpetrated a fraud in the New Testament, and it’s been purposely hidden and covered up ever since. Your own Bible is probably included in the cover-up!” 
WHAT? Are we to understand that Bible translators for centuries, hundreds if not thousands of highly-trained knowledgeable men of God, have kept a well-guarded secret about the true meaning of the Bible that only NOW Dr. MacArthur will be the one scholar who will bring us the real scoop? 
Is this reaction to the promotional material justified by what is contained in the book? Well this is a tough one to answer - properly. The short answer is yes, but here's the long answer. MacArthur cites two other people who have written on the subject. In 1966 Edwin Yamauchi wrote an article in his own publication the Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society entitled "Slaves of God." MacArthur's inspiration for Slave is the second. Murray J. Harris 1999 book "Slave of Christ" was his reading material on a long flight, and it gave him the idea of the big "cover-up."   So MacArthur doesn't set himself up as the "one scholar" who will save us from the "cover-up."  HOWEVER,  MacArthur sets himself above the Reformers, and all those who have followed in their tradition. He gives them praise and then writes in the Preface:
"Though all those noble theologians in the rich Reformation tradition of gospel truth touched on this matter - no one had pulled the hidden jewel all the way into the sunlight." 
So yes, MacArthur is portraying himself as this one great scholar who is doing for us what the Reformers and their followers never did. Those are big shoes to walk over... but well just because the guy has a big head doesn't mean I can discount his work. That would be the same time of behaviour that he and other Lordship Salvation preachers engage in, and I'll have nothing of it.

So with the sensational stuff out of the way let's get to the real issues!

This early in the book I have come across three practices in his teaching which give me concern.

1. Double speak. Was there an intentional "cover-up" of the meaning of doulos or not? Is MacArthur the saviour of doctrine or just following a long tradition?

In the preface he writes that Harris' Slave of Christ made him:
"realize there had been a centuries-long cover-up by English New Testament translators that had obscured a precious, powerful, and clarifying revelation by the Holy Spirit. Undoubtably, the cover-up was not intentional--at least not initially."
So it wasn't intentional at first but now it is? Then in Chapter One:
"this cover up.....almost seems like a conspiracy"
If it's intentional then then it must be a conspiracy? This double speak on this topic is classic MacArthur. Whether he's talking about how he's going to expose a long hidden truth, which has been spoken about in every generation since the Apostles.... or an intentional world wide cover-up that isn't a conspiracy.... or whatever controversial doctrine he is teaching on - it's all of grace but if you're not working as a slave of Christ you're not really saved.... MacArthur is highly adept at presenting his doctrine in such a way as to give those who follow him quotes which seem orthodox outside of the context of his teaching.

2. Using MacArthur's interpretation to define other's words. This one is a bit hard to explain. In The Gospel According (TGATJ) to Jesus MacArthur would make a claim, offer his reasoning which was never fully convincing and then a few pages later say "Since we know.... then the Apostle Paul meant..." It was down right offensive to me as I read the book. In Slave MacArthur offers stories of the torture and deaths of some martyrs. He notes how the people he talks about would only answer their questioners with "I am a Christian." Over a few pages MacArthur declares that "christian" = "slave of Christ" and then goes on to state that this is what these martyrs were stating.  MacArthur makes it seem as though one person did actually say the words "I am a slave of Christ" but doesn't actually quote the man, nor the question being asked of him, or give any other context.

One interesting example may be hard for some to catch. MacArthur writes:
"In fact, whereas the outside world called them Christians the earliest believers repeated referred to themselves in the New Testament as the Lord's slaves."  
While it is true that several of the writers of the NT used the word "doulos" to describe themselves and their service to Christ - they were not using it as MacArthur describes. These were a few specific people describing their own relationship to the Lord, explaining their purpose and lives. This is not how Christians talked about themselves, it is how Apostles and other men with offices in the Church spoke of themselves - and rightfully so.

3. Using extra-bibilcal reasoning to define what the Bible says. I'm all about the Grammatical Historical Hermeneutic. That being so, MacArthur throws out the context of word usage in the Scriptures and inserts the Greco-Roman view of slavery in it's place.

My first impressions are not all that surprising.

NOTE: I cannot figure out how to give page references because I'm using an eBook version of Slave and reading it on my laptop & iPod.

Update: Find my final thoughts on Slave here. 

11 comments:

Jan said...

Kev-

It's not so much that he has a big head. It is the casual, soft slander I have an issue with. No one did this intentionally, at least not initially? Almost like a conspiracy? Look. If you have an accusation to make then make it. Don't give me this "almost" garbage. He doesn't come right out and accuse but speaks in such a way that the reader will draw the same conclusion as though he did, without anyone ever being able to say he did. It IS an accusation and had better have a smoking gun attached.

JanH

Jan said...

One more thing.

If he just took the view that this is what the word really means:it's been mistranslated for the most part in our English Bibles and I'd like to clear this up, without assigning blame and making accusations of intentional, "almost" conspiratorial cover up, that would be completely different. Obviously, this point is important enough to him to include it in his book. Why?


JanH

blessed said...

throws out the context of word usage in the Scriptures and inserts the Greco-Roman view of slavery in it's place.

Can you explain this more?

Kevl said...

Hi Blessed,

MacArthur spends many many pages discussing the various periods of slavery that the world has experienced. He talks about the Greco-Roman period of slavery in great detail.

He states that doulos is always best translated as "slave" and then uses the Greco-Roman experience of slavery as the definition of slave, and therefore the definition of doulos and therefore the actual intent of what the Holy Spirit inspired to be written.

I'm sure there have been many books written about why this is the absolute wrong way to interpet Scripture... though I haven't read any.

Instead of comparing Scripture with Scripture and allowing the Bible to interpret itself MacArthur is using secular resources (which are not inspired) to actually define this word - and the entire nature of Christianity.

While understanding the historical context is valuable for interpreting Scripture it cannot be the basis for the process. God's Word is not cryptic, we do not need selected uninspired history books to tell us what the Bible means.

Hope this is helpful,
Kev

blessed said...

I am only in chapter 4 right now but I remember in chapter 2 that he spoke of how the word was translated from the Old Testament in the Septuagint as slave. I did find that compelling in tying the language together in both Testaments. Shouldn't we understand the language the way that Paul would have understood it when he wrote it? Okay, I will wait for your next installment.....

Kevl said...

Hello Blessed,

You wrote:

I remember in chapter 2 that he spoke of how the word was translated from the Old Testament in the Septuagint as slave.

The Septuagint is a Greek translation and they used the word doulos in many spots for ebed (I think I have this spelled incorrectly.. but you know what I mean if you read MacArthur's book.)

They didn't use "slave" they used doulos.

Shouldn't we understand the language the way that Paul would have understood it when he wrote it?

We should not impose a modern meaning on a ancient word.

However, how we determine the ancient meaning of an ancient word must be done carefully. Primarily our research must come from the Inspired Text (The Bible) and not other documents. The Bible interprets itself.

This is a philosophical argument - and I'm not a fan of these types of arguments but it will have to suffice for now - but if a person cannot properly understand the Scriptures without explicit knowledge of Greco-Roman slavery then the Bible is not sufficient.

The facts that MacArthur's understanding of Greco-Roman slavery cannot be derived from the Inspired Text alone, and when imposed on the Inspired Text changes the meaning of Salvation is evidence that his interpretation is false.

If I can't understand it fully by reading the Bible alone, that's not what the Bible is teaching.

Kev

blessed said...

If I can't understand it fully by reading the Bible alone, that's not what the Bible is teaching.

But is that by reading the Bible in the original language? Which would then mean you would have to use something else to determine the meaning of the words. I am just saying that I thought this was a widely accepted practice as language changes over time.
Arent there other times that this is done in interpreting scripture?

you said: when imposed on the Inspired Text changes the meaning of Salvation is evidence that his interpretation is false.

With all of the salve references used in scripture I dont see a problem with changing servant to slave bc as you said there is no willingness to be a slave or servant needed for salvation. (which I am still thinking on the willingness part as that means consenting; inclined...I think when you see you sinfulness and His Holiness and your need of Him you are inclined to put your faith and trust in Him bc you believe)Looking forward to your final review

Kevl said...

Blessed,

When you read in the original languages you do have to use dictionaries, and understand morphology. While dictionaries are not inspired, morphology is - because it is how the Author inspired the word to be written.

The dictionary doesn't tell you what the word means in a sentance, it gives you the normal definitions.

Using morphology, usage and context of the word in the sentence one can then - from the Bible, not history or the dictionary determine the meaning of the word.

We do not need to know History in order to accurately understand exactly what Scripture says.

When we set our ACCURATE understandings of what Scripture says into the historic setting it was written in then we are blessed with how Believers were interacting with the culture at a particular time.

You wrote:

With all of the salve references used in scripture I dont see a problem with changing servant to slave bc as you said there is no willingness to be a slave or servant needed for salvation

That is exactly the resulting thinking that MacArthur's fallacious teaching method produces. His weak argument is a variant of what I call "The Elephant Gun Argument" in my book Fail-Safe for Fallacy.

Kev

blessed said...

so I guess this is where I am coming from:
If it was just John Macarthur that came up with this and the word was never translated slave then yes I get the problem...BUT isnt the point of the book that the word WAS translated that way and was changed? And that when questioned as to WHY it was clearly said that it was because of the implications of our understanding of the word today? Do you think that the people that translated the word slave (not J Mac) were wrong in their original translation and that J Mac is just following behind their wrong method?

Kevl said...

The point of the book seems clear in the promotional material... but gets lost in reading the actual book.

As I've written above.. this "hidden truth" seems to be well discussed in every age of Church history. It also seems to have been refuted throughout history. The reason our modern translations are translated the way they are is because that's the context of the Inspired Text.... there's been no intentional/unintentional conspiracy cover-up.....

Doulos is the proper greek word - the meaning of this word is to be derived from the Inspired Text - and I believe this is clearly portrayed in the English of the better litteral translations.

Kev

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this review. Thank you as well for your posts on LS. They were very helpful to me. Interestingly enough, I've written a very short story between last night and today and it happens to reference the enemy's deception that we are slaves to Christ. Coincidence? Who knows. I would be interested in your thoughts of this short story. It's about 1 page - as a word doc. What's the best way to send it to you? I enjoy and respect your viewpoints on subjects and topics.