One time, when I was doing kind of a test run of the OSFGroups separate from the church where I “invented” them and before the Pilgrimage was a thing, a friend of mine who was also one of the participants asked a question that I have been mulling over ever since. (That’s about two years, by the way.) Here, more or less, was the question:
If Jesus is God the Son of God, doesn’t it make sense to give more weight to the words that the Bible tells us He actually spoke, than to other parts of the Bible?
Yes and no. Maybe.
When my friend first asked the question, it quite appealed to me, as did the concept of Red Letter Christians–the movement that promotes a similar perspective–when I first heard of it. You may or may not know that in various ways and various times, and maybe now more than ever, Jesus has been kind of an obsession of mine. Naturally I would be drawn to a movement that takes His words extra seriously. I agree with much of what the Red Letter Christian movement presents, in particular this second item from their statement of values:
Jesus is the lens through which we understand the Bible… and through which we understand the world in which we live.
As I’ve mulled this over for the last two years, however, I realize I believe Jesus is a bigger lens–on the Bible and the world–than simply the words He spoke (sometimes printed in red) as recorded in the Bible. The reason I think this is because of something that has been impressing itself on my mind and heart for even longer than my questions about Red Letter Christianity, and that is the mystery we encounter when we contemplate that both Jesus and the Bible are described as the Word of God.
In the pre-my-Paul era when I was regularly discussing (arguing?) theology with agnostics (usually single men; I didn’t really date, I theologized), I was once or twice presented with the argument that maybe I should calm down about this Jesus guy, because let’s be honest–He may be a major character in the Bible, but He didn’t even write one page of it. I don’t know that that’s a particularly weighty argument for or against Him, but if you want to get technical about it, it is admittedly clear that Jesus didn’t ever sit down with a stylus and a piece of parchment and start writing His ideas down–He simply lived them.
I think this attempt at an anti-Jesus argument, while not so effective at its intended goal, ends up working pretty well instead as an argument against giving Jesus’ words, per se, more weight than any others in the Bible. Because, if there’s even a hint of some of the parts of the Bible being somewhat more or less “errant” than others…well, how do we really know which is which? We can talk about Jesus’ words being the most important, but if He Himself didn’t even write them down–well, I mean, then we have to have faith that the Gospel writers recorded them correctly. We have have to have faith specifically that the Gospel writers were therefore more inspired than, say, the apostles Paul, Peter, or than Jude or James.
I guess some of us truly might like to say that, but how do we really know? I’ve a hunch (even though, if we looked at some of those “red letter” words we might find some, no matter what side of what aisle we’re on, that make us squirm, if not outright run out the door) such an assertion really comes down to the fact that we like the Gospel writers’ presentation of Jesus as a character better than the apostle Paul’s interpretation of the implication of Jesus’ life–in which case, it’s probably better just to be honest about where we’re coming from. And while we’re being honest, we might also add that in that case, we may well be putting our personal preferences at a slightly higher level of authority than Scripture itself.
There is, of course, another side to this coin, and more to the idea of Jesus as a lens to the Word and the World, and more to unpack about the written word/living Word mystery, and more to say even about the “Jesus never wrote anything” argument. But we’ll flip the coin, and “clean” the lens, and unpack the mystery, and say some more on another day. For now I’ll leave open the uncomfortable suggestion of honesty, above. I’d hate to prevent any of us from “wrestling with the angel” if we have the chance.
*Apologies for the title. Clearly I am a middle-aged American white woman, from that segment of the middle-aged American white demographic which continues to appropriate outdated slang from the African American community, and will not let it rest in peace. I would have tried to restrain myself, but it seemed like the right title for this content–and it will lead in well to the title and further content of the next post.
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