EMAIL ADVICE: Should we pay more attention to Jesus’ words (the red letters)?
This is an "Email Advice" post...
I often receive emails that ask for my advice. When it feels that the things the Lord gives me to say in response to these requests could be helpful for others, I post the question (anonymously) and my responses here. May God use them for His glory and the equipping of His people.
I come from a Christian family. My mother plays piano in the the church choir and my sister sings like an Angel. I am the black sheep. My older brother has always been a pillar for me. Of strength, religion, morals.
We recently had a discussion that he doesn’t trust Paul in the Bible. That he only trust Jesus’ direct dialogue.
I felt that he is doubting the Bible. That Jesus didn’t write His own words either.
What do you say about my brothers doubt of Paul and his untrustworthy words in the Bible? Is it right that my brother only trusts the “red texts”? I feel he’s picking and choosing what he believes from the Bible.
Any help? We are having a friendly debate and he is next to me as I write.
OK, the issue of only trusting Jesus’ words in the gospels and not Paul’s writings is an issue that I hear raised now and then, and it’s honestly been a position taken by some for a very long time.
I find it interesting that people who take it up with me tend to focus only on Paul, when we also have Peter, James, John, the writer of Hebrews, who ALSO wrote epistles beyond “what Jesus said.” I’m not sure if your brother would say that their writings are just as suspect as Paul’s but to be consistent it seems that would need to be the position he takes. Or perhaps he takes issue with Paul for some other reason.. that he was not “one of the original 12 apostles” perhaps? That his teachings are all based on his private experiences, perhaps? We’ll get to some of that…
Your brother may or may not be aware, but there is an “official” movement of people who take this position, calling themselves “Red Letter Christians.” Their emphasis HAS highlighted a very needed reminder about Jesus’ central teachings that many Christians have neglected… and pointed out many inconsistencies in the way Christianity has been practiced in the western world, especially, when compared to what Jesus taught. I’m thankful for that, truly.
But as I examine the assertion that only Jesus’ teachings are authoritative, I find a handful of logical problems that I can’t get around.
1) The entire New Testament, including the gospels where Jesus’ specific teachings are found, are eyewitness testimonies. That’s powerfully important. *None of the books, even the gospels, were penned by Jesus Himself*. NONE of them. So, when we say “only Jesus’ words are authoritative,” we’re actually saying, “Only what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John SAY that Jesus said is authoritative.” We are trusting somebody’s word, other than Jesus from the start.
2) The next step out from there is to recognize that if we are going to accept the word of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as authoritative when it comes to what Jesus actually said, then we have to also accept that their account of the context in which Jesus said what they claim He said, is accurate as well. Why is this a MUST? Because we have no hope of understanding Jesus’ words correctly, isolated from the context in which they were said. We fuss and moan in our day about things being “taken out of context,” because we recognize that understanding a person’s words is tied to the context in which those words were said. So, we’re forced once again, to accept something as authoritative that is beyond simply the “words of Jesus.”
((So if we stop for a moment to catch our breath and see where we’ve come in this train of thought, we can see that asserting that “only Jesus’ words” are authoritative is not only silly, it’s impossible. OK, let’s head back down the trail…))
3) If we are going to accept eyewitness accounts at all (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) then we need to have a good reason for accepting them and excluding others (Paul, Peter, James, etc.). And if others meet the same criteria of legitimacy we are using as theirs do, then *we need to make room for those eyewitness accounts as well* (if we’re going to be intellectually consistent). This is the issue known as “canonicity,” or “how was the Bible we have determined to be authoritative and complete in the first place?” “Canon” is a word that comes from Greek and Hebrew words that literally means “a measuring rod.” So canonicity describes the standard that books had to meet to be recognized as scripture. The process that was undertaken by those who attempted to verify the Bible we now have in our hands is quite detailed, and guys a lot, lot, LOT smarter and spiritually mature than any of us worked the problem in a cooperative, accountable way. In their estimation, the Protestant Bible we have today meets every criteria necessary to be considered inerrant and inspired, and therefore, authoritative. That includes the writings of John, James, Peter, the author of Hebrews, and yes, Paul.
4) Paul’s writings in particular can give people problems because all of what he wrote is “his account” of what he experienced or learned. For example, nobody who was on the road when he claims to have encountered Jesus after His resurrection, has written an eyewitness account of that event that corroborates Paul’s story. The same can be said for those “revelations” he claims to have received directly from God, and consequently wrote down for the churches and church leaders (his letters – Ephesians, Galatians, etc.). So… how do we humans go about verifying the veracity of a person’s claims when there is a situation like this? The same way we verify eyewitness testimony… through examining the evidence… and we are back to the issue of canonicity.
I hope this is helpful. I pray the Lord will show both of you His mind about these things.
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