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Former Master’s Seminary VP Accuses John MacArthur of Plagiarism

By Julie Roys
John MacArthur
John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, preaches. (Source: Facebook)

A former vice president at The Master’s University and Seminary (TMUS) publicly accused John MacArthur of plagiarism in a tweet on Sunday.

The accusation came in a thread poking fun at MacArthur for calling popular Bible teacher Beth Moore a narcissist while naming a study Bible after himself. 

MacArthur also “steals chapters from people,” Dennis Swanson tweeted. Swanson is former VP for library, accreditation, and operations at TMUS.

Swanson shared images comparing identical chapters from two editions of a book by MacArthur and TMUS faculty. One edition attributed the chapter, “Frequently Asked Questions About Biblical Counseling,” to Swanson as editor. The other attributed it to MacArthur and Wayne A Mack as editors.

In follow-up tweets, Swanson explained that the first image was from a 1994 book by MacArthur, Mack, and TMUS faculty titled Introduction to Biblical Counseling.

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Swanson said he compiled and edited chapter 21, “Frequently Asked Questions About Biblical Counseling,” without assistance from MacArthur or anyone else.

“I crafted the questions and received original answers for each,” Swanson tweeted. “I did not cull answers out of existing materials.”

The second image Swanson tweeted was from How to Counsel Biblically, a 2005 reissue of the 1994 book by publisher Thomas Nelson as part of John MacArthur’s Pastor’s Library. Swanson explains that in the reissue, three chapters were removed, so the chapter numbering changed.

“When it was reissued as part of the John MacArthur Pastor’s Library, my name was removed,” Swanson tweeted. “I had no knowledge of the change ahead of time and never received an explanation.”

Swanson added that he is mentioned in the reissue for answers he wrote and as the bibliography compiler.

Swanson also tweeted the table of contents from both books. One names Swanson as editor of the “Frequently Asked Questions . . .” chapter; the other names MacArthur and Mack.

Jamin Hübner, a religion scholar and research fellow for the Center of Faith and Human Flourishing at LCC International University, responded: “I’ve edited academic journals, edited symposia, etc. This is plagiarism. It’s actually worse, because it’s the republication of an entire chapter under someone else’s name”

Swanson said he complained to TMUS administrators in 2005 about being removed as editor of the chapter in How to Counsel Biblically. He says they replied that there was nothing Swanson could do since the book had already been published.

However, since then, How to Counsel Biblically has been reprinted multiple times. The latest reprint was in January 2022.

The Roys Report reached out to MacArthur and Phil Johnson of Grace to You, MacArthur’s broadcast ministry, for comment but neither replied.

We also reached out to Thomas Nelson, a subsidiary of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, which published both the 1994 book and subsequent reprints. A spokesperson with HarperCollins said, “We take accusations of plagiarism seriously and we are looking into the matter.” (On February 15, a representative confirmed that they continue to investigate this matter.)

Dennis Swanson
Dennis Swanson

Swanson mentioned MacArthur’s alleged plagiarism on a TRR podcast—What’s the Truth about John MacArthur & His Ministries?—which was broadcast last March. On the podcast, Swanson also alleged that MacArthur has never written a book himself, but has instead relied on ghost writers, like Phil Johnson and Nathan Busenitz.

In a 2010 blog post, Johnson explained that the books he writes for MacArthur derive from MacArthur’s sermon transcripts.

However, Swanson alleged that Busenitz “wrote books out of whole cloth. . . . There was no sermon series behind it.”

The Roys Report reached out to Busenitz for comment, but he did not reply.

Swanson also claimed that MacArthur did not write the commentaries in the MacArthur Study Bible, but  instead, various TMUS faculty did.

“We got different sections assigned to us, different books of the Bible, and we created notes,” Swanson said on the podcast. “Then, (TMUS Executive VP) Dick Mayhue would edit them and put them together. . . . The process was supposed to be—then John carefully looked at each one and changed the wording (but) that was not what I saw.

“I saw him appear every other week or so for half hour/45 minutes in this little room where Dick had taken a little conference room . . . where the study bible is produced. The study Bible, in my view, was 80-percent Dick Mayhue taking the stuff that the seminary had created, re-editing it, and John doing something. But I mean, the idea that he looked at every single note and rechecked them all—I rather doubt that happened.”

MacArthur has publicly criticized pastors who plagiarize, especially in their sermons. At a conference last year at TMUS, where MacArthur serves as chancellor, he rebuked plagiarizing pastors as “lazy and incompetent” and “unsanctified.”

“I think you become a showman at that point,” MacArthur said. “You’re an actor. You’re playing a part. You’re playing a role.”

As for Swanson, who told The Roys Report that he’s about to become the interim dean of libraries at Governor’s State University in Illinois, he said he’s not considering any legal recourse against MacArthur.  “(T)he only thing I’d like after all these years is an apology,” he tweeted, “but I rather doubt I’ll ever see that.”

UPDATE: According to Phil Johnson, executive director of MacArthur’s broadcast ministry Grace to You, naming MacArthur as the editor of the chapter Swanson edited was intentional in 2005 but justified. Johnson tweeted today, “I literally have no involvement with it, but i (sic) believe chapters were written as works for hire. Contributors were paid. Chapters belong to TMS (The Master’s Seminary) to do with as they wish.”

In another tweet, Johnson states, “In my judgment, TMS had good reason to expunge (Swanson’s) name from their projects.” Johnson doesn’t state what that reason is, nor why TMS kept Swanson’s name on a previous chapter.

I have reached out to TMS to corroborate and/or clarify, but no one has responded.



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31 Responses

  1. My prediction is that nothing will change as a result of this. If Ed Litton could survive blatant plagiarism with zero consequences, then why are we to think anything will happen to MacArthur?

  2. Having worked in Christian publishing for 25 years, I learned that it is not uncommon—in fact, it used to be the rule—for big-name publishers to create a brand out of the names of big-name pastors. The “brand” would then have an editorial and marketing team, which sometimes involved in ghostwriting from sermons, notes, or even thin air. Authors were categorized “A-list, B-list, or C-list.”

    Almost no expense was spared to create more new material for A-list authors for every selling cycle. And more often than not, the book idea, or outline, or even the content itself was supplied by the publisher. (I would venture to say that 95 percent of best-selling “celebrity” books, both Christian and secular, are produced this way.) In reality, it is virtually impossible for any pastor (especially if he’s a true shepherd who tends his flock) to write a new book every year without the help of a similar editorial & marketing machine, whether he uses in-house staff or if it’s paid for by the publisher.

    This is not to excuse MacArthur from lack of oversight or responsibility; every pastor is ultimately responsible for what is published under his name. But I would be careful about automatically assigning guile to him with the same brush as exposing the plagiarizing wiles of Hank Hanegraaf or Mark Driscoll or John Hagee, etc. There are many others, some good teachers as well as many bad, whose 15 minutes of fame will one day be exposed. “To his own master he stands or falls.”

    God will determine their reward—or lack thereof, as He will with all of His children. “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3).

    1. Mark, the plagiarism you mention here is when people knowingly enter into a relationship where the work they create gets attributed to a big name. While that is still wrong, it is a whole other kind of plagiarism to take the work someone created and steal it without permission as is alleged in the article.

      Mark Driscoll was forced out (at least it was one of the straws that broke the camel’s back) because he stole some concepts and even some direct wording from the works of other authors. It seems pretty obvious here that MacArthur took a WHOLE chapter lock, stock, and barrel from Swanson as evidenced in the article above.

      I would think MacArthur’s actions, at the least, would warrant an apology as well as asking for forgiveness (unless it was determined that the sin was unintentional because, per Bethlehem Baptist, asking forgiveness isn’t needed then ).

    2. Well that is why we have the Evangelical-Industrial-Complex… so we can smooth over any ethical issues that may arise ….

      So let me guess the “A-Listers” (oh I mean the ghost writers) are writing books on the importance of HONESTY, INTEGRITY and TRANSPARENCY in ministry ….. what a joke …

    3. What consequences will be faced in heaven? If you’re a believer you go to infinite bliss in paradise; if you’re an unbeliever you go to infinite torment in fire. Nothing about rewards in heaven are described as more than an extra medal on your uniform or a stern talking-to at the bench, both of which will be nothing compared to infinite bliss, and nothing makes infinite hell more hellish than infinite hell. He’s not going to face any consequences either way.

  3. Thank you Julie for reporting on John MacArthur. Leaders need to be held accountable. I am not, sadly, surprised by his behavior.

  4. I always thought, ‘There is no way that man can have written so vastly while being a minister, speaker, run a seminary, have a successful non-profit amongst other endeavors’. I’m glad I’m not the only one who think it is strange when big-time Pastors put their name in huge font on a bible.

    1. It all boils down to who is being glorified? If the scripture is the source of what ever commentary, then it is God & The Holy Spirit is the true source. Paul had written most of the new testament all for the glory of Christ not himself. Copyright can’t be applied of God’s word????

      1. “Copyright can’t be applied of God’s word” – I agree. And yet most English translations of the Bible are copyrighted. That needs to change.

  5. I’m so thankful, at long last, to find others who know that it is wrong to put one’s name on a Bible. It is worse than wrong: it is a perverse and blasphemous outrage. It is Uzzah laying his hand on the ark. No man who trembles at God’s Word would ever think of befouling that Word by stamping his own unholy name upon it. The men who have done so (Tony Evans, David Jeremiah, John MacArthur, Charles Swindoll) must repent immediately, today – and so also must the evangelical public who have aided and abetted this abomination.

  6. I do have a problem with the idea that leaders are only accountable to “his master”. Essentially, that is the root cause of the countless of abuses, immunity and impunity demonstrated by erring pastors on the pulpit. JM boldly unashamedly called out others to account, his students, followers calls out others to account, will JM and his followers now be willing to give an account or they will just dismiss this with a snub ? JM calls out those “who plagiarizes as pastors who are lazy, incompetent and unsanctified..a showman playing a role..”. I do fully agree with JM, it would be a shame if he is guilty of the same. Stealing another man’s work to pay for an additional mansion is really sad.

    Dennis is a man of integrity and a credible witness.

    1. It is unsettling for any man or woman to place their name on the word of God. It would seem to be common sense that one individual could not be involved in so many large aspects of ministry and not have others doing most of the work for them.
      In light of JMs present and past history I do not think he needs to produce a book on biblical counseling.
      People with Narcissistic tendencies will almost always preach the loudest and hardest towards the very things they themselves are guilty of believing or doing. In their minds their actions are justified and the lack of conscience does not lead to sorrowful repentance.
      Satan wants to be in the pulpit where he breaks one person and it ripples across the entire group. As God removes his restraining hand we will see more of this type of information coming forth. ( Luke 8:17 )
      We have to be circumspect of the source and importance we place on extra biblical material.

  7. I’d love for someone to investigate this same thing about John Piper. I can’t say John Piper has plagarized, but the man has written ~3 books a year since he began publishing (you can check my math, don’t quote me as fact on that) and you’re telling me he’s writing/co-writing all that? And running Desiring God, and answering questions, and writing blog posts?

    I’m not convinced.

    1. To insinuate without any actual evidence that John Piper (or anyone else) has done something wrong like this is slander. It is unethical and unbiblical and shows a suspicious ungodly mindset. It is in fact, evil. (1 Timothy 5:19)

    2. I don’t know. Given Piper’s characteristic intensity I always assumed he was a workaholic. Most of us struggle with one end of the spectrum or the other, workaholism or laziness (for me the latter if I’m honest). There’s a reason his famous ‘seashells’ analogy for which he was so well known wasn’t about the dangers of stress and overwork.

  8. I know Piper personally and he would take leave of absence to write. Sometime 3-4 months at a time. As for Macarthur. He has a ghost writer that takes his sermon manuscripts and collects them to format the material in book format. While I would be uncomfortable with my name attached to a study Bible. I would think that we need to be objective and Hold Max Lucado, Charles Ryrie ( past away) as well as Scofield reference Bible. It is not unheard of. There are others with their name attached. These practices are common. I would like to hear more information regarding the charges.

  9. Piper doesn’t have three mansions. Piper was never accused of cultivating a culture of fear, bullying and intimidation. Piper donated all royalties to the church. Would love to hear JM do all that.

  10. It doesn’t surprise me that MacArthur is a plagiarist. I mean, the guy is in love with money (3 luxury homes worth in the millions; his paycheck is nearly half a million a year, etc.) and the Bible teaches that “the love of money is the root of all evil. . .” (1 Timothy 6:10a). So, no wonder he’s a plagiarist.

  11. I continue to learn during my DMIN Studies that human beings are really deeply flawed and sinful creatures, and that includes even extremely gifted teachers/preachers of the Word. John MacArthur and several others do not generally write books from scratch. Their “books” are simply made up of their Sermons that have been edited and transcribed. I’m committed to keeping my eyes upon Christ and Him alone!

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