John Fullerton MacArthur, Jr. is a preacher and Christian apologist. His theological views seem to be a mishmash of Calvinism and various other Protestant beliefs. MacArthur also holds many Conservative American Christian social views: he is misogynistic, homophobic, against social justice, believes many other Christian denominations are Satanic, and has an extreme anti-science opinion of the fields of biology, geology, psychology, and others. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he not only refused to take any steps to slow the spread of the virus, but actively encouraged people to gather en masse and mocked anyone who didn't .
While discussing some of the more problematic aspects of the Christian religion, my aunt requested that I watch this sermon. I said I would on the condition that she watch a video of equal length (I selected a Bart Ehrman interview). This sermon is about Gospel of John, chapter 21. In the story, Peter, a follower of Jesus who was incapable of living up to demands made of him, meets Jesus again. However, rather than denounce Peter, Jesus welcomes him back and puts him in charge of carrying on his message. Since I'm a former Christian, I presume my aunt suggested I watch it in hopes that it would strike a chord with me.
My TLDR synopsis of the sermon is, MacArthur has many of the same problems I find with most preachers I've listened to. He injects his personal beliefs into scripture and presents them fact, he intermixes passages from unrelated books in an attempt to show a cohesive message, and he believes that parts of the bible that most scholars agree are forgeries are genuine.
I took notes about the few things I liked, and the many things I disliked. Each note begins with a timestamp if you want to find the place in the video to which they are referring.
- 00:00 - The person who posted the sermon named it "🔥 SPECIAL SERMON UPDATE • [MUST WATCH!]" All caps, emojis, and a command to watch... that's never a good start.
- 00:40 - I hope the upload timestamp on YouTube is not close to when this sermon was filmed (during the COVID-19 pandemic), because not a single person in the packed audience is wearing a mask! Churches are, sadly, one of the biggest causes of death from this virus. Wear your masks and social distance!
- 03:34 - "The Gospel of John is to provide evidence for the deity and Messiahship of Jesus Christ... evidence that leads you to believe and have eternal life." Unfortunately, because the Gospel of John contradicts the Synoptic Gospels so much, was most likely not written not an eye witness, and wasn't written until everyone mentioned in the story was long since dead, the "evidence" is the least believable of Gospels.
- 04:54 - "Some have suggested that John didn't even write [chapter 21]." It's good that he's admitting that there are biblical scholars who disagree about which passages of the New Testament are genuine. We have no physical evidence of chapter 21 being a later addition, since it's in the oldest surviving manuscripts, but then, we don't have any early surviving manuscript, meaning, if it is an addition, it was an early addition. However, since chapter 20 seems to neatly end the story, and MacArthur even inadvertently points out how abruptly the story changes tack, it certainly seems to me like an addition not written by the original author. John also has a much more widely agreed upon forgery, Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, so it's not out of the question for this ending to be a fake.
- 08:23 - I'm not sure if MacArthur's mic cut out here, but he moves his lips and there is no sound. Was the audio edited out on purpose, or is this a joke that I'm not getting?
- 09:46 - Mixing events from the Gospels is always a dangerous prospect (there are many contradictions when you do), but especially problematic John is intermixed with the Synoptics. MacArthur does this several more times throughout the sermon.
- 12:00 - MacArthur is injecting a lot of his own opinions into the story. He says that Peter has returned to the life of a fisherman because he had absolutely no confidence in himself because he was a proven failure. However, none of this is stated in John, this is all presumed. He will do this same thing several more times throughout his sermon.
- 12:55 - MacArthur says that, after denying Jesus three times because he feared being executed, we don't know if Peter is any different than Judas. Judas sold out his friend's life for money, while Peter was merely trying not to be murdered himself. To implying these two transgression are similar shows a very juvenile understanding of morality.
- 14:48 - MacArthur is literally putting words into Jesus's mouth. Sadly, this is an extremely common practice among Christian preachers; they're confident that their interpretation of scripture must be correct. MacArthur doesn't preface his statements with, "I believe," or, "In my opinion," but is saying, "here is what Jesus really meant when he said that."
- 15:20 - In the story, Peter doesn't know that it is Jesus who is talking to him. This means a random stranger is telling a professional fisherman, who knows the fish aren't biting, to cast his net in a ridiculous manner, and Peter blindly obeys. This doesn't make sense.
- 17:43 - "Do you know how Jesus makes breakfast? *waves hand* Breakfast!" That's funny, but it demonstrates a problem with miracles. When they're attributed to an all-good god, It just raises the problem of evil and the problem of disasters. Jesus could prevent children dying of excruciating bone cancer, but he instead makes bread; what a waste of omnipotence.
- 18:18 - MacArthur implies the Gospel of John is an eye-witness account written by John. Most biblical scholars disagree with him, and he should have pointed this out.
- 18:20 - He suggests that the specific number of fish mentioned, 153, is an indication that this is a real miracle. I'm presuming he means, because a specific number is listed rather than just saying "a lot," he thinks that's evidence. However, that doesn't make any sense. In the Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol, Dickens wrote that Jacob Marley has been dead for seven years. Does the use of a specific number mean the story should be considered more real? And, if a specific number were not used, would MacArthur think any less of the miracle?
- 18:48 - MacArthur reiterates his belief that Jesus is impressing upon the disciples that they cannot fish ever again because he controls the fish and won't let them catch anything. If this is truly what was intended by this passage, it certainly negates free will. Although, as a Calvinist, MacArthur probably doesn't believe in free will anyway.
- 19:45 - MacArthur continues to put words into the mouths of Jesus and the disciples, although, at least this time he admits he's making presumptions.
- 22:02 - "How does Jesus do biblical counseling?" How could he since the bible wasn't compiled until centuries after he died?
- 22:33 - MacArthur, in typical preacher hyperbole, suggests that it might take months, even years to re-teach his disciples. Did he forget that Jesus is magic? Jesus can do whatever he wants instantly. It annoys me when preachers try to make it look as though the gospels are suspenseful. Any story which has an invincible all-powerful character can't be suspenseful.
- 23:52 - MacArthur begins a common trope in preaching. Start with a passage of scripture, then apply it to something that has happened in real life so people can relate to it. The fact that preachers always have to do this shows just how irrelevant the stories in the bible are. An all-powerful god could make a bible that were constantly in flux to always fit every reader's situation perfectly, but, instead, it reads like an ancient book that applies to ancient people.
- 27:14 - Typifying his Protestant roots, MacArthur says the only way to pursue the knowledge of Christ is to study the Gospels. This is part of the Protestant theology of sola scriptura. However, many other Christians disagree.
- 29:00 - "I don't think I ever thought about loving [Jesus]." Really? In every church I ever went to, everyone always talked about the importance of loving Jesus. From that alone, I would conclude that MacArthur went to very different churches than the ones I attended, but he follows up his statement with several passages which command Christians to love God (and surely he read these as a child). Is his dishonestly just for dramatic effect?
- 29:48 - "Anybody who doesn't love the Lord is anathema (damned)." I have a major problem with this and see it as something only an evil evil god would allow.
- 29:57 - "The opposite of that, is being given eternal life which is defined as loving the Lord." That's not how opposites work.
- 30:59 - The quote is, "Do you love me more than these?" But Jesus doesn't clarify what "these" is meant to be. MacArthur again puts words into Jesus's mouth saying that he is referring not to the other disciples or anything else, but specifically to the tools of a fisherman.
- 33:00 - It's nice that the preacher points out the different uses of the ancient Greek words for love. This also demonstrates how much is lost in translation even by modern translators.
- 33:14 - MacArthur asks why did Peter use a lesser form of the word "love," which is a valid question, but then, like he constantly does, MacArthur asserts his own answer as truth without evidence.
- 33:45 - MacArthur invokes omniscience as why Peter claims Jesus knows he loves him, but it could just be Peter saying that Jesus knows he loves him in a normal mundane way.
- 40:40 - I'm glad he points out the parentheticals in the Gospel of John. MacArthur seems to view these as helpful clarifications, but I see them as examples of redaction.
- 46:55 - "John never calls himself by his name. Why would he when he can call himself, 'the disciple whom Jesus loved.'" A good joke, but it only underscores the lack of humility of author. Also, most New Testament scholars don't believe the Gospels were written by the men they are attributed to.
- 48:17 - MacArthur suggests that Jesus's statement about John being kept alive until the second-coming is hyperbole, even sarcasm. However, there are some Christians who believe that this was meant to be taken literally and that Jesus made John immortal. MacArthur mocks this idea at 49:42, and then reads the follow up, again a parenthetical. However, if the parenthetical is redaction, the literal interpretation becomes the more probable.
- 50:00 - He skips the final verses of John, probably because it's so similar to the ending of chapter 20, but I think it's important to talk about how strange verse 24 is. When someone ends a memoir with, "I'm the person who wrote this memoir and lived the events, so we can agree that what I wrote is true," that's usually a sign that it shouldn't be trusted! That's not how honest people write, that's how people write when they have something to hide.
- 54:42 - MacArthur wraps up by quoting from the First Epistle of Peter presenting it as though it was actually written by Peter, but most New Testament scholars do not believe I Peter was written by Peter.