Beyond the Red Letters of Jesus


Recently a friend said to me, “I’m just a red-letter guy.” Meaning, when it comes to the Bible, he only accepts the red letters of Jesus to be authoritative. Sarcastically I could ask, “well, what if your edition doesn’t color Jesus’ words in red? Then what?” But that response, just as my friend’s response, misses an essential understanding: an understanding where Jesus affirmed more than just his words in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 

In Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus states,

17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Some could read this passage and argue that since Jesus fulfills the “Law and the Prophets,” that one only needs to worry about Jesus’ words. Practically, however, reading the Law and the Prophets allows us to better understand the terms of Jesus. We better grasp the context of His words. 

For example, many people will quote Luke 10:27 that commands us to love others or love “your neighbor as yourself.” Simply put, just love people as Jesus commanded. True, Jesus did encourage us to love people, but before He commanded us to love “your neighbor as yourself,” He first stated, “You shall love the Lord you’re God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.” Ok, but what does that mean? 

Enter the “Law and the Prophets.” The Old Testament offers us context beyond Jesus’ words to better understand how to love God and our neighbor. Avoiding the Old Testament can cause us to love God incorrectly and interact with others in a way that is unloving than supportive. In other words, our short-term love towards someone might seem right, but long term, we might do more harm than good. 

Correctly interpreting and applying the Old Testament is another discussion. For now, it is essential to understand that there is a lot of context and understanding that support and complement the words of Jesus. Words He came to fulfill and not abolish. 

Regarding the rest of the New Testament, it too supports the words of Jesus. From the Apostle Paul’s writings to other authors, their words do not contradict Jesus’ red letter teachings. Some might argue they do, but those areas where there appear to be contradictions are challenges for us to trust God’s understanding and not our approaches. They are points where our faith can grow beyond ourselves. 

Admittedly, I don’t have all of the Bible figured out. There is a lot that I still struggle to understand. Yet my uncertainty is a point for my relationship with Jesus to grow. Areas for me to live by “faith, and not by sight.” 

In reality, faith is the action all of us must enable to both trust Jesus and understand scripture to its fullest. Many people throughout history have misunderstood and misapplied scripture. But, over 2,000 years, the 66 books of the Bible have allowed the Christian faith the remain and grow. As a result, good has been done due to people’s confidence in the Bible, even when uncertainty exists. 

How then will you respond to Jesus? How will you respond to all of scripture and not just the red letters? Again, I don’t understand it all either. In response, it’s an exciting opportunity to live in the unknown, to live by faith. Let’s run the race together!