Theology

Red-Letter Nonsense

Tom Rush

The Inspiration of Scripture is Complete, From Genesis to Revelation

It has become fashionable among the leftist media, theological liberals and those adamantly opposed to the Christian faith to call into question the Bible’s authority if the portion of Scripture backing the position happens to appear in black letters. There are even some evangelicals who will discount any biblical position that they deem not approved by Jesus’ words, uttered while He was present on earth. Many Bibles are called “Red-letter” editions, in that they present the words of Christ while He was here on earth in red. The implication of those who use the “red-letter” only mantra is that the only portion of the Bible that can be believed and trusted is the red-letter portion.

Orthodox Christian organizations and churches and their various fellowships have always affirmed the Bible as the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation. I have often quipped, “You can believe the Bible, from ‘Holy Bible’ on the front to ‘Genuine Leather’ on the back.” This, sadly, is not the position of those who oppose certain teachings of Scripture which they believe were not taught by Jesus.

The Plenary Inspiration of Scripture

Historic Christianity has affirmed its belief that the Bible is the Word of God, supernaturally inspired in the original manuscripts and preserved by God in its plenary, verbal inspiration in its confessions and statements of faith(1). In other words, God so superintended the human authors that as they recorded His Word, it was kept free from error and omission. The Bible is, therefore, the inerrant, infallible, pure Word of God, from which nothing should be subtracted and to which nothing should be added. The Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, cannot be separated from the Written Word, the Bible, for where the Bible speaks, Jesus speaks (cf. Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18-19).

If Only They Actually Read the Red

While the red-letter editions do provide some clarity to the content of the Bible, the red letters are not any more inspired than the black letters. Those who champion the red letters as superior are often guilty of the failure to actually read the red letters. Jesus, while speaking in His earthly life, never contradicted any other portion of the Bible. When we read the red letters in their proper context, we find that the message of the Bible is consistent, from cover to cover.

Reading the red letters will demonstrate that Jesus spoke more clearly and consistently to modern-day cultural issues than He is often given credit for. For example, when someone defends the concept of same-sex marriage and claims, “Jesus never said anything about that,” it is clear they have overlooked much that Jesus did say about it. In Matthew 19, verses 1-15, Jesus plainly confirmed that marriage was designed for “male and female” in keeping with the creation order. When a man and woman come together in marriage, Jesus said they are “one flesh” (cf. Mark 10:5-12).

Principle and Precept

A similar attempt to refute biblical truth comes when someone says, “The Bible doesn’t say anything about that,” or “That word doesn’t occur in the Bible.” For example, the Bible doesn’t mention marijuana. The implication is that marijuana use is perfectly fine because it’s not mentioned. But, in fact, the Bible does say something about it! It clearly communicates that intoxication is sinful, regardless of the method used (cf. Prov. 20:1; Eph. 5:18; Is. 5:11-14; Rom. 13:11-14).

The Bible doesn’t use the word “trinity,” but the doctrine of the Trinity is plainly and evidently taught throughout the Bible. The fact that a word, or in particular some modern concept or idea, does not occur in scripture does not mean that the Bible does not speak to these subjects. The way we have to look at such things is through the principles and precepts that are plainly taught in the Word of God.

The Desire to Justify Sin

The primary reason this nonsensical red-letter jargon is used is to justify one sin or another. The sin most often justified and excused is that of homosexuality. The argument runs along the line that Jesus never said anything about it; it’s not in the “red letters.” This is a false dichotomy on two fronts.

First, as mentioned above, Jesus did say something about it, and it’s in the red letters. While it is true that He did not use the word “homosexuality”(2), He did most clearly affirm the creation planned intention of the Godhead that marriage was designed for one man and one woman for life. There is no mistaking the plain teaching of Jesus on this subject. “And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”” (Matthew 19:4–6; Cf. Gen. 1:27-28)

Second, Jesus is the author of all of Scripture. The Bible is authoritative in all of its words. The black letters are just as binding as the red ones. Where Paul or David or one of the Prophets speak in the Bible, so Jesus speaks. The Holy Spirit and Jesus are One, the Holy Spirit is responsible for the divine inspiration of all of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17). There is no division in the Godhead.

When Paul condemns homosexual behavior and thoughts in Romans 1:18-32; First Corinthians 6:9-11; and First Timothy 1:10; Jesus is speaking. When Jude condemns this behavior in Jude 7, Jesus is speaking. When Moses writes in the Law that homosexuality is an abomination, Jesus is speaking (Lev. 18:22; Gen. 2:24; 19:4-5).

The Problem in the Pulpit and the Pew

Unfortunately, many of our evangelical pulpits are weak on the doctrine of the Bible. Many preachers are remiss in teaching their congregations the absolute authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and practice. Many professing Christians, though sitting in the pews of professing Christian churches and denominations, are woefully ignorant of the teachings of the Bible.

Because of this dumbing down of biblical fidelity, there is a weakened ability of many in the church to respond adequately to the red-letter nonsense. But the true church must maintain its commitment to the truth of the Word of God. Every word in the Bible is pure, that is, it has been refined, tested, and approved by God (Cf. Prov. 30:5). The Bible is trustworthy and we as believers should defend it against all attacks (Jude 3; 1 Pet. 3:15). The Bible, both red and black letters are the words of Jesus. Those words provide us with a sufficient source of strength and wisdom for living the Christian life and for refuting the lies of the enemy of our souls. Sola Scriptura!


(1)  For example, the “Baptist Faith and Message,” adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000 declares, “The Holy Bible … is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.” The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith says, “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.” Nearly every confession of faith established within the professing church begins with an affirmation of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.

(2) An accusation has surfaced in recent years that the word “homosexuality” did not occur in the Bible until 1946. This is a preposterous argument based on a faulty hermeneutic. Heather R. White, author of “Reforming Sodom, Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights,” (The University of North Carolina Press, 2015), said, “Appearing for the first time in the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible in 1946, in Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, the term “homosexual” was added by liberal Protestant Bible scholars who believed that homosexuality was a vice that had been opposed since Sodom. Two enigmatic Greek nouns, referenced in the older King James Version (KJV) as “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind,” now appeared as a single, streamlined “homosexual.” Some Bible readers, however, opposed this textual change and noted that before the addition, the topic of same-sex relationships was absent in Protestant literature.” (https://academic.oup.com/north-carolina-scholarship-online/book/22373/chapter-abstract/182628249?redirectedFrom=fulltext)White goes on to argue, “[T]he Bible’s specifically same-sex meaning was an invention of the twentieth century. … this liberal Protestant legacy shaped all sides of the oppositional politics over gay rights.” Of course, proper hermeneutical assessment of the Bible realizes that the original text, primarily written in Hebrew and Greek, included terms from those languages. Since the term homosexual is a twentieth-century term it could not have occurred in an earlier version of the Bible. The inclusion of the term is not problematic for it describes the actions indicated by the original words of the text. The majority of biblical translations have maintained an accurate view of the Bible’s clear condemnation of same-sex sexual activity and thought, though sometimes the words used to convey the meaning have been updated. For an accurate understanding of this particular viewpoint, I highly recommend Jared Moore’s excellent book, The Lust of the Flesh (Free Grace Press, 2023).

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