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Red letter edition Bibles seem to be popular in the US. The difference to a plain Bible is that words of Jesus are printed in red. The first red-letter Bible was published in 1900, and the practice still seems mostly limited to the most major languages. I've only ever seen red letter editions in English.

I understand the benefits of a new Bible feature for the publisher, but I fail to see the benefits for the reader. It's usually very easy to find what is spoken by Christ and what by someone else, just by reading. The red letters do make it still a bit easier, but I don't understand why we would be optimizing for finding Jesus' words. Not all passages of Jesus' speech are very central to our faith. The important ones still aren't more important than some other passages in the New Testament, I think.

What, then, are the benefits of a red letter edition Bible?

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I have a Swedish red letter edition Bible from the Gideons International (NT and Psalms). – Shathur Jan 31 '12 at 9:49
I find it funny we only highlight the "words of Jesus" in red - when He's called "The Word" in John 1: ie, every word in the Bible is Jesus' – warren Jan 31 '12 at 16:15
I don't think this is an opinion-based question. It's not asking, "What are the pros and cons so I can make a decision?" It's asking, "What are the benefits?" i.e. What are the benefits supposed to be? What is the appeal to the consumer? Jon Ericson's (accepted!) answer addresses it factually. – Mr. Bultitude Jun 11 at 23:22

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The original intention of red-letter Bibles seems to have been to aid in interpretation. According to Crossway, the publisher of the English Standard Version:

In the first red-letter Bible, the words “universally accepted as the utterances of our Lord and Saviour” were printed in red. So were Old Testament passages that Jesus quoted or that were directly related to incidents to which he referred (with the relevant cross reference also printed in red). Old Testament verses containing prophetic references to Christ were identified with red stars.

Lous Klopsch, who invented the concept, described its use thusly:

Here the actual words, quotations, references and allusions of Christ, not separated from their context, nor in a fragmentary or disconnected form, but in their own proper place, as an integral part of the Sacred Record, stand out vividly conspicuous in the distinction of color. The plan also possesses the advantage of showing how frequently and how extensively, on the Authority of Christ himself, the authenticity of the Old Testament is confirmed, thus greatly facilitating comparison and verification, and enabling the student to trace the connection between the Old and the New, link by link, passage by passage.— “Explanatory Note,” in The Holy Bible: Red Letter Edition (New York: Christian Herald, 1901)

This doesn't seem to far from the way some people mark up [PDF] their Bibles for inductive studies. Only it's the publisher and not the reader who has done the analysis.

In my reading and studying of the Bible, there is almost no reason to seek out or use a "red-letter" edition. Every once in a while, I find Jesus' words in an unexpected place:

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”—Acts 20:35 (ESV)

But for the most part, I find the red-lettering disruptive.

My guess is that part of the appeal of such editions is that they show reverence for Our Lord's words. It's a nice idea, but it doesn't seem to me to make any difference. God is more likely to be honored by us reading His Word in toto than by us owning a Bible with some of His words in red. (The Old Testament never gets this treatment anymore.) If the highlighting makes the Bible harder to read, I don't see how we gain anything.

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For the Synoptic Gospels, it is more clear who is speaking immediately. It is just like why we have chapter and verse numbers -- they are easy references which were added later for clarity (I actually own a Bible which pre-dates the inclusion of verse numbers, it is very hard to find quotes in it).

In the Gospel of John, however, the words of Christ and the words of the narrator are so intermingled, that the red letters are somewhere between worthless and deceptive.

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Of course it is also true that the exact extent of the red letters - i.e. whether the speaker is the narrator or Jesus - is to some extent a matter of judgement. – DJClayworth Sep 14 '11 at 17:09

The words of Jesus are highlighted in red so that you can easily see that Jesus is speaking.

Red Letters are used to help the reader discern the actual statements or conversations which can be directly attributed to Jesus. The object is to make it clear when Jesus is being quoted, as opposed to someone speaking to or about Him. It is used as a reading enhancement, and an easy way to point more attention to Jesus. It is not the publisher's intent to somehow indicate that the red letters are more important, it is simply a reading study tool.

Squidoo - Red Letter Bible

According to Crossway, red letter Bibles were "invented" by Lous Klopsch. The origin of red letters comes from Luke 22:20:

And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Klopsch decided that, based on this verse, Jesus' words would be in red.

He also says

In the Red Letter Bible, more clearly than in any other edition of the Holy Scriptures, it becomes plain that from beginning to end, the central figure upon which all lines of law, history, poetry and prophecy converge is Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. He expounded in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself and the Divine plan for man’s redemption, and the Red Letter Bible indicates and emphasizes this Divine exposition and personal revelation at each successive stage, making them so clear that even the simplest may understand. It sheds a new radiance upon the sacred pages, by which the reader is enabled to trace unerringly the scarlet thread of prophecy from Genesis to Malachi. Like the Star which led the Magi to Bethlehem, this light, shining through the entire Word, leads straight to the person of the Divine Messiah, as the fulfillment of the promise of all the ages.

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Actually, using rubrics for important words is a very long tradition. It probably has more to do with colour contrast and the availability of red ink than anything symbolic about blood. – TRiG May 31 '12 at 20:26

None. The red letter Bible are a good tool to highlight the word Jesus is speaking in the gospels. The downside, its that these words become more great then the rest of the Bible.

The benefit, tool to found when Jesus is speaking in the text.

Downside, makes words or section more spiritual or more deep then the rest of the Bible.

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I would venture to say it'd be up to the individual to apply more spiritual "weight" than the rest of the Bible, not an overlying assumption. – motoxer4533 Feb 1 '12 at 14:01

A second reading of the New Testament using only the red letter words in isolation without being encumbered by repetitive words unspoken by our Lord is a wonderful exercise. It allows one to focus intently upon the mind of Christ and reveals His message to us without interruption. It assures us that we have not missed one word of His message, which can be a fatal error.

It allows one to see Jesus in a way not possible with linguistic distractions, and provides a stark juxtaposition of the love and mercy of Jesus with the power and righteous anger of Jesus. This is not seen as readily when filtered through the linguistic mechanisms required by grammar and the many repetitive asides required for the narrative voice.

It is also entirely appropriate and indeed a reminder as to how He was drained of His blood when crucified. It may all depend on the Jesus that one prefers - the sanitized and never visible Jesus of Hollywood or the actual bloody, beaten and crucified Jesus of Mel Gibson (who paid the price for that transgression...).

The red lettered Bible is a great aid in bible study and can only help one understand the Father's plan better. Needless to say, it is only one of many aids to Bible study that are available.

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So you think all the other words, which were also equally inspired by God, are "distractions"? Unless you don't think they were inspired, this does not sound like a good perspective to have. – curiousdannii Jun 12 at 0:47

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