God Wants More For You. So Do We.

Are Red Letter Bibles Better Than Others?

Ask Pastor Alex, Episode. 44

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex. All right, welcome back, everyone. We’re here with another episode and another question. And the question for this episode is, are red-letter Bibles better than others? And you know what? That’s a really interesting question. I personally never thought I’d be asked that question on this podcast, but here we are, and we’re going to tackle it head-on.

For those of you who might not be familiar with the terminology we’re using here, a red-letter Bible is a Bible in which all the words of Jesus are in red as opposed to black, as they typically are. Now, these Bibles are incredibly popular. For the past century, red-letter Bibles have been popular, and for many, they’ve actually been essential. That is to say that many Christians believe that red-letter Bibles are the only true Bibles, or they’ll say they are the absolute best Bibles because they draw more attention to the words of Christ. I’ve actually encountered some Christians in my life who say that if you don’t use a red-letter Bible, you aren’t actually using a true Bible. And so, this is actually a really important question. We need to be considering and asking ourselves whether or not these Bibles, these red-letter Bibles are actually better than other Bibles. And it’s interesting to hear people say that they are the only true Bible or to say that a Christian who does not use a red-letter Bible is not using a true Bible. And the reason that’s interesting is because the very first modern red-letter Bible wasn’t even printed until 1899. So, does that mean that no Christian for the first 1800 years of the church was using a real Bible? Are we prepared to say that all the saints throughout church history for those first 1800 years were not using real Bibles just because the words of Jesus were not in red? Well, no, I don’t think we should say that. In fact, I think it would be a huge mistake and an erroneous claim to say that nobody for the first 1800 years of the church was using a true Bible just because Jesus’ words weren’t in red. They were using the same Bibles that we use today, albeit the vernacular was different.

 So, here’s what I want to do. I want to talk about the pros and cons of red-letter Bibles. Now, in my mind, the main pro of red-letter Bibles is that they draw attention to the words of Jesus. And this can be incredibly helpful in the Gospels where there’s a lot of conversation going on pretty much all the time in the Gospel. Someone is usually always talking. And sometimes it can be really difficult to keep track of who’s saying what. I mean, just consider John 3, for instance. There’s a whole debate going on right now about whether or not after Jesus finishes talking with Nicodemus, whether he’s the one who actually says John 3:16, or if John is the one who says that after Jesus is finished with his dialogue with Nicodemus. It’s incredibly hard sometimes to know who’s actually talking. And so having the words of Jesus in red make it easier to keep track of who’s talking and draw attention to the words of Jesus. I was even talking with Pastor Jordan earlier and he said that it’s often very helpful when he’s teaching to be able to look down and quickly find the words of Jesus when they’re in red if he’s trying to see a quote from Jesus or see something that Jesus said. It’s incredibly easy and a lot faster to see the words of Jesus when they’re in red. So, I do think that’s a huge pro of red-letter Bibles. They draw attention to the words of Jesus and make them easier to find.

Now with that said, that’s pretty much the only pro that I can think of at this time. But there are some cons to these Bibles. There are some downsides to these Bibles. And I want to be gracious and I want to be fair because I do believe that all of these negative things are completely unintentional. I want to say this very clearly so that I don’t get the hate emails and the responses. I believe that all the negatives for red-letter Bibles are completely inadvertent and unintentional. It was never the desire of the translators who use red-letter Bibles who ended up putting the words of Jesus in red. It was never their intention to do the things that I think can be problematic. And you might be wondering what those are. Well, for starters, red-letter Bibles inadvertently undermine the doctrine of inspiration. You might be wondering, well, how does it do that? How is that even possible? Well, by drawing attention to and making red only the words of Jesus in the Gospels and Acts, they are unintentionally indicating that those words are more important than the other words found in Scripture. They’re inadvertently saying that in some way these words are more important, maybe even more inspired, more inerrant. They need more of our attention. And I know that there’s some pushback here and some people will say, well, no, we’re not saying they’re more important. We’re just wanting to make the words of Jesus special. And yes, do you see how that challenges and undermines the doctrine of inspiration? Just keep in mind, the doctrine of inspiration states that God breathed out all of Scripture, meaning it proceeds from Him. He sent His Spirit to work through human authors to record the exact words He wanted recorded in Scripture. Now, that’s not to say that God dictated every word to human authors. That’s not what He did at all. But it is to say that He worked in them and threw them in such a way that the very words they chose were the ones He wanted. And all of this is to say that the Bible, every single word of it comes, proceeds from God Himself. And we know this because of 2 Timothy 3:16, which says, “all Scripture is inspired by God.” Or other translations get a little bit closer when they say, “all Scripture is breathed out by God.” So please understand, every word of Scripture is breathed out by God. It means that it comes from Him.

So, are you beginning to see the problem with red-letter Bibles now? If not, we’ll think about this. How does John chapter 1 describe Jesus? John 1:1, the very beginning of John’s gospel says, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Continuing into verse 14, the Bible says, “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus is the Word of God who took on human flesh. So, I want you to think about it like this. Are the spoken words that are recorded in the gospel and Acts from Jesus? And the obvious answer is, yes, they are. Okay, well, here’s my other question. Is the rest of the Bible from Jesus? Is He not the incarnate Word of God? Does not the Bible say that all of Scripture is breathed out by God? And if the answer is yes to all those, then here’s my question. Why are we making a distinction between them? The words of Jesus recorded in the gospel and Acts are no more important than the words of Jesus throughout the rest of Scripture. If we’re going to put the words of Jesus in red, then we’re going to have to put all the words of the Bible in red, for every single word is breathed out by God Himself. Every single word is from Jesus. Every single word is Jesus’. And so, red-letter Bibles inadvertently undermine the doctrine of inspiration by inadvertently indicating that the spoken words of Jesus in the gospels and Acts are more inspired and more important than the other words of Jesus throughout the rest of Scripture.

But the second problem I see is that they also inadvertently, again, it was not intentional, inadvertently create division amongst the Holy Trinity. They create division in an unnecessary hierarchy within the Trinity that does not actually exist. And you might be wondering, well, what do you mean by that? How do they do that? Well, the only red letters in red-letter Bibles are in the New Testament, right? But here’s my question to you. Does God not speak in the Old Testament? I mean, think about how many times God speaks throughout the Old Testament. From start to finish, God is constantly speaking throughout the Old Testament. And we have direct quotes from God throughout the entire Old Testament. I mean, on the very first page of your Bible, the first thing God says is, “let there be light.” Did God speak those words? Yes. So here’s my question. Why aren’t they in red? Are they any less important than the words of Jesus in the gospels and Acts? No. I mean, God speaks throughout the entire Old Testament, but you won’t find a single red letter. And what this does is it inadvertently creates division amongst the Holy Trinity. It unintentionally leads us to believe that the words of Jesus in the New Testament are more important than the words of God in the Old Testament, which unintentionally leads us to think that there’s a hierarchy of value within the Trinity. And here’s what I mean by that. I mean, they lead us to think that the words of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament are of more value than the words of God as recorded in the Old Testament, which would mean that Jesus is of more value than the rest of the Holy Trinity. But that is simply not the case. The Bible makes it very clear that there is perfect unity among the Trinity. The Bible tells us in John chapter 17 that “the Trinity is completely unified.” There is perfect harmony and unity within the Godhead. The Father is not of more value than the Son or the Spirit. The Son is not of more value than the Father or the Spirit. The Spirit is not of more value than the Father or the Son. The Holy Trinity is perfectly unified at all times. And so again, we say if these Bibles are wanting to draw special attention to the verbally spoken words of God, then why not include the verbally spoken words of God in the Old Testament? It leads us to believe that they’re less important, that the words of Jesus in the New Testament are of more importance than the words of God in the Old Testament.

And these are the main reasons I don’t use red-letter Bibles. Now again, here’s what I want to make clear. I’m going to say it very clearly. So again, I don’t get the hate emails and stuff like that. I’m not condemning anyone who does use red-letter Bibles. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use them. I’m not saying it’s sinful to use them. I’m not telling you to avoid them. I’m telling you why I don’t personally use them and why they are most certainly not better than other Bibles. While seeking to honor Christ, they inadvertently and unintentionally undermine the doctrine of inspiration and create division among the Holy Trinity. The spoken words of Jesus are not more inspired than any of the other words in the Bible because all of Scripture is breathed out by God. It’s all from God. If these Bibles want to honor God by making the spoken words of God read, then they need to be consistent and do that throughout the entire Bible, not just the New Testament, so as not to unintentionally indicate that some words of God are more important than others. So, no, red-letter Bibles are absolutely not better than other Bibles. I’m not saying they’re worse. I’m not saying to avoid them. I’m just answering the question and saying they are absolutely not better and truer than other Bibles. So, I hope that this explanation has been helpful. I hope that you understand now why I don’t personally use them. And again, just want to say all the problems I listed were completely unintentional and inadvertent and I appreciate the question. I look forward to answering more in the future.