The first red letter edition of the Bible was printed in 1901. The first red letter New Testament was printed just 2 years before in 1899. The idea to print the words of Jesus in red is credited to Louis Kopsch. He was the editor of a Christian magazine and committed to the distribution of the Word of God. He hit upon the red letter idea in hopes of encouraging people to read the Bible. The first red letter editions printed in red the words spoken by Jesus and any passages in the Old Testament that Jesus later quoted. Today most red letter Bibles only print in red direct quotations of Jesus.
The majority of Bibles today are red letter editions. With large blocks of red ink the four gospels have a distinctive appearance. An unfortunate side effect of this printing innovation is readers who treat the red letters as more important than the rest of the Bible. The red letters become the lens through which the rest of the Bible is interpreted. In cases where there appears to be contradiction, the words of Jesus are given the priority in resolving the contradiction.
This seems reasonable. The words in red are direct quotes from Jesus. The rest of the Bible is what God said through men. Shouldn’t we give priority to the words of Jesus?
While the argument sounds good because it gives Jesus the most important place, it misunderstands the nature of inspiration. The doctrine of inspiration teaches that the entire Bible are the words of the Son of God. The things Hosea wrote are no less God’s Word than the things Jesus said. Inspiration is described in 2 Peter 1:21, “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
Biblical inspiration refers to the process by which God’s Words were written down by God’s prophets and God’s apostles. The human authors of the Bible wrote exactly what God told them to write. This does not mean God dictated to them what to write. The authors of the Bible were not like secretaries typing up a letter as dictated by the boss. God spake His Word using the personality and intellect of the men. The writing style of Paul is very different from that of Peter. God used these men in such a way that they wrote in their own style but still wrote exactly what God intended to be written.
All of the Bible claims to be the very words of God. How many times does the Bible say, “The Lord said”? Are the quotes of God the Son on the earth less important than the quotes of God the Father from heaven?
Jesus Himself spake the words of the Old Testament as if they were as authoritative over Himself. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness He responded by quoting the Old Testament. Jesus was showing that the Word of God was the authority over His life. He did not assert His own superiority, but declared His humble obedience to the Bible.
Jesus quoted the Old Testament in His own life. While on the cross Jesus cried out the words of David from Psalm 22. The words of David were prophetic of Jesus. Are those words more true than the rest of the Psalms because Jesus said them?
The Bible cannot be split into various parts with some more important than the others. The Bible is all the Word of God, equally true and important no matter who is being quoted, or it is not. Emphasizing any section as greater than the rest is a dangerous path which inevitably compromises the authority and perfection of the Bible.