Is John MacArthur Off on the Blood? If So, How Far Off?
I recently listened to this audio (below on an embedded youtube clip) in which Phil Johnson throws John MacArthur the ultimate softball in order to clear up the false assumptions made about his doctrinal stance on the blood of Christ. I have often defended MacArthur in the past on this issue. I read the original criticism of him by Bob Jones University in their former Faith for the Family. I knew what he said in his Hebrews commentary. I always hoped for the best. Love does hope all things.
The attack on MacArthur, that he says is untrue on this audio, is that he denies the blood of Christ. Is that true? Does MacArthur deny the blood? Well, it depends on what you mean by “deny the blood.” He doesn’t deny that Jesus bled when He died. He doesn’t reject that Jesus bled a whole lot. In other words, MacArthur doesn’t take the R. B. Thieme position that Jesus barely shed any blood on the cross.
However, when I listened to this audio clip, I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Here was the perfect opportunity for John MacArthur to clear up his blood position and I think that is exactly what he did. As much as any time I’ve heard him, he communicates his position. You can tell it bothers him that he has been attacked on this. I want you to listen before you read what I write below the clip. You make your own evaluation. Then read what I wrote. You will be welcome to comment and even defend MacArthur if you think that what he says is defensible.
John MacArthur is a very careful expositor. There’s a lot you can learn if you read his commentaries. He’s a great example for diligence in the study of scripture. And then he takes this type of position, among several others, that belie the scriptural evidence. And what does his position on this really mean to the nature of the gospel? Does it change it?
Johnson poses the situation that people have said that MacArthur denies that it was necessary for Jesus to shed His blood. Then he asks the question, “Could you tell us one more time your view on the necessity of Christ’s blood?” MacArthur starts by saying that he has been completely misrepresented. Well, he isn’t going to be misrepresented here. He’s on tape and he has been set up perfectly to clear up all twisting of what he believes. His first doctrinal statement is tell-tale. Listen to what he says and doesn’t say. It’s clear even by how he enunciates the words. Remember that we are talking about the necessity of Christ’s blood. And John MacArthur’s answer:
Of course I believe Christ had to die.
But that wasn’t the question. The question was about His blood, not His death. But John MacArthur far understates the necessity of Christ’s blood with His answer. He misses what scripture teaches on the blood of Christ.
After a little more personal material, MacArthur says:
Jesus died on the cross because that was what God predetermined He would do.
OK, we all agree with that, but he still hasn’t said anything about the blood. God predetermined that Jesus would died. Yes. But what about the blood?
After alluding to the text of John 3 with the lifting up of Jesus as the serpent and then referring to John 6 about Jesus drawing men to Himself, he comments:
I think the image of a bloody death is all over the Old Testament.
So there we get his first mention of blood and he uses it as an adjective for death. Bloody death. If you try to find that language in the Bible, “bloody death,” you won’t find it. But he is setting up his view and he will be very plain with it. He goes on, “Every animal that was sacrificed was a blood bath.” So he’s still not really talking about the blood of Christ, but the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. He continues, “Priests were butchers who stood ankle deep in blood. . . . The temple was a slaughterhouse.” And then concluding that point, he says, “The image of that was to depict a violent death.”
John MacArthur teaches that the emphasis of the blood of the Old Testament sacrifice was to show how violent the death was. Where do we get that instruction anywhere in the Bible? I don’t know of any place. The word (or forms of it) “violent” is found in the Old Testament many times, but it is never applied to the blood of the animals or of the Savior.
Finally, he makes the connection between the Old Testament imagery and Jesus, when he explains:
On the cross of Christ you have the Passover Lamb dying a bloody, violent death. It’s necessitated. It’s all the imagery of the Old Testament that directs itself toward that.
So if you can follow him, he’s saying that the necessity of the blood of Christ was to fulfill the imagery in the Old Testament sacrificial system of a bloody, violent death. He never, ever says “the blood of Christ.” It’s a bloody death. The Bible never says “bloody death,” but it does say “blood of Christ” (4 times), “blood of Jesus” (3 times), and “blood of the Lord” (1 time). Then he makes this astounding statement:
Having said that, you must stop short of saying that we are saved by the blood of Jesus.
Why? Why would anyone stop short of that? Isn’t that what these verses say?
Romans 3:24-26, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
Romans 5:9, “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”
Ephesians 1:7, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;”
Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
Hebrews 10:19, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,”
1 Peter 1:18-19, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:”
Revelation 12:11, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
You want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t get why MacArthur would say that we “must stop short of saying that we are saved by the blood of Jesus,” when the Bible says that we are saved by the blood of Jesus. Well, he explains why it is that he says this:
In the sense that there is some efficacy in the fluid that poured out of His body.
He goes on:
I have tried to make that distinction—that when the New Testament refers to salvation by His blood that it is not talking about salvation by His fluid. It uses blood as a metaphor or a synonym for death because it conveys the violence of it. . . . We don’t want to get caught into this bizarre notion that somehow in the actual fluid that came out of the body of Jesus that there is saving power or saving efficacy.
After explaining that, MacArthur goes on to give an example of something people have said about Jesus’ blood that is beyond and different than what he said in this above paragraph, in order to somehow color what someone would believe if he said that there was saving power in the actual blood of Jesus. MacArthur then makes another important statement:
When the New Testament is talking about the blood of Christ it is talking about the death of Christ, but it uses blood because that is a metaphor that speaks of the violence of his death.
Where does MacArthur get this? I don’t know. It isn’t in the Bible. When we see the blood of Jesus in the New Testament, we are not looking at a metaphor or synonym or metonym or euphemism for Jesus’ death, all words that MacArthur uses to describe what the blood of Christ is all about. For one, the New Testament separates the death and the blood as two aspects of His sacrifice that were distinct and both individually necessary in Colossians 1:20-22:
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
In those verses you see “the blood of his cross” doing something and “the body of his flesh through death” doing something. Both were needed. Second, you get the two separate elements in the Lord’s Table—the bread and the cup. The bread symbolizes the death in His body and the cup portrays the sacrifice in His shed blood. So MacArthur is wrong in taking away this New Testament emphasis.
MacArthur uses the tone of his voice to mock the other position that is not his own. He talks in a condescending way about the blood being “fluid,” that salvation isn’t in the “fluid.” This is a strawman. Jesus’ blood isn’t just “fluid.” There is something more to Jesus’ blood than just the human. There is a Divine quality to the blood of Jesus that cleanses, something that MacArthur just ignores. And is not willing to believe that there is anything to Acts 20:28:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
At the end of the verse, it says, “with his own blood.” What is the antecedent of “his?” Yes, it is “God.” So Acts 20:28 says “God’s own blood.” One of the great mysteries of scripture is the hypostatic union. Jesus is fully human and fully Divine. There was something Divine to the blood of Christ, which is why the blood can cleanse. Yes, the blood itself. And you say, “How?” I don’t know, but it does cleanse. This is where MacArthur goes wrong. He’s sort of like the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Trinity on this. They don’t get how Jesus could be man and God, so they reject His Deity. MacArthur doesn’t see how the blood of Christ could cleanse everyone, so he just denies that it does anything of itself. It is only by Jesus’ death, according to MacArthur, that people are saved. But what about these verses?
1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
Revelation 1:5, “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,”
Hebrews 9:14, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
We never hear about the cleansing of His death, do we? Why? Because the blood of Christ is what does the cleansing.
MacArthur goes to more strawmen, “It wouldn’t have done any good if He had just bled and then lived.” He says this with a kind of tone of disdain as if there were all sorts of people saying this, when I haven’t heard anyone in my life or have read anyone who has claimed that Jesus bled and lived. Really?!?! Who are we arguing about here?!?!
Then MacArthur gets angry at the idea that Jesus could die in a way in which He would not bleed. And then he again explains that this would be preposterous because then Jesus wouldn’t fulfill the depictions in the Old Testament. And that’s the extent of MacArthur’s answer here.
Johnson tries to help, it seems, by asking MacArthur about those times that the New Testament talks about the cleansing of Jesus’ blood, but MacArthur gets it wrong again and even more so. He says that those are the times that the New Testament is talking about Jesus’ death. This is classic circular reasoning. If you go look at the passages to see if they mention Jesus’ death, you won’t find it in 1 John 1:7 and Revelation 1:5. So why are they talking about His death? Well, because blood means death. This is also begging the question.
To cap it all off, MacArthur makes this point, like this is a major point. “Jesus didn’t bleed to death.” That seems to contradict what he said earlier when he said that the shedding of the blood showed that Jesus’ life was leaving His body. So when He bled enough, wouldn’t that mean that He had died? But no, MacArthur says that Jesus died by asphyxiation. How do we know that? Because that’s how the thieves died and how history shows other crucified ones died. But is that how the Bible says Jesus died? No! It says that He gave up His own spirit. And when he gets to the very end he admonishes, “You just want to be biblical about it!” Right! I agree! Let’s be biblical about it. Or in this case, let’s not follow what John MacArthur says about the blood of Christ. He’s wrong.
I’m asking you the reader. What does this message do to the nature of the gospel? Does it change it? How far does changing scriptural truth about the blood alter the gospel itself? Is Jesus’ blood important enough for us to take a stand in separation over this understatement or even misstatement by MacArthur?