“Red Letters Only?”

It is a sad thing when someone sees what the Bible teaches on a particular subject, and then rejects that teaching because it is not what he or she wants to hear.  That type of reaction is certainly nothing new: the rich young ruler departed from the presence of Jesus when told that he would have to give up his great wealth (Luke 18:18-23).  Paul warned Timothy that the time would come when people refused to accept sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2-5).  They would turn their hearts aside to fables instead, and would have no trouble finding false teachers to tell them what they wanted to hear!


Perhaps even more frightening is when someone realizes that God’s word does not agree with them, and so they take His word and change it to suit them.  Such tampering with Scripture has always been condemned.  First, Moses warned against it: “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deut. 4:2).  Jesus Himself later gives the same warning (Revelation 22:18-19), stating that those who do such things will have their part taken from the “…Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” 


In light of these teachings, I have sometimes heard a statement to this effect: “All we need to do is follow the red letters, the words of Jesus.  Those are what count.  We don’t have to follow all those things that Paul and the other apostles said.”  (The reference here is to the fact that many Bibles have the words of Jesus in red ink).  Is this true?  Are only the words spoken by Jesus Himself binding as instructions for us?  Are the words of Paul and other inspired men just “extras” or opinions that hold no real authority from Heaven?


Such statements come from a misunderstanding of what Scripture really is.  “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  The NIV translation has the phrase “God-breathed” for the word “inspiration.”  In other words, Scripture came directly from the mind of the Almighty.  Which Scripture?  All Scripture.


With this in mind, let us address the above statement.  Are the words of Jesus “more binding” than the words of the apostles?  Can we accept one and reject the other? 


To begin, let’s consider where the teaching of Jesus came from.  “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.  And I know that His command is everlasting life.  Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (John 12:49-50).  Clearly, Jesus received His teaching from the Father.  Other verses show this, as well, such as John 7:16 and John 8:28


What about the apostles and other inspired writers?  Where did their words come from?  Jesus answers this question for us: “These things I have spoken while being present with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:25-26).  Additionally, “But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak.  For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matthew 10:19-20). 


Obviously, the apostles’ teaching came from the same source as Jesus’ teaching: the mind of God the Father.  When they spoke, it was through the guidance of the Holy Spirit; as such, their words carry every bit of His authority!  In fact, without the writings of inspired men, we would have no way of even knowing what Jesus Himself spoke, since He did not write any of the Bible Himself!  His words are recorded by men like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…men who were guided by the Spirit to write those words.


Some reject the teaching of Paul and other inspired men because they do not like what it says.  Proponents of homosexuality say that when Paul condemns homosexuality (as in Romans 1:26-28 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) he is teaching something different from Jesus, since the Lord never specifically addressed homosexuality.  Those who believe it is acceptable for women to preach for a congregation often ignore Scripture like 1 Timothy 2:11-12, saying that it is “merely Paul’s chauvinist opinion.”  Yet, where did Paul and the other apostles get these teachings? 


They received them from the Holy Spirit, who conveyed to them a remembrance of the teachings of Jesus and the revealed mind of God.  Which should bring us to a very sobering thought: whenever we reject the teachings of the apostles, we are rejecting the Holy Spirit Himself. 


Therefore, understanding that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God (no matter what color the ink may be!), let us be diligent to faithfully keep it as the Lord expects us to (2 Timothy 2:15).