I remember feeling like a spiritual super hero a couple of times growing up. Instead of asking for an action figure or a new baseball glove for my birthday, I asked for a new Bible.
“I’m totally picking a Bible instead of a Super Nintendo game”, I thought to myself, “I must be a pretty rad Christian.”
And I didn’t get just any Bible - I got the deluxe edition. Concordance. Maps in the back. Tabs on the side. My name engraved on the front. And that’s not all…
I got the RED LETTER edition. Boom!
That’s the edition that says to the world, “I cherish the words of Jesus, do you?”
The red letters seem like a great idea. You can scan the New Testament, and easily see what Jesus said. How convenient! Why wouldn't we want to highlight His words?
As I got older and learned more about the Bible, however, I realized those little red letters were actually warping my view of Scripture in a couple of serious ways:
1. I was favoring the New Testament, because that’s where Jesus seemed to be. No red letters in the Old Testament.
2. I was putting Jesus’ words on a higher level of authority than the rest of Scripture.
In short, red letters > black letters.
On the first point, it’s true that Jesus is not found in the flesh in the Old Testament. But, we know from passages like John 1:1-14 and Colossians 1:15-17 that Jesus was there from the very beginning. Jesus did not come into existence when Mary gave birth to Him; He simply appeared in the flesh for the first time. Jesus is a part of the Trinity, so when God is mentioned in the Old Testament, that includes Jesus. Plus, there are many prophecies in the Old Testament that allude to Jesus and His future arrival as the Messiah (2 Samuel 7, Isaiah 9, Isaiah 53, Jeremiah 23, Micah 5, Daniel 7).
My impression that Jesus was missing from the Old Testament was wrong. Red letters or not, He was there.
On the second point, the red letter edition led me to believe that Jesus’ words were more important than the rest of the Bible.
That is not true either.
ALL of Scripture was divinely written by the Holy Spirit through a variety of human authors. On this point, Jesus’ disciple Peter wrote “…men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21, NIV).
That means that Paul’s words in his letters are on absolutely equal authority with Jesus’ words, because the Holy Spirit wrote them through Paul, and the Holy Spirit is equal in authority with Jesus. Same goes for any other biblical author.
I’m not saying the red letter edition is useless; it’s helpful as a reference. If I’m scanning one of the Gospels to find something that Jesus said, the red letters make it easy to find the sections that contain His teachings.
The bottom line is that the entire Bible is equal in importance and authority. I can’t say it better than 2 Timothy 3:16: All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. (NLT)
ALL Scripture is inspired by God. Not just the New Testament. Not just the red letters.