“Which words hold more weight, the words of Jesus or Paul?”
That was my nail in the coffin argument. I, a relatively new believer, was arguing some finer point of theology and using my NIV Study Bible Red-Letter Edition to do it. The words in red, I argued, had to hold more weight than those which were only set in black. So if there was a seeming contradiction between Jesus and Paul then it had to be the words of Jesus which held more weight.
I’d pulled the Jesus card. This card trumps all others and when played you are certain to win the game. The only problem is that I was playing a rigged game, but I didn’t know this until a couple years later.
Are the words of Jesus from the mouth of God? According to John 12:49, Jesus doesn’t speak of his own accord or in his own authority. He speaks the words the Father has given to him. So, yes, the words of Jesus are from the mouth of God.
Are the scriptural words of Paul (or other biblical writers) from the mouth of God? According to 2 Timothy 3:16 “all Scripture is God-breathed”. So when it comes to the words of Scripture, yes, they proceed from the mouth of God.
What this means is that the words of Jesus and the words of Paul have a common source. In this regard every single word in your Bible ought to be in red. There isn’t a difference, in regards to authority, of the words spoken by Jesus and those scriptural words spoken by Paul. That is not to exalt Paul to the place of Deity. Nor is that to lower Jesus to the status of a mere man. Instead, it is to speak to the unity of God’s Word.
When red-letter editions of the Bible first came on the market in 1899 it was not meant to make a theological statement, as if Jesus’ words held more theological weight than other places of Scripture. Lous Klopsch, wanted to put the Bible into the hands of as many people as possible. And in doing this he wanted to find a way to highlight the main character; namely, Jesus Christ. This is Klopsch’ definition of his mission:
Modern Christianity is striving zealously to draw nearer to the great Founder of the Faith. Setting aside mere human doctrines and theories regarding Him, it presses close to the Divine Presence, to gather from His own lips the definition of His mission to the world and His own revelation of the Father. . . . The Red Letter Bible has been prepared and issued in the full conviction that it will meet the needs of the student, the worker, and the searchers after truth everywhere. (Source)
As history would have it, the red-letter edition gained prominence around the same time when theological debates took place centering around the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. As a result you have unwitting disciples make arguments similar to the one I made a couple decades ago. Essentially it causes us to pit the words of Jesus against other words of Jesus spoken through a mediator.
The danger of the red-letter Bible, when we pit Scripture against Scripture and have a highlighter under one of the texts, is that we do not read the Bible as we ought to be reading it. The words out of the lips of Jesus aren’t meant to be put on a scale opposite the words of His messengers. They are supposed to be on the same side of the scale against the twisted and serpentine words of rebellion.
And this is why I’m not a fan of red-letter Bibles. The original intention was good, but a hundred years of theological debate and moving away from it’s purpose has caused the highlighter to be used for the wrong purpose. As such, I believe red-letter editions are no longer helpful.
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