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I see this topic pop up in certain Christian circles.

Certain people make the claim that the "Words in Red" in the Gospels (those regarded as the words of Jesus) are not part of the New Testament believer's covenant. Because the new covenant began at the crucifixion with His blood, these people claim that Jesus' words were only for a 'transitionary period', for those Jews coming to faith who were yet under the Old Covenant, and therefore are not 'binding' upon the believer.

The teachings are regarded as good and valid, but only when understood in their proper context. That is, according to this view, just as the Law in the Old Covenant is still read and we prosper by its understanding (2 Timothy 3:16), we do not apply it as binding upon the New Covenant believer. Since the New Covenant began at the cross, they say, none of the 'Words in Red' are binding upon us today.

Among these people are EW Kenyon, Kenneth E Hagin, and others.

So, what are the arguments (Biblical or otherwise) for considering that the Words of Christ in the Gospels should be considered instructions for the New Testament?

  • 1
    "Because the new covenant began at the crucifixion with His blood ..." - One might say that the new covenant began with the Incarnation. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement blurs this point. – guest37 Jun 17 '17 at 0:42
  • In which case, what, all of Jesus' teaching is not binding on the believer? And this is believed by some human Christians? – Sola Gratia Jun 18 '17 at 22:38
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The following is adapted from this book (of which I happen to be the rights-holder). For anyone interested, the full text of the book is available both online in Google Books, as well as for download as PDF from the same site (simply hover over the EBOOK link on the left and click PDF to download).


So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

John 8:31-32, NASB, emphasis added

The "Words in Red" are Jesus' instructions for all believers. While some would claim otherwise, perhaps out of preference for the 'Pauline Revelation', scripture is actually quite clear about this topic.

Faulty Premise

The argument otherwise is first of all built on a faulty premise. It is assumed by some that the Gospels are merely a history book, and not teaching. However, one need only look to the end of the Gospel of Matthew to find otherwise.

Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, 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, NIV, emphasis added.

Jesus' instructions were to make disciples by teaching all of His commands. Further, in the beginning of the book of Acts, immediately after Pentecost in chapter 2, we read,

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 2:42, NIV, emphasis added

Of the four things that was the focus of the first church, the first of them was the apostle's teaching. As this was the first months and years after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, the disciples would have had nothing to teach except what Jesus had taught them. The gist of this, what they deemed most important, is what we have recorded in the four Gospels by way of their recording.

Further evidence that this was the intent of the writing of the Gospels can be found in the beginning of Luke's Gospel.

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:1-4, NASB, emphasis added

What is contained within the Gospels, then, was for the instruction of new disciples. The writing and subsequent learning, teaching, and reading of the Gospels is the fulfillment of the command in Matthew 28:20, to teach what Jesus had commanded them.

Confirmation of Jesus' Words in the Epistles

Paul, of course, was not one of the original apostles. Being a devout Jew, he most likely heard of Christ, but was not a believer. However, after his salvation experience, he clearly learned more of Him. While some claim that the 'Pauline Revelation' supercedes the Gospels Words, Paul wrote differently.

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; ...

1 Timothy 6:3-4, NASB, portion, emphasis added

If this was Paul's views of the teachings of Christ, those who claim a 'Pauline Revelation' should agree with his assessment of Jesus' Words. But, Paul was not alone in this conclusion. John wrote the same in his second Epistle.

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.

2 John 1:9-11 NIV

The witness from the epistles agrees. But, what of Jesus Himself?

The Words of Christ

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Matthew 24:35 NIV

Jesus was the Truth (John 14:6). Jesus pointed to His own words time and again, indicating their importance and immutability. Indeed, at one point, Jesus said it was His Words themselves that would judge those hearing them (John 12:48).

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

Matthew 7:24-27 NIV, emphasis added

What does it mean to be someone's disciple? It means you do what they say. If Jesus' words were not binding on the church today, it would follow that we would not Christ's disciple--we would be the disciples of the one we did obey.

Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.

Mark 13:31 KJV

Here, and above, Jesus Himself said His Words would never pass away.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

John 5:24 KJV

Jesus linked salvation to two things. The first was hearing His Words, and the second was believing on the Father. As hearing His Word is held as part of salvation, it seem highly unlikely that they would no longer be relevant to the world.

Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

John 10:7-10 KJV

Consider what it means to come in through Christ. Yes, it is salvation, through faith alone. Yet, He was what He taught— He was The Word Incarnate! You cannot “enter through Christ” without obeying what He said. All who try to enter another way are thieves and robbers.

If ye love me, keep my commandments.

John 14:15 NIV

Being observed, that it is impossible to keep something you don't have.

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

John 3:36 NASB, emphasis added

Here, belief is contrasted with obedience. Who is this Christ, the one John calls The Word? He is what He taught. If you want a portrait of Christ, study the Sermon on the Mount. If you love Him, you love it, and vice versa.

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.

John 14:21 NIV

What are the “my commands” of this verse? It is what He was going around teaching, of course. This is the one that loves Him, the one who has and keeps these commands. Thinking in retrospect, if we come up with explanations of why the rest of His Words do not apply to us, shouldn't we come up with an explanation of why we think this one still should?

If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

John 15:7 KJV, emphasis added

The key to answered prayer is keeping the Words of Jesus within you. If you keep them, meditate on them, abide in them, you will have your prayers answered, whatever you ask.

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.

John 15:10 NASB, emphasis added

Again, if we keep His commands, we abide continually in His love, even as He abode in His Father's love. This is the great key, that we hear His Words, not words of the old letter of the law, but the Words of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, living by a new law, the law of His Spirit. But, these are His Words, which are Spirit, and which are Life (John 6:63).

Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

John 6:68 KJV, emphasis added

Simon Peter recognized the Words of Jesus. As He said, they are the words of "Eternal Life". Certainly, if another had been intended, we should follow them, but there isn't any.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

Colossians 3:16 KJV

Paul here again exhorts that the Word of Christ dwell in us, meaning His teachings as represented by what is recorded in the four Gospels. It is not the words of another, but particularly those of Christ. Even as Paul quoted a saying of Jesus in Acts 20:35 a statement that is not found in the Gospels, and as the Apostle John wrote that Jesus did and said many other things than those recorded for us (John 20:30). Paul was very clearly aware of what the Lord Jesus had done and said, and, being commissioned of the Lord to instruct us, exhorted us to obey Christ's teachings.

By Paul's own letters we understand that he understood that his exposition was secondary to the Word of Christ, the living Word. Belief in Jesus, in His Kingdom, in His Way. As depicted in who He was, how He lived, and what He spoke.

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;

1 Timothy 6:3 KJV

Quoted above, as well. Paul, even in his letters, exhorts Timothy to the words of Christ, which are the wholesome words. This is the doctrine of the church. Paul merely expounded upon them, even as Jesus said, teachers of the Law instructed in the Kingdom would bring out of their storehouses old treasures as well as new (Matthew 13:52).

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.

1 John 2:3-6 KJV

Over and over, belief, obedience, and love are all connected to God's commands. If anyone says that obedience does not matter, the “apostle of love” differs with him in this verse. And, you cannot obey His Words if you throw them out.

Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.

2 John 1:9 NASB

This was one of Christ's twelve apostles, speaking of the Words of Christ. Are they binding on the church? They are according to the one who leaned upon His breast. Whoever does not abide in them does not have God.

His Words and His Heart are inseparable. Belief and Obedience are two sides of the same cloth. His Words are the Words of the Kingdom, His Words were the Words of Life.

  • One question: You cite the KJV for three of your Scripture quotes, and the NASB for one. The remaining 17 are not specified. I hate to make you go back and add citations to all those; but I am curious about your source. – Matt Gutting Nov 25 '14 at 20:01
  • Probably NIV, simply because that's the default version on my favorite Bible passage lookup site. Probably. I'm sure there's a mixed-bag. I'll go back and add them. – user16825 Nov 25 '14 at 20:04
  • @MattGutting Done. They are all either NASB, KJV, or NIV. The difference only matters on a few verses, such as John 3:36, which hilights the difference being between belief and obedience in the NASB. However, this difference is also borne out in the ASV and Word English Bible (WEB). Perhaps its a source manuscript issue? – user16825 Nov 25 '14 at 20:14
  • @MattGutting (You actually counted them?!) – user16825 Nov 25 '14 at 20:27
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Are Christ's Words in the Gospels part of the Old Covenant or the New?

One key to answering this question is to determine the point at which the new covenant was established. There are some rather diverse opinions about this. It can be helpful to review some of the context to consider this answer.

Israel had received the old covenant.

Exodus 24:3 And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do.

Israel was promised a new covenant.

Jeremiah 31:32-34 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Jesus offered the new covenant.

Luke 22:20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

There are different views as to when the new covenant was established.

  1. At the Last Supper
  2. On the cross
  3. At Pentecost
  4. With the destruction of the temple
  5. Still waiting for the acceptance by a faithful remnant of Israel.

Without a national Christian Israel or an earthly kingdom in Israel, many have been tempted to see present day Christianity as having replaced Israel or assuming precedence over Israel. This tends to see one period of time as unrelated or even superior to the other period of time.

Paul describes Messianic Israel and gentile Christianity as being joined and coming together in unity.

Ephesians 3:6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

Galatians 3:14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The words of Jesus were spoken at the end of one covenant to usher in the new covenant. Jesus spoke not just to help Israel learn how to follow the law. He spoke of kingdom qualities that would be available to those who would have new life in his blood. The words of Jesus are not to be segregated to one covenant but a bridge from the limitations of the old to the freedom of the new.

We get a picture of what the kingdom is to be like.

Mark 16:15-18 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

From other prophecies we know that the kingdom will not have war, people will live much longer, and nature will be less hostile to man.

We know that Israel will eventually be faithful and receive the kingdom and that these promises will be fulfilled.

Romans 11:12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?

Consider how Jesus addresses the subject of two of the commandments in the sermon on the mount, murder and adultery.

Matthew 5:21-22 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

Matthew 5:27-28 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Here Jesus expands the law showing both its limitation as well as expanding its applicability. Those who thought they had kept the law were shown not only that they have not kept the law, but could not. This leads into concepts such as our need for a Savior.

Galatians 3:24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Jesus also tells Nicodemus that to enter the kingdom one has to have "new life". In the Jeremiah prophecy the new covenant is associated with having had the law put into hearts and receiving a knowledge of God. Jesus chides Nicodemus for not knowing this.

John 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

I see Jesus telling people under the old covenant about the wonders of the new covenant and finding few interested.

  • Re: ..expands the law..expanding its applicability. Adding to the law wouldn't show its limitation or people's failure to keep the original. You cant make the law harder to prove it impossible, thats simply changing the law. In fact, Deut 12:32, forbids both additions and subtractions to the law. Doing so would be breaking it. Other than that, I think I'm with you. – user16825 Nov 26 '14 at 21:39
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The Greek word in the New Testament that is frequently translated as "covenant" and sometimes "testament" and "testimony" is διαθήκη (diathēkē), a compound of the prefix dia-, meaning "through" and thēkē, meaning "sheath". Διαθήκη translates the Old Testament Hebrew word berîṯ (Masoretic בְּרִית), as found in the accounts of Noah (e.g. Genesis 6:18), Abraham (e.g. Genesis 17:10), and Moses (e.g. Exodus 34:27).

The Greek and Hebrew meanings of these words correspond to that of the English word - "covenant" - that represents them. A covenant is, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, above all an agreement - something that requires something from both parties. The requirements for the people of Israel under the Old Testament covenants were set out in the Old Testament Torah.

The Gospels form a sort of New Testament Torah, wherein we are told not of how a Prophet delivered God's instructions to His people, but rather how God Himself - in the form of the God-Man Jesus - delivered His own instructions. The requirements of the Christian covenant - delivered by Jesus - do not push aside the Old Testament covenant, but fulfill and exceed it. This is clear from Matthew's account:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill ...
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment (Matt 5:21-22)

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery (Matt 5:27-28)
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.(Matt 5:27-28)

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself ...
But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne (Matt 5:33-34)

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy ...
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matt 5:43-44)

Following the Reformation, strong arguments against the necessity of carrying out the "works" of the Gospel emerged, sometimes conflating Paul's depiction of the works of the Law (Galatians 3:5) with any sort of "work" (Greek ergon; viz. "ergonomic"). Another position taken sometimes for ignoring the Gospel commandments is that the Gospels were written largely for Jews, and that Gentiles have a whole different set of precepts - mostly the Epistles of Paul.

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