Home > Brandenburg, Fundamentalism, Separation, The Blood, The Lord Jesus Christ > Is MacArthur Off on the Blood? If So, How Far Off? pt. 2

Is MacArthur Off on the Blood? If So, How Far Off? pt. 2

September 1, 2009

John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote:

The fountain of Christ

I ever will sing;
The blood of our Priest,

Our crucified King;
Which perfectly cleanses

From sin, and from filth;
And richly dispenses

Salvation and health.

This fountain from guilt

Not only makes pure,
And gives, soon as felt,

Infallible cure;
But if guilt removed

Return and remain,
Its pow’r may be proved

Again and again.

The things that Bunyan says in this poem are things that John MacArthur won’t say about the blood.  Somebody’s wrong.  I’m saying it’s MacArthur.  The blood of Christ is a fountain.  The blood of Christ has power.  None of these are new ideas, novel inventions of modern theology.  They are old.  Actually they’re Bible.  And I’ll talk more about that.

By the way, it might seem like I’m picking on MacArthur and that I do that a lot.  And that my “attacks” on him are the equivalent of a chihuaha jumping up to nip at a passing elephant.  So they’re funny!  There are guys a lot worse for me to target.  OK.  But MacArthur is the bridge to the badder guys.  He often crosses the same line, just not as far as some of them.   Many men who will never be seduced by those worse than MacArthur, will be lured by him.  I understand that it would be a good thing if some on the left would move MacArthur’s direction, but I don’t see that happening.  If anything occurs, those to the right shift MacArthur’s way.  That’s a big part of his following.

What’s somewhat confusing about MacArthur is that he makes true statements about the blood.  However, when you read him carefully, you see that he never has the blood of Christ actually doing anything except one thing, that is, fulfilling the Old Testament types of a bloody, violent death.  He says the death of Christ needed to be bloody, oh yes, but it never does anything itself.  I don’t see how anyone could take that position without some outside influences.  On 1 John 1:7, in his reference Bible, MacArthur says nothing about the blood.  He says nothing about the blood there in Revelation 1:5.    On Revelation 7:14, he writes:  “This refers to the atoning sacrifice of Christ.”  In 1 Peter 1:18-19, he amazingly says nothing about the blood of Christ.   Regarding Hebrews 9:12, he says, “A better translation would be ‘through His own blood.'”  For Hebrews 9:14, concerning “the blood of Christ,” he comments:

This is an expression that refers not simply to the fluid, but the whole atoning sacrificial work of Christ in His death.  Blood is used as a substitute word for death.

That’s it for that verse.  He does the same kind of thing everywhere.  In reading for this, I found a few places where MacArthur may have slipped up.  He said something that was different than he has said he believed.  When he preached Hebrews 9:1-14 in 1972, in commenting on the sprinkled blood of Christ purging us from a sinful conscience, MacArthur said:

Boy, Christian, you need to realize that.  You need to realize that.  It’ll…it may clean up your life a little bit.  You live in the throne room of God, spiritually speaking.  Jesus has taken us in.  He not only went in and sprinkled some blood for us, but He hauled us in with Him.  And He says you can stay forever.  That’s the sanctuary that He ministers in.

He doesn’t elaborate on this at all.     And then consider this line of exposition on Revelation 7:14 from a sermon in 1993:

[T]hese are white robes because they have been washed and they have been made dazzling, leukon, and they have been washed and made dazzling by what detergent?  The blood of the Lamb. . . . [H]ere is a paradox, a precious paradoxical truth.  Blood doesn’t stain, blood cleanses every stain.  The divine detergent removes sin all together.  This wonderful theme of the blood of the Lamb is not new to the book of Revelation. . . .  The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.

He was extremely careful to say the opposite in the audio that I embedded in part one and in much of what he has written.  The way he has written in the two above quotes says the exact opposite of what he says when he instructs in his doctrine of the blood of Christ.

It is difficult to understand how MacArthur comes to his position.  I don’t deny that the term “blood” can be used as a metonym.  However, its usage in the New Testament in many cases doesn’t read as a synonym or metonym.   MacArthur doesn’t prove that “blood” means “death,” unless you believe that a couple of straw man arguments count.  I can’t assume he’s being stubborn.  I’ve got to believe that he means what he is saying.  With that in mind, I do believe that it is possible that MacArthur was influenced by the teachings of the late R. B. Thieme, oft published author and long time pastor of the Church in Houston, Texas (R. L. Hymers develops this idea here).

By the words that he says and the tone of his voice, MacArthur sounds very upset about the criticism he receives on this issue.  However, the things that he says are not compatible with New Testament teaching.  Scripture reads as though the blood itself is doing something, not just performing as a synonym.  Let me explain how I see it.

What Scripture Says the Blood Does

As I have explained God’s plan of salvation to my own children, here is what I have said to them about the blood of Jesus.  I’ve said that Jesus did two things.  He died for us on the cross and He shed His blood for us.  I have said that through His death He paid the penalty of our sin by substituting for us sinners.  I have also said that His shed blood washes away our sin.  I’ve told them that sin stains us, corrupts us, spiritually, so Jesus’ blood cleanses away our sins spiritually.  I explain to them that we don’t know how His blood does this, but that it does.  How do we know?  Because the Bible tells us.

But MacArthur might contend that the “fluid” doesn’t do anything or that no priest carried Jesus’ blood in a bowl to heaven.  So what?  Who is saying that?  Let’s just stick with what the Bible says and rejoice in it.   None of us can fully explain how Jesus could die for everyone, but He did.  We just accept it.   We accept that Jesus’ blood not only washed away all our sins in the past, but all of them in the present and the future too.  This is more than atonement.  Jesus’ blood takes away all of our sins and keeps taking away our sins.  This is one reason why we willingly confess our sins (1 John 1:9), because as we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus is washing away all of our sins (1 John 1:7).

MacArthur says that we shouldn’t get caught up in the “bizarre notion” that there is some kind of saving efficacy in the actual blood of Jesus.  Why not?  We can believe that the physical body of Jesus had something to do with our salvation.  That is why we partake of the bread and the cup.  Those symbols are not signifying a spiritual death (as R. B. Thieme taught and his doctrinal statement still reads) or a spiritual blood, but actual body and blood.

I don’t know how it is that the blood of Jesus gets applied to me, but it is different than what is only human blood or else why would Peter describe it as “incorruptible” and “precious” (1 Peter 1:18ff).  What makes it precious?  And how is it incorruptible?  Certainly human blood is corruptible, that is, it perishes, decays, rots.  Christ’s blood is the opposite of that.  The exact Greek term translated corruptible relates to “decay” and “rot.”  It’s not like silver and gold that is temporal, the price paid to redeem a slave in the Old Testament.  The blood of Christ is much more.   There is life in the blood (Leviticus 17:11).  In this case the life of Christ, which is Divine and eternal.  Through the Spirit of God the physical blood of Christ has within it a spiritual dimension that cleanses from sin.

MacArthur says that “incorruptible” simply communicates the value of Christ’s blood, nothing about its lack of decay.  Silver and gold is worth a lot and it can’t redeem, but His blood is worth eternal value.  He makes the point that blood is of tremendous worth or cost.  That’s not how it reads, especially in light of the later idea in 1 Peter 1 of things that perish.  The blood of Christ has an eternal quality that is different than the temporal quality of gold and silver, even though they are thought to be supremely long lasting by men’s standards.  The blood of Jesus can be trusted for its longevity even as God’s Word can be trusted in such fashion (1 Peter 1:23-25).

There is a relationship between the physical and the spiritual.  God is a Spirit, but He created a physical universe with spoken word.  Words, which are inanimate, made animate things out of nothing.  We use our physical body to commit deeds that are spiritually corrupt.  Sin, something spiritual, resides in our physical bodies (Romans 1:20-21).  We can yield our physical bodies to God, a Spirit, and glorify Him in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Romans 6:12-13).

There seems to be a bit of the influence of docetism in MacArthur’s thinking on this.  He talks down the place of Jesus’ physical blood in the cleansing from sin, as if the body and blood of Jesus were not able to participate in His eternal works.   1 Peter2:24 says that Jesus “bare our sins in his own body on the tree.”  Is this too a synonym for death?  Jesus conducted something saving with His body that a mere man could not have performed.  Docetism comes, I believe, from doubt.  Docetistic people won’t just accept what the Bible says about Jesus—they have a few “scholarly” presuppositions that won’t allow them to give in to statements that communicate the miraculous nature of our salvation.  Instead of saying “miraculous,” someone like MacArthur will say “magical property” in a mocking way.  Well, was there a “magical property” to Jesus’ body that allowed Him to bear all our sins in His body?

There was something miraculous about Jesus’ body.  His body was conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20).  Before Jesus was born, He had a body prepared for Him by God the Father (Hebrews 10:5).  I agree with the Trinitarian statement of the council of Chalcedon (451), but that doesn’t stop me from believing that there was an aspect to Christ’s blood that could do the spiritual work of cleansing sin in conjunction with His death on the cross.

What Have Men Said?

Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology writes (p. 395):

Such being the Scriptural doctrine concerning the person of Christ, it follows that although the divine nature is immutable and impassible, and therefore neither the obedience nor the suffering of Christ was the obedience or suffering of the divine nature, yet they were none the less the obedience and suffering of a divine person. The soul of man cannot be wounded or burnt, but when the body is injured it is the man who suffers. In like manner the obedience of Christ was the righteousness of God, and the blood of Christ was the blood of God. It is to this fact that the infinite merit and efficiency of his work are due. This is distinctly asserted in the Scriptures. It is impossible, says the Apostle, that the blood of bulls and of goats could take away sin. It was because Christ was possessed of an eternal Spirit that He by the one offering of Himself hath perfected forever them who are sanctified. This is the main idea insisted upon in the Epistle to the Hebrews. This is the reason given why the sacrifice of Christ need never be repeated, and why it is infinitely more efficacious than those of the old dispensation. This truth has been graven on the hearts of believers in all ages. Every such believer says from his heart, “Jesus, my God, thy blood alone has power sufficient to atone.”

C. H. Spurgeon said (recorded in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit:  Sermons, parts 417-42):

Poor creatures have even gone the length of doubting the power of the Hood of Jesus to cleanse them. If you talk so, I must put my hand on your mouth ; you must not say another word of that sort. Is it not enough that you have bespattered yourself with sin ? Must you now asperse your Saviour?  Will you trample on the blood of Christ ?  Will you deny its cleansing power ?  As he was God as well as man, our Lord’s sacrifice has an infinite virtue in it, and we cannot endure that you, guilty as you are, should add to all your former crimes this highest and most ungenerous iniquity of charging the blood of Christ with a want of cleansing power. Will you give God the lie about his own Son? O sirs, if you perish it will not be because the blood has too little efficacy, it will be because you have not believed on the name of the Son of God, and will not come unto him that you might have life.

Richard Watson in his Theological Institutes, wrote (p. 621):

For what does Dr. P. Smith gain, when cautioning the believer against the use of the phrase “the blood of GOD,” by reminding him that there is reason to prefer the reading, “the Church of the Lord, which he hath purchased by his own blood ?” The orthodox contend, that the appellation “TILE LORD,” when applied to our Saviour, is his title as GOD, and the heterodox know, also, that the “blood of the Lord” is a phrase with us entirely equivalent to “the blood of GOD.” They know, too, that we neither believe that “GOD” nor “THE LORD” could die; but in using the established phrase, the all-important doctrine of the existence of such a union between the two natures of our Lord as to make the blood which he shed more than the blood of a mere man, more than the blood of his mere humanity itself, is maintained and exhibited; and while we allow that God could not die, yet that there is a most important sense in which the blood of Christ was “the blood of GOD.”

We do not attempt to explain this mystery, but we find it on record; and, in point of fact, that careful appropriation of the properties of the two natures to each respectively, which Dr. Pye Smith recommends, is not very frequent in the New Testament, and for this obvious reason, that the question of our Lord’s Divinity is more generally introduced as an indisputed principle, than argued upon. It is true, that the Apostle Paul lays it down, that our Lord was of the seed of David, “according to the FLESH,” and “the Son of God, according to the SPIRIT OF Holiness.” Herre is an instance of the distinction; but generally this is not observed by the apostles, because the equally fundamental doctrine was always present to them, that the SAME PERSON who was FLESH was also truly GOD. Hence they scruple not to say, that “the Lord of glory was crucified,” that “the Prince of life was killed,” and that HE who was “in the form of God,” became “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

We return, from this digression, to notice a few other passages, the meaning of which can only be opened by the doctrine of the personal union of the Divine and human natures in Christ. “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead BODILY,” Col. ii, 9; not by a type and figure, but, as the word swmatikw~ signifies really and substantially, and for the full exposition, we must add, by personal union; for we have no other idea by which to explain an expression never used to signify the inhabitation of good men by God, and which is here applied to Christ in a way of eminence and peculiarity.

John Owen in His Works wrote:

The blood of Christ in his sacrifice is still always and continually in the same condition, of the same force and efficacy, as it was in that hour wherein it was shed. The blood of other sacrifices was always to be used immediately upon its effusion; for if it were cold and congealed it was of no use to be offered or to be sprinkled. Blood was appointed to make atonement, as the life or animal spirits were in it, Lev. xviL 11. But the blood of the sacrifice of Christ is always hot and warm, having the same spirits of life and sanctification still moving in it. . . .  Every one, therefore, who at any time hath an especial actual interest in the blood of Christ, as sacrificed, hath as real a purification from the defilement of sin as he had typically who stood by the priest and had blood or water sprinkled on him; for the Holy Ghost diligently declares that whatever was done legally, carnally, or typically, by any of the sacrifices of old at any time, as to the expiation or purification of sin, that was all done really and spiritually by that one sacrifice,—that is, the offering and sprinkling of the blood of Christ,—and abideth to be so done continually. To this purpose is the substance of our apostle’s discourse in the ninth and tenth chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

This truth about his blood is seen in the history of believers’ praise to God in the old hymns of the faith.  William Cowper in 1771 wrote:

There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day;
And there have I, as vile as he, Washed all my sins away:

E’er since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die.

Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed church of God Be saved, to sin no more.

A song doesn’t have the authority for Scripture, but it does communicate what Christians believed the Bible taught.  These types of thoughts are all over the old hymns.   They say something different than what John MacArthur teaches on the blood.

  1. Jerry Bouey
    September 2, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    The idea of the fountain filled with blood comes from Zechariah 13:1, and from the OT type of the High Priest bringing the sacrificial blood into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. A type means there is a reality behind it. I believe Hebrews 9 is speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ bringing His sinless blood into the presence of God. Though it may be hard to understand how, I believe the Bible means what it says (and is not just speaking symbolically) when it states we are washed in the blood, cleansed and sprinkled by His blood, etc.

  2. September 2, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Good thought Jerry.

    Here is what Gill said concerning Zechariah 13:1.

    Christ himself, the fountain of gardens, and of living waters, from whose pierced side, of whom mention is made as pierced in the preceding chapter Zec 12:10, sprung blood and water; blood for justification, remission, and cleansing, and water for sanctification: and best of all of his blood particularly, called a “fountain”, not so much for the quantity of blood shed, as for its full virtue and efficacy to answer the purposes for which it was shed; it being the blood not only of man, and of an innocent man, but of the Son of God; and may be said to be “opened”, because of its continued virtue to cleanse from sin; it is not sealed, but opened, and always stands open; there is no hinderance or obstruction in coming to it; not the meanness or poverty of persons, they that have no money may come to these waters; nor their sinfulness, even though they are the chief of sinners; nor their being of this and the other nation, it is exposed to all.

    I would think that Gill was orthodox in his doctrine of the Trinity and the hypostatic union, and yet he differentiated the blood “only of man” from the blood of Jesus.

  3. SEM
    November 9, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I am truly thankful this is being addressed. The Holy Spirit is surely grieved by this artful meandering from Biblical truth. Jesus is not only the Way and the Truth; He is also The Life; and The Life is in The Blood. Without blood, there can be no life.
    I want to express how deeply upsetting I find this insidious attack on the precious Blood of The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Truly, an enemy has done this!

  4. December 12, 2009 at 11:31 am

    How does the blood of Christ wash our sins away and we still have indwelling sin?

  5. derek
    December 12, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/blood.htm after you get through his sidekicks whining you can see his actual words on the subject.

    John 20:17 Jesus saith unto her, touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

    He defines “touch” as “cling to”.
    He teaches that is was finished on the cross even though Christ had not yet died when He said that or resurected or ascended or enterer holy of holies with His blood.

    It is easy to find such…just ask them: Where is Jesus’ blood right now?

  6. December 13, 2009 at 5:43 pm


    Jesus blood keeps washing away sin (1 John 1:7). Part of what it keeps washing is indwelling sin. Jesus also continues to make intercession for us.

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