The Cranky Conservatism of Greg and Kim Kirby

On Sunday evening, Greg came back from Winterfest, a huge youth event in Gatlinburg, TN.  We were glad to have him back and immediately celebrated by going out to McAlister’s with one of our gift cards.  On the way there, he was telling me about the weekend, which he very much enjoyed.  His glowingly positive reviews were briefly interrupted, however, when he paused to rant about one of the videos that was shown.  Apparently, this video accused the Bible of being too hard to understand, and placed the blame for its complexity on all the ways we’ve tinkered with it:  adding chapters and verses, for example, or putting Jesus’ words in red letters.  Greg was greatly perplexed throughout the video, and was even more annoyed when he was handed a Bible that was put together to rectify this alleged wrong perpetuated against Scripture.  This New Testament didn’t have chapters or verses, and the books of the Bible were put in a different order:

Greg was downright cranky over this innovation, which inspired me to launch into my diatribe against chronological and/or “harmonized” versions of the Bible.  We both ranted on for awhile, and then Greg summed up both of our viewpoints with the question,

“Why can’t we just let the Bible be the Bible?”

A few minutes later, we both started laughing when he raised the question, “And when did we get to be such cranky conservatives?”

Good question!

I will admit the irony in our viewpoints:  we get annoyed with innovations in the presentation of Scripture, yet our annoyance overlooks the fact that the very order of the Bible that we hold so dear is itself an innovation, put together during the Council of Carthage in 397 and 419*.  And while I found the Winterfest Bible’s order to be unnecessary, I have to admit that the arrangement of books made at least a little sense, according to my brief analysis of the table of contents.  Luke tells the story of Paul, and so Paul’s letters come after Luke/Acts.  Matthew, Hebrews, and James are the “Jewish” books.  Mark’s gospel is thought to be informed by Peter, and so Peter’s letters are listed after that book.  And all of John’s writings are together.  It’s not a totally absurd arrangement.  In contrast, the traditional arrangement of the New Testament lists the gospels first (fair enough), and then groups the epistles by author.  But they place the epistles within each authorial group…wait for it…in order from longest to shortest.  Longest to shortest!  Really?  We couldn’t order them by chronology…or content…or chronology…or theme…or chronology?  We went with longest to shortest?

I say all that to acknowledge that my own preferences for Scriptural presentation are just a little bit arbitrary.

Furthermore, my preferences for other Bible innovations are riddled with inconsistencies.  For example, here is a brief list of the types of Bibles that are okay according to Kim:

–Bibles geared toward certain ages or gender (i.e. children’s Bibles or men/women’s Bibles).

–Those Bibles that look like teen magazines (whatever gets them reading, amIright?)

–Most standard versions

Here is a brief list of Bibles that induce eye-rolls from Kim:

–Bibles geared toward certain interest groups (i.e. patriots, hunters, soldiers, couponers, etc)

–The Message

–Chronological Bibles

–NIV 2011 version

Now, see if you can spot the inconsistencies here.  Why are age/gender based Bibles, and even magazine Bibles okay, but not Bibles for interest groups?  And what’s with my intolerance with The Message?  It doesn’t even claim to be an interpretation, but a paraphrase!  I can read my kids heavily edited storybook Bibles all day long, but I’m going to turn my nose up to The Message?   Hmmm…let’s just say there’s a fair amount of sheer cantankerousness represented in these views.

But with the NIV 2011 and the chronological/harmonized versions, there is something deeper.**  It seems to me that both of those versions come with an unwillingness to let the Bible be the Bible.  I might be misunderstanding this feature of the new NIV Bible, but my understanding is that many of the pronouns were changed to become gender inclusive.  Now, I’m all for the inclusion of genders, believe me…but that’s not the language in which the Bible was written.  It’s just not.  It seems that in changing those pronouns, we are trying to improve upon the Bible.  To that, I say, let the Bible be the Bible.

Similarly, the Bible wasn’t told in a chronological story.  You can put the books roughly in order, but they will still overlap and retell the same story from different angles.  And that seems to be how God wanted it.  If He wanted to give us one seamless narrative, He would have.  But He didn’t.  And I have to have faith that there are four gospels for a reason.  And furthermore?  They. don’t. harmonize.  (Don’t believe me?  Take all four gospels’ versions of Jesus’ last week and try to put them into one narrative that doesn’t contradict itself or leave anything out.  I dare you.)***

But see, we want the Bible to be this way.  We want it to share our gender sensibilities and our preference for a seamless, coherent narrative.  We are in a period of history that values that things, so we want the Bible to value them, too.  I understand that, I do.  Believe me, there are times I want to get all Thomas Jefferson on the Bible and cut out the parts that offend me, like how women are unclean for longer after they have a girl baby, than a boy.  Or, you know, all the slaughter of whole populations, including women and children.  Or that vexing verse about women being saved through childbirth.  (I mean, really–what’s that about?)  But I can’t cut those things out…because they are in the Bible.

And…say it with me…I have to let the Bible be the Bible.  I have to let go of my desire for the Bible to function as a handy book of rules, or a science textbook, or a seamless narrative, or a Modern document, or a postmodern document, or a politically correct document…or even a book with all the answers.  (Believe me, I am generally full of questions after I read the Bible.)

Instead, I struggle to embrace the Bible for what it is:

The God-breathed story of God’s pursuit of man.

The God-inspired revelation of His Word, which is the person of Jesus.

The messy history of a sinful people who interacted with a God who spoke to their historical context.

The book of all the answers that I need.

I have to let the Bible be the Bible.

So, on a scale of 1-10, how cranky a conservative am I on this Bible thing?  Also, what are your views on what the Bible is or isn’t?  And are you also creeped out by the interest group Bibles, or do you think those are cool?  Inquiring minds want to know!

*Hmm, I always thought it was the Council of Nicaea in 325, but Wikipedia is telling me a different story(only the most intensive research is featured on this blog, folks).  You can do your own thorough research here.

**These thoughts represent my current opinions, but are certainly subject to change.  The first time I read through the Bible was using a chronological version, and I loved it (although even then, the editor’s assertion that he was putting the Bible “in its proper order” grated on me).  So clearly, my views on the presentation of Scripture have been evolving, and I have no doubt that they will continue to evolve.  But this is where I am right now.

***Greg would like it to be known that he has no problem with the 2011 NIV or The Message.  And I would like it to be known that I have no problem with the Winterfest Bible:).

30 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sean on February 23, 2012 at 7:08 am


    Let Greg know that I had an issue with the video too. Mine was b/c it felt they put the “problem” on all the things that had been added to Bibles (verses and chapters, 2 columns, study notes) and not the fact that we have stopped reading the Bible as the living word of God. I have no issue with the “Winterfest” Bible, but I think the video they showed before they talked about it was ironic. It felt it was saying “this is the Bible that will solve all those problems” when in reality, it’s how we look at God’s living word that will solve those “problems”.
    I realized this weekend I am like the Israelites in the wilderness when they told God, through Moses, that they would rather hear a man’s voice than God’s (Deut. 5 and 18). Instead of coming to the mountain and hearing God’s word, in all it’s glory and wonder, for themselves they allowed a man to tell them God’s word. To me, this allowed them to blow off what Moses or a prophet said b/c they were “just men” and didn’t have authority over them. Likewise, I’ll often sit back and listen to what people have heard from God and think it’s “nice” b/c it’s “just a man/woman’s” thought and God hasn’t said this to me. Often God hasn’t “said” it to me b/c I haven’t come to the mountain to hear what He wants to say to me. I sit back, watch others go to the mountain, listen to what they havr to say, and make the judgement that I didn’t hear God say it so I can brush it off and go my own way.
    I pray we all will go to the mountain of God and listen to Him..


    • Sean, Greg made the point during his rant that it was the video and not the Bible itself that really annoyed him. But he did find it amusing that this alternate Bible was put forth as the solution to all our problems:).

      I like what you say about the Israelites in the wilderness. The older I get, the more sympathy I have for the Israelites. After seeing the way God punished them when they stepped out of line (plagues, immolation, and so forth), I can understand why they’d prefer to speak through a medium. And I do think that like you, I have a tendency to do that today. It’s entertaining and enlightening to hear the spiritual thoughts of others; it’s frightening to seek the mighty will of God. And yes, we have Jesus as a mediator to reconcile us to God…but Jesus’ words are no walk in the park, either!

      Another “benefit” to backing away from the direct revelation of God is that it is much easier to conform God to our own desires that way. I like to make God a lot like me…and let’s just say that I find that IMPOSSIBLE when I’m reading Leviticus (as I am now). This probably doesn’t seem like a good thing, but in the foreignness of the laws, I see the foreignness of God to my own understanding. I am reminded that God is NOT me…and that realization prompts me to thirst for Him and to seek Him all the more. “You shall have no other gods before me.” Sometimes my skewed perception of God can become my god, if that makes sense. While I know that my perception will always be skewed to some degree, reading God’s direct revelation is the best corrective I have found.


  2. Lol ..I am laughing at this for a number of reasons. I will expand one on one .. but I I do have to say that I am amazed that despite our own human efforts to make the Bible applicable to us, we miss how much it does innately…no matter what arrangement it is in 😉

    When it comes to translations and stuff I know that for me I feel like the thing to remember is that there is a human element to ALL of them. Since different humans made those “innovations” none of them are infallible. I know that I am “NIV 2000” non-lover …NIV 1984 all the way baby! But I have also learned to so appreciate a variety of translations/paraphrases as my study has gotten deeper. I have been using the Holman (no subheadings, just chapters/verses), the NLT, the ERSV, the NIV-readers, and even the message when its appropriate.

    I have really enjoyed the different perspective and words that different people use to interpret God’s word. Love it. I have a real problem, though when people hold up ONE version as THE truth over all others. That designation can only be saved for God’s word itself.

    To condemn the entirety of the Truth based on which translation that is used, well..that is silly. HOw many times have I heard people claim that one version or another is “the” version to the exemption of all others? I had an elder of a church come over to Russia when my family and I were there over 10 years ago. To a baby church, who was made up entirely of people who were brand new christians, how there is only ONE version and this is it. Uh, no.

    Gotta be careful that we accept the Truth part, and not be distracted by the fallible, human part 😉


    • Court, I totally agree. You know how I really am pretty cranky in my allegiance to the 1984 NIV, but even though I personally vastly prefer it, the idea that it (or any other translation) is THE translation is just laughable to me. Laughable…and sad. It is weird to me what we make idols out of, and I think that our favored translations…or even, strangely, the Bible itself can become our idols.

      I’m interested in hearing the other reasons you were LOL’ing. Email soon?


  3. “get all Thomas Jefferson on the Bible” – Funny! Clever! Awesomely historical! Wish I’d said it first!

    Oh well.

    You know what I like about getting older? I get to indulge in cranky conservatism. Kim, I think you and Greg should embrace it too. Soon you’ll find yourself calling younger people whippersnappers, and reveling in the ability to do so. I know I do.

    I’m not so big on the interest group Bibles, even the ones that are women’s or men’s study Bibles. These interest group versions always smack me as reinforcing division rather than building unity. Yet I have no problem with the concept of teen study Bibles. Call me inconsistent. It’s another perq of being an old guy.

    As for the way the Bible is presently constituted, unless we all learn Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek then we are going to have to get used to some sort of modificaiton from the original writings. Sure some modifications are so outrageous that they change the meaning entirely, but that doesn’t mean we can only count on one version of English translation and must reject all others. (King James only, anyone?)

    One thing I like about the present order of the New Testament is that the Gospels do come first. This makes sense not only in a story-telling chronology (since Jesus’ ministry predates the the rest of the events recorded in the NT), it also makes sense theologically. Jesus preached both Old Covenant sermons (carrying on John’s OT prophetic message “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”) and also spoke of our lives under the coming New Covenant (the Upper Room Discourse in John 14-16 is a good example). It is after his death that the New Covenant comes, and learning about his life, death and resurrection is integral to understanding the rest of the New Testament, I think, because we are under the New Covenant only by the shedding of Jesus’ blood. (Luke 24:20, Hebrews 12:24.)

    Kim, you wrote another great post here and I really appreciate that it gave me a chance to think these things through.



    • Tim, I think being “cranky” is something I’m very much going to enjoy, and like this post suggests, I’m already starting to embrace it!:)

      I like what you said about the men’s/women’s/interest group Bibles “reinforcing division rather than building unity.” Yep, that’s how I feel, and now that you articulated it so well, I already feel myself moving away from the men’s/women’s Bibles. Like you, I am still okay with teens’ and children’s Bibles, and I think I’ve figured out why. I think that we must be willing to be creative and accommodating in order to teach the next generation. But I think there is a point where we should be able to engage in God’s word without having it tailor-made to our own preferences and identity. I think that point is different for everyone, though, so perhaps I shouldn’t begrudge people for their individualized Bibles. There are certainly more important things to care about!:)

      Also, I agree with you on the traditional NT order. I like the gospels coming first.

      Thanks for your comments! They helped me to further develop my thoughts.


      • Oh yeah, Tim: I also meant to copy and paste one of my comments on facebook. It speaks to your very good point about the original writings:

        “Ivy, don’t feel bad about liking the Winterfest Bible:). Considering that the chapters, verses, and order of books were added hundreds of years after the Bible was written, I don’t see why it would be wrong to take the verses out and switch up the order. What I do have an issue with is people messing with the content of the books themselves–changing words, combining books, etc. Even then, though, I must acknowledge that there is a degree to which EVERY translation “messes with” the content. That said, I would hope that the goal would be to preserve the original text with the greatest accuracy.”

        I am familiar with the concept of dynamic equivalence, and I understand many of the difficulties facing proper translation. In my (current) opinion, the new NIV takes the idea of dynamic equivalence too far. Could be wrong, though. It happens:).


        • Being wrong? Me too.

          And I like your point that every translation messes with the content in one way or another*. True, true.


          *So let’s all commit ourselves to fluency in Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek. Who’s in? Hands, everyone! Anyone? [-ahem-] I think I left something on the stove, got to go … .


          • Ha! I actually did take a year of biblical Greek…not that it did me much good in the long run! As for committing to fluency…funny you should mention it–I think I have something on the stove, too:).


  4. Everyone already pretty much said what I was going to say in response to your questions, but I wanted to say that I also don’t like the personalized Bibles (I think it is a “Prayer of Jabez”/”Chicken Soup for the Soul”-esque scheme for making money–no, I don’t think those authors started out on purpose that way, but they are still too commercialized now for my taste–though people can certainly still be blessed through those things). And, I also don’t like people messing with the NIV from my youth. A totally different version (like the NLT) is a good, other perspective, but don’t take what I am already comfortable with and tweak it just enough to make me feel crazy that I have forgotten the phrasing of my favorite verses.

    Actually, I really wish that I DID know Greek/Arabic/Hebrew/etc., but I’m frustrated enough just trying to learn Spanish.

    On being cranky, I simultaneously love it and hate it. I mean, let’s be honest. Crankiness allows us feelings of superiority and self-righteousness. Who wouldn’t want to feel that they are right about everything and that everyone else is wrong? Wait… what? Oh, crap… 🙂

    Seriously, this is a really hard one for me. I have a lot of opinions, and many of them are different from the opinions of others. I end up feeling cranky A LOT. While I do believe in sharing opinions and even at times showing others their errors (for their own benefit), most of the time I feel bad afterwards (depending on the situation and what exactly I said). There is kind of a fine line, though, because of the sarcasm that is prevalent in our culture. Even in our humor we are cranky–though not really… but we actually kind of are. Because of this aspect of our culture, people usually know what we mean when we pull out the crank. I don't think it is always bad, depending on a number of circumstances. However, I know that at least for myself I get sensitive to it after a while. When I hear someone going on and on about some point that is bothering them, I either join in with them wholeheartedly (and then feel bad later) or I shrink back and passive-aggressively try to shut them down. On one hand, I can't get enough of the feelings that come with crankiness, but then on the other I can't stand them. I go into a bout of crankiness looking to be filled, but in the end I wind up totally drained.

    I'm honestly not sure what the answer is here (except to generally try to treat people with love) because there are situations where it is right to be adamant about a certain point. We shouldn't sacrifice truth just to seem like friendlier people. However, love trumps all of that, and that is a truth that is REALLY, REALLY hard to implement.


    • “I go into a bout of crankiness looking to be filled, but in the end I wind up totally drained.” Ha! That’s an awesome line, bek.


    • Becky, I think that naturally critical people (and I mean that in the neutral sense, as in, people who think critically) tend to struggle more with crankiness. Thinking critically often means spotting the flaws…and again, that’s not a bad thing in and of itself. However, when that flaw-spotting is not accompanied by some rectifying action, it just becomes negativity. And I find negativity to be overwhelming. Thus, when I get cranky, I quickly grate on my OWN nerves. So…that’s good…I guess…:)

      (Now, I will say that healthy venting fits in there somewhere, but it is always a fine line. For me, I have two people I vent to without reserve, and other than that, I try to keep it to myself:).)


  5. LOL, that was supposed to have fake html tags on it, but I guess the Internet didn’t realize I was just joking. Oh well, it wouldn’t be the first time…


  6. Yeah! Welcome to MY world! You’ve heard my little line: “I’m a true conservative. There have been many changes in my lifetime, and I have been against ALL of them.” I’m not just in the wrong generation, or wrong decade–I’m possibly in the wrong millenium! On a slightly more serious note, I do worry about the crankiness… there is a fellow teacher at school who is pretty generally acknowledged to be past his best days, and whose major contribution to most discussions is to remind us how things used to be a lot better. I worry that I’m already starting to sound like that, and also to lose patience with kids–not a good character trait for a teacher.

    But the points re: The Bible are fascinating. Like you pointed out, the way we’re used to seeing scripture presented has little to recommend it save familiarity. At various times and with different motivations, I have been a big fan of LaGard Smith’s Narrated Bible in Chronological Order and various “themed” Bibles. Despite the fact that most of my “memory verses” are KJV, and also despite the ubiquity of the NIV and its various derivatives, I do most of my daily reading in the NLT. For “just reading,” I like the smooth flow of the thought-for-thought translation, and I count on the familarity of having read through so many times to be a built-in footnote when the translation doesn’t suit me. I really dislike the TEV (used to be the “Good News Bible”) because it feels gimmicky. Ditto The Message and TLB. I still own a NRSV that has the gender-inclusive pronouns (but not for God). It grates, but it is a really good study Bible, so I can stomach it. For my money, the best of the best for study is the NASB, non-updated (the non-updated part is because I want my “thees” and “thys” in psalms). And have you read the scuttlebutt about the new translation for middle eastern countries that soothes Muslim sensibilities by referreing to the trinity as “Allah, his Messiah, and the Holy Ghost?” I really don’t love any of the NIV translations; it’s like plain vanilla… nobody’s favorite, but everybody’s 2nd choice. And I worry that as the big seller, their editors and translators have to be every bit as sensitive as Texas and California textbook committees. But if you get away from agenda-driven stuff, it’s pretty cool that we can open 3-4 different paperback translations on the same kitchen table for less than $50 and have access to a better team of translators than the entire world had for centuries.


    • “The way we’re used to seeing scripture presented has little to recommend it save familiarity.” Exactly! That said, I think I will be 1984 NIV until I die. (It’s not my second choice:).)I have no real reason for my love besides deep, deep familiarity. It’s just “the” Bible to me. It’s how I learned all my verses (except I do know the Beatitudes in KJV for some reason). It’s even weird to me to think that I was on the earth for four whole years before it even came out. It just seems that timeless to me.

      That said, I did have a Holman Bible once as a teen; as it was the first Bible I really studied on my own, it was quite dear to me. In addition, I have sometimes not hated the NLT, and I am intrigued by the concept of the NASB. But other than that, I tend to stick with the “plain vanilla” NIV:).


  7. Posted by Nick Wilson on February 23, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    At the risk of continuing to be seen as that ‘crazy’ who ‘went off the deep end years ago,’ I’ll wade into this conversation…we’ll see how deeply.

    To the idea of letting the Bible be the Bible, what does that mean exactly? I don’t see the Bible coming together in its current form as necessarily being an act of Providence. Each author had his own Divinely-inspired Truth to lend to the ever-widening knowledge base that we now have to draw from. Did the author of Job (likely the first book) say to himself (because I also don’t believe the Spirit was tapping him on his shoulder or controlling his hand as he wrote), “I have to remember as I’m writing this that there are 65 other books coming so I can’t tell the whole story” ???

    As someone who studied his butt off to get his Greek Minor in undergrad and took 3 semesters of Graduate-level Hebrew, I am refreshed to see discussion around translation and the human element. Repeat after me: “Koi-ne, that’s the way! Koi-ne, that’s the way!”

    Regarding Truth and how we receive it (I’m wading in too deeply now), do we really believe in a talking snake? Or do we believe that the story of the talking snake tells us an eternal Truth that we should believe way more than a talking snake? Do we believe that the world is flat and that demons cause sickness? Or do we believe that those (quite possibly) meaningless details of stories are there to speak to people millennia ago with a base understanding of the world around them, and we can look past them to the Truth that is really important?

    I’ve waded too deep…time to go back to the shallows. I forgot my floaties.


    • Nick,

      Your words resonate more than you might think. I think we all ask ourselves these questions, and we come to some widely different answers. I honestly think I tend more toward your understanding than that of fundamentalism. And it’s crazy how many conversations I’ve had with active members of conservative churches, who, in a quiet moment, will tell me they feel the same way. Whether it’s that the “historical” stats of the OT are grossly inflated, or that Job never existed (really, Pappaw?), or that Jonah is a God-inspired fable, or even that God never really told people to wipe out populations (I could not BELIEVE who told me that one), I know lots of people who have rethought their fundamentalist understanding of Scripture without losing their faith or their reverence for the Bible. Are they right in their judgments? Who knows? Really, none of us are really “right” in our knowledge of Truth. But I will say that questioning fundamentalism does not mean that you don’t have faith; it just means that you view the Bible differently.

      Yes, you are wading deep, but I think God can handle it. The Truth is bigger than our meager understandings, and always will be. You know that, though…

      Thanks for weighing in, Nick!


      • Rereading your comment, I will add that I do happen to see the 66 books coming together as being an act of Providence. It doesn’t mean that the authors knew how it was all coming together; on the contrary, my guess is that they had very little idea of the big picture:).


  8. I don’t think that there is a binary choice between literalism and a purely metaphorical truth. A God who can make a world out of nothing and can raise Jesus from the dead can also make a snake (or a donkey) speak. If we believe in heaven and hell and Satan, is it foolish to believe in evil spirits? We can recognize that the Bible is a historical document, and therefore not demand that the numbers add up in the Old Testament any better than they do in Herodotus, while not going all the way down the path that says that neither Moses nor Herodotus was worth a darn as a historian. All that said, it’s not essential to me whether Job really lived, or whether creation was 6 literal 24-hour days. In both cases, I presume that the truth expressed there is something like playing Mozart on a kazoo–the instruments of either bronze age writing or my quite modern brain reading are not up to the job of truly capturing the mind of God.

    BUT… if God WAS going to put His literal thoughts on paper, he’d do it in NASB pre-1996 format. 🙂


  9. Posted by Phillip on February 24, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Interesting post. I am probably a cranky conservative in the way you suggest, and even moreso. I am not a fan of gender or age-targeted Bibles largely because it seems to me it is more about marketing than anything else, and because of its implications about the unity (or disunity) of the body. I don’t really see much difference between these and the other niche Bibles (patriot’s, hairdressers, grocers, etc)

    Red letter Bibles were also a marketing gimic, and one I am not fond of them because the practice implies that Jesus’ words in the Gospels are more authoritative than the descriptions of who Jesus is and what he did.

    Inclusive language translations (e.g., NIV 2011) are not a problem because the goal of translation is not simply to convey a modern equivalent of the words (word substitution)but the intent as well. So if the intent is to say something about men and women in a language that used the male pronoun for such situations, we may miss the intent by preserving the direct equivalent.

    With respect to chronological Bibles, I tell my students that reading through one is helpful to get a sense of the sweep of the story. But what the church has received as canon is the collection of discrete books, each with their own integrity, theology, and message. To be sure, there are intertexual connections and an overarching narrative, but Israel and the Church (under the influence of the Spirit, I think), told that story in a collection of books. With the Gospels, the early church rejected a harmonized version of the gospels (the Diatessaron) in favor of the four Gospels. Differences in the accounts (e.g., between Samuel-Kings and Chronicles or among the 4 Gospels) also have to be harmonized in chronological Bibles, which then causes us to miss the theological moves and distinction of each book.

    And now I step down from my soap box.


    • Before you step down from that soap box, Phillip, let me say, “Hear, hear”.

      I ran into a problem with a red letter edition years ago. A couple of young women and I had invited a Jewish friend to join us for some Bible study. He said yes primarily because of the young women. Fair enough, since I figured having them along made it more likely he’d join us. I handed him a spare Bible and we turned to a passage inteh Gospels. The three Christians took turns reading and then asked if he’d like to take a turn. He said ok, but asked why some of the print was in red ink. When we told him that those were Jesus’ words, he said he’d pass and wait for a part that didn’t have quotes from Jesus.

      Like you said, Phillip, the red letter practice tends to make people see quotes from Jesus as somehow being more the word of God than narrative about his actions and descriptions of his character.



      • Interesting example, Tim! And Phillip, I didn’t mention the commercial aspect of the Bible industry, but it definitely seems to be a huge factor. In my personal opinions, I vacillate between not wanting to impugn the motives of publishers, and wondering if Jesus would clear Lifeway like He did the temple, were He to walk on earth today.

        You make a good point about inclusive language translations. I’ll have to ponder it more. There is still something…slippery…there to me, but I do see what you are saying. I also agree with your assessment of chronological Bibles. They ARE good for seeing the big picture; I think that’s why I initially loved mine.

        I enjoyed your soap box.


  10. So long as we’re rolling, I’ll go a step further down the “red letter” criticism road. The same folks who elevate the red letters over the black also tend to elevate the gospels over the epistles, or Acts. Those of us who truly believe that the Holy Spirit is the same author of all of the Bible ought to push back against that: there is no “Jesus vs. Paul” or “Paul vs. James.” There is scripture.

    To a lesser extent, the same can be said of NT being more important than OT. We can certainly argue that as people of the New Covenant, we are not bound by the OT law in the same way that we are by the revelation we have in Christ. But the same Holy Spirit inspired them both.


    • Larry, it amazes me when people try to elevate one portion of Scripture over another. What do they think John 1:1 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 mean anyway?


      P.S. For Kim or anyone else so inclined, Rachel Stone posted a guest piece I did over at Eat with Joy:


    • I agree, Larry, to a point. The danger of the view of “Scripture is Scripture” is that it can lead to a flattening of the text, were every verse has equal weight, regardless of context. I know that’s not what you were saying, and really, even the most conservative churches seem to recognize the difference between the sermon the mount, and Paul’s admonishments that have been deemed “cultural” (head coverings, greeting each other with a holy kiss, etc). I’ll take it one step further, though. If, in my ignorance and limited understanding of Scripture, I can’t see how Jesus’ words jive with Paul’s (or Peter’s or James’), I will generally go with Jesus until I understand it all more fully. In that way, I do put more weight on Jesus’ words and actions than I do the epistles. I don’t doubt that they reconcile; I just might have a problem with understanding how it all works in practice.


      • Posted by Tim on February 25, 2012 at 1:29 pm

        Good points about comparing Jesus’ statements with Paul’s (or others’) letters. One distinction I look for is whether Jesus is speaking to his contemporary Old Covenant context or the coming New Covenant era. In the latter case, I haven’t seen a meaningful conflict.



      • As always, we agree on the main gist of things. And if there is a perceived disconnect, we should always err on the side of Christ. John 5:39 covers this pretty well–the scriptures are to point us to Him. But I would suggest that many of us (and I’m a big part of the “us”) want the character of Christ to trump scripture when that’s “freedom in Christ” or grace & mercy. But we sure don’t want the red letters to “win” if they are the ones about gouging out our eyes or chopping off our hands or being unable to fit through the eye of a needle with our fat wallets. It’s not that we err by assuming every verse has equal weight, it’s that we err by thinking “our” verses have the most weight.


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