Numerous Bibles have a "The Words of Christ in Red Letter" feature. Understandably, there is some debate concerning which verses and words should be in red (but this question is not about that.)

This question is: What is a good resource on systematic theology that only looks at the verses in red -- i.e., instead of being based on the entire Bible, is based only upon the words that Christ says?


While not really a systematic theology book, John Piper's What Jesus Demands from the World is predominantly based on the gospels. There is a free PDF on that page. The book's blurb is:

The four Gospels are filled with demands from Jesus. These demands are Jesus’ way of showing us who he is and what he expects of us. They are not harsh demands originating from a selfish desire to control, but rather loving directions for our good and ultimate satisfaction. In fact, what Jesus demands from the world can be summed up as: “Trust and treasure me above all.” This is good news!

In What Jesus Demands from the World, John Piper looks at the demands of Jesus as found in the four Gospels. He begins with an introduction that puts the demands in a redemptive-historical context, then engages in a concise examination of each. The result is an accessible introduction for thoughtful inquirers and new believers, as well as a refreshing reminder for more mature believers of God’s plan for his Son’s glory and our good.

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    I suspect (as I haver not consumed the material yet) this is what I'm after. John Piper also has a 3-hour talk youtube.com/watch?v=Cw3G4oBNXoI for those interested. – user10620 Nov 18 '14 at 1:44

I'm pretty sure that there is no source that looks at only Jesus words. However there are certainly theological approaches that place a much greater emphasis on Jesus words. For a start you might want to look at Red Letter Christians, a group that attempts to redress what they see as an imbalance in North American Evangelicalism, which they believe has seriously de-emphasised Jesus' words in favour of Paul's writings and selected Old Testament teachings. However the members of that group do pay attention to other parts of the Bible, and do treat them as inspired and authoritative.

  • I have upvoted both answers. I have picked curiousdanni's answer solely because I trust John Piper more than I trust Red Letter Christians (who I have never heard of -- though this is almost implied from my question). I do of course intend to examine the RLC works later on as well. :-) – user10620 Nov 18 '14 at 1:40
  • My following comment is slightly off topic -- how is RLC viewed by mainstream Christianity? I was reading their wikipedia page, and they seem different. – user10620 Nov 20 '14 at 0:24
  • Rather than try to discuss it here, I would suggest asking a question to that effect. I can't see how it would be off topic, as long as it was asking for facts rather than opinion, and I'd vote it up. – DJClayworth Nov 20 '14 at 1:14

I don't think there's a satisfactory answer to the original question, but I thought an answer would be better suited than a comment.

There can't be a total solution to your question, because Jesus was constantly making reference to the OT Scriptures. So, you cannot have an only - word - in - red approach, as it would be self-contradicting. And the life of Jesus was in the context of Jewish culture, the temple, etc. He was Jewish.

But, while the goal would seem to be to locate the authentic from Jesus' teaching directly, there are a few this to consider in this approach. many have claimed to do this, but here's some things to watch for.

  • At a basic reading, Christ's life was about the miraculous. Regardless of doctrinal position, you need to address this somehow. If you accept it for today, it should be reflected in the life. If you reject it as for today, you lose out on a large portion of the Gospel instructions and example. So, how you deal with miracles, demons, and this are hugely important.
  • Second, many attempt to create a "Social Gospel", or other works based mentalities, looking only at outward works. As this contradicts a salvation by grace through faith, it is contrary to orthodox (normal) christianity. If the teaching methodology is more about outward behavior than an inward heart, it is to be discarded (in orthodoxy).
  • Deal with faith. Faith is not a set of beliefs. Jesus defined faith in Mark 11:23-24, and if your definition of faith doesn't match his, you aren't doing your original premise. James says faith without works is dead.
  • What about the hard passages? Many people love Jesus' words about helping the poor. What about hating your own mother? And your own life, too? Many want only to deal with the "gentle" passages.
  • Deal with the extremes. Jesus said if you deny him before men, He will deny you. He said not to fear him who can kill the body only. He said calling your brother a fool can put you in hell. He said simply calling Him LORD is not enough to be saved.

All these points tie together, and work together towards the truth. Like different facets.

But, what have I done? I have now talked on and on about the "Words in Red", using something other than the words themselves. If this were divinely inspired, someone could put them in a book, bind them, and consider it the authority on the Words in Red and how to live them. See where I'm going?

The epistles unpack the teachings of Jesus. They can be considered divinely inspired sermons, and they give practical application to the principles involved in the Gospels. So, in excluding them, what have you done? You take the most inspired and true exposition and teaching trying to explain all those lessons, and you throw them away, and what you end up doing is just listening to some other preacher instead.

So, a possibility would be to embrace the whole NT as inspired, and, if you choose, steer away from interpretations of the epistles that minimize the Gospels. Then, examine how living as it is described in the epistles is walking out the instructions of Christ, or vice versa.

The benefit of such an approach will be you will need to know what both of them say, and mean, and this is at the heart of biblical discipleship. And, that's the real point. History is full of examples of people lifting one or two favorite points out of Jesus' words, but, by their fruits, they missed what He was saying by miles. But, the doctrine of the church at large is that Paul did pretty good (evidenced by the fact that we read his stuff!).

  • You're right, a better question would be "focusing on words in red" rather than "only words in red" . The distinction should NOT be "ignore rest of Bible", but rather "start with what Jesus said as the focus." – user10620 Nov 22 '14 at 10:44
  • Kind of tongue in cheek here.. but, have you tried Paul? He wrote some good books. No, seriously.. there are some that dismiss Jesus, and some who don't. The same concerns above are valid, regardless. How you deal with the miraculous and gifts will determine much. How you deal with the rest will say how close to popular Western theology, in my opinion. There is still variety after that, but once you come down on some of those, you limit the rest of the field. – user16825 Nov 22 '14 at 10:49
  • What do you mean 'tried Paul' ? I have read the Bible cover to cover a few times (but it's a superficial "read X pages per day" reading, not a "let's tear this chapter apart verse by verse" reading). Then I figured, ... if the Old Testament builds up to Christ, I might as well as start by figuring out what Christ himself said. – user10620 Nov 22 '14 at 10:52
  • Then would questions more along the lines of, "What did Jesus mean by ...?" be appropriate? This site, and Biblical Hermeneutics.SE are good for that. What Jesus said is clear. Takes several hours to read through the Gospels. What he meant is questioned. And, how to apply takes a life. It's a worthwhile avenue, but besides commentaries on them, or finding particular teachers whose conduct and manner of life you approve to study, I'd suggest that that's what any type of deeper Bible study should do. But, the epistles are not at odds w it. Groups downplaying Paul usually are not orthodox. – user16825 Nov 22 '14 at 10:58
  • I'm not sure if I ever explained the motivation. It went something like this: "I want to transition from reading books by John MacArthur / John Piper / Paul Washer to a systematic study of the Bible" ... to "Well, I really want an inductive study of the Bible in a systematic way" ... to "Well, I really want to do this inductive study starting and focusing on what Jesus said -- rather than go through all of the OT before hearing Jesus." There is no external 'group'. – user10620 Nov 22 '14 at 12:15

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