Thus Saith The Lord

A couple of days ago I was in a local bookshop where I picked up “The Surprising Work of God” by Jonathan Edwards really cheaply. Surprised at the price, the lady behind the till checked the publisher and then knowingly nodded; “Whitaker House,” she said, and so I asked her why the publisher was relevant. She continued, explaining to me that Whitaker House worked hard to publish books cheaply (the cover threw her off because it looked too fancy to be a Whitaker House book), although they don’t use much discretion in what they publish. So, in search of a good deal, I decided to visit the Whitaker House website which is where I discovered this interesting advert.

Two things jump out at me as being totally ridiculous in this ad. Firstly, the claim that God’s words are in red. This to me is typical of modern liberal Christianity. It’s just a slightly altered form of the Emergent idea of being a “Red-letter Christian” (i.e. we take particular note of what Jesus had to say; and, by implication, not much else). I can’t remember who said it but I recall hearing someone say something to the effect of, “I don’t care much for red-letter Bibles, those Bibles that put the words of Christ in red, because it seems to distract and detract from all the black words too much”. Well, I imagine that in this edition, wherever there is direct speech originating from God, it is printed in red. The problem with this not-so-novel idea is that it gives the reader a false view of Scripture.

Consider the fact that all of the Bible is inspired by God; He meant for each word written by the original authors to be written exactly as it was. What’s more, the entire Bible is infallible – not a single word is questionable and so we can wholly trust the Bible. If it were to be in error in even a single minor point, I would throw it out at once. God’s very nature is tied to His Word and if His Word is in any way erroneous then I cannot trust God. So how is the inspiration and the inerrancy of Scripture relevant to the subject at hand? Simple; if, as claimed, every Word of the Bible was “breathed out by God” (as the Greek term for inspiration literally means), then why are any words highlighted or seen as more true than others? By putting God’s direct speech in red letters, the producers of this Bible imply that the rest of the Bible is not God’s Word and so may be in error (which is useful when trying to explain away uncomfortable Bible stories such as Jonah being swallowed by a big fish etc.). So yes, I have my own Bible with the words of God in black (which is why all the words are black). I’m sure that such a Bible will leave a reader with a much higher view of Scripture than its alternative because God is speaking everywhere, not only in the places where it says, “Thus saith the Lord”.

At this point you may have forgotten that earlier I claimed to have two problems with this advert, well it is true and the second issue I have with it is the claim “There is no other Bible like it!” In what way is this Bible unique? Have we been missing something for the two millennia that have elapsed between Christ and this brand new Bible? This is another way to lower a reader’s view of Scripture. If we can change things in the Bible and discover things that no one has known for 2000 years then how can we be sure that in a couple years, decades or even centuries, we won’t discover that the Bible is just a fake?

I am not saying that there can be no new insight into the text of Scripture or that it would be impossible to change an understanding that we have. However, I am saying that regarding any foundational issue, it is impossible to discover something new and change our view. This is the point at which the Emergent church veers away from orthodoxy. Something like our belief in the virgin birth cannot be lost because it is foundational to Christianity because it is vital to the atonement. The claim that “There is no other Bible like it!” is unhelpful to Christians and non-Christians alike and once again breeds an incorrect view of Scripture. If there is truly no other Bible like this one, I want nothing to do with it because it must be false since the others are true.

A high view of Scripture is absolutely crucial to Christians today, we seem to live a sort of candy floss Christianity not worried about our lives or our faiths. Concerned only with having just enough Christianity not to go to hell and in actual fact, this view illustrates unchanged hearts. How can we hold to Sola Scriptura if we view only parts of the Bible as being important or even accurate?

James Cuénod
Student at Wheaton College
I love Jesus, preach his Gospel, disciple his children, study his word and I am incurably passionate about the glory of God.
Inching my way towards teaching pastors in South Africa. Student at Wheaton College. Excited by Hermeneutics, Old Testament and Biblical Theology.
  • eric kunkel

    I wonder if it is more of a marketing device, or just a “bright idea” from a committee.

    Old-fashioned red letter Bibles never affected my exegesis. I think they are probably bad in general for the reasons you cite.

    In the Gospels, they can make public reading easier: If your goals is to emphasize the words of Jesus – especially if you are speaking contemporaneously and you want to find the alternative reading in the other gospel. Or all the
    ἐγώ εἰμι
    sayings in John on the fly.

    Maybe we should have all direct discourse in a different color. Paul in Purple. Moses in Mauve, etc.

    • James Cuénod

      I must say, colour coded direct discourse is an interesting concept. I had often thought it would help at school when we were reading setworks in English but I don’t remember thinking of applying it to the Bible.

      The one problem would be that direct discourse seems to be more of an English phenomenon (“ὁτι” is best translated as “that” rather than as the start of direct speech, for example)