What’s Up With Red Letters in Bibles?
Alright – I have a confession. I’m not a fan of red-letter Bibles. I own several, and actually preach from one – but I don’t care for them. Now, before you accuse me of heresy, please read a little further. When I say that I’m not a fan of red letter Bibles, it usually brings weird looks. I usually get questions like, “Why would you say something like that!?”, as if I’ve just denied the doctrine of inspiration or the virgin birth. So, at the risk of sounding crazy, allow me to share a few reasons for my view:
1) There is no precedence for a special emphasis on the words of Jesus in the original Greek. While it may seem honoring to place a special emphasis on the words of Jesus, there is no indication in the original text that Jesus’ words are to stand out from the rest of the Gospels.
2) Having the words of Jesus in red can lead to a two tiered view of inspiration. In other words, it can lead us to treat the red type in a different way from the black type. I’ve heard this many times from various Christians. While the words of Jesus are certainly important, there is no reason for treating them as more important than the rest of Scripture. As Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired.”
3) If we put Jesus’ words in red (as the 2nd person of the Trinity), then we should really put the words of the other members of the Trinity in their own color. Why shouldn’t the Father and the Spirit have their own colors for their words?
4) There is no precedence for a red-letter Bible in Church history. The first one was published in America in 1901.
5) In a few instances, we’re not always sure where the words of Jesus end and the words of the Gospel writer begin. For example, does John 3:16 contain the words of Jesus, or the words of John? The Greek is not clear on this. Most red-letter Bibles put these words in red – but topnotch New Testament scholars, like Andreas Köstenberger and D.A. Carson, argue that John 3:16 (and the following verses) are actually the words of John.
6) I don’t like reading red type in books.
by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor