“I like Jesus, but not the rest of the New Testament”

Red Letter Bible

Every now and then you hear someone express the sentiment that they believe in the authority of Jesus, but not the rest of the New Testament. They hold up (in theory) the authority of the Gospels, but not the letters and other books written by Jesus’ first followers. “I agree with Jesus,” for example, “but not the teachings of Paul.”

One of the areas where this sentiment often surfaces is in the realm of sexuality. People say, “the apostle Paul might prohibit homosexual activity (Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:8-10), but Jesus never mentions it, so it’s fine.”

This idea comes in both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ forms. In the ‘hard’ form, the writings of Paul and the rest of the New Testament are rejected outright. But it also appears in ‘soft’ forms, where the authority of the New Testament as a whole is recognised, but the Gospels are seen as more important than the rest (think ‘Red Letter Christians‘).

But whatever form it appears in, this idea is highly problematic.

Whoever Rejects You Rejects Me

In Luke 10, Jesus sends his disciples out to teach in his name. And as he sends them out, he tells them this: “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16).

Here Jesus is telling his disciples that if someone rejects them, it is the same as rejecting him. Because the authority of Jesus’ disciples is an extension of his own authority. He sent them to teach in his name, so to reject their authority is to reject Jesus himself.

(And for the record, Luke 10:16 is a “red-letter” verse.)

Jesus is teaching us, therefore, that to reject any part of the New Testament is to reject him. The people who wrote the New Testament were writing in Jesus’ name and with his authority, after being commissioned by him to be his ambassadors to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20; cf. John 20:21).

Jesus appeared to Paul directly (Acts 9). When one of Jesus’ followers asked if he should approach Paul, Jesus answered, “Go! This man [Paul] is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

That is why in 1 Thessalonians 4:8, after giving a command about sexual behaviour, Paul can write with confidence, “Anyone who rejects this command does not reject man but God, the very One who gives you His Holy Spirit.”

All Or Nothing

It might sound pious to elevate the “red letters” above the rest of the New Testament, but in reality, to do so contradicts the teaching of Jesus himself. For anyone who follows Jesus, we don’t get to pick and choose which parts of the New Testament are authoritative and which are not.

Because according to Jesus, it’s all or nothing.

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