An excerpt from Taking God at His Word on the implications of 2 Timothy 3:16 for the authority and unity of the whole Bible:

Just as crucially, if all Scripture is breathed out by God, then there is a unity to be found across the pages of the Bible. Without minimizing the differences of genre and human au­thorship, we should nevertheless approach the Bible expect­ing theological distinctives and apparent discrepancies to be fully reconcilable.

The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this “red letter” nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. An evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us to prize instructions in the gospel more than instructions elsewhere in Scripture. If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus.

God’s gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripturated word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incar­nate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in Holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed-out word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ. Submission to the Scriptures is submission to God. Rebellion against the Scriptures is rebel­lion against God. The Bible can no more fail, falter, or err, than God himself can fail, falter, or err.

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37 thoughts on “Red Letter Nonsense”

  1. a. says:

    “ Scripture, because it is the breathed-out word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ.”

    amen. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path; the unfolding of Your words gives light; understanding to the simple.
    Then even one day, for His city, there will even be no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God – the Father of the heavenly lights, Who does not change like shifting shadows, Who cannot lie – will illumine it and its lamp is the Lamb.

  2. Mark B. says:

    I am not aware of any red letters in the Old Testament. I think you used the word ‘scripture’ to mean something other than what the Apostle Paul meant when he was writing to Timothy. Also the verse you mentioned does not rule out some scripture being more profitable than others.

    There is definitely a case to be made that red letter Bibles are wrong, but the case made above accomplishes nothing when using that text of Scripture. Maybe the author of the quote should take more seriously the Word of God understood in context.

  3. Shaun Little says:

    Way to be a troll Mark B. I understand the canon wasn’t complete at that time and Paul was refering to the scriptures as in the OT, but I would think the verse very much applies to the authors argument if not more-so, seeing as the NT is the catalyst with which we view the OT scriptures. If the scriptures in the OT are ‘inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;’ then scripture written after Christ’s ascension and sending/empowering the Apostles with the Holy Spirit would be even more ‘profitable’ and in a much more clear way seeing as the old veil is removed. ‘Scripture’ whether OT or NT is indeed God breathed, and it is painfully obvious God placed the NT on par with the OT and gave it much more honor because without the NT the promises contained in the OT are obscure and shrouded in darkness.

    Sorry but saying 2 Tim 3:16 does not apply to the NT is a case of good context gone wrong.

  4. So clean & precise! Thank you Kevin. I always appreciate how you use your mind to glorify God in all things.

  5. Mark B. says:

    Shaun L.
    I agree that the New Testament is indeed profitable and infallible and without error. I think the argument made above is weak and just as much nonsense as what is trying to be corrected. There are other better ways to emphasize the New Testaments reliability without trying to twist scripture to fit what we want it to.

    Also I wonder if the author of the quote is just as much against verse numbering and chapters as he is against the addition of red letter coloring.

    Disagreement is not always being a troll. I very much so enjoy this blog and reading Kevin’s thoughts. Happy friday, my friend. (Assuming it is Friday where you live.)

  6. Norm says:

    @Mark B, do you realize that Kevin is the author of the quote, that it is an excerpt from his upcoming book? And he is not arguing against using red letters in printed versions of the Scripture, he is arguing against people valuing only the words of Jesus at the expense of the rest of the Bible.

  7. David D says:

    Again, this strikes me as a response to a question no one is asking, or a solution in search of a problem (you choose). I don’t know any evangelical Christians with red letter Bibles who are running around claiming that the black letters are less inspired. Maybe I’ve missed something.

  8. anaquaduck says:

    When I first began to read the Bible(as an adult)it was very apparent that Paul wrote with authority where the gospels relayed as descriptive. Also living in a later century means a lot of misunderstanding or assumptions can creep in.I was a bit wary of Paul’s letters at first but then begun to see Christ in his life & task in spreading the gospel as a leader.

    Theology, History & culture can be great tools in understanding & piecing together God’s redemptive power in the fallen world. Whether a letter is red or black it can easily be & often is taken out of context thanks to our own ignorance & misunderstanding.

    It’s not just a book, it’s an education that requires careful study if any advance is to be made & enjoyed.

  9. Breton Palmer says:

    Mark B
    I don’t believe he is arguing against having Red Letters, but the theology that has come from it. Also, though Paul is referring to OT Scripture could we not trust that the Holy Spirit knew of the NT books that would be recognized as canonical and allow application of that verse for all 66 books of the canon?

  10. Jon Loewen says:

    @Mark B, claiming 2 Tim 3:16 doesn’t apply to the whole Bible is a red herring in the context of the argument. If 2 Tim 3:16 only applies to the OT, it still proves that the OT is just as authoritative as the “red letters” and therefore Kevin’s argument is not weak as you try to claim.

  11. DLE says:

    We each practice selective reading of the Scriptures. No denomination within Christendom practices perfect balance as to which Scriptures it emphasizes and which it downplays (or even ignores).

    In that regard, we craft our own red-letter Bibles, each with red letters of our own choosing.

  12. A. Amos Love says:

    Wonderful Teaching…

    “The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all,
    of this “red letter” nonsense,
    as if **the words of Jesus** are the really important verses in Scripture
    and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses.
    An evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us
    to prize instructions in the gospel more than instructions elsewhere in Scripture.”

    I’m with you

    “If we read about **obey your leaders** from the pen of the author of Hebrews 23:17 NASB. And your pastor/elders say they are these leaders, even though Heb 13 never mentions pastors or elders as the leaders, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew 23:10 NASB, who told His Disciples NOT to be called Leaders, For you have “ONE” Leader, the Christ. And NOT one of His Disciples ever called themself pastor/leader, or had the “Title” pastor/leader. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus.

    Yeah – “we should be rid, once and for all, of this “red letter” nonsense,”
    Because – Here Jesus, in The Red Letters, calls Himself – The “ONE” Leader.

    Mat 23:10-12 NASB – New American Standard Bible
    Do NOT be called leaders; for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.
    But the greatest among you shall be your “Servant”.
    Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
    and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

    Yeah – “we should be rid, once and for all, of this “red letter” nonsense,”
    Because – Here Jesus, in The Red Letters, calls Himself – The “ONE” Shepherd.

    John 10:16 NASB
    I have other sheep, which are NOT of this fold;
    I must bring them also, and they will *hear My voice;*
    and they will become “ONE” flock with “ONE” shepherd.

    Yeah – If WE, His Ekklesia, His Sheep, His Disciples, pay attention to “The Red Letters”

    The pool of who WE, His Sheep, His Ekklesia, listen to as “shepherd/leaders”

    Would be quite small – “ONE”

    “ONE” Voice – “ONE” Fold – “ONE” Shepherd – “ONE” Leader

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  13. A. Amos Love says:

    Just Wondering

    If Jesus teaches His Disciples – NOT to be called Leaders?
    And, NOT one of His Disciples called themselves Leader?
    And, NOT one of His Disciples called another Disciple – Leader?

    And, today, someone calls them self leader? – (In opposition to what jesus said.)
    Allows others to call them leader?

    Are they one of “His Disciples?”

  14. Paul Reed says:

    It comes down as a matter of authority. We can easily say the Bible is the authority, but is it the case that the authors of the Bible and those who decided the canon are really the authority? They’re the true kingmaker, right? An interesting debate, but I would argue that people’s most common authority is *their interpretation* of the Bible. If one can just decide what verses are more important, less important, not important, or not to be taken at face value, then the individual has more power of interpretation than any supreme court judge.

  15. Marshall Johnston says:

    Folks,
    I think a number of you are missing Kevin’s point, because you are not familiar with the movement known as “Red-Letter Christians.” Google it. That, I believe is the “‘red letter’ nonsense” to which Kevin refers, not the actual printing of Jesus’s words in red ink.

    Grace and peace to all.

  16. Jay Brennan says:

    Red lettering began as a marketing tool for an earlier generation of Bible sellers.

    We now have so many such marketing devices for Bibles (Two tone covers! Thousands of study notes! Theme Bibles! Photos and drawings and maps! etc etc), that a simple black letter Bible with a readable font on sturdy paper and long-lasting binding might seem a little quaint and old-fashioned.

    This might give someone the idea that you intend to actually read it.

  17. Terry D says:

    “Divine words of the Bible” – we must be very careful that we do not make the Bible on a par with God Himself. The Bible is not the fourth part of the Trinity!! God made and breathed into Adam. He spoke (God’s Word) the universe into existence and God’s wisdom is revealed in nature. Yet neither created human or nature is divine! The Bible never was or is on a par with Christ Jesus. The Bible could not lay down its life to show you how much it loves and values you!! Be careful lest we make the scripture a false god.

  18. Jay Brennan says:

    More seriously, the above post is deeply confusing. Perhaps it assumes we have read Kevin’s book or are familiar with him?

    In regard to the idea of ‘red letter Christians’, Kevin might be more clear about what he is referring to (perhaps he clarifies this in his book?)

    If he is referring to Tony Campolo’s book on Red Letter Christians (2008), the idea was expanding evangelical social teaching beyond favorite issues such as abortion and homosexuality to include all of Jesus’ social teaching. And certainly not to shrink the canon. Campolo and others are very clear about this.

    The basic premise of the above post is confusing.

    Clearly, Scripture itself, the Church Fathers, the Reformers, and the average Christian in the pew understand that some Bible passages have more authority than others. Some of the obscure passages in Leviticus (which I happened to listen to this afternoon) do not and cannot carry the same weight as the Sermon on the Mount or Paul’s teaching on grace. (Burn up any goats lately?!?)

    What I suspect is that this amounts to is an out-of-date and peculiarly American insecurity and overprotectiveness about the Bible. Don’t worry so much about it. It is God’s Word. God has taken care of it for thousands of years and will continue to do so. This overprotectiveness is a little unseemly next to a strong belief in God’s Sovereignty.

    If you still can’t sleep at night over it, remember that the canon emerged from the Roman Catholic Church and they continue to do a pretty decent job of doing God’s work in protecting it. Evangelicals can help a little on the side, but it’s not up to us – one way or the other.

    … And in mentioning the Catholics, if you really love the Bible, consider attending daily and Sunday mass. They publicly read and discuss far more Scripture in the course of their church year, than most evangelicals do.

  19. anaquaduck says:

    God truly is Sovereign as the Bible reveals, whether it’s Leviticus or Luke. But nowhere in Scripture does God say, no need to defend Scripture…I will look after that bit, to deny that partnership is to completely misunderstand the prophets & the teachings of Christ… by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

    To say that God (The Trinity) is what matters most seems ridiculous to me, considering He has given us His Word that we might know Him, how else would we know what God is like?

  20. “the canon emerged from the Roman Catholic Church ”

    Not so.

    If by “canon” you mean the completed Scriptures, then they are a combination of the Old Testament books and the writings of the apostles (and a few under their authority, such as Luke and Jude).

    If by “canon” you mean the recognition of the 66 books in our Bibles as bearing divine authority, that was taking place even in the first century. The apostle Peter equates Paul’s letters to the rest of Scripture (Second Peter 3:16).

    The church did not give us the Scriptures; to the contrary, the Scriptures gave us the church.

    As for differing levels of authority in the Scripture, not so again. “ALL SCRIPTURE is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17 ESV). I invite Mr. Brennan to show his biblical evidence that levels of authority differ in the Word.

    If Mr. Brennan believes that a Roman Catholic mass is a good source of biblical truth, he only reveals his own bias. He may benefit from visiting a church where the Word of God is preached and honored, and leave the traditions of men behind.

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  22. Tim Keene says:

    As someone who does not use a red letter bible and does not like them, I agree with much of the original post. But it is a version of a much larger phenomenon, a canon within a canon. So when Paul trumps the rest of scripture, or justification by faith trumps all else, or when ‘those taken and those left behind’ trumps everything, or when the story of Israel trumps everything or PSA or whatever, we need to be on our guard to make sure that we do not push parts of scripture into the distant background.

  23. JR says:

    As comments sections go…this one missed the point of the post to a degree I’ve rarely seen. Good job folks. SMH.

  24. A. Amos Love says:

    JR

    Thanks for pointing out we’ens in the comment section – missed the point…

    Maybe you can help?

    What was the point of the post?

    And does the author of the post hold any responcibility?

    For – “As comments sections go…
    this one missed the point of the post to a degree I’ve rarely seen”?

  25. A. Amos Love says:

    JR

    I believe the Bible is written just the way God wanted it written.

    2 Tim 3:16-17 KJV
    All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable
    for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
    that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

    But – The Challenge is with, a church leader, pastor leader, YRR leader, sayng…

    “…we should be rid, once and for all,
    of this “red letter” nonsense,
    as if **the words of Jesus** are the really important verses in Scripture…”

    Because, In my experience, those who are, or desire to be, a pastor leader, church leader, YRR leader…

    “Ignore,” or “Twist,” a lot – “of this “red letter” nonsense,” – that does NOT benefit…
    Their Power, Their Profit, Their Prestige, Their Position, Their Preeminence…

    How about these “Red Letters” as an example – Go… make disciples… Mat 28:19-20 NKJV…
    Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…
    **teaching them to “observe” all things that I have commanded you**

    How many, pastor/leaders, today will read, and teach, “this “red letter” nonsense,”?
    What Jesus, taught, commanded His Disciples?
    What His Disciples observed Jesus doing? And taught? And did?

    Have you ever read the Gospel’s, the Red Letters, with this in mind?
    What did Jesus teach, command, His Disciples?
    That WE, His Sheep, His Disciples, are to Do and Teach?

    Kinda have to read the Red Letters to see what Jesus commanded His Disciples – Yes?

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **their shepherds** have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    I’m Blest… I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  26. Marshall Johnston says:

    Missing the point indeed.

    Let’s look at one of Kevin’s examples. “If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew.” To somehow give more weight to the words of Jesus (red letters in some versions) is to deny the unity of Scripture. There are many who identify as evangelicals who today are doing just that – giving more weight to the words of Jesus or in some cases the presumed silence (“Jesus never said anything about . . . “) of Jesus than the words of Paul or Peter or John in his epistles. While Matthew is God-breathed, so is Romans and Galatians and so on. In fact to those who critique what they perceive to be a privileging of Paul in Romans over the words of Jesus in the Gospels, I would say that they may be observing a healthy hermeneutic – Romans serving in part as a didactic exposition of the events and message described in the narratives of the Gospels.

  27. Wow. By looking at the comments that came on this article last week, [bold]I’d say there’s a real need for Kevin’s book!!![/bold]

    Marcion is alive and well today! Except Marcion picked different portions of Scripture to accept/reject (basically only accepting Luke’s gospel and nine of Paul’s letters, as I recall).

    He considered the “god” of the OT an inferior god and not the true God.

    This is a REAL problem today. And none of us are immune from the temptation to give more attention to isolated texts than to the “analogy/rule of faith” (i.e. the Bible in it’s entireity is it’s own authoritative commentary.)

  28. Jim Folk says:

    Good words, Kevin. Although some people do like the red letter versions because it’s easier to see the words of Jesus. I wonder what the people who are color blind see? Maybe they should come out with a green letter or blue letter version.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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