[sword-devel] Red Letter text

Paul Gear sword-devel@crosswire.org
Sat, 22 Jan 2000 00:37:29 +0000

Joel Mawhorter wrote:

> Hi David and Chris,
> The problem with red letter text is that there are passages where it is not
> clear where Christ's words end and the words of the author of the gospels
> begin. Another problem is that the color makes it appear as though Christ's
> words are somehow more important than the rest of scripture; remember, ALL
> scripture is God breated, etc. I can't think of any good reason to color code
> the Bible. Does anyone on this list find red lettering useful? I wonder if the
> only reason that it is still done at all is tradition. I think before anyone
> was to sit down and convert some of the modules to red lettering, the following
> questions should be answered: 1. Is it a valid thing to do? (I.e. is it right
> to imply more information in the text than was in the original?) 2. Is it
> necessary?
> What do the rest of you think?
> Just my two cents worth.

I'm with you, Joel.  I think red lettering is not useful (and probably bad) for
the following reasons:

- One of the main uses i have found for red letter is to assist in the location of
particular phrases or passages (e.g. "I can't remember where i read that, but i
think it was something Jesus said in Luke's gospel..."), and this is rendered
unnecessary by searching in electronic texts of the Bible.

- As you said, it is not clear in some cases where the quote ends and where the
narrative begins again.  A good example of this is in the chapter in my email
signature, John 3.  In two cases, vv. 16-20 and vv. 31-36, the NIV and most other
modern translations give them as quotes from Jesus and John the Baptist, whereas i
think it is much more likely that they are from John the Evangelist.

- The concept of quotations is really not a useful one at all when it comes to the
Bible.  In the biblical manuscripts, quotes are not indicated in any way (at least
in the papyri and early uncials - i'm not sure w.r.t. the later miniscules and
lectionaries - can anyone comment?), so any marking of them in our translations is
at least somewhat uncertain (although in most cases it's fairly clear).

- Most importantly, if people reading the Bible for the first time see the words
of Jesus highlighted, they may be inclined to think that Jesus' words were more
important than his actions.  This could lead to the dire error of believing that
he was just another wise man or sage, rather than the Son of God, the Saviour of
the world, the one who inaugurated God's kingdom on earth and broke the dominion
of Satan.  This is reason enough not to use red letter, IMO.

However, all that said, some people like red letter.  As long as it is an option
(i.e. can be turned off, or better, is off by default and requires user action to
turn it on), i am happy to see it supported.

"He must become greater; i must become less." - John 3:30