Now that I have read Dr. John MacArthur’s latest book, Slave, I can now provide more thoughts on the main thesis within it. His main purpose in the book is to show us that as controversial and counter-cultural as it may be, we must accept that the primary way we find identity in Christ is as a slave to God. He begins by providing information on an “English translation conspiracy” that has taken the word for slave in the Greek and changed it to mean servant. So throughout the New Testament the servant has really replaced the word slave. We are then to look at all the texts in the New Testament around servant (which there are many) and see the revelation of the Christian life being the life of the slave.
My thought on this point is simply this. If we are to believe that there is an English translation conspiracy that has caused us to miss the mark on the true role of the Christian in relationship to God, why are we not so sure that there are no Greek translation conspiracies? How many times in the New Testament is the Greek translation taking Hebrew words out of context? In the book, A Prayer to Our Father: Hebrew Origins of the LORD’s Prayer, authors Keith Johnson and Nehemia Gordon actually make this case. They show through the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, ways in which the Greek translation has taken some Hebrew words out of its original context and meaning. Conspiracy?
The point here is, Dr. MacArthur may be creating another conspiracy in trying to uncover one. Or another way of putting it would be, he’s continuing the conspiracy of a Euro-centric captivity on biblical interpretation.
The next thing MacArthur does in the book is move to the Old Testament. His point here is to present the Exodus story as God bringing the Israelites out of slavery to Egypt in order to bring them into slavery under Him. This provides a very limited view of the Old Testament story. His foundation is in the interpretation of the Hebrew word “eded” which means slave and servant. What he doesn’t bring up is that this Hebrew word is rooted in another Hebrew word, “abad” which means slave, servant, husbandman, worshipper, and worker. I have two takes on this point in the book.
One, in MacArthur’s drive to make slaves out of all Christians, he leaves out another picture of the New Testament story. What about the picture of a God who frees a people from slavery, makes a Covenant with them, and then calls them to extend his love and justice to the poor, widow, orphan, and immigrant? MacArthur is so focused on “slave texts” that he seems to not care about what the Old Testament has to say about freedom, justice, and Covenant. The question becomes then, does Covenant equate Captivity? MacArthur seem to believe so. The second point is if the Hebrew word “abad” means slave, servant, husbandman, and worshipper, why is the focus of the book only on the slave portion of the meaning of the word?
The rest of the book is spent on looking at how Jesus and the authors of the Epistles in the New Testament mainly describe the Christian life as the life of an obedient slave to a Master, which is God. One, I cannot argue that there aren’t a number of biblical texts that describe the Christian as servant and slave. The issue is that this isn’t the only way the Christian life is described in the New Testament. In MacArthur’s focus on God as Master, he ignores the number of places where God is described as Father. I would argue that Jesus spends more time talking about God as His Father than as His Master. The disciple John spends a lot of time describing the Christian as a “beloved child.” MacArthur seems to believe that the only way to get obedience out of a Christian it to make him or her a slave. I respectfully disagree. The more we focus on God as Father and Liberator, the more space we have to describe the Christian as the liberated, transformed, and beloved child, who ought to live in obedience to a loving and all-powerful God of justice.
Finally, I’m saddened by how MacArthur hardly shows any sensitivity to the history and impact of slavery upon African-Americans. He doesn’t acknowledge that he isn’t the first European-American to use an interpretation of slavery in the bible to develop a theology and influence the masses. This is how slavery was justified many years ago in the United States of America.