Red-Letter Christians

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Red-Letter Christians are loosely-associated progressive Christians who take their name from Red-Letter editions of the Bible, in which passages attributed directly to Jesus are written in red characters.


Red-Letter Christians feel that the current Christian denominations are rooted in politics rather than in the words and actions of Jesus. These Christians believe that what Jesus said is paramount to God's message, while the rest of the Bible is supplementary. They focus on the words and actions of Jesus rather than on the moralizing of much of Paul and the Old Testament, leading them to a religion that focuses on social justice.[1]


This is not to say that Red-Letter Christians are apolitical. In fact, they use their reading of Scripture to inform a generally liberal political agenda that emphasises social justice. The movement believes that Christians should be focused on things like eliminating poverty rather than worrying about abortion or homosexuality — subjects that Jesus never got around to addressing personally. They oppose racial discrimination, discrimination against women, capital punishment, etc. The social issues valued by Red-Letter Christians include:

Red-Letter Bibles[edit]

Red-Letter Bibles are intended to place an emphasis on the assumed "actual" words of Jesus, rather than the potential historical politicization of those words in the narratives, or of the words of Paul or of the Old Testament. They are not, themselves, a separate interpretation of the Bible, nor are they a new translation. Red-letter versions of King James, the Revised Standard Edition, New International Edition, and even the Simplified English Bible are all available.

There are many problems with attempts to highlight Jesus's words, including the fact that the existent ancient texts do not include quotation marks, so knowing when the author is quoting Jesus, rather than adding his or her own opinion, is hardly clear.

Beyond that, the question of what Jesus might have actually said, which has been brought up often by groups like the Jesus Seminar in their search for a "historical Jesus", suggests that the words attributed to Jesus in the Bible were more likely contemporary political and religious discourses put into the mouth of the Jesus character — as Jesus most certainly did not have a secretary taking notes every time he spoke. This means that the entire goal of "moving away from the politicization" of the Bible is not much helped by "red letters".

See also[edit]