Friday, October 21, 2011

A Response to J P Holding's Review of John MacArthur’s “Slave”

Before I begin this response, I want to be the first to admit that John MacArthur is my favorite pastor/preacher. I love how MacArthur displays his contempt for sin, for instance on pg. 121, “It is a life-destroying, soul-condemning cancer that festers and grows in every unredeemed human heart like an incurable gangrene.” Divine!

Holding's full review HERE just to be fair.

Much to my dismay, I read a review by James Patrick Holding recently that I thought was uncouth and unprincipled. It is the purpose of this blog to respond to that review and point out a few things about Mr. Holding’s comments. First, Holding admits, “I didn’t read the entirety of this book; much of it is essentially devotional, and much of the rest isn’t disputable.” First, how can you provide a review of a book that you have admittedly never completed? Second, does this mean that if a book is purely designed to aid in Christian living or if there is nothing in the book to fight about then it isn’t worth reading?

Holding asserts that while MacArthur does a good job in debunking the modern “buddy Jesus” that he doesn’t go far enough in ridding himself of that, either. Oddly enough, Holding provides no examples of what he means. This is unfortunate and regrettable. When Holding makes dubious comments like this without providing clear examples, it tilts toward bias.

Holding then employs insult and mockery regarding MacArthur’s comments around an alleged cover-up by English translators, albeit, unintentional at first.

First, I nearly hit the floor when I read pages 1-2. MacArthur correctly notes that many translations obscure this issue by using the word “servant” instead of slave. But he says that he only figured this out in 2007 after reading a book by Murray Harris, and he is wondering why this distinction “escaped me and almost everyone else.” “Had no one uncovered this before Harris in 1999?” he asks.

Um, yes. There are these people called “Biblical scholars” who knew this a long time ago. In fact, MacArthur even quotes Dale Martin’s excellent Slavery as Salvation on a point, and doesn’t remark on the fact that it was written in 1990. So, clearly “someone” had “uncovered this” well before 1999. Not Martin though. Even before that it’s in the scholarship.
One assumes that Holding is referring to the “concept of slave” itself when making these remarks. MacArthur, on pages 1-2 of his book is specifically referring to the treatment of the word doulos in New Testament Scripture. The bigger question here is why Holding zeroes in on this aspect of the book. Remember, at the start of his review, he commented that the book was indisputable for the most part. Leave it up to Holding to find something, anything, to fight about. There is no value in Holdings initial comments about MacArthur’s book. They say nothing about MacArthur’s arguments, his points, or his method. It feels like a criticism just for the sake of criticism. The satirical remark about “Biblical scholars” is in keeping with Holding’s radically unique approach to try to insult, in one way or another, everyone with whom he disagrees. Holding includes another insult,

Slave continues this trend, as MacArthur uses a handful of scholarly sources like Martin’s, but also continues to rely heavily on devotional and pastoral works and even 19th century commentaries. The problem is evident in MacArthur’s statement, “Who could improve on Calvin, Luther, the English Puritans, Edwards, or Spurgeon?” Well, um….Biblical scholars who have a lot more background data on the world of the Bible, that’s who.
Holding has a strong affinity, not just for scholars, but scholars who subscribe to sociological interpretation as their primary interpretive model. As one can see here, they cannot be from before the 20th century. Why? Well, we have more data and that makes us better and improved. This isn’t far from Brian McLaren’s idea that our image of God is superior to the ancient Hebrews because we are more sophisticated. While we may have access to better or more data about the world in which the Bible was written, that is by far not the only standard by which sound biblical scholarship is measured. These superior scholars of the modern era have largely defected from the faith. The number of pastors and scholars who believe traditional teachings from Scripture, such as the existence of Satan, the resurrection, miracles, or even that the Bible is a product of God has been drastically reduced. If the Bible is of supernatural origin, and it’s purpose is supernatural, how is it that scholarship is better when the number of scholars that actually believe it continues to plummet at alarming rates. Of course we have better data and there are some things we can understand a little better. However, the perspicuity of Scripture would deny any hint that previous scholarship possessed an inadequate or even inferior understanding of the text. Moreover, Holding’s cutting style is out of place and inappropriate. Holding also has an aversion to fundamentalist scholars. I have seen his comments around men like Al Mohler and Norm Geisler. I suppose that unless Holding approves of your scholars and commentators, you should not use them. Far be it from Holding to be more specific about why he prefers one scholar over another. Having more data is a weak consideration at best. I have learned from experience that it doesn't matter how much data a scholar possesses if he doesn't believe the Bible is a product of divine origin. His value to biblical studies will always be marginal at its very best. Otherwise, if you do, he may find it necessary to insult you. Holding continues,

Where this is especially a problem is in that NT-era slaves overwhelmingly entered slavery involuntarily – not freely, as we enter into a covenant with God. NT era slaves were prisoners of war, or born into slavery, or came from otherwise oppressed peoples. Because NT-era slavery was mostly involuntary, I predict that certain Calvinist commentators will use Slave to argue for irresistible grace – I can even see seeds of that happening in MacArthur. But that won’t work, because it neglects the patronage aspect of the NT model. In this regard, we might wish that MacArthur would have nuanced his studies with a few other works like Neyrey’s Render to God.
I’d rather you read Neyrey and Martin than read MacArthur. To that end, I recommend Slave only after you’ve read those others. MacArthur has discovered a treasure new to him, but unfortunately, he has taken a valuable pearl and used it in a nose ring.
Holding complains that MacArthur didn’t bother to treat the matter of OT slavery. Perhaps Holding misses MacArthur’ purpose for writing the book in the first place. This is not a theological treatise on slavery in the Bible. It is a book designed to help Christians understand what it means to be a slave of Christ. In other words, this book is about what it means to be a Christian. Is an entire treatise of slavery in Scripture necessary to make that point? I think not. Holding needs to show that it is if he is going to offer up such criticism. Holding misses the point. In his last remarks, Holding draws a parallel between NT slaves and Christianity that he thinks demonstrates a gap in the analogy. Holding is wrong again. He says NT slaves did not freely become slaves, but we do freely become of a slave of Christ. This hints at Arminian theology or perhaps even pelagianism possibly. We “enter” into covenant with God. NT slaves were born into slavery, or were prisoners of war, etc. I Peter 1:23 says, “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” While we were still dead in trespasses and sins, God made us alive together unto Him. (Eph. 2:1) The doctrine of election would indicate that Christians do not decide to become a slave of God. We are called from eternity past into slavery as Christians. This theme is consistent with MacArthur’s understanding of soteriology as a good Calvinist. Apparently, Holding is not a good Calvinist and again fails to comprehend the analogy. Does Holding expect a good Calvinist like MacArthur to write like an Arminian? Holding then recommends people read Neyrey and Martin. Holding betrays his loyalty to sociological interpretation when he contends that irresistible grace is inconsistent with the “patronage aspect of the NT model.” Space prohibits a more detailed response to the social context of grace in the NT, but I will return to this subject in the near future as I outline the dangers inherent in adopting naturalistic critical models as a primary means of approaching the supernatural text of Scripture. Holding employs this erroneous method repeatedly. That is not to say there is no value in sociological interpretation. Indeed, there is great value in this method. However, it is an interdisciplinary tool at best.

Finally, to use the pejorative term “nose ring” is unnecessarily rude and most uncharitable. However, this is SOP for Holding. He seems utterly disappointed if he has to leave off an exchange of any kind without being able to launch obnoxious insults at those with whom he disagrees (which is just about everyone).

J. Spencer Northcote, Murray J. Harris, Deissmann, Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, Janet Martin Soskice, Rengstorf, Walter S. Wurzburger, Yvon Thebert, John J. Pilch, Edwin Yamauchi, Eric Plumer, Dale B. Martin, S. Scott Bartchy, Keith Bradley, Pierre Grimal, etc. etc. These are just a few of the sources MacArthur references in only the first 27 pages of his book. Even Holding has to recognize some of these names.

Holding’s review of a book he has admittedly never completely read seems to be more of an attempt to insult John MacArthur than it is anything else. He seems to think that pastors, including MacArthur are inept and that the answer to the church’s woes are to be found in the Seminary, in scholarship. Newsflash: the problem in the church is the same as always: it is sin! The seminary does not have the cure for sin. Only Scripture can point us to the cure for sin. God ordained Scripture to point us all to that cure! In addition, the “pointing” is clear enough even for those who are not scholars. The more progression the seminary makes, the further we move from the inerrancy, infallibility, and authority of Scripture. I am not contending that there is a necessary relationship, but a case for at least a causal one seems to be easy to assemble.

If you are a conservative Bible-believing Christian, beware of the scholars that James Patrick Holding typically recommends. Many of these men are in the Context Group and utilize social science criticism as their primary model for NT interpretation. What does this mean? It means that while they may be able to provide you with valuable data around the social context of the first century church that may enrich your understanding of a NT text or practice, their view of Scripture, can tend to be far from conservative. Social Science Criticism, as a discipline is “that phase of the exegetical task which analyzes the social and cultural dimensions of the text and its environmental context through the utilization of the perspectives, theory, models, and research of the social sciences.” (Elliot) As a subdiscipline it falls under the component of historical criticism. Many, if not most adherents of this model hold a low view of Scripture, do not accept the view that Scripture is of divine origin, reject miracles outright or devalue their significance in the text, and seek for a purely sociological explanation for the rise and success of the Christian religion. Reader beware! If you are not trained in biblical criticism and have no interest in reading men who deny the divine origin of Scripture, I suggest you stick with conservative writers who respect the nature of Scripture for what it is. God has blessed evangelicalism with a number of good scholars who hold a high view of Scripture and have done the hard work of researching the historical and social setting of the NT. Avoid radical statements by radical men who would lead you to believe that the Greco-Roman world of the first century may as well have existed on Mars. Such claims have been proven to be overstatements if not gross exaggerations.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This is by one of the most profound and life-altering books I've ever read in my life. Thank you for the summary. The key point is understanding the relationship with slave/master. We were bought with a hefty price - the very blood of Christ. What is amazing is how we find true freedom in slavery in Christ. That's amazing. Here's another post that complements yours. Thank you!

  3. If you check the endnotes in John MacArthur’s book, Slave, you will find that most of them reference the heretical works of Gnostic, modernist and postmodern scholars who deny the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. Many of these scholars are rabidly anti-Christian and their works, which MacArthur recommends as authoritative, are filled with slander and blasphemy of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    For example, John MacArthur favorably references Dale B. Martin’s book, Slavery as Salvation, on page 38 because it likens the Christian life to the abusive institution of slavery in the Roman Empire. Dale B. Martin is Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, an admitted homosexual and author of a blasphemous book titled Sex and the Single Savior which portrays Jesus as a homosexual. John MacArthur never discloses Prof. Martin’s true identity in Slave.

    Another scholar whose translation of Gnostic writings is recommended by MacArthur is Bart D. Ehrman, Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prof. Ehrman is a New Testament critic who claims that he was an evangelical Christian until he discovered “errors” in the Bible. Dr. Ehrman now writes books which debunk the New Testament and advocate for Gnostic forgeries such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot to replace the New Testament canon.

    Slave is a best-seller among young Christians who are led to believe that the sources referenced therein are Christian books, or at least neutral historical sources. Theological heretics Dale Martin and Bart Ehrman are only two of many academics of the “Jesus Seminar” variety whose scholarship is recommended without an honest identification or disclaimer to warn the reader. By concealing the identity and agenda of his sources, John MacArthur is deceptively promoting Gnostic books and the Gnostic heresy to many young Christians who are not yet established in the faith.

    For documentation and detailed information on the heretical sources in Slave, please read the following expose:

  4. For what it's worth, John MacArthur does not endorse men who deny the inerrancy of Scripture and neither would he endorse men that advocate for the gay lifestyle. That being said, I don't think he would hold the view that we ought to ignore historical scholarship on the ground that the historian may not be regenerate. Such thinking is utterly ridiculous. You should take care because you are flirting with, if not committing slander.


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