The Words Of Christ Are Red and Black

Doug Hoff

When Peter, James and John went with Jesus up on a high mountain they saw him transfigured. His face shone like the sun and His clothes became brilliant white. The three disciples then saw Moses and Elijah standing there and talking with Jesus. Suddenly, they heard a voice from the cloud saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (Matt. 17:5). These three Jewish men were being prepared for the day when the words of Jesus would replace the Old Testament. The words of the prophets and the Law of Moses gave way to the law of Christ (Col. 2:14; Gal. 6:2). His words will judge us at the end of time (John 12:48). Therefore, it is imperative to hear him and heed his words - all of them.

Many Bibles are red letter editions. They have the words of Christ printed in red. Some people mistakenly believe these words are more important than the words in black. When studying something other than Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, a person may remark that Jesus did not say it since it is not in red. It is true the letter to the Romans does not contain the words Jesus spoke during his earthly ministry. Nevertheless, what Paul wrote are still the words of Christ.

While he was on earth Jesus told the apostles he had many things to tell them but they were not able to bear it then (John 16:12). Jesus began teaching about salvation but wanted them to preach the gospel after he ascended back into heaven (Heb. 2:3,4; 1 Thess. 2:4). The Lord promised them that when the Spirit came he would remind them of everything Jesus had said and would guide them into all the truth (John 14:26; 16:13). They would be proclaiming God's word since Jesus said, "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that rejecteth you rejecteth me; and he that rejecteth me rejecteth him that sent me" (Luke 10:16).

On the day of Pentecost the twelve apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). They began speaking as the Spirit gave them utterance. This is exactly what is meant by inspiration - holy men of God speaking as the Spirit moved them (2 Pet. 1:21; 1 Cor. 2:13). The preaching of Christ's word brought forth fruit because 3,000 souls became Christians that day.

These new converts continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:42). The apostles did not originate their teaching. Rather, they all taught the word of Christ since they were guided by the same Spirit. Though Paul became an apostle "out of due time," his preaching was in total agreement with the original apostles (Gal. 2:1-9). Paul spoke and wrote by inspiration just as the other apostles did. He told the Corinthians "the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37).

Without the books of Acts through Revelation the world would be missing much of Christ's teaching. These books contain things the apostles could not bear before the death of Jesus. Acting as his ambassadors they conveyed the words of their king to the world in due time (2 Cor. 5:20; 1 Tim. 2:6). Therefore, the words of Christ are red AND black!

Why then are only certain words in red? Probably few Bible readers have ever wondered why and when the red letter edition came about. One source gives credit to Louis Klopsch, the first editor of the Christian Herald.(see footnote1) While writing an editorial for the magazine he thought about the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 22:20, "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you." He thought it would be appropriate to show in blood red the words Jesus spoke. The November 1901 issue of the Christian Herald ran an advertisement for his red letter Bibles. In them the only words printed in red were those regarded as spoken by Christ while on the earth. Since then, other publishers have expanded this feature to show in red all the words directly spoken by Jesus. This explains why some red letter editions have Acts 18:9,10 in black while others have it in red!

There is nothing wrong with a red letter Bible as long as the reader remembers the words in black are just as important as the ones in red. There is no contradiction between what Jesus personally said and what Peter, James or John recorded. We should always study the gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. However, disregarding the rest of the New Testament because "Jesus didn't say it," is failing to heed all of Christ's will. Study all that Jesus said and be obedient to it.

1 "History Of The Red Letter Edition," in The Holy Bible, King James Version [Crown Imp. Reference edition, #585], (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1972), n.p.

2 Credit is given to Ted J. Clarke, "The 'Red Letter' Jesus," Fulton County Gospel News, Oct./Nov. 1991, 1,2 for some of the thoughts in this article.

article by Doug Hoff

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