I love the teaching of John Macarthur. I respect him highly as an expositor. I am thankful for his ministry. In the same way, I respect men like Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, and others of that stature. They have done much in the way of honest Biblical theology and of paving the way for Christ-centered expository churches in America. So, I am not being critical of their ministries or character and neither do I wish to call into question their veracity as pastoral servants. I will not be guilty of presenting a straw-man argument or an ad-hominem attack against someone. Neither will I be guilty of hasty-generalization, assumption, or the fallacy of the red-herring.
This week I received a criticism that something I taught concerning the death of Christ was in disagreement with John Macarthur. Please understand, I love and respect the one who did the criticizing. While I would rather the teaching be compared to Scripture Alone, I must consider every criticism. So, I looked up Macarthur’s exposition of the same passage just to be sure of his point and his point was the exact negation of my own. Here in this personal exercise, I am comparing both myself and Macarthur to the text of Scripture Alone. We do not compare one person’s teaching to another. Scripture is our only valid authority and we are to compare ourselves to Christ. I do so with the understanding that all people on this earth are fallen and fallible and with the intention of correcting if the text reveals me to be wrong. I intend to share this exercise as an example of how we should evaluate our own teachings and beliefs if we hear or are taught something contrary to our own understanding. This is what it means to believe that Scripture alone is sufficient for all of life and ministry and that Jesus is our only teacher (Matthew 23:10). My answer can be found by clicking here. Macarthur’s answer, an excerpt from his New Testament commentary, can be found here.
Comparing my answer to Scripture Alone
- My article begins, in the first three paragraphs, by introducing the question and by presenting why the question is needed. In summary, it seems as though God’s character and Christ’s identity as God would render it impossible for God to be separated from Christ. This is the question, and the text was quoted in the question and examined following the question in the remainder of the article.
- Beginning in the introduction (paragraph 3), I examined the literary context of the verse. This detail in Matthew and Mark was included for a Jewish audience and is a direct quotation of the Old Testament.
- In paragraph 4, I observed the immediate literary context to see how those present in the story interpreted this statement from Jesus and did not add anything to the text that wasn’t provided explicitly by the text itself.
- In paragraph 5, I performed a simple, broad exegesis of the Old Testament passage Jesus quoted from in order to arrive at the correct understanding of Jesus’ statement. The Jews present at the cross interpreted Jesus statement in exactly the way a proper exegesis of the Old Testament passage would demand.
- In the closing statements, I quoted the centurion as described in the Scriptures.
So, my answer is mostly just a quotation of the text of Scripture and is much shorter than Macarthur’s. It seems to me that this is simply how God’s word answers the question and there isn’t much more than simply what the Scriptures have explicitly stated that was presented.
Comparing Macarthur’s answer to Scripture Alone
- Macarthur’s exposition begins by his quoting the verse from Matthew’s Gospel and stating that the event “might be called sovereign departure, as somehow God was separated from God.” The text does not say that Jesus was separated from God. Instead, Matthew simply quotes what Jesus was saying from the cross as Jesus quoted from Psalm 22. The detail that Christ was separated from God is an addition to the text or an assumption made about the text.
- In paragraph 2, Macarthur explains the Greek of Jesus’ quote directly from Matthew’s Gospel. Here, he simply presents the text as is.
- In paragraph 3, Macarthur observed the context of Jesus’ statement in Psalm 22, then adds the detail that the people were simply continuing to mock Jesus. While this may have been the case, as Macarthur provides from the context of Matthew 27:43, it also may not have been the case judging from the context of Matthew 27:48-49. We do not know the motivation of the people here because the text does not provide that information. Assuming their motivation or intention either way does not help us to answer the question biblically, nor is it really beneficial at all.
- In paragraph 4, Macarthur restates his initial comment and describes how difficult this passage is to understand and the mystery of Christ’s separation from God (which is assumed, not explicitly biblical, see 1 above).
- In paragraph 5, Macarthur quotes from Habakkuk 1:13 to insist that God must turn His back to sin, even though a proper exegesis of Habakkuk speaks to God’s just nature, not His ability to be in proximity to or face sin and even declares that God does, in fact, look at the wicked. This is called proof-texting. To see how this text fits with the narrative of Christ’s death, click here.
- In paragraph 6, Macarthur quotes several verses to explain why the Father “forsook” the Son, but none of those verses speak of the Son being forsaken by the Father or separated from the Father. Those verses to speak profoundly of God becoming sin and bearing the iniquity of His people in the person of the Son. Macarthur makes these biblical professions but has assumed the separation of the Son from the Father.
- In paragraph 7, Macarthur rightly states that Christ has, according to Matthew 20:28, come for the primary reason of “giving His life as a ransom for many.”
- In paragraph 8, Macarthur tries again to explain what separation means without even referring to Scripture and even states that Christ “did not cease to exist as God,” which is a statement that is logically inconsistent with the previous argument he has made.
- In paragraph 9, Macarthur tries to explain the feasibility of the Son’s separation by insisting that He was partially separated from the Father at the moment of incarnation, though neither cited Bible verse makes the claim that the Son was in any way separated from the Father in any way during His bodily life on this earth. Christ’s kenosis is not a separation from the Father and cannot expositorily or logically be misconstrued as such.
- In the final paragraph, Macarthur reminds us of his previous statement, “…the mystery of that separation is far too deep even for the most mature believer to fathom,” even though nowhere in any of the verses quoted by Macarthur is there anything about the separation of the Son from the Father or a loss of fellowship at any time between the Father and the Son.
Regarding the sufficiency of Scripture, Macarthur expounds on Psalm 19,
In the first statement (v. 7), David says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.” This word “perfect” is the translation of a common Hebrew word meaning “whole,” “complete,” or “sufficient.” It conveys the idea of something that is comprehensive, so as to cover all aspects of an issue. Scripture is comprehensive, embodying all that is necessary to one’s spiritual life. David’s implied contrast here is with the imperfect, insufficient, flawed reasoning of men.
His view of the Scriptures is right and he is a man whose skill in expositing the Scriptures is almost unparalleled in our day. He has been at this for a long time. For whatever reason, concerning what he refers to as “sovereign departure,” one assumption was made and extrapolated as if the Scriptures themselves were not complete or sufficient. The reasoning of men, according to Macarthur himself, is imperfect, insufficient, and flawed.
As for Dr. Macarthur, I hope to one day rise to his caliber, not in gaining a following but as an expositor. When it is the case that I make an assumption or fail in my own depravity and wretchedness to see the Scripture as complete and sufficient, I hope that I am treated with grace. To be mistaken in no way makes one a false teacher. To present a different Gospel than the one given in Scripture does. John Macarthur preaches only the true Gospel as far as I have seen and heard. He is a true servant of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Usually, I do not make these reflections on paper (here to mean a word document on my computer). I have done this to serve as an example to other teachers, particularly in the church. When a question is asked, we don’t have to “buck up.” We take the time to examine the question or the criticism biblically. We take the time to explain our reasoning and why disagreements or criticisms may be invalid or baseless. If we find that Scripture testifies against us, we resolve to apologize where necessary and change in response to God’s word alone.
To those who are under biblical teaching, even the best expositors will make an assumption and extrapolate on that assumption by reading into the text what is not there to read. You can’t imagine how difficult it is not to allow one’s personal theology to color the text as we read. It is, perhaps, the most difficult thing about reading and teaching the Bible. It is important for us, no matter who is teaching (myself included), to examine the Scripture Alone. Jesus truly is our only teacher. When we evaluate what is being taught, we do so according to Scripture Alone and not by comparing one person’s teaching to another. We want to know what God has said, not limiting ourselves to what one person or another has said about what God has said. In court, that is hearsay and it really isn’t valid as a testimony. This is why we commit ourselves to Scripture Alone. Please click here to see how Jesus even modeled this commitment during His bodily ministry on this earth and Himself modeled for us how we should use the Scriptures. It was our lesson on Wednesday evening of this week.