The Red Letters Aren’t Better

It’s become popular in the last few years for professing Christians, when confronted with a difficult Pauline passage or obscure Old Testament narrative, to respond with something like this:

  • “I don’t know about all that; just give me Jesus.”
  • “Yeah, I don’t read much outside of Jesus and the Proverbs.”
  • “Well . . . that’s not what Jesus said.”
  • “Paul might have taught faith, but Jesus taught works.”

Hmmm, so the underlying belief here is that Jesus’ words are more important than the rest. Let’s think about that for a moment – is that right?

Red-Letter Lovin’: Then and Now
Trying to elevate Jesus’ words (often colored red in modern translations, thus the reference to “red letters”) over the rest of Scripture is nothing new. It didn’t even begin with the King James Version. It began with a false teacher in the early church named Marcion.

Marcion believed that the God of the New Testament was one of love and peace, while the God of the Old Testament was one of hate and anger. This belief took him so far as to remove the parts of the New Testament that referenced the Old. Marcion, you see, liked some of Jesus’ words, but not all of them. He liked parts of the Bible, but not the whole. Marcion thought that some of the red letters were better.

Does any of this sound familiar? In our day, many Christian teachers and preachers make the same mistake. They’ll preach happily out of the John, but not Deuteronomy. They’ll spend months on Matthew, but fly through the Psalms in 3 weeks. They enjoy Jesus’ parables, but are baffled by their Old Testament bases.

Jesus Didn’t Elevate His Own Words
A couple of passages come to mind here. Let’s highlight two:

  1. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says that we should not think He came to abolish the Old Testament, but rather to fulfill it. The Old Testament (the only Bible of Jesus’ day) to Christ was worth fulfilling.
  2. In Luke 24:25-27 and 24:44, Jesus twice says that the Old Testament speaks of Him, going so far as to say that everything in the OT references Him in some way.

To Christ, then, the Old Testament was the basis for His entire life, ministry, teaching, death, resurrection, and Great Commission. As a boy, He learned His own person and calling from the Scriptures. As a man, He studied them and taught from them.

The red letters weren’t “more important” to Jesus; the whole Bible was (and is).

Don’t Divide the Trinity
In doing theology, we ought to pay special attention to keeping the three Persons of God unified. It’s true of salvation, prayer, grace, and every other Christian doctrine. Here, then, is another example: to say that Jesus’ words inside the Gospels are more important than the rest of Scripture is to say that the Holy Spirit somehow “more inspired” those words than the rest.

To say that the red letters are more important than the rest is to say that the Gospel writers, the apostolic letters, the Prophets, the Law, and the Psalms were an inferior revelation from God. But God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – says nothing of the sort. God is not divided, and neither are His words. Jesus is the living Word, who lived, died, and rose again to confirm the whole Bible (Luke 24, Romans 15:7-8).


About B Treece
loved by God before I ever loved Him, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone by the authority of the Bible alone to the glory of God alone, made to enjoy Him forever, happily married with wonder-filled children.

4 Responses to The Red Letters Aren’t Better

  1. Pingback: Jesus Taught Justification by Faith Alone « Your Cross on My Back

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  3. Pingback: New Series! « Your Cross on My Back

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