Friday, October 12, 2007

Red letters and responsibility

I have an American Bible, a free lime green TruGrip ESV (curiously 'sound' and 'gimmicky'). The only problem is that it's a Red-Letter Bible - which highlights the words Jesus said. The problem with this is that all the words in the Bible are Jesus' words not just the ones that the Bible writers recorded as direct quotes.
Tony Campolo says we need to highlight Jesus' spoken words because they're more important - he says in Jesus we have more important words than the OT law. I see where he's going with that but the Bible gives us in built hermeneutic tools - like Jesus saying that the OT points to Jesus, Paul says the same. Not every command ever uttered is one for me to keep - not because some commands are less important but because they weren't intended for me. Biblical context is the key to that. All scripture comes out of the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3v16) not just the ones that came from Jesus' mouth. Classic example - Mark 1v11 in my funky ESV is black text - when the Father speaks about his son, but 1v15 is red as Jesus announces his kingdom.... aren't the Father's words important? And what about all of them spoken by the Spirit. Actually Jesus' words in the Bible are the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul as they record them in their books and letters... but they're all exhaled by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

John Frame adds another angle in No Scripture, no Christ - John Frame:
"Lord­ship and Saviorhood, without authorita­tive Scripture, are meaningless expressions... the authority of Scripture is so important... we cannot say we love Christ while disowning the Bible. And that is why, when we present the gospel, we must present it as a word of authority and sure promise—a word which demands precedence over all other words, a word which will not be judged by the criteria of modern philosophy and science, but which demands the authority to judge all the thoughts of men."
Why must we pit Jesus against scripture when we cannot have one without the other. It's the same thing Rob Bell does in Velvet Elvis (which I will finish reviewing one day...) where he pits Jesus against doctrine. This requires some reflection and the rest of Frame's paper is worth reading. See also: For the Bible tells me so by David Gibson. The implications of thinking this way for apologetics and discipleship are vast, when we see the proximity between Christ and the Scriptures. It's all Jesus speaking and we'll never truly believe in him without all scripture, nor will we ever believe in scripture without belief in Jesus. Utterly circular but without that we end up with logic or evidence or something else as our authority instead of Jesus.

I'm challenged that I need to consider myself under God's words rather than over them. And the more exposed I am to the word in my job the more accountable to God I am. I remember being struck by a pastor who preached to a lot of Bible college students and professors who was asked if he was intimidated by the congregation. He said that it was a help to him to know they they knew their stuff - it helped him to know that he was unlikely to lead them astray. Likewise the more I hear the more accountable to God I am. Responsible for putting the word into practice. Dan Phillips is in great form on this...
Easy to come and judge the word, to listen arrogantly, to sit and judge for style and content when God is speaking through the reading and preaching of his word to build faith in me. All of them, not just the ones in red.


  1. Oh, I'm glad you said it Dave. If scripture is scripture, why do we need red letters?! All scripture is breathed out by God... equally... without exception!

  2. I went to an Islamic Society talk last Christmas. The speaker was obsessed with red letter Bibles - he rightly got it that all the words were Christ's (though, of course, for the wrong reasons - they believe Jesus wrote the NT). I quoted a Bible verse immediately after one he took as truth and asked him why that one wasn't - his first attempt to counter it was whether my Bible had red letters! He was genuinely gutted to find out it wasn't - you could see him shake a little as he quickly thought up another excuse for why he picks and chooses.

    Quite funnily, both verses would have been red, so have no idea what his point would have been if I had said "yes".