Charismatic Chaos - Part 4
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/02/2003
The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama
City, California, By John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape,
GC 90-55, titled "Charismatic Chaos" Part 4. A copy of the tape can be
obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412.
I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the
original tape was made. Please note that at times sentence structure may
appear to vary from accepted English conventions. This is due primarily to
the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in
placing the correct punctuation in the article.
It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription
of the sermon, "Charismatic Chaos" Part 4, to strengthen and encourage the
true Church of Jesus Christ.
Scriptures quoted in this message are from the New American Standard Bible.
Charismatic Chaos - Part 4
John F. MacArthur, Jr.
All rights reserved.
Tonight, we have the great privilege, I think, of looking at a subject that
is important to all of us. I am not going to be dealing with a specific
text, although we will cover a number of texts before we are through tonight.
But I want to carry on our special study of "Charismatic Chaos," looking and
evaluating the Charismatic movement from the Word of God, by focusing on the
issue of interpreting the Bible. One of the things that allows for the
Charismatic movement to continue, to move ahead, is that it is engaged in
misinterpretation of Scripture. I know that is a strong thing to say, but it
is true. The movement continues at really an amazing pace, not only in
America but around the world. And as it moves and catapults itself along it
does so at the expense of Scripture.
There is, in my judgment, very little understanding, in the Charismatic
movement, of proper Bible interpretation. Much of what exists in the
Charismatic movement could be eliminated with just some very simple straight
forward basic understanding of how to properly interpret the Bible. It falls
technically under the title "Hermeneutics." Hermenutics is a theologians
word to explain the science of Bible interpretation. And Hermenutics is a
crucial building block in discerning theology. In fact, the absence of
Hermeneutics or misunderstanding of it feeds the Charismatic movement.
Pentecostals and Charismatics tend to base much of their teaching on poor
principles of Bible interpretation.
One of their own, a Pentecostal by the name of Gordon Fee, has written this,
Pentecostals, in spite of some of their excesses, are frequently
praised for recapturing for the Church her joyful radiance,
missionary enthusiasm, and life in the Spirit. But they are at
the same time noted for bad Hermenutics. First, their attitude
towards Scripture regularly has included a general disregard for
scientific exegesis and carefully thought out Hermenutics. In
fact, Hermenutics has simply not been a Pentecostal thing.
Scripture is the Word of God and is to be obeyed. In place of
scientific Hermenutics there developed a kind of pragmatic
Hermenutics. Obey what should be taken literally--spiritualize,
allegorize, or devotionalize the rest. Secondly, it is probably
fair and important to note that in general, the Pentecostal's
experience has preceded their Hermenutics. In a sense, the
Pentecostal tends to exegete his experience.
This is not, as I said, the appraisal of someone hostile to the movement, but
the appraisal of one who is himself a Pentecostal. His assessment is "right
on." You only have to watch the typical Charismatic television program to
see exactly what he is talking about.
You might have watched, along with some of us, in horror sometime back if you
happened to be watching the Trinity Broadcasting Network, they were
interviewing a guest on one of their "Talk Shows," and he was explaining the
Biblical basis of his ministry of "Possibility Thinking." This is a quote,
"My ministry is based entirely on my life verse, Matthew 19:26, 'With God all
things are possible.' God gave me that verse (Matthew 19:26) because I was
born in 1926." Obviously, intrigued by that method of obtaining a life
verse, the host grabbed a Bible and began thumbing through it excitedly. "I
was born in 1934," he said. "My life verse must be Matthew 19:34! What does
it say?" Then he discovered that Matthew 19 has only 30 verses! Undeterred,
he flipped to Luke, and read Luke 19:34, and they said, "The Lord hath need
of Him." Thrilled, he exclaimed, "The Lord has need of me, the Lord has need
of me!" What a wonderful life verse. I never had a life verse before, but
now the Lord has given me one. Thank You, 0h Jesus, Hallelujah. And the
studio audience began to applaud.
At that moment, however, the "Talk Show" host's wife who had also turned to
Luke 19, said, "Wait a minute, you can't use this. This verse is talking
about a donkey!" That incident, while being absolutely ludicrous and
bizarre, gives you some idea of the "willy-nilly way" that some Charismatics
approach Scripture. Some of them, looking for a word from the Lord, play a
sort of Bible roulette. They spin the Bible at random, looking for something
that might seem applicable to whatever trial or need they are facing and they
find a verse and say, "Well, the Lord gave me that verse." And then the Lord
supposedly gave them the interpretation of it. These are silly and foolish
ways to approach the study of the Bible.
Perhaps you have heard the familiar story of the man who wanted guidance
about a major decision. He decided to close his eyes, not knowing where to
look, wanted God to answer him. In the dilemma, he open his Bible, put his
finger down to get guidance from whatever verse his finger happened to land
on. His first try brought him to Matthew 27:5, "Judas went out and hanged
himself." Thinking that verse was really not much help, he decided to try
again. This time his finger landed on Luke 10:37, "Go thou and do likewise."
Still undeterred and not ready to give up he tried it a third time and his
finger landed on John 13:27, "What thou doesn't, do quickly." Now I
certainly don't want to vouch for the authenticity of that particular
account, but it does make an important point.
Looking for meaning in Scripture through some mystical process is the way to
get an ill gotten theology. Looking for meaning in Scripture beyond the
Historical, Grammatical, Logical understanding of the context is unwise and
dangerous. It is possible, of course, to substantiate almost any idea or any
teaching from Scripture if you take it out of its context and twist it
around. I remember hearing about the preacher who didn't think women should
have their hair up on their head, because a woman's hair should be down. And
so he preached against what used to be called "Bobbed Hair"--women having
their hair up on their heads. His text was "Top Knot Come Down," taken from
Matthew 24 where it says, "Let those on the housetop not come down." So if
you just pullout, if you just pull out exactly what you want you can probably
get it. We laugh at that because it sounds so bizarre, but that is precisely
the process that many are using to substantiate their experiences or to
invent their theology.
Now, the task of hermenutics is to realize first of all that there is a God
given meaning in Scripture apart from you or me or anybody else. Scripture
means something, [even] if it means nothing to me. Understood? It means
something if it means nothing to you. It means something if it means nothing
to anybody. It means something in itself and that meaning is determined by
God the author, not by one who is going through some kind of mystical
experience. The interpreter's task, then, is to discern that meaning; to
discover the meaning of the text in its proper setting; to draw the meaning
out of the Scripture, rather than to read one's meaning into it. The
importance of careful Biblical interpretation can hardly be overstated. We
spend three or four years at the Master's Seminary trying to teach men how to
do this, because it is the heart and soul of effective ministry. In fact, I
would go so far as to say, misinterpreting the Bible is ultimately no better
than disbelieving it.
You say, "What do you mean by that?" Well, what good does it do to believe
that the Bible is God's final and complete word if you misinterpret it?
Either way, you miss the truth. Right? It is equally serious, along with
disbelieving the Bible, to misinterpret it. Interpreting Scripture to make
it say what it was never intended it to say is a sure road to division,
error, to heresy, and to apostasy. In spite of all of the dangers of
misinterpreting the Scripture, today we have these casual people who approach
the Scriptures whimsically, without any understanding of the science of
interpretation and make it say whatever they would like it to say. Perhaps
you have been in one of those Bible studies where you go around the room and
everybody tells you what they think the verse means. Or, worse than that,
"Well to me, this verse means so and so." In the end what you get is a
pooling of ignorance, unless somebody knows what it means apart from them.
The truth is that it doesn't matter what a verse means to me; it doesn't
matter what it means to you; it doesn't matter what it means to anybody else;
it doesn't matter if it means anything to anybody else. All that matters is,
"What does it mean? What did God intend to say?"
Every verse has intrinsic meaning apart from any of us and the task of Bible
study is to discern the true meaning of Scripture. That's why I can come to
you week after week, month after month, year after year, and explain to you
the meaning of the Word of God apart from any personal experience I'm having.
That's irrelevant. The task of the interpreter is to discern the meaning of
Scripture. In 2 Timothy 2:15, it says "Be diligent, or study to present
yourself approved to God as a workman who doesn't need to be ashamed,"
because he's handling accurately the Word of Truth. If you don't handle it
accurately, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. And if you are going to
handle it accurately you have to be diligent; you have to work hard at it.
Clearly, handling Scripture involves both of those things--hard work and
diligence. It must be interpreted accurately, and those who fail to do that
have reason to be ashamed.
Now there is so much to say about this that I can't give you a whole course
in hermenutics. I teach some of that in the seminary as well as other
professors, and I'm not intending to give you a seminary course. But, let me
just suggest three errors that need to be avoided, that are not always
avoided in contemporary interpretation. And they are very simple.
1. Do Not Make a Point at the Price of a Proper Interpretation.
It's like the preacher who said, "I have a good sermon if I could just find a
verse to go with it." Do not prescribe your theology and then try to make
the Bible fit it. You might have a good thought, a good idea. It even might
be that the principle that you have in mind is true, but do not allow
yourself to make the point at the price of a proper interpretation.
I remember reading years ago a good illustration of this found in the Jewish
Talmud. One rabbi was trying to convince his people that the primary issue
in life is concern for other human beings. That's good; a good point. We
ought to be concerned about other human beings. But he wanted to illustrate
it so he took them to the Tower of Babel, and he told them that the stones of
the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, the building of that through the carrying
of those stones illustrated his point. He said that the builders of the
Tower were frustrated because they put material things first and people last.
Now, where is that in Genesis? "Well," he said, "As the Tower grew taller,
it took a hod carrier (a stone carrier) many hours to carry a load of stone
up. The higher it got the longer the walk." And he said, "If a man fell off
the tower on the way down nobody cared because you only lost a man--not the
bricks. But if he fell off on the way up, they mourned because the bricks
were lost. And that," said the Rabbi, "Is why God confused their language,
because they failed to give priority to human beings over bricks!"
Now, none of that can be found in Genesis 11. None of that can be found in
the Bible. In fact, it totally skews the meaning of Genesis 11. It is true
people are more important than bricks, but that is not the point of the Tower
of Babel. Genesis 11 says absolutely nothing about the importance of people
or bricks. The point is, God is more important than idols, and God will
I remember being at a Bible Conference in Wisconsin one time. And I got into
this Bible Conference with another well known preacher, and we were preaching
every night. And one day we were eating lunch and I said, "What are you
going to preach on tonight?" He said, "I am going to preach on the Rapture
of the Church." I said, "Really, the Rapture of the Church. Great!" What's
your text?" He said, "John 11." I said, "What?" He said, "John 11." "I
said, "John 11? The Rapture of the Church isn't even in John 11." He said,
"You wait and see tonight." I said, "Fine, fine." That night he preached on
the Rapture from John 11. That's the resurrection of Lazarus. He
allegorized it; Lazarus was the Church, Martha was the Old Testament saints,
and Mary was the tribulation saints. And he got this thing going. And the
people were just sitting their going, "Deep, deep!" You know they were just
thinking this is the profoundest thing. They couldn't find it anywhere.
They thought he was going deeper than they had capability to go. And
afterwards, he said to me, "Had you ever seen that in John 11?" To which I
replied, as kindly as I could, "No one has ever seen that in John 11!" And
he took it as a compliment! The next night he got up and said, "John
MacArthur told me, 'That no one but me had ever seen that in John 11.'"
Now, I don't want to argue with the Rapture of the Church, but I will argue
that the Rapture of the Church is not in John 11. And if you are going to
make John 11 say something that is true, then you are just as likely to make
John 11 say something that what? Isn't true. That is not the way you
approach Scripture. God has not hidden His truth from us but His meaning is
not always instantly clear; it demands hard work. That's why in 1 Timothy
5:17 it says, "Those elders that labor in the Word and doctrine are worthy of
double honor." Because it's hard work. That's why God has given teachers to
the Church; so that we can work hard in understanding God's Word correctly,
instructing people in the Scriptures through persistent conscientious labor
in the Word.
Now, today we have, frankly, a lack of respect for the work of gifted
theologians, a lack of respect for the hard work of gifted expositors who
have spent years studying and interpreting Scripture. In fact, that lack of
respect tends to be somewhat Charismatically characteristic. They tend to
sort of look at all of us that way. I think I read to you the letter from
the lady who said, "Your problem is, you're too much into the Bible. Throw
away your Bible and stop studying." You see Charismatics place more emphasis
on letting people in the congregation say whatever they think Jesus is
telling them the verse means, than to listen to what one writer calls, "Airy
Fairy Theologians." There is a vast difference, by the way, between the
whimsical "kitchen table" interpretations of laymen, and the teaching of
skilled men who work very hard to rightly divide the Word.
I heard a radio interview with a Charismatic woman pastor. She was asked how
she got her sermons up. She replied, "I don't get them up--I get them down.
God delivers them to me." That's an all too familiar thing. I can promise
you that God has never delivered one to me. I haven't "gotten them down," I
had to "get them up." Some people even believe its unspiritual to study.
After all, some say, taking another verse out of context, "Didn't Jesus say,
'For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.'"
So you just go into the pulpit and whatever comes into your mind you say?
And that is why they invent their theology even as they speak. Because they
have no idea what's going to be said until they hear it. We should be
greatly concerned about this ad-lib approach. You never, ever make a point,
true or false, at the price of a proper interpretation. Otherwise, you are
the final authority and not the Word of God.
2. Don't Spiritualize or Allegorize the Text.
Some people think the Bible is a fable to teach whatever you want to get
across. A myriad of illustrations of this, but I remember back when Jerry
Mitchell was on our staff and a young couple came into him for
counseling--marriage counseling. He began to talk with them and after about
30 minutes, he said, "You'd been married only 6 months and you are already on
the edge of a divorce? Why did you ever get married? You're miles apart."
"Oh," said the husband, "it was a sermon that the pastor preached in our
church." "What was the sermon?" "Well, he preached on the walls of
Jericho." "Jericho? What does that have to do with marriage?" "Well, God's
people claimed the city, marched around it seven times and the walls fell
down." And he said, "If a young man believed God had given him a certain
girl, he could claim her, march around her seven times, and the walls of her
heart would fall down." "That's what I did and we got married." "That can't
be true," he said. "Your kidding, aren't you?" I remember him saying that.
"You got to be kidding!" "No, it's true. And there were many other couples
who got married because of the same sermon." Some people believe their
marriages were made in heaven; that one was made in an allegory, and a bad
one at that.
That's the kind of interpretation that has gone on since the early days of
the Church [and] continues today, especially in the Charismatic movement. I
remember listening to a series on the Book of Nehemiah. The whole purpose of
the Book of Nehemiah, by this Charismatic preacher was to teach Charismatic
doctrine. Jerusalem walls were in ruin and that was representative of the
broken down walls of human personality. Nehemiah was the Holy Spirit. The
King's pool was the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. And the mortar between the
bricks was tongues. And what Nehemiah is teaching, is the Holy Spirit wants
to come, rebuild your broken walls through the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and
Speaking in Tongues.
I had an opportunity to talk to that preacher about that and we had an
interesting conversation. I tried to show him that, that was nothing but the
invention of his own imagination--read from the New Testament back into the
Old but never the intention of Nehemiah. To which he agreed. That kind of
preaching is a form of "Hucksterism." And as I said, you may come up with a
truth that you teach, but if you spiritualize the text to do it, then you
legitimize spiritualization of any text, which leaves you with any fanciful
For the correct approach, you probably need to go to Jesus and remember when
He was walking on the road to Emmaus, He said, (Luke did), "That beginning
with Moses and with all the Prophets he explained to them the things
concerning Himself in the Scriptures." The word explain is hermeneuo (Greek)
from which we get hermenutics. He carefully interpreted the Old Testament.
He used hermenutics. He is the model of a teacher; He used sound
So when we teach the Word of God; when we come to the conclusions that we
come to, we want to be certain that we don't make severe errors:
1. By making points at the price of proper interpretations.
2. By somehow concocting or spiritualizing something that isn't there.
3. By superficial study. Superficial study is equally disastrous. Well, I
have said enough about that not to have to say more.
Now, if that's the case, if we are to avoid doing that, how do we then
interpret the Scripture? Let me give you five sound principles, all right?
If you work through these you'll be on the way to rightly dividing the Word.
1. The Literal Principle
Principle number one we'll call the literal principle: the literal one. When
we go to the Bible, this is so basic, we assume that God is talking to us in
normal speech. Okay? Normal language. Normal, common, everyday
communication. If fact, the theologians use to call it "Usus Loquendi" in
the Latin, meaning, "The words of Scripture are to be interpreted the same
way words are understood in ordinary daily use." If it says "horse," it
means "horse." If it says, "He went somewhere, he went somewhere." If it
says, "house," it means "house." If it says, "man," it means "man." And not
everything is to be extrapolated off into some mystical spiritualization,
allegorization, or whatever. It is literal. We understand Scripture, then,
in the literal sense of language.
Now, there are figures of speech, there are simile, metaphor, hyperbole,
onomatopoeia, whatever else, ellipsis, all of the figures of speech will be
there. There may even be sarcasm, there may even be exaggeration as a
device. There may be symbolism, such as the symbolism in the prophetic
literature, which is obviously symbolic--clearly symbolic. But it is in the
normal language of speech. We use symbols in our language. We say, "That
man is as straight pine tree." Or, "That man is as strong as an ox." Well,
we're using a symbol to make a literal point or statement. So then when we
interpret the Bible, we are not hunting for some extrapolated mystical
experience. Now, the Rabbis really got into this. They started to look for
this long centuries ago, in fact, they use to say that (some of them said)
Abraham had 318 servants. Nothing in the Bible says that, but they said,
the secret meaning of the word Abraham is, in the Hebrew there is only three
consonants in Abraham's name--Br, Ra, Hm. All the rest are vowels or
breathing points. So, if you take the "Br, Ra, Hm," in his name, they had
numerical equivalents in the Hebrew language, and add them up and you get
318! So the secret meaning is that he had 318 servants.
And they were into all that kind of stuff. And it even got more bizarre than
that. There is occasionally, of course, figurative language in Scripture, as
I said. But they are quite evident to us in the normal course of
understanding language. Scripture was not written to puzzle people. It was
not written to confuse them--it was written to make things clear to them.
Even Parables are nothing more than illustrations. They are not
riddles--they're illustrations, and in most cases Jesus explained their
meanings. And in all cases He said that the meaning would be revealed to
those who belong to Him by the Holy Spirit. So we can't abandon literal
interpretation in favor of mystical, allegorical, metaphorical kinds of
interpretation that discard all hope of achieving accuracy and coherence and
throw us into some imaginary field.
I would venture to say that most Charismatic preaching is imagination run
wild, proof-texted. They have, at least the popular part of it; I don't know
whether "most" is a fair thing to say. But the popular part of it that I
hear has much imagination and very little hermenutics. When you do not take
the time to discern the literal meaning you are not serving Scripture by
trying to understand it; then you are making Scripture your slave by molding
it into whatever you want it to say. So we start with the literal principle,
its literal language.
2. A Historical Principle
Now, when the Scripture was written, they understood what was said clearly.
Just like the Constitution: when it was written everybody understood what
they meant. Here we are a few hundred years later trying to figure out what
they meant. Why? Because history is different. Time has passed. Culture
has changed. Circumstances have changed, and even language has changed.
Modes of expression have changed. And so we are trying to get in touch with
an old document and reconstruct what it must have meant to them when it was
written. The same is true of the Bible, only it is much older than the
Constitution. Any ancient document demands interpretation. And so what do
we have to do to interpret it? We have to reset it into its historical
I am always amazed when I hear someone say, "John 3, 'You must be born of the
water and the spirit,' means you must be born physically and you must be born
spiritually." Have you heard that? And when a woman has a baby, there's
water. We say, "The water breaks and the baby's born--that's born of the
water. And spiritually, you are born of the Spirit." The problem is that in
the Jewish context that wouldn't have been said, because the Jews didn't say
"The water breaks." So what you've done is take an American colloquialism
and read it into an ancient book that would mean absolutely nothing to those
people. The question is, when He said, "You must be born of the water and
the spirit"--what water would they think about? Right? What water was in
the historical setting? The only water they would think about, in their
Jewish context, particularly Nicodemus, would be that of Ezekiel who said,
"The day is coming when God is going to wash you with clean water and put His
spirit within you." And he would have put it into that context, the context
of the New Covenant, not some colloquial American expression for human
We must then understand the need for the historical principle. When Jesus
walks in, for example, to the Temple courtyard, and said, "I am the light of
the world." Why did He said that? Did He just go around saying strange
things at strange moments? Just, "I'm the light of the world!" And somebody
would say, "What did He say that for?" Or, why would He say, "I am the water
of life, whoever drinks of this water, out of his belly will flow rivers of
living water!" What is He talking about? Why does he outburst with these
obtuse remarks? No, when He said, in John 8, "I am the light of the world,"
He was standing in the Temple courtyard and there was a huge candelabra that
had been lit for eight straight days, in the feast of lights. And it had
just gone out the day before and He walks into that very setting and says, in
effect, 'This thing has gone out but I'm the light of the world and I never
go out. And when He said, "I am the water of life," they were going through
the Hallels, and they were celebrating the water that came out of the rock in
the wilderness, and He said, "There was water then, but it was temporary. I
am the water, and you drink this water--you'll never thirst but you will be a
gushing well of water!"
Always the context gives the meaning. We've got to go back. What are the
historical features? What is the characteristics of the city in which the
believers lived who heard this? What was going on there? What were the
politics? Who was ruling? What was the social pressures? What were the
tensions, problems, and crisis that they were going through? What was the
culture of the day? What was life like? What were customs like? I spend a
great amount of my time researching all of that information so that when I
get into the pulpit, I can make something clear. And I am always amazed, in
fact, it happened a couple of times this morning, people came to me and said,
"You know that passage is so clear--its so clear, I wonder why I have never
seen it before?" The reason it was clear, the reason you understood it, is
because I fed you the context in which it had its significance. It seemed
simple and clear to you, a lot simpler than you know. It is simple to the
one who was there and heard it the first time, but it is more complex to me,
as I have to discern what they heard and how they heard it. That's part of
To answer the cultural, historical questions, you use Bible dictionaries and
books on history, and Bible handbooks, and commentaries, and books about
Bible customs and so forth and so on.
3. Grammatical Principle
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