Monday, June 13, 2011

All the Words of the Book

At the risk of contradicting our immediately preceding post, we would be terribly amiss note to observe the significant moment last week. John MacArthur, after forty years of faithful exposition, completed the entire New Testament by concluding the Gospel of Mark, "The Fitting End to Mark's Gospel."

Our friend, Travis Allen, recaps that moment:
When John MacArthur said “Amen” at the end of his prayer last Sunday night, he had just finished his exposition of Mark’s Gospel. The evening was the final punctuation on a monumental body of work—the verse-by-verse exposition of the entire New Testament. After praying, John looked up at his congregation, and with a meek grin said, “There we are.” The church erupted in applause and a standing ovation, which he quieted in short order so he could thank everyone for allowing him to minister to them for more than four decades.
We gain a better perspective on this achievement in the most recent edition of The Master's Seminary Journal, Spring 2011 (22/1). Presented as a festschrift for Pastor John with articles from a variety of contributors, from Steve Lawson to Al Mohler, one of the most interesting tidbits was offered by Dr. Mayhue's introductory editorial. He outlines a short list of men who have actually preached through the entire New Testament and put their preaching into print:
  • 16th - John Calvin
  • 17th - Matthew Henry
  • 18th - John Gill
  • 19th - Alexander MacLaren, Joseph Parker, B.H. Carroll
  • 20th-21st - J. Vernon McGee, Warren Wiersbe
After two millennia of Christian history, when you are among a list of no more than ten other preachers, that is significant. Especially when that list includes expositors like Calvin and Henry. In other words, this is no mean feat.

In his post, Travis also marked the release of John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain Murray,
In the book, Murray accurately portrays John MacArthur’s passion for theology, and his courage in proclaiming it publicly. Armed with an insatiable curiosity and a zeal for the glory of Christ, John has read extensively and deeply. What he’s learned has enabled him to lead the charge in some of the most important theological battles of our time. Murray pulls back the curtain on his thinking about doctrinal controversy and personal confrontation, and actually chronicles some of the better-known episodes.
If Murray's work is anything like the sketch he provided in the introduction to Truth Endures, this newest biography should prove to be an exceedingly helpful work. We eye the mailbox daily in anticipation of our copy.

In view of this grace-empowered achievement, we hasten to add that Pastor John is far from done. Lord willing, with many more years of preaching ahead, with the continued spreading of his influence globally through alumni of The Master's Seminary (a band of brothers over 1,000 strong!), and with more writing - the completion of MacArthur New Testament Commentary is slated for 2014 and a systematic theology (Christian Doctrine: The Persons, Purposes, and Plans of God) is scheduled for 2013 - there is much yet for him to do.

So, in prayerful anticipation of all that the Lord may yet plan for Pastor John, we give thanks that like the days of Josaiah, "he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord" (2 Kgs 23:2).


  1. Yes I agree Steve very well said. What an amazing thing to be able to say, "when I was young I sat under the teaching of John Macarthur." What an awesome slave/servant of God. (To use John's title of his book).

  2. Hum, I'm sure there must be many "no name" pastors who do the same thing, right? There are 260 chapters in the NT? Say, maybe 4 weeks per chapter (average). A pastor could do this in 20 years, Lord willing. Still, quite an accomplishment, but I'm skeptical it's as rare as Mayhue claims.

  3. Sharon, thanks for the comment. Let me clarify some. Are there other pastors who have done the same? Undoubtedly. Are there "many"? Doubtful.

    First, to clear up the confusion on Mayhue's part, I neglected an important qualification of his list. It is of preachers who "then put their preaching into print," which narrows the field considerably. In other words, preaching through the entire NT, so that others want to read it.

    Yet, even further, it is not as simple as your theoretical math. First, lectio continua (consecutive exposition) is not and has never been dominant. Vast majority of pastors hop, skip, and jump around, returning to "favorite texts" often. Second, the average pastor still only remains in a church for 2-3 years, which means the majority just "recycle" the same sermons from church to church. Third, even pastors who remain in the same church rarely get through all that much - with continual inclusion of topical series, "special" holiday messages, etc. - the preaching calendar is quite fragmented. (My personal affection for Pastor John only increased when he preached on Hell from Luke 16 on Mother's Day!). Fourth, MacArthur's preaching (like that of Calvin and Henry) is literally "every verse," far more detailed than averaging 4 weeks per chapter.

    Anyway, when you consider all of the foregoing, you get a very short list. Much like the one in the post! We can be grateful for such a rare and great accomplishment.

  4. I have also updated the post to more accurately represent Mayhue's list, which he describes as "the pastors who in the course of their ministries preached through the entire Bible or either Testament and then put their preaching into print to extend their fruitfulness even further in time and space" ("Editorial: A Notable Giant," in MSJ 22/1 [Spring 2011], p. 1]

  5. Steve, I appreciate the statement you make about how John preaches about hell on mother's day. That's a great insight. I love that about him too. Never having to address all the cultural fodder, and just preaching the word of God as the Lord has called him too. Oh, other than maybe saying at the end of his sermon, happy mother's day lol.

  6. Steve, since you questioned my math, I only calculated based on one sermon a week. In the churches I've been a member of in the past (reformed) pastors do at least two each Lords day. :-)

    I am grateful for MacArthur's accomplishment, but wish it wasn't quite so rare.

  7. Yes, I agree with the two-a-day model as well, Sharon; though I'm guessing at least one of those was usually a catechizing / doctrinal message?

    I absolutely agree. In fact, I would put it stronger than that, it should not be quite so rare.