“Red Letter” Christians—June 2014 Mentoring Letter

Author Greg Koukl Published on 06/02/2014

Arguing from Jesus’ silence on issues is not only a logical misstep, but theologically incorrect.

Dear Friend,

Twice recently I’ve noticed people making a theological point based on what Jesus, allegedly, did not say. In both instances I have the same questions: So what? Why should it matter what Jesus did not say?

I have three points in mind with these questions. They have to do with a tactical maneuver, a misstep in thinking, and a misunderstanding about the Bible that so-called “red letter” Christians seem to fall into.

First, notice the tactic being employed here: appeal to authority. The person making the comment is trying to bolster her point of view by enlisting Jesus as her ally, as a person whose views must be reckoned with.

Now, on this point I completely agree. What’s odd, though, is that this appeal is often made by people who seem completely unconcerned with Jesus’ opinion until it appears He sides with them. This looks suspiciously like special pleading. If, for example, Jesus had condemned the behavior in question, would that make a difference to the challenger? If not, then why bring Jesus into the discussion at all?

So, first I want to point out that if Jesus’ opinion on any one issue matters, maybe we should take His counsel on other things for the same reason. If Jesus was a sage to be reckoned with, did He say anything else that bears on the controversy in question?

For example, even if we have no record of Jesus’ thoughts on, say homosexuality, did He weigh in on the closely related issue of marriage? He did, it turns out: From the beginning, God designed, endorsed, and intended marriage and sex (“one flesh”) solely for long term, monogamous, heterosexual unions (Matt. 19:4–5). Shouldn’t this teaching of Jesus’ have a legitimate bearing on the debate, if His opinion really matters?

Now to the logical misstep. Nothing meaningful can be concluded from Jesus’ reticence on any issue because it’s a mistake to assume Christ must favor whatever He doesn’t explicitly condemn. If Jesus’ alleged silence means He was pro gay, then He must have been pro gay bashing, pro child molesting, and pro slavery, too, since He never directly condemned those behaviors, either.

By the way, I refer to Jesus’ “alleged” silence because not everything He said and did is on record. In fact, the vast majority is not (note Jn. 21:25). The Gospels are biographical sketches, not exhaustive records of Jesus’ sentiments. The vast majority of His ethical opinions were irrelevant to the main message: the person and work of Christ.

But there’s a deeper theological concern here regarding Scripture, especially when the “Jesus never said anything about that” comment comes from a Christian. The mistake is thinking that the verses in red letters (the actual words of Jesus) have more authority than the rest of the Bible.

In his new book, A Call to Action, Jimmy Carter argues against the male dominance promoted in Christian circles in part by noting that the Gospels “never report any instance of Jesus’ condoning sexual discrimination or the implied subservience or inferiority of women.”

Though I’m certain the former President has valuable things to say about the plight of women in the world, this way of arguing is counterproductive since it ultimately undermines the authority of all Scripture, including the texts in red letters.

Our doctrine of Scripture entails that all the holy writings are “God breathed” (called verbal plenary inspiration). Therefore, Jesus’ words have no more authority than Jude’s, and Paul’s words have no less authority than Christ’s. In fact, since Jesus is God—the same God who inspired all of Scripture—in a very real sense, Titus’s words and Paul’s words are Jesus’ words.

Since the same doctrine supporting Jesus’ words endorses every other biblical writer, singling out Jesus as a special authority undermines the doctrine of inspiration for all of Scripture. Consequently, Jesus’ own words fall under the cloud, especially since He wrote nothing Himself, but entrusted that task to His followers.

No, nothing helpful follows from Jesus’ apparent silence on any issue. Don’t make this mistake yourself. And don’t let others slip it by you, either. Simply say, “Jesus never said anything about that? So what? Let’s look at what the Bible does say.”

Thanks for standing with Stand to Reason.

Thoughtfully yours,

Gregory Koukl