Full disclosure: I have not read John MacArthur’s Slave. I have only read promotional materials and a handful of positive reviews of the book. But on 2/26/2011, the ex cathedra declaration was made that the contents of a book can be fully judged based on its promotional materials, so I feel that I am perfectly justified in what I have to say.
(Yes, that last sentence was just a tad snarky.)
I recently got done listening to a study from late 2008 by Michael Card called “A Better Freedom”. The materials used for that study largely stemmed from Card’s findings and writings that became his book of the same name. One of the ideas that he posited was concering the Greek word doulos, which is used many times in the New Testament. In most English translations of the Bible, this word is translated as “servant”; however, Card contends that the better translation is “slave”. He also notes that the word kurios (usually translated as “Lord”) better fits our understandings (and the context of its usage) as “master” or “owner”.
Throughout the study, Card looks at a number of Scriptures, largely in the Gospels and Pauline letters, that use and/or illustrate these terms. Looking at them through the lens of these translations sheds new light on them, gives them a deeper meaning, and even makes some of them make more sense. Such ideas also demand of the Christian with any personal honesty to re-examine his view of himself, his Master, and how that all looks in day-to-day life.
Fast-forward about three years.
One of the contentions of MacArthur’s Slave (released earlier this year) is the same as the first one that I attributed to Card — that doulos is better translated as “slave” than “servant”. But the quote from the book — which appears in the promotional materials — that supports this idea is that:
[c]enturies ago, English translators perpetrated a fraud in the New Testament, and it’s been purposely hidden and covered up ever since. Your own Bible is probably included in the cover-up!
Now, when I first read that, my initial thought was that the statement falls neatly into the same level of conspiracy theory as those that claim that the moon landing was all done on a Hollywood soundstage.
But let’s play nice. Snarkiness aside, what is being said here? His contention is not that an error of ignorance was made and ought to be corrected — at least in our minds — so that we can be used more effectively in the Kingdom. Rather, he is stating that the mis-translation was done not only knowingly, but maliciously. Such an idea is only about a half-step away from claiming that the translators were tools of Satan.
I have to admit to liking this idea in one sense, as MacArthur is implying that the translators are humans, a concept with which the KJV-only crowd seems to disagree, in lifestyle, if not actual word. But, I digress.
Even without this next step (tools of Satan), though, I can’t help but think that MacArthur feels that someone needs to be blamed for the mis-translation. And this, at best, is worrisome. After all, what good does it do me (or anyone)? Yes — if at the most basic level — Card and MacArthur are correct, then things were done incorrectly. But whether they were done out of ignorance (which seems to be Card’s belief) or out of malice (definitely MacArthur’s belief), the perpetrators of this error answer to neither me, nor Mike, nor John, nor you. Even if the problem and its ramifications affect us deeply, we gain nothing by pinning the origins on someone.
But my real point is not to rag on MacArthur. His take on this issue is merely endemic of a larger problem that reveals itself in many ways. The one that leaps to mind first (probably because it is so prevalent in this country) is dissatisfaction with the government. People are always inclined to see problems with the administration whenever it is occupied by the other party. And, regardless of political affiliation, there are extremely few (beyond immediate family members) that believe that the U.S. Congress has performed well in a long time. But even when the action (or inaction) of our political leaders affects us significantly, blaming them doesn’t gain us anything. Yes, we can learn from what they do wrong and we can seek to correct it. In fact, we ought to do so when the incorrect action leads to injustice. But the only thing we’re going to get out of the blame game is an ulcer.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about spiritual gifts. And he is doing so positively. There’s no better proof of this than the next-to-last sentence of the chapter: “But earnestly desire the best gifts.” But then he immediately makes a sharp turn that the Corinthian readers probably weren’t expecting when he says, “And yet I show you a more excellent way” and launches into his description of love and its importance in the grand scheme.
Paul is not reversing his position. He is not diminishing the role of spiritual gifts. He is simply placing them in proper context and showing us what is even more important.
Such should be our reaction when we are tempted to play the blame game. The sentiment “it is what it is” can be fatalistic, but it doesn’t have to be. It can simply be a recognition of current (fallen) reality, followed by an analysis of how the Christian is going to live in that reality.
It’s either that, or dig up some guy that’s been dead for centuries just to punch him in the throat.