I found an interesting book a while back by Phyllis Tickle entitled “The Words of Jesus”. Phyllis Tickle is the founding editor at Publishers Weekly and is author of more than two dozen book about Christianity. In this book she attempts to take the red letters found in the Gospel accounts and separate them from the surrounding text. She does this, among other things, in order to find “parallels in the accounts. The book does a pretty good job of separating Jesus’ words into five categories: Public Teachings, Private Instructions, Healing Dialog, Intimate Conversations, and Post Resurrection Encounters.
Looking at the red letter in each of these categories was helpful in understanding some of the words. My reasons for doing so in the blog are pretty much aligned with her’s. Since she does a much more eloquent job of explaining this I will use her words here:
–The Words of Jesus by Phyllis Tickle pp 53-54–
What I am suggesting here—and with some trepidation—is that the time may have come in popular Christian conversation for us to speak of the differences in authority between the words of Jesus and those of even His most inspired followers. All of Christian Scripture depends from the Gospels, and whatever comes after must be received through them and in terms of them. We Protestants in particular, with our historic preoccupation with Pauline theology, would do well to remind ourselves of that obvious truth several times a day.
It is the correct and proper business of followers to try to discern the meaning of God’s words. Jesus Himself teaches the holiness of that endeavor. It is not, however, correct and proper business for followers to discern the meaning of God’s words only or equally through the discernment of other followers, even inspired ones, who have preceded them in the process. Better always first to honor and do discernment on the words spoken by God, and thereafter to inhabit—even add to-the historic lines of descent that discernment has subsequently taken.
The New Testament, like the Tanakh, is a living thing, not a static one. Its words are the basis for an going but divinely directed revelation. Jesus Himself makes that clear. “I still have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but will speak whatever He hears…. I have told these things to you in metaphors. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly of the Father” or “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Comforter and Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”.
The beating heart of that revelation, as any biblical actualist will tell you, is in the Gospels, not in the epistles or the history or the prophecy. It is the Gospels we must enter first if we are even to try to understand all that has come after them, and continues to come, even to the end of the Age. Amen.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a more diverse understanding of Jesus’ word and the circumstances around when they were spoken.