A Hidden Jewel in John MacArthur, Part Two

In my last blog entry, I started digging into a recent John MacArthur sermon in which he says Biden’s election win coupled with the increased acceptance of homosexuality are indicative of God’s supposed abandonment of our nation. I started digging into the passages MacArthur referenced in the first part of his sermon and found what I consider serious problems with his exegesis of Romans 1.

Which isn’t to say that MacArthur’s general interpretation of Romans 1:18-32 is uncommon. His is a pretty typical conservative evangelical understanding of the passage, he’s just added a few things here and there in an effort to dovetail LGBTQ orientations with God’s pending judgement. MacArthur continues in this vein by trying to associate the sins of Israel in Isaiah 5 with America and its LGBTQ population.

However, the author of Isaiah 5 doesn’t make you wonder what Israel is being judged for. It’s not left ambiguous so just anyone came come along and superimpose their own meaning onto the text. Here’s a list of the six “woes” mentioned in the chapter:

1. Rich people expanding their real estate holdings, most likely to the detriment of the poor – 5:8
2. Drunkenness – 5:11-12
3. Pride, defiance of God – 5:18-19
4. Redefining good and evil for one’s own benefit– 5:20
5. Being wise in one’s own eyes – 5:21
6 Drunkenness (again) – 5:22-23

Did you notice what’s not mentioned anywhere in there? Homosexuality, that’s what. No mention of a single exclusively homosexual activity in sight anywhere in the whole chapter. You could say items three, four, and five are talking about homosexuals if you want to take that approach. On the other hand, you can also apply them to a lot of the people and politicians passing laws to inhibit LGBTQ rights and medical care.

I think the thing to look at here when trying to determine what kinds of behaviors the woes should be applied to is what a person’s activities lead to. If a prominent theologian like MacArthur says that adult homosexuals should be disowned by their parents (a statement he has made in the past) and that advice leads to bitterness and broken family relationships, should MacArthur be considered wise in his own eyes? If laws banning hormone treatment for trans kids in Arkansas leads to an increase in teenage suicides, have our legislators redefined good and evil? On the other hand, what is to be gained from keeping LBGTQ folks from marrying the people they’re in love with? What is the benefit of stigmatizing loving relationships between two consenting adults?

(As a side note, MacArthur starts off by saying LGBTQ people are a sign of God’s abandoning a nation. At some point during the sermon, however, homosexuality becomes the reason for God’s pending judgment. This obviously conflates the issue but I think MacArthur is more interested in advancing a preconceived point of view rather than presenting a solid logical argument.)

At a point about halfway through his sermon, MacArthur says, “The holiness of God is made manifest throughout history in the judgment of nations and peoples.” Where’s he getting this stuff, you might ask? Well, he’s quoting Isaiah 5:16 from the New King James Version which says, “But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment …” Here’s the thing, though, of the ten Bible translations I checked, only half translate the Hebrew word mishpat as “judgment.” Those that use “judgment” in this verse include that KJV, NKJV, NASB1995, NASB2020, and the NET Bible.

Here’s where I finally get to the jewel I found in MacArthur’s sermon: the NIV, NRSV, Christian Standard Bible, ESV, and Lexham English Bible all translate mishpat as “justice.” How do you define justice? According to the Lexham Bible Dictionary, it’s “Divinely righteous action, whether taken by humanity or God, that promotes equality among humanity. Used in relation to uplifting the righteous and oppressed and debasing the unrighteous and oppressors.”

What isn’t touched on by this definition is divine retributive justice, God taking out his big stick and whacking people because they deserve to be whacked. This is about restorative justice, God correcting inequities between the poor and the rich, the oppressed and the oppressors. And this is usually depicted in the Old Testament as a precursor to God bringing His people back into relationship with Him.

So, what can restorative justice look like? It might look a lot like what’s described in Isaiah 5:17 which MacArthur conveniently skipped over when solemnly reciting all the woes that befall a nation under experiencing God’s judgment justice. Why did he not mention verse 17? Maybe because there’s a textual discrepancy between the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint in this passage and the Hebrew doesn’t favor MacArthur’s argument.

Here are verses 16 and 17 from the CSB which uses the Hebrew version of the text: But the Lord of Armies is exalted by his justice, and the holy God demonstrates his holiness through his righteousness. Lambs will graze as if in their own pastures, and resident aliens will eat among the ruins of the rich.

Did you catch that? It blew me away. When God brings Her justice to America, the illegal aliens that snuck in trying to find a job and create better lives for their kids will wind up eating in Mar-A-Lago. When justice arrives, the wealthy that exploited the poor won’t be anywhere to be found but those who worked in miserable conditions for minimum wage will suddenly be living in the mansions of their employers.

Isaiah 5 isn’t about homosexuality. It’s about God’s justice, about God righting wrongs and letting nations reap the natural consequence of their actions. In Israel’s case, the natural consequence of its rebellion against Assyria was to be taken into captivity. If America should fall some day and we want to draw a parallel to ancient Israel, it won’t be because of LGBTQ people or not having “God’s man” in office. It will be because of bad foreign policy decisions which will probably be made be a cisgender white guy.

A Hidden Jewel in John MacArthur, Part One

John MacArthur preached a sermon a few weeks ago which might best be summarized as “Biden is in the White House, homosexuality is on the increase, America is now under irrevocable judgment, film at 11.” And I was basically content to leave my understanding of his remarks at that. But, after talking to a friend of mine, I was compelled to engage in a little self-flagellation so I listened to the whole one-hour speech. (My friend says a two-hour version is out there. I shudder to think.)

A few minutes into this ordeal, MacArthur was taking so many verses out of context that I wound up pulling out Bibles and commentaries that hadn’t seen the light of day for quite some time. I soon had our living room cluttered with a slew of study Bibles, commentaries, and various translations. Never let it be said John MacArthur doesn’t provide motivation for the progressive Christian.

MacArthur’s main idea was to join in the culture wars and somehow say that America under Biden is more corrupt than Trump’s America. In an effort to prove his point, MacArthur doesn’t waste time in getting to Romans 1:18-32, one of the most beloved clobber passages. He then covers the same stuff we’ve always heard about people knowing there is a higher power than themselves but refusing to acknowledge that truth so God gives them over to their own desires.

He uses Romans 1 in conjunction with some passages from Isaiah to say that there are three signs of a nation being abandoned by God: a sexual revolution, a homosexual revolution, and being given over to a depraved mind, i.e., insanity. MacArthur doesn’t say much about the sexual revolution but I assume he thinks there’s a homosexual revolution coming to fruition under Biden. MacArthur may not be aware of this but LGBTQ folks have been around since before November 2020. Spread the word. In something of a twist, though, he equates being transgender with having a depraved mind. Not only are transgender people nuts, they’re beyond redemption. MacArthur is apparently laboring under the delusion that being transgender is a choice. It’s not. Once again, someone should let Mr. MacArthur know that gender dysphoria is an actual thing that was diagnosed prior to January 2021.

Here’s the thing about Romans 1, though: it’s not the blanket condemnation of homosexuality I was always told it was. It’s talking specifically about idol worship. Take a look at verse 23 that says “(they) exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.” Paul is contrasting idol worship (almost exclusively associated with the Gentiles in Paul’s time) with the sins of the Jews in an effort to show that all of us need redemption. The list of unrighteous acts at the end of the chapter were associated with recent Roman emperors around that time.(Paul is also using quite a bit of language from The Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-9 (a passage describing Gentiles worshiping the creation instead of the Creator) in an effort to drive his point home.)

And this is without even considering the very real possibility that Romans 1 was meant to be heard as the voice of a “false teacher.” Here’s the thing, way back in the day, there was a form of written argument called prosopopoeia. It’s an ancient literary device that can be briefly described as an extended rhetorical question summarizing your opponent’s arguments followed by your answer to that question. Using this format, 1:18-32 are in the voice of the false teacher and Paul answers in 2:1-5. A good video series on Paul’s use of prosopopoeia starts here.

Honestly though, if you feel the Bible prohibits homosexuality and there’s just no way around it, I suggest you meet some gay people who love Jesus. Go out of your way to get to know those in the LGBTQ community who identify as Christians and see for yourself where their hearts are. A lot of these people were raised up in church and have tried to “pray the gay away” for years with no success. They were told their orientation separated them from God, that they were fundamentally evil, or, like MacArthur says, that their mere existence is a sign of God’s judgement on America. Then you get to choose what you’re going to believe: your interpretation of the Bible or the truth exhibited in the lives of these people who love Jesus and seek after Him despite what their churches have told them.

Well, this entry has gone on for longer than I meant it to and I still haven’t gotten to the awesome surprise I found in one of the Isaiah passages MacArthur referenced. It really was a neat find for me and I have Mr. MacArthur to thank for the motivation to dig deeper. More on this later.