Red-letter Christians

Some editions of the Bible print the words of Christ in red so that they stand out from the rest of the text. This has lent a nickname to Christians who make a common doctrinal mistake. A red-letter Christian is someone who believes that the only parts of the Bible that really matter are the direct quotations of Christ. There are a couple reasons I think this is a mistake.

First, it’s naive. The authors of the Gospels made decisions about what quotes to include and what to exclude. So if you base your faith on the red letters, you aren’t reading Christ’s words straight. You’re reading the Gospel writers’ versions of what Christ said.

Second, it takes Christ’s words out of context. Christ wasn’t speaking into a vacuum. He was forming a community (the Church) and speaking to it. The community heard what he said and created the New Testament based on it.

Some Christians think you can get rid of the Church and just read the Bible, and that makes for a simpler, purer Christianity. But that’s backwards. Jesus didn’t write the New Testament, upon which the Church was later based. Jesus created the Church, which then wrote the New Testament.

If you are interested in learning more about what Catholics believe about the Bible, a good place to start is this section from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.