If all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16), then there is a unity to be found across the pages of the Bible. Without minimizing the differences of genre and human authorship, we should nevertheless approach the Bible expecting theological distinctives and apparent discrepancies to be fully reconcilable.

The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid of, once and for all, this nonsense about being red letter Christians, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. An evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us to prize the truths in the Gospel more than truths elsewhere in Scripture. If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts that were spoken by Jesus.

God’s gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripurated word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incarnate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in Holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed out word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ.

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28 thoughts on “All Scripture–All of It”

  1. eMatters says:

    Excellent points. In my experience the “red letter Christian” are subtly denying the deity of Christ, as if Jesus wasn’t fully God and fully man and as if He didn’t agree with how parts of the Bible turned out.

  2. Joseph Randall says:

    Thanks Pastor Kevin,

    I appreciate your post and agree – all letters red and black in the Bible have the same authority, but I’ve always found Paul’s words here to be a justification for having red letters:

    1 Corinthians 7:10-12 10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. 12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.

    Thoughts?

    Joseph

  3. Jason says:

    @ Joseph Randall
    Interestingly Paul uses his comments about I not the Lord, versus not I but the Lord, not to justify the idea of red letters. In fact Paul is making a bold statement that his teaching ought to carry as much weight as Christ’s did on this subject.
    Paul is saying when the Lord taught on this subject he said,the wife should not separate from her husband. However, I Paul, would go a step further and add that if any brother has an unbelieving wife who wants to continue the marriage he should stay with her. Paul was adding to the Lord’s teaching the principle that what applies to women in the realm of a mixed marriage of believing woman to unbelieving man applies equally to a marriage of a believing man to an unbelieving woman. Though the Lord did not directly address it himself, Paul also applies it to men. He is laying his teaching beside Christ’s and claiming that his teaching has equality. In other words, these statements, “I, not the lord, and not I, but the Lord” is much like when Jesus said, “you have heard it said”, when HE gives an exposition of the commandments, and then adds to those teachings.

  4. Duncan says:

    Great article. I would add that, in my view, red letters are an editorial device that simply highlights Christ’s words. Red print among the black letters means the brain doesn’t have to determine ‘who said this?’ No one that I know thinks red print – Jesus’ words — are more inspired, more authentic more God-breathed than the rest. To me, it’s a device like paragraphs or verses(were the original texts written in paragraphs or verses?) to aid our reading.

  5. Joseph Randall says:

    Jason,
    I am in no way saying red letters carry more weight than black letters. I agree with all Pastor Kevin has written. But the fact is, Paul made a distinction between his commands and the Lords. If someone wants to point out this distinction with red letters, I don’t see it as a problem. If there is any distinction at all, which Paul does make, then red letters aren’t always bad. They are only bad for those who want to give them more weight than black ones.
    Joseph

  6. Jerry Roller says:

    I think it is a matter of seeking Christ’s attitude and behavior as a model, along with the full council of The Word…an attitude which is sorely lacking among today’s Evangelicals who desire to justify their bigotry and condemn men, rather than earnestly pursue their salvation (which actually takes compassion and considerable effort in some cases).

    Of course religious people would not want us to behave as Christ did because, if WE did, He would be “calling us on the carpet” with regards to our hypocrisy, which we have justified into a virtue, and hard heartedness toward our fellow man, we we have become insanely proud of, today more than any other time in Church history.

  7. All scripture comes from God no matter what the color is. man chose to makethe color scheme not God. . However, Duncan is correct when he says it aides as an editorial device. As a teacher and counseler it does make it easier for me and those that I mentor to reference the teachings of Christ seeing as how they are in red, BUT black or red, scripture and its source is not a color coded ranking of importance. identityfulfilled.com

  8. Chris Schwenk says:

    @Joseph Randall

    When Paul is saying that he gives this command, not the Lord, he’s saying that he’s not quoting something directly that Jesus stated as passed down to us through the Gospels or perhaps something that was just said by Jesus and preserved through oral transmission (we know from John’s Gospel, that Jesus did (and presumably said) much more than what was recorded in the Gospels. So he’s saying, “This isn’t a direct quotation,” but nonetheless, as an Apostle, his words written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit were just as authoritative as the words of Jesus Himself. It’s good to see those red letters (in the Bibles that still use them) to see the change in narrative of when Jesus versus someone else is speaking, but to use them as “Ha, this has more weight than the non-red letters” is dangerous and setting the Word of God against itself.

  9. Nathan Smith says:

    It’s disappointing that you felt it ok to refer to a group of Jesus Followers as nonsensical. These are good people you’re referring to – Red Letter Christians – whether you meant to direct your comment to them or not.

    Pauline zeal is a transformed zeal that is for the unity of the family of God over and against one’s tribal affiliations and positions. Please reconsider your posture to your brothers and sisters, it’s not helping us.

    “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” Philippians 1:27

  10. Alan Cartwright says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Red letter Bibles are surprisingly unhelpful, especially when bringing people with very basic Bible knowledge on to wider biblical themes and teaching.

    I don’t agree at all that they are useful editorially to show who is speaking. Don’t the words of the discourse and the added speech marks do that clearly enough already?
    And if they are useful for that, why not give all the major speaking characters in each book a colour with a key at the start, and why don’t contemporary novels do it already? Every other book ever published tells you it’s just not needed!
    More than that, whatever benefit this may bring surely the serious misunderstandings it opens up on grading Scripture outweigh the benefits.

    Also, how many red letter Bibles have the words of Jesus in red in quotes used in the letters, in the passages in Revelation (words of the mighty angel in Ch 10? Hmm, the colour of the type becomes an issue of interpretation then), or in the OT in all the theophanies, or even whenever the Word of the Lord (if he is indeed a character) is speaking? In those cases having red letters as an editorial choice is problematic as different schools of interpretation differ (understandably; the trinity is not as clearly defined in the OT) and so most groups would claim some passages are red/black when they should be black/red, hindering the teaching of the church.
    (And of course, why not just colour the whole thing red as the words given to us by Jesus’ Spirit? The full logical extension defeats the point!)

    On the 1 Cor 7 issue, wasn’t there a series on here on the reliability of Scripture not that long ago that just regarded that as Paul initially referring to something Jesus had said that they may well have been familiar with (incidentally proving that he did have knowledge of Jesus’ ministry, something many deny) and then addressing specific issues in the Corinthian church which Jesus, in his situation, simply hadn’t needed to elaborate on?
    That seems a very sensible, elegant answer to me and avoids any hint of Paul’s or Jesus’ words being graded in terms of authority.

  11. Johnny Appleton says:

    So, a thought on this topic, Pastor Deyoung: are the instructions from I Cor. 11, that women wear head coverings, “red letter” instructions from Christ as well and, if so, why was this practice abandoned in the 1950′s after over a thousand years of obedience to this?

    My point is: we can believe what we like about the Bible being “red letter” but we still selectively cherry-pick what we want to follow and not follow (or is not “the head of every man Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”)

  12. Alan Cartwright says:

    Nathan, Kevin didn’t call the people nonsensical, but the subject nonsense. Why not call it nonsense for the sake of love, if it is indeed nonsense and the loving thing to do is point that out and deliver them from a false understanding? As he says, an evangelical doctrine of inspiration simply doesn’t allow the view; it is a simple, easily solvable but prevalent misunderstanding; nonsense is a fair description! ;)

  13. Alan Cartwright says:

    Johnny, that practice has been largely abandoned, but the verse hasn’t, it has simply been interpreted differently and perfectly within the scope of reformed hermeneutics. That’s not an issue of authority at all; it’s about interpretation.
    (If you want a really wacky one check out Troy Martin arguing that the word ‘hair’ in that passage actually refers to testicles! How’s that for a can of worms?)

    I didn’t want to post a third time so quickly as if I rule these comments, but I had to flag that one up as a red herring that will only take the comments off into pointless, unconnected discussion.

  14. Clayton says:

    Doesn’t 2nd Timothy only point to the Old Testament as being God breathed since the New Testament did not exist at that time? Do not get me wrong I believe all scripture is God breathed, just asking the question.

  15. Exactly right! The Lord Jesus called Paul to speak for Him. Rejecting the words of Paul is rejecting the Word of God.

    Besides, practically, in some text we’re not always clear as to when Jesus stops speaking and the gospel-writer starts; for example, John 3.

  16. Brian Bither says:

    The irony of this post is that its central claim about Scripture has no actual basis in Scripture. The idea that every verse in Scripture has equal value, often called “plenary inspiration,” emerged in the early twentieth century as a result of the fundamentalist movement. For centuries before that, Christians recognizes that certain verses – specifically the words and deeds of Christ – were more important than others. If you don’t believe me, read St. Augustine’s book, “On Christian Doctrine,” and you will be surprised at the view of Scripture he promotes there.

    As far as the Bible goes, Jesus himself gave certain verses precedent over others. When asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” (Matt 22:36), Jesus didn’t reply, “All of the commandments of the Bible are equally important because it’s all equally inspired by God.” Instead, he picked two verses from the Bible and identified them as the two most important passages: #1 – Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” #2 Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Also, Jesus wasn’t afraid to pit some verses over other verses when he got into debates with people. In Mark 10, when the Pharisees tried promoting divorce on the basis of Deut. 24:1-3, Jesus “trumped” their argument by appealing to weightier verses in Scripture, Jesus appealed to the creation story, specifically Gen 1:27 and 2:24. This is not even to mention the debates with the Pharisees over keeping the Sabbath, honoring your parents, or his entire “You have heard that it was said…” section in the sermon on the Mount.

    The phrase, “All Scripture is God breathed” does not mean that every verse in the Bible is equal. How did you come to that conclusion on the basis of that verse? I believe that you brought an assumption of what Biblical inspiration must mean to the text, rather than drawing one from it. (The same applies even more to the poor exegesis in the comments of 1 Cor. 7, which most certainly do not mean, “This is not an exact quotation.”) Here’s my challenge to you: find me a passage that says that all verses in Scripture are “equal” or “have the same value.” If you can’t do that, maybe it’s not so nonsensical to be a Red Letter Christian after all.

  17. faithworks says:

    Red letter Christians-Does this mean Tony Compolo is wrong?

  18. Collins Lawlor says:

    Kevin,

    This is a short article, so I understand there wasn’t room for nuance. However, I’m wondering if you can clear up some confusion for me…

    Are you saying that we should not use the Gospels as our hermeneutical lens on the rest of Scripture? I’ve always interpreted this to be the aim of the RLC types (and granted, I think the movement is an overstated reaction against American evangelical politics).

    I feel like given the comment about homosexuality that your point is made against those who make the “Jesus didn’t talk about it so it’s not important” argument. This is a ridiculous argument. But I don’t think it’s grounded in the idea of using Christ as the lens through which to read Scripture. It’s grounded in ignoring all Scripture that isn’t in the Gospels. I’m not sure this is the [at least in theory] aim behind “looking to the red letters.”

    I thought that using the Gospels as our primary interpretive lens on Scripture is part of what it means to read Scripture with a Christocentric perspective. I don’t see how this would detract from the unity of Scripture if the purpose of Scripture is found in Christ. Am I perhaps missing something? Your comments would be appreciated, thanks!

  19. chuck stover says:

    here is an acrostic I use to remind me of some of the major aspects of scripture: SPAIN(Sufficiency,Perspicuity,Authority,Innerancy,Necessity

  20. Alan Cartwright says:

    Brian and Collins, I think you may be mixing up authority/importance with role/application.

    Brian, Jesus could point out the most important commandment because all the commandments were equally authoritative, but interpreting those verses we find there are two commandments on which all the others hang (and if the others hang on them, implicitly they are also important parts within the whole).
    The verses from Genesis that trumped the Pharisees’ use of Deut 24 were programmatic for understanding life, and showed how to correctly understand the equally important but differently intended Deuteronomy verses.
    And the “you have heard it said” verses do not say that Jesus’ words are more important, but that the original verses are authoritative and have a wider scope than the people realised.

    And Kevin, the gospels do provide a lens, as they are intended to, to show what was always there but only now revealed in the authoritative OT verses.

    Separate out authority and meaning, or importance and application. Each player on a football pitch is important to the whole, but each will have a different application on the pitch. All verses are important and authoritative. Then, by interpreting what they communicate (rather than flatly reading a verse at a time, each on its own) we can arrange them and make sense of which are primary and secondary within that important whole, so to speak. I’m sure that is how we intuitively read things anyway, but when we start to analyse things at this level of detail we can easily lose the trees amongst all the wood.

  21. Daryl Little says:

    “Does this mean Tony Compolo is wrong?”

    On more levels than I can count on two hands…

    Think Italian Brian McClaren…

  22. Michael Snow says:

    Whole-hearted agreement with the article. But one reason for the popularity of the ‘red letter’ emphasis is that there are those who so emphasize another part that they neglect the ‘red letter’ part. Spurgeon described this well: “…it is a dangerous state of things if doctrine is made to drive out precept.” http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/holy-living-spurgeon-precepts-war-chritistians/

  23. @ Brian Bither,

    You’re statement is false and your analogy with greater commandments is confused. Plenary inspiration is taught in 2 Tim. 3:16 as described in this article. It’s also implied in the Lord Jesus’ words that not even the smallest mark of the Hebrew script of the Old Testament will pass away until it is fulfilled; every “jot and tiddle” will be fulfilled because even they are inspired.

    That some commandments are greater than others does not imply that the lesser ones are less inspired. You’ve confused two categories. The command to not eat pork is just as inspired as the greatest command to Love God. Those commands simply serve different purposes.

  24. anaquaduck says:

    In learning to use Gods Word…If we look to Jesus, he used & quoted the OT. For me understanding the covenant of the old, the new & grace is how it all works as one, like God. Once we become selective we narrow our understanding of God.

    Faith comes through hearing Gods word…it doesn’t say which parts. That doesn’t make it any easier to get into Chronicles as far as listening to sermons though.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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