I’ve let the dust settle some on the conversation that I note further down before bringing up this question, what about the blood of Christ? This is a question in regards to John MacArthur that will not go away regardless of how many times some at SharperIron will trot out links to MacArthur’s statement. Sure, John MacArthur believes in the blood of Christ and only the most inane would say anything to the contrary, but what does he believe about the blood of Christ?
Over at Sharper Iron, some have brought it back to people’s attention. Some men are expecting some level of apology for past statements by fundamentalists, and fundamental fellowships (in this case the FBFI). While everyone trots out the words of condemnation by various men against MacArthur, no one is actually bringing up what John MacArthur has said. I find this quite odd. Some are quick to jump on the FBFI for their past denunciation of MacArthur yet no one is looking at what John MacArthur has said to see if it is worth denouncing. Any denunciation is simply and quickly dismissed seemingly just because it is against MacArthur. Here are links to the comments referred to above (see here and hereand here and here)(see here)
This does beg us to respond to the proverbial elephant in the room, that being, what does MacArthur say about the blood of Christ? It is not enough to say, yes, John MacArthur believes in the blood of Christ. This statement means nothing. It says nothing as to what MacArthur actually believes about that blood.
So, let’s let John MacArthur speak for himself. Here are some quotes from MacArthur himself about the blood of Christ. The first two are transcribed from this audio of Phil Johnson and John MacArthur talking about this very thing (found here).
“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.” (emphasis mine)
“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.” (emphasis mine)
In the audio you’ll notice that several times MacArthur will build strawmen arguments about his beliefs. These strawmen have nothing to do with the controversy surrounding him about his belief about the blood.
Let’s also look into MacArthur’s commentary writing to find what else he says about the blood. In his commentary on Hebrews, The New Covenant—part 3 (9:15-28) he writes,
“The second reason for the death of Christ was that forgiveness demands blood. This truth is directly in line with the previous point, but with a different shade of meaning. Blood is a symbol (emphasis mine) of death, and therefore follows closely the idea of a testator’s having to die in order for a will to become effective.” (p. 236)
“It was not Jesus’ physical blood that saves us, but His dying on our behalf, which is symbolized (emphasis mine) by the shedding of His physical blood.” (p. 237)
“The purpose of the blood was to symbolize (emphasis mine) sacrifice for sin, which brought cleansing from sin.” (p.237)
“Since the penalty for sin is death, nothing but death, symbolized (emphasis mine) by the shedding of blood, can atone for sin.” (p. 237. 238)
Now, when the Scriptures speak of the blood of Christ is this what we are supposed to think? That it is simply a symbol for His death? Now granted MacArthur says many good things in this commentary about the blood of Christ but as we see with the above excerpts those good statements are interspersed with these.
Those at SI noted about how this issue of MacArthur and the blood hasn’t gone away. Well, of course it hasn’t and it’s not going to go away. Every new copy of MacArthur’s Hebrews commentary placed into the hands of each new preacher or lay person will raise this question again and again.
Now before, some go to the extremes, no, I am not of a Romanish bent that the blood of Christ is eternally being offered, okay. I am asking this question though. Is Christ’s blood merely, simply a symbol for His death? I don’t think so. MacArthur leads us to think that Christ’s blood and His death are one in the same thing with his use of the words synonym, metaphor, and symbol/symbolize.
More important than what a man thinks about a subject, what does the Scriptures say? Let’s look at several passages beginning in Genesis.
Genesis 9:3, 4
Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
God gave commandment to Noah and his sons that they could eat animals now but not the blood because the life of the flesh is the blood. God sets apart blood here giving it a special emphasis.
Ex 12:7, 13, 22, 23
And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.
And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning.
For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.
Notice that in the initiation of the Passover, God says nothing about the animal sacrifice that was consumed that night as being efficacious, but He does mention that the blood must be applied to the doorposts and lintels of their homes. The death of the animal was not sufficient, the blood must be applied.
And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.
And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD.
And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.
And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient.
And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.
Again, we notice that animals are sacrificed but then specifically the blood is reserved for a special purpose, being sprinkled on the altar and upon the people. Keil & Delitzsch, in their commentary make this statement;
The division of the blood had reference to the two parties to the covenant, who were to be brought by the covenant into a living unity…For this was not a mixture of different kinds of blood, but it was a division of one blood, and that sacrificial blood, in which animal life was offered instead of human life, making expiation as a pure life for sinful man, and by virtue of this expiation restoring the fellowship between God and man which had been destroyed by sin. But the sacrificial blood itself only acquired this signification through the sprinkling or swinging upon the altar, by virtue of which the human soul was received, in the soul of the animal sacrificed for man, into the fellowship of the divine grace manifested upon the altar, in order that, through the power of this sin-forgiving and sin-destroying grace, it might be sanctified to a new and holy life. In this way the sacrificial blood acquired the signification of a vital principle endued with the power of divine grace; and this was communicated to the people by means of the sprinkling of the blood. As the only reason for dividing the sacrificial blood into two parts was, that the blood sprinkled upon the altar could not be taken off again and sprinkled upon the people; the two halves of the blood are to be regarded as one blood, which was first of all sprinkled upon the altar, and then upon the people. In the blood sprinkled upon the altar, the natural life of the people was given up to God, as a life that had passed through death, to be pervaded by His grace; and then through the sprinkling upon the people it was restored to them again, as a life renewed by the grace of God. In this way the blood not only became a bond of union between Jehovah and His people, but as the blood of the covenant, it became a vital power, holy and divine, uniting Israel and its God; and the sprinkling of the people with this blood was an actual renewal of life, a transposition of Israel into the kingdom of God, in which it was filled with the powers of God’s spirit of grace, and sanctified into a kingdom of priests, a holy nation of Jehovah (Ex. 19:6). And this covenant was made ‘upon all the words’ which Jehovah had spoken, and the people had promised to observe. Consequently it had for its foundation the divine law and right, as the rule of life for Israel.
In the opening chapters of Leviticus, God lays out His instructions for how service was to be rendered in the Tabernacle. In the first 8 chapters of Leviticus, “blood” is used some 39 times (88 times in the whole book). Since the use of this word is in conjunction with the actual sacrificing (i.e. the death of an animal) and it’s use is differentiated from the animal itself, then it seems most reasonable to understand that “blood” is not synonymous with, a metaphor for, or symbolizes the “death” of the animal as John MacArthur leads us to believe by his statements. The reason is obvious, animals were sacrificed on the altar AND their blood was sprinkled on or applied to certain objects or persons. BOTH the sacrifice of the animal was necessary AND the applying of the blood was necessary. Two acts were accomplished to satisfy God’s commands to His people, not one or the other, BOTH must be done. God also makes it very clear in Lev. 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” that it is the blood that is in view here, not just the animal sacrifice on the altar. This is BOTH/AND not either/or, a synonym, a metaphor, or symbolizes.
I move on to the New Testament. We know that all those sacrifices, which could never take away sin, were a foreshadow of the One Perfect sacrifice for sin, the Lord Jesus Christ. The very fact in our partaking of communion, the Lord’s Table, shows the significance of the BOTH/AND. In the bread we remember, “This is my body, which was broken for you,” we also partake of the fruit of the vine (grape juice), “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” We do not partake of one element recognizing that they are symbolical, a metaphor, or a synonym of the other.
The Scriptures paint an entirely different picture. For in the Scriptures, both in the many OT sacrifices and in the NT’s presentation Christ’s sacrifice, we see a BOTH/AND when it comes to the blood and death. Whether it is the Passover, where the lamb is given and whose body is to be consumed by the family AND its blood applied to the doorposts and lintel or the sanctifying of the Tabernacle with the sacrifice of the animal on the altar AND the sprinkling of all things associated with the Tabernacle with the blood, to the Day of Atonement where once again an animal is sacrificed on the altar AND its blood sprinkled on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, we see that BOTH a sacrifice (the death of an animal) AND its blood sprinkled were to be done. Not one or the other but BOTH were necessary, thus eliminating the idea of just taking some blood from an animal and letting it live and also not just killing an animal and sacrificing its body on the altar. The complete fulfillment of the sacrifices in the Old Testament is seen in the sacrifice and shed blood of our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
So, does John MacArthur believe in the blood of Jesus Christ? The answer is yes, but more importantly is what MacArthur believes about His blood. John MacArthur, in the very least, has portrayed a very poor picture of the blood of Christ. John MacArthur has done what John MacArthur seems to do best, over react in the opposite direction to some error of extreme. His Lordship Salvation as articulated in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus, is an overreaction to easy believism. His statements on the blood of Christ are an overreaction to those extremists who have taken the blood of Christ into the realm of possessing various mystical powers.
Let’s let the Scriptures say what It has to say and not twist and pervert them to mean something It doesn’t.