Hermeneutics,  Scripture

Red-Letter Christians

There is an official website called www.redletterchristians.org, with the stated purpose as follows:

The goal of Red Letter Christians is simple: To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.

large_3750120163I think I understand the intent of this group. However, the premise is mistaken and it leads to the ultimate question:

Should we treat the words of Jesus differently than the rest of Scripture?

Immature believers (and even some unbelievers) will often quote Jesus’ words, “Judge not” or, “Love one another.” They treat these words of Jesus as if they have some sort of stopping power against what the rest of the Bible teaches about sin and the need to live righteously.

Additionally, those who advocate homosexuality as a legitimate Christian practice also use a similar framework. They will argue (in generalities) that Jesus promoted love and wanted people to be happy. Therefore, according to this reasoning, our foundation for understanding other Scripture must be that Jesus only wanted to promote love.

Although this kind of understanding is misinterpreting Jesus’ actual words, in addition we must realize that those who use this approach are wrongly lifting Jesus’ words above the rest of Scripture on a separate pedestal.

Here are two fundamental truths to remember when thinking about “weighing” biblical texts.

All Scripture is equally inspired by God.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16)

Although it is unquestionable that Jesus is to be the supreme object of our focus and attention, are the recorded words of Jesus “more true” or “more inspired” than the rest of Scripture?

Not at all. In fact, it was the habit of Jesus to rely upon the Old Testament to explain things, because that was the authoritative Scripture even in His day. For example, Jesus educated the two disciples on the road to Emmaus by using the whole Old Testament (Luke 24:27)

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Peter also points out that all of Scripture ultimately finds its source in God. We know from elsewhere that when God speaks through people, the words are completely true and carry God’s authority (cf. Deut 18:18-22).

Therefore, it is foolish to say that the words of Jesus carry more authority than the rest of Scripture, just as it is foolish to say that the words of the New Testament carry more authority than the words of the Old Testament. All Scripture is equally inspired, backed by the authority of God.

Scripture writers assume their words hold the same authority as Jesus.  

We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:6).

Here John makes a claim that nobody can make today because John was an Apostle directly commissioned by Jesus as a spokesperson. Clearly John expected his words to be received with authority and obeyed, thus demonstrating whether or not someone was loyal to God or not. Jesus said something similar:

But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me (John 10:26-27)

Another evidence for the authoritative equality of Scripture is in Paul’s discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. After speaking of the instructions which the Lord had given (1 Cor 7:10-11), Paul then gives another set of instructions:

But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her (1 Cor 7:12).

Paul is not saying his words carry no authority. Rather, he is simply letting the Corinthians know that these words were not given during Jesus’ ministry. These words have been given by Paul on behalf of Christ as His authoritative representative, and they stand parallel with Jesus’ words as authoritative for how a believer should view marriage.

In  both the Old and New Testaments, every word carries the authority of God. It is unwise and wrong to treat certain sections of the Bible as carrying more authority than others. Scripture should be viewed holistically; understanding that although there is a progression of thought through progressive revelation, that does not mean certain words are inherently more valuable or more inspired. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable.

Are you a red-letter Christian?

photo credit: jypsygen via photopin cc

This post was originally posted Aug 4, 2014.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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