Not long ago I viewed a video advertisement for John MacArthur’s new book “Slave.” I remember being a bit surprised by the sensationalist marketing strategy used by MacArthur during the promotion of his book, a strategy that also found its way on the back cover. Turn the book over and you will read how “centuries 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!” Normally those kinds of words would quickly send me on my way looking for something else to read. But to the credit of MacArthur, someone who I respect and trust on many issues, I decided to give the book a try.
Not surprisingly, the “perpetrated fraud” angle was addressed in about two sentences in the preface of the book and never really revisited again. MacArthur even admits in the preface that the “cover-up was not intentional”, no doubt leaving some readers who foam at the mouth for conspiracy theories in religion rather disappointed. The book does spend some time in the first chapter discussing the difference between the word “slave” and “servant” and how the latter does not carry the same weight or meaning as the former. MacArthur demonstrates how a majority of translations today use the word servant in place of slave for the Greek word doulos. But that is really the extent of the translation issue and the remainder of the book is an exegetical excursion into the Master/Slave relationship between Jesus and his bride. It is writing on this topic, and not the conspiracy of translators, that MacArthur has provided for us a tremendous service.
Anyone who is familiar with the ministry of John MacArthur knows that he is a strict Lordship Salvation proponent as opposed to the position of the Free Grace supporters. This book is an exposition, the best I have read, on why the Lordship Salvation position is the correct and biblical position. MacArthur spends some time discussing slavery in the Greco-Roman world and elaborates on how that form of slavery was rather different than the 17th and 18th century depiction of colonial America slavery we are naturally prone to consider. He does not make the mistake of equating slavery in biblical times to a walk through Fantasyland, but makes some helpful distinctions. This is, of course, to help the reader overcome the “flinch” moment of hearing themselves described as a slave, a word we only associate with cruel racial oppression.
The book takes us back to an OT understanding of Israelite slavery, recalling the oppressive slavery of Pharaoh to the Hebrews in Egypt. Although God freed the Israelites from that form of slavery, he did not simply release them to their own desires. Rather, God moved them from one form of slavery to another; slaves of Pharaoh have become the slaves of God. MacArthur says, “the exodus from Egypt did not give the Israelites complete autonomy. Rather, it issued them into a different kind of bondage. Those who had once been the property of Pharaoh became the Lord’s possession.” From there, the book asserts that Paul and the rest of the NT authors knew exactly what they were describing when they used the word “slave” to depict their relationship with Christ, fully aware of the Jewish history and Greco-Roman culture.
This naturally leads into a discussion of sin, from which MacArthur is poised to begin teaching on the Doctrines of Grace. And he does just that, beginning with total depravity, and eventually working his way through all five points of Calvinism with a distinctive MacArthur flare. I found, at times, he was a bit off the road from his main thesis in order to articulate some of those points, but he rather quickly gets back to the discussion at hand and provides a fantastic explanation of redemption, that we have been “purchased” at a great price and our life is no longer our own. We are either slaves to sin or slaves to Christ, MacArthur argues, and any other position or status for humans is not possible.
The book finishes strong, noting that although we are marked by slavery, we are also marked by being adopted as sons and daughters; we are friends with God. The great paradox of the Christian faith is that we are friends of God who are also his willing slaves. I think the simple sentence that best sums up the book and is an eye opening truth for our walk in 2011 is when MacArthur, quoting Murray Harris, says, “to be a slave of Christ is true freedom.” The more we offer ourselves in service to Christ Jesus, the greater freedom we have to live a spirit-filled, abundant life.
In an age where many good people are content with clinging to Jesus as Savior, not many are as concerned with living under him as Lord. This book provides an antidote to that false belief system and challenges us to be thankful for our slavery to God that marks a true Christian. I recommend this book without reservation for all who claim to be in Christ Jesus.