Have you ever wondered why the words of Jesus are printed in red in many, but not all, Bibles? According to information found in my King James Version, the idea originated with Louis Klopsch in 1899.1 Klopsch was the owner-editor of the Christian Herald magazine and was writing an editorial when his eyes fell upon Luke 22:20 which reads, [B] “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” Klopsch reasoned that red words would suitably represent the words spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ. His preacher encouraged him to prepare such a Bible, and in November, 1901, the Christian Herald advertised red letter Bibles for sale.
The preacher, T. DeWitt Talmadge, said of this new edition that “it could do no harm, and it most certainly could do much good.” In preparation for this new Bible, scholars from America and Europe were asked to submit passages which they regarded as spoken by Christ while on earth. Later editions have all words spoken by Christ in red (e.g., Rev 22:16).
The short article in my Bible entitled History Of The Red Letter begins by stating: “The words in red in many Bibles are neither more or less important than the words in black. Jesus said to the seventy: ‘He that heareth you heareth me’ (Luke 10:16).”
This point is exactly right. The words spoken by Peter or Paul are just as much the word of God as those spoken by Jesus (II Tim. 3:16,17). The apostles were guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13,14). Through inspiration, the apostles spoke the words of Jesus when he was no longer on the earth.
It would be great if more people would acknowledge this simple fact today. However, there are some who consider only the words in red to be the words of Jesus. To them, the words of Paul are uninspired commentary on the words of Christ or perhaps the testimony of the early church. Having had red letter Bibles for over 100 years now, the statement that “It could do no harm...” has been proven false.
What is even worse today is the rejection of the words of Christ by so-called scholars. In 1985, a panel of liberal theologians started having a series of meetings (called The Jesus Seminar) to determine the historicity of the New Testament. What is their conclusion? They charge that 82 percent of the teaching attributed to Christ in the four gospel accounts is not genuine.2
The participants in these meetings vote on the words of Christ and then assign it a color representing the degree of confidence one may put in it. For example, if the saying is undoubtedly genuine it is given the color red (wonder where they came up with that idea?). If it is probably genuine the color pink is used. Gray represents those words which Jesus probably did not utter, but the ideas are close to his. Black is reserved for the words which are definitely not Jesus’.
To these so-called scholars, anything miraculous (including predictive prophecy) is automatically given the black ink. Thus, according to them, Jesus certainly could not have predicted the fall of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:1-34).
Brethren, it is time to get back to a proper view and respect for the Bible. We need to prove to people why the word of God is true and that all of it is the word of Christ, not just the words in red!
1 “History of the Red Letter Edition,” in The Holy Bible — King James Version, Reference Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1972), no page number. The article appears on the page immediately before the Concordance. Stock number 575BG, no ISBN.
2 Wayne Jackson “The Jesus Seminar, 1,” Christian Courier, June, 1994.

By Douglas Hoff

Return to the General Articles page

Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /