By Lloyd Streeter
From The Baptist Arrow, March, 1993
“And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.” Colossians 1:20-22
The passage above tells us of the problem that sinners have, the way of salvation, and the future of the righteous. The problem that sinners have is that they are alienated from God and enemies of God. The unsaved cannot approach unto God because of sin. The sinner does not want the way of God. His mind is set against God, and his works are wicked.
The way of salvation is in a person, the Lord Jesus Christ, because of the redemptive work He did for sinners. His redemptive work is summarized in the words “blood,” “cross,” and “death.” These words are not to be considered symbolically or euphemistically. Our only hope of eternal life lies in the fact that Christ paid our sin debt by suffering in our place.
The future of the righteous is that we will be presented holy, spotless, pure, white, unblameable, and unreproveable before the Lord Jesus. We will be eternally in His presence, delivered from sin and from all that is offensive to Him. But, all the praise will be to the glory of His grace. Our salvation is only because He suffered for us.
The shedding of Christ’s blood was one of the things He suffered for us in payment for our sins. His blood was “shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). And, “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). “Shed” and “shedding” does not mean death. These words mean to gush out, to pour forth. This gushing out of Christ’s blood was essential in and of itself, not as a mere euphemism for His death, and not simply as fulfillment of prophecy, but as an effective part of God’s redeeming work. As Dr. Earnest Pickering says, “The blood which Christ shed was a purchase price. It was a payment for others. It was a vicarious, substitutionary offering.”
There is no reason (scriptural, theological, or historical) to start downplaying, minimizing, and deemphasizing the blood of Christ. As Dr. Terry Rude says in the November, 1988, issue of Biblical Viewpoint, “The obvious emphasis would tell us that Christ’s blood was precious blood even if Peter had not said it plainly (I Peter 1:18-19). The multitude of New Testament statements on Christ’s blood, the efficacious reality, maintain the exact strong emphasis of the Old Testament on the anticipating symbol. The Scripture’s focus on the blood has naturally led the church to an affectionate appreciation and magnification of that precious blood. We shall do well to make much of it.” [emphasis mine]
Dr. John MacArthur does not think Christians should get preoccupied or “teary-eyed” about the blood of Christ. He is worried that Christians will get too emotional about the blood. He would not agree with Spurgeon’s emphasis on the blood. But, Spurgeon seemed to have exactly the right doctrine and emphasis as expressed in his sermon, “The Blood-Shedding.”
Yes, there was a shedding of most precious blood, to which I must forth-with refer you. I shall not tell you now of massacres and murders, nor of rivers of blood of goats and rams. There was a blood-shedding once, which did all other shedding of blood by far outvie; it was a man—a God—that shed his blood at that memorable season. Come and see it. Here is a garden dark and gloomy; the ground is crisp with the cold frost of midnight; between those gloomy olive trees I see a man, I hear him groan out his life in prayer; hearken, angels; hearken, men, and wonder; it is the Saviour groaning out of his soul! Come and see him. Behold his brow! O Heaven! drops of blood are streaming down his face and from his body; every pore is open, and it sweats! but not the sweat of men that toil for bread: it is the sweat of one that toils for heaven—he “sweats great drops of blood!” That is the blood-shedding, without which there is no remission. Follow that man further; they have dragged him with sacrilegious hands from the place of his prayer and his agony, and they have taken him to the hall of Pilate; they seat him in a chair and mock him; a robe of purple is put on his shoulders in mockery; and mark his brow—they have put about it a crown of thorns, and the crimson drops of gore are rushing down his cheeks! But turn aside that purple robe for a moment. His back is bleeding. Tell me, demons, who did this? They lift up the thongs still dripping clots of gore; they scourge and tear his flesh, and make a river of blood to run down his shoulders! That is the shedding of blood, without which there is no remission. Not yet have I done; they hurry him through the streets; they fling him on the ground; they nail his hands and feet to the transverse wood, they hoist it in the air, they dash it into its socket, it is fixed, and there he hangs, the Christ of God. Blood from his head, blood from his hands, blood from his feet! In agony unknown, He bleeds away his life: in terrible throes he exhausts his soul. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani.” And then see! they pierce his side, and forthwith runneth out blood and water! This is the shedding of blood, sinners and saints, this is the awful shedding of blood, the terrible pouring out of blood, without which, for you, and for the whole human race. There is no remission.
Yes, our Lord Jesus paid the redemption price for our salvation. This is a truth reflected in the Lord’s Supper. The broken bread reminds us of His broken body. That broken bread reminds us of His sufferings in His physical body—His bruising, scourging, agonizingly painful experience before He died. The cup represents His precious blood shed for us. The Lord’s death is included in that of which the broken bread and the cup remind us (I Corinthians 11:26); however, His shed blood and His physical sufferings were a part of the price of our salvation. The Lord instructed us to memorialize His blood because it is efficacious.
Dr. John MacArthur, Jr., is the pastor (teaching elder) of Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California. He is president of the Masters College (a former GARBC “approved” college) in Newhall, California. His radio and tape ministry is called “Grace to You.” His leadership ability and his gifts as a writer and speaker have made him a popular conference minister. His charm and charisma have made him beguiling.
A wake of confusion, contention, and controversy have followed MacArthur for many years. In an apparent attempt to astound and bedazzle his audiences and to bring out “some new thing,” he continually tries to put a new twist on old doctrines. In so doing, he has resurrected some age-old heresies, and he has even invented some new ones. We are reminded of Dr. H. A. Ironside’s warning, “If it is true, it is not new, and if it is new, it is not true.”
Among the heresies espoused by MacArthur are Lordship Salvation (which is a doctrine of salvation by works); that Jesus is not the eternal Son of God, but only became God’s Son at the incarnation; and Lay Elder Rule. Perhaps causing the deepest concern among fundamental Christians has been MacArthur’s errors on the blood of Christ.
Nothing is more important to a true Bible-believer than the precious blood of Christ. “Without shedding of blood is no remission” [forgiveness] (Hebrews 9:22). It is the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, that cleanses us from all sin. So, when John MacArthur minimizes the blood, downplays the blood, denies the efficacy of the blood, and distorts the Bible’s teaching on the blood, that is an error which must be exposed. People must be warned, lest they unwittingly support MacArthur’s ministries, become beguiled by his personality, or be led astray on crucial Bible doctrine.
In this article, we will quote directly from MacArthur’s own tapes, books, and articles. We want our readers to see his position in his exact words. Then no one can say that he was “misquoted,” “taken out of context,” or “misunderstood.” His position on the blood of Christ is well documented and can be known by anyone who cares to find it.
In his tape, numbered GC 80-44, titled “The Blood of Christ—Selected Scriptures” (which is a series of sermon excerpts), from sermons preached by MacArthur, we find this statement:
There is no sense in getting teary-eyed and mystical about blood. We sing hymns about “There is power in the blood,” and so forth, and we don’t want to get preoccupied with blood. The only importance that the blood of Jesus has is that it shows he died. There is no saving in that blood itself. We cannot say that the very blood of Jesus—His physical blood—is what atones for sin. It is His death that atones for sin. His blood shed was an act of death. So, we do not want to become preoccupied about fantasizing about some mystical blood that is floating around somewhere. It is by the sacrificial offer of Himself—it is by His death—that we are redeemed. Blood shed is only the picture of His death. . . . So, when Jesus died and shed his blood this is no big thing. This is nothing for Israel to get all bent out of shape about.
Ladies and gentlemen, the statements you just read, spoken by John MacArthur, are considered heresy by many Christian leaders. His doctrine on the blood of Christ is false and unscriptural.
Notice how he ridicules singing hymns about, “There is power in the blood.” See how he downplays the importance of the blood when he says, “The only importance that the blood of Jesus has is that it shows He died.” Note the false doctrine when he says, “There is no saving in that blood itself. We cannot say that the very blood of Jesus . . . is what atones for sin.”
It is easily seen that MacArthur’s big error in the above quoted statement is that he separates Christ’s bleeding from His dying, and says that only Christ’s death was the redemption price. This is a fatal fallacy! This is the exact same doctrine taught by R. B. Thieme sixty-five years ago. Thieme’s doctrine on the blood of Christ was condemned as heresy by all the leaders of fundamental Christianity during the 1960’s.
MacArthur’s position is that the bleeding and suffering of Christ had no part in paying the price for our sins. He says Christ’s blood is “only a picture,” a symbol, a metaphor, a metonym for His death, therefore it “is no big thing . . . nothing to get bent out of shape about.”
The next excerpt, from tape number GC 80-44, is from a sermon preached by MacArthur in February, 1975. MacArthur states:
It is not that the blood itself had some quality. It is that the giving of His life paid the penalty for sin. The giving of His life was symbolized by the shedding of His blood.
Note that MacArthur’s doctrine is that the only importance of Christ’s blood is that it is a symbol of His death. The blood itself does not help to save. The bleeding and suffering of Christ do not have any actual part in paying our sin debt, because only the death of Christ does that.
These are statements MacArthur repeats time and time again. These are not isolated mistakes or misstatements.
On the same tape, in a 1988 statement, MacArthur says,
His sacrifice for sin was one act that involved both His dying and the pouring out of His blood. Sacrificial death was the essential element. References to His blood are symbolic references to the death He died.
Notice that it is implied that the shedding of blood was not “essential” to our salvation and that Christ’s blood is only a symbol.
Of course, all true Bible-believing Christians believe that the death of Christ was essential for our salvation. The Bible says “Christ died for our sins” (I Corinthians 15:3), and “Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). But, true Bible-believing Christians also believe that the bleeding and suffering of Christ, and the presentation of His blood on the altar (Hebrews 9:12-24) are also essential for our salvation. In fact, in speaking of the saving work of Christ on our behalf, forty-one times the Bible speaks of the blood, fourteen times it speaks of the cross, and eight times it speaks of the death of Christ. All of the redemptive work of Christ was essential for our salvation. It is a serious heresy to separate (tear asunder!) one part of God’s redemptive work while downgrading the rest as nonessential.
According to MacArthur’s tape, number GC 80-44, in April of 1976, he preached a sermon titled “The Outrage of Idolatry.” He made the following unscriptural, very dangerous statement:
Let me say something that might shake some of you up, but I will try to qualify it. There is nothing in the actual blood that is efficacious for sin! Did you get that? The Bible does not teach that the blood of Christ itself has any efficacy for taking away sin! Not at all! The actual blood of Christ is not the issue. The issue is that His poured-out blood was symbolic of His violent death. The death was the thing that paid the price. It is His death that is the issue . . . . So, the pouring out of blood was the significance of death. So, we “commune” with the blood of Christ. It does not mean that the literal blood of Christ is involved. It means we enter into a genuine vital participation in His death. But, it is not the blood. The blood is only the symbol of the poured-out life.
The above statement by John MacArthur is as poisonous and as void of scriptural doctrine as any I’ve ever read by any modernist or reprobate! When MacArthur says, “The Bible does not teach that the blood of Christ itself has any efficacy for taking away sin,” it is no better than the modernistic statement of the Interpreter’s Bible which says, “From the earliest records of primitive sacrifice man has been obsessed by the efficacy of innocent blood to save from disaster. Both Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches have perpetuated this primitive tradition in all their ritual, in their hymns, and sacred books.”
How are MacArthur’s statements on the blood any better than the American Baptist modernist preacher Myron J. Hertel who was asked what he believed about the blood of Jesus Christ, and replied, “The blood of Jesus Christ is of no more value in the salvation of a soul than the water in which Pilate washed his hands”?
How is MacArthur’s doctrine of the blood of Christ any better than Mary Baker Eddy’s? She wrote, “The material blood of Jesus was no more efficacious to cleanse from sin when it was shed . . . than when it was flowing in his veins . . . .”?
How is MacArthur’s teaching on the blood of Christ any better than that of Colonel Robert B. Thieme who wrote, “It was His substitutionary spiritual death that was efficacious for our salvation. . . . The red liquid that ran through the veins and arteries of Jesus’ mortal body is not related to our salvation”?
Mind you, we are not saying that MacArthur holds any other doctrines in common with the modernists, with infidels, or with Christian Science; but we are saying that his doctrine of the blood of Christ is in gross error and no better than that of other false teachers.
In years gone by, fundamentalist Bible teachers and preachers, without exception, condemned false doctrine on the blood of Christ such as the statements of the Interpreter’s Bible, Myron Hertel, Mary Baker Eddy, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Nels Ferre, and Bishop Oxnam. It is now discouraging to see conservative Christians equivocating alibiing, and making excuses for John MacArthur.
On the blood of Christ, MacArthur is “speaking perverse things” (Acts 20:30). He is a false teacher (Matthew 7:15), “speaking evil of things he does not know” (Jude 10). He has brought in “damnable heresy” (II Peter 2:1). He has “perverted the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7).
We quote another excerpt from MacArthur’s tape, (#GC80-44) a sermon titled “Reconciled to God,” which he preached in April, 1976.
Blood is the metaphor for sacrifice. It is His death for sin that saves us . . . . Not that the shed blood is the literal saving thing, but that it connects His death with the Old Testament sacrifices. The blood was still in His body long after He was dead. He did not bleed to death . . . . His blood saves us only in the sense that His death was the sacrificial death of the final lamb. And you want to know something, He never lost His blood—the majority of it. Apparently, only some of it came out of those wounds—and those would have sealed up pretty fast with nails there. The majority of His blood remained in His body at least a half hour—maybe longer—after His death. It was His death as a man—His death incarnate in human flesh is the thing that reconciles us to God.
This MacArthur says in order to degrade and downplay the blood of Christ. He implies that ordinary Bible-believing Christians who disagree with his views must think that Christ bled to death. I have never heard of such a preposterous thing! I do not know of a single Christian who believes that Christ bled to death. He gave up His life voluntarily (John 10:10). But, His bleeding was one of the things He suffered in paying the penalty for our sins.
If Jesus had died without bleeding, His death would have saved no one. He had to die “according to the scriptures” just like the Bible says in I Corinthians 15:1-4 where the gospel is defined. Jesus died according to the Old Testament prophecies, fulfilling the types of the Old Testament sacrificial lambs. The Old Testament sin offerings had to have their blood shed and presented to God on the altar. The shedding of Jesus’ blood was essential not only to fulfill Old Testament prophecies but as a necessary part of the gospel which we must believe in order to be saved, “lest we have believed in vain” (I Corinthians 15:2).
MacArthur speculates about things he could not possibly know; about how much blood Jesus lost, about how fast the wounds sealed up, and about how much blood was still in Christ’s body. All of that is foolish and blasphemous speculation, attempting to minimize the importance of the bleeding of Christ. Again, MacArthur separates the bleeding from the dying as if the bleeding was not very important because it is only a symbol, a metaphor; but the death, he says, is the really important thing. He says it is only the death of Christ, not His shed blood, that reconciles us to God.
MacArthur goes on to say, on tape number GC 80-44: “Blood is a metonym . . . . He could not cut himself, bleed on someone and save them.” A metonym is a metaphor. So MacArthur believes that the blood of Christ has no saving power in its own right, rather the blood is only symbolical.
The historic, orthodox position is much different from MacArthur’s doctrine. None of the great Bible teachers of bygone days believed what MacArthur teaches. You will not find MacArthur’s doctrine in the writings of Chapman, Spurgeon, Torrey, Truett, MacClaren, Boettner, Ryle, Henry, Gray, Alford, Bancroft, Strombeck, Ironside, Morgan, Pettingill, Scofield, or Gaebelein.
No one, to my knowledge, ever said that Christ could have cut himself, bled on someone, and thus have saved them. This is a strawman argument, and in an oblique sense, it is a way of ridiculing the blood atonement.
MacArthur has spelled out his position in other places. For example, in his commentary on Hebrews, pages 236-237, he says basically the same thing which he says in the statements we have already cited:
Blood is a symbol of death. . . . It is possible to become morbid about Christ’s sacrificial death and preoccupied with His sufferings and shedding of blood. It is especially possible to become unbiblically preoccupied with the physical aspects of His death. It was not Jesus’ physical blood that saves us but His dying on our behalf which is symbolized by the shedding of His physical blood. If we could have been saved by blood without death the animals would have been bled not killed, and it would have been the same with Jesus. . . . The purpose of the blood was to symbolize sacrifice for sin. . . . Therefore, without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Again, however, we need to keep in mind that the blood was a symbol.
You should remember the above statement by MacArthur when you read anything he has to say about the blood. The core of his doctrine is that the blood of Jesus is only a symbol of Christ’s death. Sometimes he tries to obfuscate his true beliefs, or make people think he believes the historic Christian position on the blood of Christ. But when he says “I believe in the precious blood of Christ” he means it in the sense that the blood symbolizes death. When he says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness,” he means it in the symbolic sense that blood means death.
It is heresy to teach, as MacArthur does, that Christ’s blood is only a symbol of Christ’s death, that blood itself is not part of the redemption price, that only Christ’s death is the atonement for sin.
MacArthur does not believe in a blood atonement at all. He believes in a death atonement.
Incidentally, we do not know of a single person who has ever said that we could have been “saved by blood without death.” MacArthur loves to put up strawmen. He has sometimes accused his opponents of believing that the blood of Christ is in a little bowl in Heaven and that a little of it is literally applied to the soul of each person at the moment that he gets saved. Again, we know of absolutely no one who believes this.
In an article titled “Not His Bleeding but His Dying,” published in his newsletter, MacArthur makes these statements:
It was His death that was efficacious . . . not His blood. . . . The shedding of blood has nothing to do with bleeding . . . it simply means death. . . . Nothing in His human blood saves. His shed blood represents His sacrificial physical and spiritual death for us. . . . It is not His blood that I love, it is Him. It is not His bleeding that saved me, but His dying.
Those are the words of a heretic on the blood of Christ! The Bible teaches that all of the sufferings of Christ, including His bleeding, helped to pay the penalty for our sins along with Christ’s death. Christ’s death was the final capstone and consummation of Christ’s atoning work. To downplay or minimize any part of Christ’s atoning work is heretical and must be rejected.
The above article was written several years ago. Since that time, some good men have come to believe that Dr. MacArthur has changed his position on the blood of Christ and now he teaches that the blood of Christ is as efficacious as Christ’s death. I do not know what evidence might exist that MacArthur has changed his position, but I hope that it is true. I hope that he no longer makes the kind of statements that we have cited. If and when we see or hear a clear statement from MacArthur that he has cured his heresy on the blood, we will gladly take down any reference to it on our website.
One further thing—we believe that there are several places in the Bible where the word “blood” includes the idea of “death.” We also believe that the word “death” sometimes includes the idea of Christ’s bleeding. The word “cross” can include the idea of Christ’s bleeding and Christ’s death. But that is a far different thing than saying that when the Bible says “blood” it means “death.” It is the difference between a metaphor and a synecdoche. A metaphor (or metonym) is used to say that one thing is a symbol for another; whereas, a synecdoche names one part of the whole as representative of the whole. A metaphor eliminates the reality of the bleeding of Christ as a necessary part of the redemption price. A synecdoche, on the other hand, includes all of the sufferings of Christ, His bleeding, and His death as the price of our salvation.