- 'Winging It - Red-Letter Christians

''Winging It' with Stan Smith
Originally posted on 01/08/2020

Red-Letter Christians

You've heard of these, right? It's a reference to those handy Bibles where they put Jesus's words in red. It's not as if the red letters are inspired, you know. For instance, some Bible scholars are unclear in John 3 where Jesus's words leave off and the words of John (the writer) begin. You see, Greek didn't employ the helpful quotation marks we have today, so did Jesus say the world-famous "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) or did Jesus end with verse 15 and John expanded from verses 16 on? Which illustrates the difficulty with red-letter thinking. You see, the red letters are not more inspired than any other, but the feel of it is "These are the actual words of Jesus so they're much more important than the rest." So if Jesus did not say John 3:16-21 as the red-letter Bibles indicate but John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, added them as explanation, then they are just as true as if Jesus had said them. Red letters, then, can become a problem.

Truthfully, then, there is no real problem with the red-letter Bibles ... as long as you believe that the Bible is the God-breathed word of God. In this case, all of Scripture is, in a sense, the words of Jesus. And the red just highlights what He physically said at the time. Fine. No problem. So I'm okay with all that.

The problem occurs when you find those (and there are not just a few) who say, "I try to follow the words of Jesus." These would be the "red-letter Christians" to which I allude. No, it's not about red ink. It's the notion that "What Jesus said was right but everything else is, well, questionable." Okay, they'll fill in "questionable" with some other adjective. Maybe they're "figurative" or maybe they "contain the truth". Certainly the Bible is not inerrant. In no way can we take the Old Testament historical narratives, for instance, as historical narratives. That just won't work. Because, you see, they aren't "the words of Jesus". So what these folk do is 1) superimpose their notion of what Jesus was like over the Bible and then 2) reinterpret the Bible to match their notion of what Jesus was like. If they see Jesus as, essentially, a modern day '60's hippy -- "Love and peace, man" -- then any biblical reference to violence or the like are right out. And, oh, by the way, the God of the Old Testament brings about a lot of violence. So does the God of Revelations. Jesus wasn't an angry man, so biblical references to the wrath of God don't quite work for them. To many of these types Jesus never condemned sin, so biblical condemnation of sin is in question and certainly anyone else's attempt to do so is in error. No, the rule of this Jesus is "Neither do I condemn you" and be very, very careful to end your sentence right there.

You see, when they call into question the bulk of the Bible because it may or may not align with their version of Jesus, they have a real problem. If the Bible as a whole cannot be fully trustworthy, why would the red letters be trustworthy? Trying to sound wise and holy, they undercut their own basis for belief. "Sure, the red letters can be trusted; you just have to be careful about the black ones." No, of course, no one ever says that. But that's the sense of it. "The Bible is all about Jesus" sounds so Christian and it is, in fact, true, but when they take that to mean "My understanding of who Jesus was determines what is or is not true in the Bible" becomes a real problem.

Bottom line, of course, there is a fundamental problem with this brand of red-letter Christians. If they are interpreting the Bible through the lens of Christ, and that Christ is primarily derived from the Bible, then the Bible must be first a reliable book. On the other hand, if the Bible as written is not a fully reliable book, then their lens through which they interpret the Bible is a Christ of their own making. And the real question then is if that Christ can save. Or is it not the Christ of the Bible who has the power to save? Paul warns of "another gospel". I am concerned for some of "another Christ". I'm concerned that it could be "an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14) who, in truth, is blinding their eyes (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Meet the Author:
Born and raised in a Christian home, I've been treated to immersion in the Word and squandered it. "But God ..." I love the phrase. God has been faithful when I was unfaithful. At every turn He has crowded me to Him.

I'm married with four grown children and (currently) four grandchildren. My wife and I live in sunny Phoenix by choice. I hope to encourage people with my words and to share with others what God has shared with me.

For more writings you can see my blog at

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