A COVER-UP OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS... 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! In this book, which includes a study guide for personal or group use, John MacArthur unveils the essential and clarifying revelation that may be keeping you from a fulfilling--and correct--relationship with God. It's powerful. It's controversial. And with new eyes you'll see the riches of your salvation in a radically new way. What does it mean to be a Christian the way Jesus defined it? MacArthur says it all boils down to one word: SLAVE "We have been bought with a price. We belong to Christ. We are His own possession." Endorsements: "Dr. John MacArthur is never afraid to tell the truth and in this book he does just that. The Christian's great privilege is to be the slave of Christ. Dr. MacArthur makes it clear that this is one of the Bible's most succinct ways of describing our discipleship. This is a powerful exposition of Scripture, a convincing corrective to shallow Christianity, a masterful work of pastoral encouragement...a devotional classic." - Dr. R. Albert Mohler, President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary "John MacArthur expertly and lucidly explains that Jesus frees us from bondage into a royal slavery that we might be His possession. Those who would be His children must, paradoxically, be willing to be His slaves." - Dr. R.C. Sproul "Dr. John MacArthur's teaching on 'slavery' resonates in the deepest recesses of my 'inner-man.' As an African-American pastor, I have been there. That is why the thought of someone writing about slavery as being a 'God-send' was the most ludicrous, unconscionable thing that I could have ever imagined...until I read this book. Now I see that becoming a slave is a biblical command, completely redefining the idea of freedom in Christ. I don't want to simply be a 'follower' or even just a 'servant'...but a 'slave'." - The Rev. Dr. Dallas H. Wilson, Jr., Vicar, St. John's Episcopal Chapel, Charleston, SC
MacArthur starts with an exploration of historical Jewish and Greco-Roman slavery, noting how such institutions varied from our Western experience of slavery in Britain and the American South. He claims that the cruelty of Western slavery is most likely what caused the translators over the years—from the Geneva Bible to the King James Version and on into almost all of our modern translations—to soften the word to "servant." (In addition, they were probably influenced by the Latin translation of the word, servus, and the fact that in sixteenth-century England, a "slave" usually meant a prisoner or person in chains.) But even though these translators had good intentions and some understandable reasons, their choice has robbed us of the true impact of this powerful biblical metaphor.
The truth is that the Bible presents all people as slaves of something. As unbelievers, we are slaves of sin and of Satan; as Christians, we are bought from the slavery of sin so that we may be slaves of righteousness. Most unbelievers believe that they are free and don't serve anything but themselves, but consider: we cannot reform ourselves, and our selfishness rules our actions and choices. We are slaves to sin. But upon salvation, God transfers us from one state of slavery to another. This sounds a bit shocking, but as MacArthur argues, the experience of a slave depends entirely on the character of his master. Slavery for created beings is not the evil; cruel masters are. And in God we have the kindest and best Master possible. Paradoxically, slavery to Him is the real freedom.
And He doesn't even stop there. In addition to the slave metaphor, Christ calls us His friends, and God calls us His children. These metaphors do not contradict one another, but highlight and enrich the truths of our identity in Christ. We are His slaves, His children, even Christ's brothers and sisters. We are His possession forever.
I found this book to be both scholarly and accessible. MacArthur uses footnotes to cite his many sources and at the end includes a brief survey of Christian writings, from the first century to the twentieth, on the concept of slavery to Christ. His style is imminently readable. He repeats himself frequently, but I'm learning this is a necessary and oft-used technique of the best Bible teachers. They never know when someone will catch on to some basic and vital truth, and so they weave those truths into everything they say.
So now we come to personal application. Do I consider myself a mere servant of God, putting in my time and earning my rightful wages, giving Him the benefit of my contribution to His cause? Or am I His slave, totally dependent on Him for everything, even the grace to obey? Do I belong, really belong, to myself or to Him? Something to think about the next time I am confronted with the choice to sin or submit. I am not my own.
The MacArthur disciples I've known tend to be dogmatic and quick to judge (I'm stating my bias outright). I would describe their approach to Scripture as "hyper-sola scriptura," usually culminating in the idea that the Bible is so perspicacious that everything that can be known about God is found in its pages, and anyone can discover all there is to know about God by studying it hard enough. I know one pastor who attended MacArthur's seminary who claimed he could unseal the prophecies given to Daniel (that God says are intentionally sealed until the endtimes) just by studying it harder. (Daniel apparently didn't study them hard enough, nor did anyone else over the millenia.) The Holy Spirit seems a minor player, and the idea that "none of us read the Bible alone" seems anathema to MacArthurian thought (though I'm not certain of MacArthur's own stances).
MacArthur lapses into that caricature at one point in the book (Pg. 75):
“Nonbiblical ministry, non-expository preaching...usurp Christ’s headship, silencing His voice to His sheep... That kind of devastating approach steals the mind of Christ away from the body of Christ...and quenches the work of His Spirit...and sows seeds of compromise. It deflects the honor due to the true head of the church, and the Lord does not take kindly to those who would steal His glory.”
So, if your pastor preaches a topical sermon he is stealing Christ's glory. If your church has a ministry, like youth ministry, that is not found in Scripture then it's "devastating."
However, Slave is a good word-study, and MacArthur draws on a large amount of sources who examine the use of the word and the context of slavery that OT and NT writers would have been familiar with in writing the words. One modern study that he draws on a lot is Murray Harris' Slave of Christ.He also draws on many historical church figures. If you like books with footnotes taking up half the page, then this is a good one.
The Hebrew word for slave ‘ebed’ is used metaphorically to describe believers (more than 250 times) NT use of the Greek word doulos is similar. It is used at least 40 times in NT to denote relationship of believers to divine master. An additional 30 NT passages use doulos to teach truths about Christian life. (Pg. 12)
The Greek word “kyrios” for Lord is used 750 times in NT, fundamentally meaning “master” or “owner”... relational counterpart to doulos. No slave is greater than his “kyrios” (Pg. 77)
MacArthur wrote the book because of what he sees as an "unintentional cover-up" by modern translations and teachers to re-interpret "slave" as something less harsh. While the KJV translates the word as "servant," this is problematic because servants are hired and slaves are owned.
Roman slaves had no recognized personality, they were not considered people and had no rights. While there are examples of abusive owners being publicly shamed or facing penalties, there are plenty of examples of abuse. However, slaves were allowed to be educated and it wasn't rare to find a slave who was a tailor, or a physician, or other skilled trader. But a slave's worth was based solely upon the worth of his master. In cases where slaves were freed, they were usually given Roman citizenship. There are many recorded cases of slaves becoming adopted as sons of the master, which also provides some metaphorical imagery.
MacArthur draws on John Newton (of Amazing Grace fame) to illustrate the difference between the African slave trade and the Roman one. The major difference being that African slavery was based on racism, whereas Roman slavery was not--slaves were of every race. African slaves were forbidden to learn to read in the American South and if granted freedom were restricted in other ways dissimilar to the Roman time period, where full rights of citizenship were usually bestowed. But other than that, the life of a Roman slave wasn't much better than an African one--a point MacArthur emphasizes.
The NT is explicit that we are either slaves to sin or slaves to Christ. Newton's words paint the image most vividly, as he was most familiar with the slave trade having both been a trader and also subject to being enslaved himself for a brief time. Christ frees us from our sins and binds us to Him as His slaves. Even in early church history, believers referred to one another as "fellow slaves." Ignatius (c. 50-110 a.d.) wrote about the "bishop together with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow slaves." The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 130 a.d.) refers to believers as "slaves of God." I was reminded of the headstone I saw in Ankara of "John" who was known in death as "the slave of God." We don't like to use those terms today.
MacArthur explores a paradox, for we are also adopted as Sons of God. Pg. 175-176:
"Through Christ we have been set free. We are no longer slaves to sin, to the fear of death, or the condemnation of the Law. But we have been made slaves of God, for Christ, to righteousness. Such is true freedom. Thus, we are simultaneously sons and slaves. The two realities are not mutually exclusive--even if the metaphors are different. Forever we will be part of His family. Forever we will be in His glorious servitude."
(The above passage contains sixteen NT references footnoted.) MacArthur deals with John 15:15 where Jesus told His disciples "No longer do I call you slaves...but I have called you friends." Pg. 176:
"At first glance, it seems as if He might be obliterating the slave metaphor altogether. But such is not the case, as evidenced by the fact that the disciples continued to refer to themselves as 'slaves of Christ' long afterwards...Moreover, Jesus defined friendship as submission to Him: 'You are My friends if you do what I command you' (John 15:14)...That Jesus views believers as both friends and slaves is supported by a host of New Testament passages."
We are also citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, another aspect that MacArthur explores.MacArthur explores how many NT Christians were both actual slaves or owners of slaves, like Philemon. Slaves are exhorted to work "as for the Lord" and masters are exhorted to treat their slaves well with the understanding that they themselves are slaves of the Master.
MacArthur spends several chapters delving into how the proper contextual understanding of the word "slave" jives with theological Calvinism (which MacArthur never calls Calvinism, but rather "doctrines of Grace."). Slaves had no choice about their ownership, and neither do we as the elect. The imagery of slavery and submission are difficult for all modern believers, and generally rejected by various modern liberal traditions I run into, which helped motivate MacArthur to write Slave. I recommend it as a study and as a good reference for other historical works dealing with the issue.
In all, 3.5 stars out of 5.