22 February 2011

What did Jesus (not) say about... the remaining 23 NT books? (full post)

by Dan Phillips

Over the years, various cultists, liberals, and cafeteria Christianoids have found that the reality of the apostles' doctrines makes them less popular with the world than their fantasies about Jesus' teachings do. The clear and plain apostolic analysis of the human dilemma doesn't dovetail with the world's self-diagnosis and "felt needs," and he who cleaves closely thereto invites the frown of the world rather than its smile. Yet "Jesus" remains popular, to a degree, and if certain of His words are radically isolated and massaged pretty ruggedly, one can fit in with pockets of the world while clinging to some sort of Jesusy veneer.

So these folks invent rationales to jettison the latter (apostolic reality) in favor of the mirage of the former. It is but one variety of inventing a "canon within the Canon." There have always been others as well, from Marcion on. They all have the same effect: the purveyor can avoid repenting where he badly needs to repent, and gets to keep that shiny religious sheen.

Candidly, I have more respect for the person who tries to trash the whole lot. It's a doomed project, of course; but it has a tincture of integrity that the more overtly religious varieties necessarily lack.

For the red-letterites... hm, pause a moment. There should be a fancier, more highfalutin' name, to go along with their vaunted self-image as brave pioneers and explorers. What's "red" in Greek? That'd be eruthros. And "letter" would be gramma. So Eruthrogrammatites? I like that it sounds like a dreadful contagious disease, but it's probably too long. Spanish might be Rojoletrans. Latin? Could be Rufulitterans. How about Ed-ray Etterguy-lays?

But I digress.

Whatever they might put on the T-shirt, they won't find any refuge in Jesus. It was, after all, Jesus' idea to separate and select twelve men, and name them "apostles" and to send them out to preach (Mark 3:14). If He wanted to do the only teaching, forever, and all of it, then this was a mistake. Which, seriously — think about that for a second.

So Jesus deliberately selected these men, and deliberately marked them as teachers in their own right. These men then became recipients of direct revelation (Matthew 10:19-20; 16:17). This was by Jesus' own design and revelation, in accord with His Father's own design and revelation.

In His last night with the apostles, Jesus spoke at length of the days to come. His apostles, He said, would be recipients of a special ministry of the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 says, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." What would the Spirit do? "Teach," impart doctrinal truth. How much? "All things," so this is a wide catalog. It includes giving them an inerrant memory about His teaching.

What is more, the Spirit would bear witness so effectively that the apostles would also bear witness. As His was infallible, it is reasonable to infer that theirs would be infallible (John 15:26-27). Perhaps even a more sweeping promise is made in John 16:12-15 —
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Jesus still had many things to tell the apostles, and He would. How? By the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This suggests a specific body of truth which was yet to be revealed, and which would yet be revealed, after His glorification and by the Holy Spirit.

What's more, "all truth," Jesus promises, certifying in advance that what they say will be what He gave them to say. Not all truth about physics and medicine, but all truth in keeping with the "many things" He had yet to reveal. All of this would be Jesus Christ's revelation to the apostles by the Holy Spirit. So you really could make the legitimate argument that the apostles' words should also equally be red-letter, in that they are the words of Christ conveyed by the Holy Spirit.

"What?!" some might explode. "Dude! I call illegitimate conclusion. Going 'way too far!"

Really? The apostles would not seem to think it was. Hear Paul: "If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:37). The apostle, in so many words, equates his writings with a command of Jesus Christ. His writings, Paul says, are (not merely "contain") the command (not merely general notions) of Jesus.

Then there is Ephesians 2:20, which states that the church is built on the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself personally being the cornerstone. They had the one-time-only, one-generation-only task of laying the foundation. All subsequent generations build on that foundation. But this was the Lord's own design, as He had said earlier.

This is borne out as well in 2 Peter 3:1-3. The apostle writes in verse 2 of "the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles." It is Jesus' command, and it is communicated through the apostles. It is, if I may be emphatic, 100% Jesus' command, but the ones speaking that command were in fact the apostles. Thus says Jesus' primus inter pares, the apostle Peter.

It would take us afield to spend too much time, but various heretics who find Paul uncongenial to their doctrine (which in itself is telling) try to pare him off from the apostles. Peter will have none of it, as he goes on to write of the need to
count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16)
Here Peter equates Paul's writings not only as being on a par with his own, but on a par with "the other Scriptures." He could not possibly extend a higher imprimatur to Paul's epistles than this. It fits — not the negative reconstructions of divide-and-conquer Johann-come-latelys, but — the whole portrait of the whole New Testament.

In conclusion, I might come full circle and affirm that Christians should focus on the words and teachings of Jesus Christ.

But then I would hasten to say that those words and teachings are found from Matthew to Revelation.

Dan Phillips's signature


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Philips,

It's E-ruthros, not O-ruthros.

Spot-on post, as always.

Your Greek fan,


Robert said...

Great post, Dan. I never understood why some people (even some great theologians) have such a problem with some of the NT epistles. Well, maybe I understand why they do it, but that just belies the fact that they are not repentant of their sin.

I see just as great a problem with people who are trying to reinterpret these epsitles (mainly thinking of New Perspective on Paul). There are many who can and will be led astray by some "wise theologian" who has pointed out that we have just missed the true meaning of these writings and he has the answers. I think the Scripture you included from Peter addresses that, too, though.

DJP said...

Oh my gosh, Nik. I even double-checked that. Here's the worse -- I had a feeling it was epsilon instead of omikron. I'm away from my tools; I'll have to try to figure out later where I went wrong.


G N Barkman said...

Bravo! Great post.

Mike Westfall said...

Just call them rubes (short for rubric, which means red letters, right?).

Nate Mital said...

Sooooo good!

Strong Tower said...

Well ya know, it's like Gramma Eurthro always said...

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"What did Jesus (not) say about... the remaining 23 NT books?"

A: "I just want you to be red-letter Christians."


Q: Are there any self-professing "red-letter Christians" who aren't also theological liberals (and also quite likely political liberals to boot)?

Isn't "red-letter Christian" a euphemism for Liberal Protestant or Emerger or Liberal Evangelical?

Just like "progressive" is a euphemism for Liberal.

Stuart Brogden said...

Terrific post! ANY cherry picking of Scripture will lead one astray from the narrow path. Excellent support of the biblical case for the one-time office and authority of the Apostles.

Let all God's people praise Him!

naturgesetz said...

Isn't y the standard English transliteration of upsilon, as in Cyrus, Cyrene, rhythm, pyromaniac, κτλ?

I like the sound of erythrogrammatites. Erythrogrammarians would also do, but erythmogramatics sounds like a Motown music group from the '60's.

How about Rothenbuchstäbler?

DJP said...

Many use "y" for upsilon. I didn't learn it that way (from, I believe, Machen's grammar) and don't.

I don't know Rothenbuchstäbler, though it has a ring. Isn't "red" in German "rot"?

David Regier said...

I have a question as to what we do with I Cor 7:10-12. Is Paul saying, under inspiration, "I, not the Lord," in order to point directly to a measure of freedom in Christ?

That's how I'd handle it, but I'd also like your thoughts.

Robert said...


Just offering my two cents...when Paul says I, not the Lord, he is saying that Jesus did not say this in his earthly ministry, but that he is saying it as instruction from an apostle who is representing the Lord. this is meant to be taken as a measure of freedom in Christ, but rather a more focused teaching on certain subjects that still maintains the authority of Christ. For surely the instruction given in verse 12 goes hand in hand with those in verses 10 and 11. otherwise, we are back to trying to determine what parts of the Bible have authority, when we should accept that ALL of the Bible is authoritative...and we have to take all of Scripture in order to work everything out.

DJP said...

David, the short answer is that this distinguishes areas where we have recorded words of Jesus (i.e. in the Gospels), and those where we don't. So Jesus did not speak specifically to spiritually mixed marriage. In Paul, "the Lord" virtually always means Jesus. It is the difference between positions where he can appeal to specific dominical words, and those where he can't (but still can speak as an inspired apostle).

naturgesetz said...

Yes rot or in the older orthography roth is red; and Buchstab is letter.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

As for a name for the red-letterites, how about Jeffersonians? He liked to cut things out too.

Whozep68 said...

Doesn't Luke 24 say all of the OT is about Jesus? So couldn't you expand your last statement to Genesis to Revelation are the words of Jesus? Will that keep us from having a subset of holy words (Red letters) in a subset of holy words(NT) in the whole Bible?

Overall, good post.

Stefan Ewing said...

That was my problem for years: liking the words of Jesus (well, liking some of His words), and disliking the words of the Apostles...especially Paul.

Of course, you still have to deal with the fact that many of Jesus' own words are on such unpalatable subjects as hell and damnation. The response is to isolate those out as Apostolic accretions.

Basically, you end up filtering everything through the sieve of, "Would a god with 21st-century humanistic values say about this or that...and how does it affirm and validate me?"

Stefan Ewing said...

...Of course, the Jesus Seminar elevated this to a science, by constructing hypothetical source documents and voting on which words of Jesus are more or less historically "plausible," meaning more or less acceptable to modern sensibilities.

naturgesetz said...

BTW, I think it was an inspired bit of timing that you published this post of the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

Thomas Louw said...

‘But then I would hasten to say that those words and teachings are found from Matthew to Revelation”
Hmm. So the OT books aren’t also the word of Christ? Christ is fully God and the revelation of God too man, Christ is the word so I believe you should say “Genesis to Revelation.’
@David: 1 Cor 7 10:12

First: I have read somewhere “I not the Lord” is not in the original, but that is a whole debate its own and “I don’t have my tools here.”

Second: Some are of the opinion that Jesus actually did say all the rest that Paul is mentioning here but that these words are not “actual words of Christ” quoted in other words but inspired by the Holy Spirit thus authoritive

Mike Riccardi said...

Questioning the benefit of this, cuz it's likely there's not much net-disagreement. But here goes.

Dan (not DJP): Doesn't Luke 24 say all of the OT is about Jesus?

Actually, no it doesn't. It says that Jesus explained those things in OT which were about Him.

Is it true that all of the OT as a whole points to Jesus? Yes. But that's different than saying every single text is about Jesus. And even if that were true that's not what Luke 24 is saying.

So couldn't you expand your last statement to Genesis to Revelation are the words of Jesus?

Even if Luke 24 did teach us that every sentence in the OT was about Jesus, it still wouldn't necessarily follow that He spoke all those words. Speaking about Jesus is different than Jesus speaking.

What makes the NT different is that Jesus Himself says that He will be the One who gives revelation to the Apostles through the Holy Spirit, as Dan pointed out so ably.

Now, does that mean that Genesis to Malachi is any less inspired than, or is inferior in any way to, the NT? Absolutely not. Does it nullify that Jesus is the Eternal Word of God, highlighting an intimate relationship with all revelation, OT and NT alike? No way.

Just sayin. Know what I'm sayin?

CR said...

I really like the "I can't believe it's not biblical picture.". LOL

Thomas Louw said...

Taking another person’s thoughts and putting it in your own words aint nice :)

Anonymous said...

Of course, by the above argument, Jesus also "says" in Timothy that "all scripture is God-breathed". Jesus is God, and thus all scripture is "breathed" by him.

Overall though, I am mostly annoyed because you put on paper what I've been saying pretty much since I heard the term, but didn't write down yet! When people talk about "red-letter" I tell them that I'm a "black-letter" Christian...

C said...

Jesus also never said that anyone would document or collect his teachings or the teachings of his disciples. Your claim that we should accept the NT as in its current form as infallible is as arbitrary (and not scripturally supported) as RLC's claim that only Jesus's words count.

DJP said...

I think that is about as weighty as observing that Jesus never said Bibles would be printed on gold-edged pages, so modern Bibles don't count. Which is to say, not so much.

However, Jesus did say that His words would outlast heaven and earth (Matthew 24:35), and He most certainly did expect His disciples to keep His teaching (John 8:31-32). Couple that with the rest of the post, and the problem you thought you had isn't a problem anymore.

C said...

I suspect that your disdain for "Red Letter Christians" has mainly to do with their focus on Christ's teachings on love and the social gospel. Since this blog primarily instrumentalizes the Bible as a tool for judgment and condemnation, it has little use for Jesus's teachings about love, forgivness and charity.

I agree that there is more to the story than what's included in the Canonical Gospels, but they are certainly an important part of that story. If you wish to present Christianity in its fullness, you must acknowledge that the New Testament has at least as much to say about HOW to live as HOW NOT to live. I understand that the former is less useful to those whose gaze is trained on others in judgment rather than on God in love, but that doesn't meant they are less important. Christ said that "love God and love your neighbor" are the two most improtant commandments. It's worth noting that both are positive affirmations, not prohibitions.

C said...

It seems to me that sola scriptura must mean SOLA scriptura. Anything accepted beyond that (including the truth of the Bible itself) requires either acceptance of a theological argument or faith in the Tradition, which assembled and affirms the books of the Bible. Otherwise you're making arbitrary assertions based on your own motives and then insisting upon their truth because YOU have faith (unlike all of those other people who also claim faith, but disagree with you). This requires a very insincere and un-selfreflective brand of Christianity, and it's no better than anyone else's take on it.

DJP said...

Ah, we've changed subjects. Okey doke; so you abandon your point and affirm the authority of the whole NT. Terrific!

All of us who write here affirm the full authority of all the New Testament. Loving God necessarily involves us in affirming, as well, the full authority of the Old Testament, as Jesus did.

It's a package deal.

As to the judgments you level at us (about being judgmental), it sounds as if you read us as selectively as you accuse us of reading the NT.

Which... isn't it ironic?

DJP said...

...and then more of that mentalist judgmentalism of which you seem so fond. Well, I leave you to that, and am more than content with folks to deal with the facts and evidence I put out in plain daylight for all to see.

C said...

You didn't include any facts or evidence, you just said "Loving God necessarily involves us in affirming, as well, the full authority of the Old Testament, as Jesus did." That's an assertion, not an argument. An argument (or "mentalist judgmentalism" as you call it) would lay out support for your assertion based on either Scripture or reason, and you've utilized neither. Why does loving god necessarily involve affirming the full authority of the Old and New Testaments? If you've arbitrarily decided that it's just a matter of faith, then fine, but you can't claim that your faith is an "argument".

C said...

You also failed to refute, or even acknowledge my claims about the centrality of love in the NT. Instead of attacking my ideology (as I did yours) you've attacked me personally for being judgmental of you. Well yes, I am judgmental of you, and I've supported that judgment with an scripturally-based argument that acknowledges the importance of love and forgiveness in Jesus's teachings.

DJP said...

Odd that you write as if you feel you know this blog so well, yet you seem not actually to know anything about it.

If you were to begin reading the posts all the way through, you'd find that every post contains facts and evidence. As this one did. That's what I meant.

Who is disputing the centrality of love? I didn't. Perhaps it is the definition of love that you have problems with.

As to the rest, I didn't know that you had issues with Jesus' view of the OT as well. This post will help you concerning that. As to your other problem-area, perhaps the discussion under this post will help you.

MCC said...

The earlier comment is correct that your tongue-in-cheek term should be erythro- not eruthro-.

Standard practice transliterizes words of Greek origin through Latin, and as a result upsilon is represented by y, and omicron upsilon standardly corresponds to u. Machen has nothing to do with this.

Also part of Acts 20:35 is also generally printed in red, as are much of Rev. 2 and 3. So maybe the title should refer to the other 21 books.

This has been your pedantic moment for the day. We now return you to your normally scheduled comment stream.

Anyway, erythro- is a well-established element in technical terms, such as erythrocyte for red blood cells.

DJP said...

Anonymous MCC, you're simply incorrect. You want to say that is a popular option, fine. You want to say it is the one and only permissible option, wrong.

One of the things that makes Greek cooler than English is that the names of the letters of the alphabet all begin with the letters themselves. For instance, the name our "L," as pronounced, actually starts with a short "e" (i.e. "ell").

So HSAT, I really doubt you'll find many grammars transliterating the name of υ as "ypsilon."

Finally, as examples see explanations in Machen (1923), or David Alan Black (2009).