A couple of weeks ago I asked the readers of this site to help me interview John MacArthur. I collected several of the best questions, added in a few of my own, and sent them off. Dr. MacArthur was kind enough not just to answer them, but to answer them very thoroughly.
I am posting the first 5 questions and answers today and will follow up with the next 5 tomorrow. Today the questions revolve around his new book Slave, the best Bible translations, avoiding scandal, the challenges he has faced in ministry, and the advice he would give himself if he could go back to the early days of his ministry. Tomorrow he talks about time management, about critiquing people “in our camp,” about theological crises, about the Reformed Charismatics and about Christians who deny a literal 6-day creation.
Without further ado, here is the interview with Dr. MacArthur:
Slave. What is it about this word that merits a whole book?
Sometimes one word can make an enormous difference. For example, the Latin Vulgate's translation of metanoia (repentance) as paenitentia (penance) in places like Acts 2:38 led to all sorts of problems in the Roman Catholic Church.
The slave concept is a major theme in Scripture. In fact, believers are referred to as "slaves" hundreds of times throughout the Old and New Testaments. Yet, the American church is blind to this critical theme because most English versions translate the word as "servant" instead.
While it is true that the duties of slave and servant may overlap to some degree, there is a key distinction between the two: servants are hired; slaves are owned. Servants have an element of freedom in choosing whom they work for and what they do. The idea of servanthood maintains some level of self-autonomy and personal rights. Slaves, on the other hand, have no freedom, autonomy, or rights. In the Greco-Roman world, slaves were considered property, to the point that, in the eyes of the law they were regarded as things rather than persons. To be someone's slave was to be his possession, bound to obey his will without hesitation or argument.
This reality has major implications for our understanding of the gospel. Christ's call to follow Him is not simply an invitation to become His associate, but a mandate to become His slave. That message is especially needed in American culture, where a man-centered, feel-good, cheap-grace gospel has become so popular. But nothing could be farther from the biblical reality--a reality which is brought to the forefront by rightly translating that one word: "slave."
In the past I've written many books that focus on a right understanding of the gospel--The Gospel According to Jesus, The Gospel According to the Apostles, Hard to Believe, and so on. But, as I note in my preface to Slave, "I have no doubt that this perpetual hiding of an essential element of New Testament revelation has contributed to much of the confusion in evangelical teaching and practice. In fact, I wonder if it wasn't the reason I felt the need to write so many books to clarify the gospel. If this one reality had been known, would any of those books have been necessary?"
So, I see this as a vitally-important issue with far-reaching implications for how the gospel ought to be understood, preached, and lived.