There is a method of marking out Jesus’ words in Bible publications. They are printed in red. This method is only sometimes used. On the positive side, it makes his words easier to spot and quite convenient when scanning through a page quickly. However it has its downsides. Some chrsitians have begun to elevate these red letter words above the black letter words. We can then lose context and fail to see the rest of scripture as of equal value.
I attended an exciting evening of friendly christian-muslim discussion and debate in London last night. One of the thoughts that came out from the muslim perspective was a general though not complete acceptance of the red letter words of Jesus in the Gospels. Many though not all. This is not too surpirsing because many of the sayings and teachings of Jesus would be happily endorsed by almost every religious group in the world. His teachings on love, justice, sacrifice and service are unparraleled but yet universal. Hence their attractiveness. So I understand that my muslim friends (like Hindus and Buddhists) would be very accepting of much but not all of the actual spoken words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels.
But I took a few minutes today to just scan through one of the gospels – Matthew – and see a few of the things my muslim friends ceratinly could not accept because of a message from 600 years after Jesus that they have an allegiance to. I think I can hear a couple of muslim friends saying “no problem” to one or two of these. But an honest reading and a sense of their meaning in the original context should deflate any such aspirations. But I do accept them because long before an ostensibly good man in a cave brought to those outside the cave, a message so contrary to Christianity, the black letters and the red letters of the Gospels were part of the literature of the world – that’s the parts that the good man in the cave would like and those he wouldn’t. I must accept them all.
10 problematic statements of Jesus (red letter) for our muslim friends:
- “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Matthew 11:27
- Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:5-8
- He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here. Matthew 12:39-42
- “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. Matthew 13:40-43
- Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:10
- The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life. Matthew 17:22-23
- We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life! Matthew 20:18-19
- This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:28
- But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee. Matthew 26:32
- All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20