Are Jesus' Words More Important Than the Bible Writers'?
[Editor’s Note: We are frequently asked at Apologetics Press why the AP Defending the Faith Study Bible is not a red-letter edition. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with having a red-letter Bible, putting Jesus’ words in red letters is a rather modern, man-made idea. The ancient manuscripts of the New Testament do not have red letters in them for all of Jesus’ words. A person should be careful not to assume that red-letter Bibles have all of (and only) Jesus’ direct quotations printed in red. Judgment calls must be made by publishers as to which words they put in red and which words they don’t. The simple fact is, whatever color publishers make the words of Jesus and the Bible writers, all of them deserve our utmost respect because all of them come from God. As the psalmist proclaimed: “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of your righteous judgments endures forever” (Psalm 119:160).]
Occasionally, Christians will make the statement that “Jesus’ words are more important than the words of the Bible writers.” Allegedly, the words of Christ deserve greater attention, allegiance, and admiration than the inspired words of Paul, Peter, James, and every other Bible writer. Some even go so far as to say, “Jesus’ teachings must be obeyed, while the teachings of the Bible writers could be overlooked.” After all, Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20). He died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). He saves us (Luke 19:10). The Bible writers were merely men—fallible men who made numerous mistakes in their lives, and whose salvation, like ours, comes only through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). So why should we consider their teachings on par with the teachings of Christ?
It clearly needs to be established that no one is equal to God. The Creator and Sustainer of the Universe is infinite in all of His glorious attributes. He alone is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. The Son of God is the only accountable person never to sin (Hebrews 4:15). It has always been wrong to attempt to put men, even Bible writers, on par with God (cf. Genesis 3:5; Ezekiel 28:1-8). Only the wicked try to elevate themselves to the status of deity. King Herod, for example, flirted with self-deification—and died in a horrific manner as a result (Acts 12:21-23). This incident stands in stark contrast to the reaction of a Bible writer, Paul, when the heathen at Lystra attempted to worship him. Rather than accept worship that is reserved only for God (Matthew 4:10), Paul and Barnabas refused it and rebuked those who attempted such worship (Acts 14:8-18).
Jesus, as God in the flesh (John 1:1-5,14,17), rightly accepted (and still accepts) His followers’ worship (John 9:35-38; Luke 24:52; Revelation 5:8-14). However, the fact that the words of the Bible writers deserve the same level of attention and allegiance as the words of Christ has nothing to do with attempting to put weak, finite, sinful humanity on par with God. To say that all of the words of the Bible deserve our utmost respect and attention is actually in harmony with what the Bible itself teaches.
First, the only reason we have the words of Christ is because God used men to write them down. Jesus did not write the gospel accounts; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all wrote about the life and teachings of Christ years after His death, resurrection, and ascension back into heaven. The apostle Paul also quoted Jesus occasionally (2 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Timothy 5:18; Acts 20:35; 22:7-21). To say that the words of Christ deserve man’s ultimate respect, while the words of the Bible writers warrant less appreciation, is to ignore the fact that God gave us the teachings of Christ through inspired men (Galatians 1:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; John 17:20).
Second, at times in the gospel accounts there is no clear way to know for sure if the Bible writers were quoting Jesus or simply narrating the inspired story. As commentator Leon Morris concluded:
All are agreed that from time to time in the Gospel [of John—EL] we have the meditations of the [e]vangelist, but it is difficult to know where they begin and end. In the first century there were no devices like quotation marks to show the precise limits of quoted speech. The result is that we are always left to the probabilities and we must work out for ourselves where a speech or quotation ends.1
For example, we cannot say for sure if John 3:16—arguably the most frequently quoted Bible verse in the world—is a direct quotation of Jesus or a comment by John. The great thing is, we do not have to know this in order to know the teachings of God. Whether John 3:16 is a direct quote from Jesus ornot, it is from God, and thus divinely authoritative.
Third, consider also the fact that Jesus quoted from the Old Testament numerous times throughout His ministry. He quoted from Deuteronomy (6:13,16; 8:3) when tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). When the conniving Pharisees asked Jesus a question about divorce (Matthew 19:1-10), the master Teacher directed their attention to God’s plan for marriage as recorded in the first book of the Bible (Genesis 1:27; 2:24; 5:2). When dying on the cross (Matthew 27:46), Jesus quoted from Psalm 22:1. Genesis, Deuteronomy, and the book of Psalms did not become authoritative when Jesus quoted from them; they were already authoritative, because they came from God. After quoting from the relatively obscure words in Psalm 82:6, Jesus said, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). That is, it is impossible for Scripture to be annulled, for its authority to be denied, or its truth to be withstood.2 “It cannot be emptied of its force by being shown to be erroneous.”3 Why? Because it was the authoritative, inspired, inerrant Word of God, even before Jesus quoted from it.
Indeed, the fact thatJesus quoted extensively from the Old Testament, appealing to it as the authoritative “Word of God” (Mark 7:13; John 10:35), is further proof that all of the Scriptures—not just the words Jesus spoke while on Earth—deserve our utmost respect. It is illogical and without biblical backing to suggest that the “Word of God” (whether the book of Genesis or the book of James) is somehow inferior to the “words of the Son of God.”4
Fourth, Jesus and the Bible writers even referred to narrational comments, and not just direct quotations from God, as being God’s Word. For example, when Jesus reminded His hypocritical hearers of God’s original design in marriage (Genesis 1-2), He quoted from Moses in Genesis 2:24. Yet Jesus explained that “He [God] who made them at the beginning…said” the words (Matthew 19:4-5). How could God have “said” this statement when Moses was not directly quoting God? Answer: If it is in Scripture, it is “God’s Word” (i.e., it was given by inspiration of God). When the writer of Hebrews quoted from the words of the psalmist (95:7-11), where nothing was said about this psalm being inspired by God, the Hebrews writer noted that these words were from “the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 3:7-11). Why? Because the Holy Spirit guided the psalmist in what he wrote.
To treat the words of Moses, Paul, Peter, and other inspired penmen as “second class” Scripture is equivalent to saying that “God’s Word is not as important as God’s Word.” The fact is, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Paul quoted from Jesus and the God-inspired prophet Moses when writing to Timothy and elevated both as “Scripture” (1 Timothy 5:18; cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16). Therefore, whether we are reading a direct quotation from God the Father (Matthew 3:17), or a statement made by God the Son, or a truth revealed by God the Spirit through one of His inspired spokesmen or penmen (1 Corinthians 2:10-16; 2 Peter 1:20-21), all of Scripture should be respected and rightly divided (2 Timothy 2:15). “I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, than fine gold!… Consider how I love Your precepts… My heart stands in awe of Your word. I rejoice in Your word as one who finds great treasure… I love your law… My soul keeps Your testimonies, and I love them exceedingly” (Psalm 119:127,159-163,165,167).
1 Leon Morris (1995), The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), revised edition, p. 202, emp. added.
2 See Benjamin Warfield (1970 reprint), The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian & Reformed), pp. 138-140.
3 Morris, p. 468.
4 Since Jesus fulfilled the Old Law (Matthew 5:17), taking “it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross,” God’s people have been amenable to the New Law (Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 8:7-13). Regardless of what law man is under, however, it is still proper to acknowledge that all Scripture should be respected because it is all God’s Word.
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