John MacArthur: Help Is On The Way?

Midst all the “controversy” around John Mac Arthur, John Piper purposefully decided to post this tweet yesterday.

It provides an argument for defending the wrong-doing of ministry leaders and pastors.

Those engaged in wrong actions, decisions, attitudes, or behavior will want to grab hold of this Old Testament passage — men like John Mac Arthur — here is some help.

Initially, some might not understand the argument being made, but it is clear, clever, and also subtly odious!

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√  “The epistemology of Balaam’s ass:”

Interestingly, it is the KJV that uses the word “ass.”  It is not translated that way in the NKJV, NIV, or ESV. I was surprised that John Piper would use the headline wording as found in the KJV translation, since he has consistently endorsed the ESV and virtually only cites the ESV.  Hmmm?

√  “Epistemology:” Simply stated, epistemology is about — how we know what we know.

√  Numbers 22:30:

  • Balaam is beating “the donkey” upon which he is seated because “the donkey” refuses to move forward. Balaam does not realize that the Lord gave “the donkey” the ability to see the angelic messenger with a sword in his hand. Therefore, “the donkey” ran out of the pathway and into the field. Moments later, “the donkey” moved into a vineyard bounded by walls, and Balaam’s foot was crushed against that wall.
  • The Lord also used the donkey to speak to Balaam supernaturally.
  • “And the donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?’ And he said, ‘No.’”
     — Now Piper quotes from the ESV!  Hmmm! —
  • “The donkey” is making the argument that this is a “one-off.”  This is not me. You should know me.  After all your life knowing me, you know that this is not how I have behaved or served you! Don’t you beat me as if this is how I typically behave?

√  “Therefore:”  The reader of the tweet is called upon to arrive at Piper’s conclusion, without Piper having to state it!

“Therefore” — you draw the conclusion!

That is skillful!  Had Piper stated his “sought after” conclusion, he would have left the door open to serious criticism regarding his handling of the passage, its legitimate application, and whether the passage suggests or is even designed to provide a legitimate epistemology.

Obviously, the point that Piper is making is not about “donkeys,” but it is about those whom Piper considers a “donkey.” 

A “donkey” is a twisted yet skillful way to frame his imagery.  Twisted because“the donkey” is actually the one being beaten, and “the donkey” is correct in the argument it is making.

Skillfully twisted/skewed  because the aim is to call up that KJV imagery, and artfully frame the critics as “Balaam’s ass.” Piper purposefully chose to begin with the KJV version of the headline words  – “Balaam’s ass.”

That KJV headline title frames the picture! The message is . . . . Even a “donkey” can figure this out!  You don’t know what you are talking about, and even a “donkey” knows that! That is why the tweet is titled, “The epistemology of Balaam’s ass.” [3]

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#1 – Piper’s “epistemology” (how we know what we know, how we know people ) would allow “one-off-wrong-doing” without regard to the seriousness of the wrong.  It ignores the nature and/or context of the situation under examination.  It is thoroughly “John Piper” and will be accepted by those committed to him, as well as those who are committed to John Mac Arthur.

An interesting question worth asking is . . . How does that “epistemology” work with  . . . .

  • Moses striking the rock — (with whom the Lord spake face to face)
  • David & Bathsheba, King from the line of Judah, the great shepherd of Israel (a man after God’s own heart)
  • Simon, in Acts 8:13-24
  • et al.

. . . . 

#2 – Such an “epistemology” assumes that what has happened is all that has happened — that it is only “a one-off.”

Whether biblical examples or present-day situations, let us not assume that it is a “one-off.”  We know that such is not the case with various individuals in the Scriptures. [1].

We also know that it is a mistake to assume “once and done” when it comes to our sinfulness.

What often happens is that others find the courage to speak out after the supposed “one-off” is reported.  That is happening with John Mac Arthur as well.

Let’s see what John Piper says after the second and third examples of the same come to light, which has already begun!  The epistemology may need to find another home or passage.

. . . . 

#3 – There are sins and wrong-doing which disqualify, regardless of whether or not it is typical behavior.  Some actions are so egregious that the ministry is significantly impaired and even forfeited. The integrity and reputation of ministry leaders are paramount to one’s effectiveness.

. . . . 

#4 – Whether or not a sinful action, decision, or response is typical, is there any recognition of wrong-doing.  Surely, Piper is not saying that if it is not typical, no apology need be made, no forgiveness be sought, and/or no restitution be made. Surely, the answer is not to “go dark,” refuse to respond,  and refuse to confess our sins to one another!

Obviously not!  Perhaps, another Piper tweet will clarify that and not leave the impression that wrong actions, decisions, responses, and behavior should merely be considered a one-time happening, with little need of a genuine and humble follow-up.  I am “confident” that Piper does not teach — “Look — It happens.  Just move on; forgive and forget.”

Surely, he and others believe in what Matthew 5 teaches — “Lay your Bible down on the pulpit, and go, and reconcile!” (TMV)  That reconciliation might even take more than a one-off attempt!

. . . . 

#5 – Using Scripture as a weapon, as a tool to defend wrong-doing is heinous.

There is a legitimate argument to be made “epistemologically” — and it doesn’t take using a Bible passage to arrive at it.

Even the world knows that we are all guilty of “one-offs,” even two or three-offs.  We all know (believers or not) that none of us want to be defined by a decision, actions, or response.

The issue is “a pattern”. . . .  AND the issue is whether we will honestly and appropriately address the wrong when we are aware or made aware of it.

Sadly and apparently, there is a pattern.  More sad is the reality that Mac Arthur seems to “go dark” when such wrong-doing is identified.  He does not offer an apology or seek forgiveness from those who have been used or mishandled, such as Mrs. Gray.  Rather, he hides out in “the cave of biblical axioms” — “Nothing in all the world is more important or more valuable than the truth.”[2]

. . . . .

It is not important to know whether John Piper is purposefully coming to Mac Arthur’s defense. No one knows that but John Piper.  Nevertheless, his “exposition” does provide a semblance of a biblical argument for those who engage in such actions as Mac Arthur and others.  I predict that this “exposition” will be cited and repeated!

Perhaps it is about coming to his own defense as the same “controversy” has been part of BBC and BC&S.

Whatever, the tweet has a purpose, and it will be used by some to defend wrong-doing, and to allow more wrong decisions, actions, attitudes, and behavior. . . .

“It’s just a one-off. 
Nothing to get upset about.
Forgive & Forget — Genuine Apology Or Not

Even a “donkey” can figure this out!



1. Abraham giving away Sarah — oops twice  (but the only one called a friend of God).  Had the second account not been included in the O.T. record by the Lord, it would have been seen as a one-time occurrence. I wonder how many other incidents of the same kind are not included in the Scriptural record that marked God’s great men and women?

Based on this kind of so-called “biblical epistemology,” I might even suggest Judas, as outlandish as that be, but where was any pattern.  Not even his fellow disciples knew that he would betray the Lord.

2. “Truth War, by John Mac Arthur, pg XII
The cave of biblical axioms allows one to hide out in a defensive cave of self-righteousness and piety —  I’m like Jesus!

How about making this point — “Nothing in the Christian life is more important than forgiveness-our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us.” — also by John Mac Arthur

3. Yepper, I remember John Piper’s famous quote —  “God is most glorified when . . . .”  I am confident that purposefully calling up the imagery of “Balaaam’s ass” to frame an argument qualifies as glorifying.

. . . . 

“It is obvious from the text that leadership is the absolute priority in seeking to establish each of these things. Because, if the leadership is wrong, then everything else will be wrong with it. . . . Most problems—most unsolved problems—in a local church can be traced to defective leadership—can be traced to defective leadership, almost without exception. . . . . I am aware of churches in our immediate environment here that are completely bedeviled by all kinds of stuff. And ultimately, it may be traced to failure at the level of pastoral leadership. — Alistair Begg

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