Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On the biblical illiteracy of "Red Letter" Christians

Gary DeMar makes the important point that much of the so-called "red letter" passages in the New Testament (words spoken by Jesus himself) are, in fact, stated first in the "black letter" Old Testament.
Some years ago I was invited to speak to a political science class at Emory University located in Decatur, Georgia. The Christian Right was in the news at that time, and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority was getting a lot of negative press. I was asked to shed some light on the controversy. The students were genuinely interested in the subject and asked some good questions. I remember one student in particular telling me that she believed in following the law of Christ over against laws found in the Old Testament. She was a “Red-Letter Christian” before the method had a name. Her view was not and is not unusual. I suspect that many Christians hold a similar position, believing that Jesus came to establish a new system of morality.

In the time that I had, I made two quick points. First, I asked her the source of the following verse: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Her response was immediate: “Jesus.” I asked her if she knew what Jesus used as a source for the “love your neighbor” comment. She was puzzled, thinking it was unique to Jesus since He was the new law giver. She was surprised when I told her that Jesus was quoting part of Leviticus 19:18: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I can’t say that she was shocked when I pointed out that the moral precept had a long history found in the Old Testament, but she certainly looked perplexed. Many Christians would be stunned to learn that what is ostensibly viewed as a New Testament moral standard (Matt 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:8) is an Old Testament moral standard, and that from the book of Leviticus where the prohibition of homosexuality is found (Lev. 18:22; 20:13).
Maybe it's a stretch to say these so-called "Red Letter" Christians are biblically illiterate. But they do seem to (mis)understand the Bible as little more than a book of laws, teachings, and moral aphorisms (some more important than others). The prologue to John's Gospel ought to set the record straight once and for all. Jesus is, from the beginning, the very Word of God. He embodies and brings to fulfillment every word and letter of Scripture -- red, black, or otherwise.