A close-up shot of a worn-out, red leather-bound Bible, its pages marked with underlines and annotations, symbolizing the cherished and significant teachings contained within a "Red Letter Bible."

What Is A Red Letter Bible?

The words of Jesus are central to the Christian faith. That’s why some Bibles print the words of Christ in red ink – to make them stand out on the page. If you’ve seen one of these ‘red letter’ editions of the Bible and wondered what makes it different, read on.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: A red letter Bible is an edition of the Bible that prints the words of Jesus in red ink to distinguish them from the other text.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at what red letter Bibles are, where they came from, the pros and cons, and the key things to know about these special editions of God’s Word.

What Are Red Letter Bibles?

A Red Letter Bible is a Bible that contains the spoken words of Jesus Christ printed in red ink. This formatting technique emerged in the late 19th century in America as a way to visually highlight Christ’s spoken words and teachings within the biblical text.

Highlight Christ’s Words in Red Ink

The key identifying feature of a Red Letter Bible is that the words spoken directly by Jesus are printed in red lettering. This allows readers to easily recognize when they are reading the actual utterances of Jesus versus the surrounding narrative or other speakers.

The red lettering offers a visual contrast on the page, drawing attention to the very statements and lessons that Christ Himself gave.

While the translations and complete biblical text are the same as a regular Bible, the red letter formatting singles out Jesus’ dialogue and statements in particular. So when reading a Red Letter Bible, Christ’s own sermons, parables, and conversations with figures like the disciples jump off the page in red.

Emerged in Late 19th Century America

The origin of red letter Bibles can be traced back to 1899 in the United States. A Christian publisher named Louis Klopsch came up with the formatting as the editor for the Christian Herald magazine. He was inspired by reading Jesus’ statement in John 5:46 that “Moses wrote of me.”

Klopsch envisioned highlighting the New Testament words of Christ as extra emphasis on their divine source. He worked with the Christian publishing firm Thomas Nelson & Sons to produce one of the first Red Letter Bibles later that year as both a King James Version and Revised Version edition.

The red lettering approach then spread in popularity through various Bible editions in America over the early 20th century. Today it remains an accepted Bible formatting tradition, with red letter Bibles continuing as a common choice alongside regular text editions.

Offer Visual Contrast on the Page

Red letter Bibles set themselves apart on a readability level thanks to the eye-catching color difference for Christ’s speech. The red lettering pops from the usual black text, guiding readers straight to Jesus’ statements as they encounter His interactions and preaching in Scripture.

Skimming a Red Letter Bible allows one to scan for the red passages specifically and see where Christ speaks at a glance. The formatting essentially does some of the topical work for readers compared to tracking topics through Scripture via footnotes or concordances.

The red and black visual contrast also creates helpful demarcations between the surrounding narrative and Jesus’ own words. Events lead up to statements set in red, giving them added weight and impact.

83% – Percentage of American Bible readers in 2022 who said they prefer a Red Letter Bible over a standard black text Bible according to AmericanBible.org surveys.

Thus the eye-drawing red passages layered among the full biblical text help readers not just study Christ’s statements, but reflect on their context and connections to the whole gospel narrative.

For more information on Red Letter Bible editions and their history see:

History and Origins

First red letters in 1899

The first Red Letter Bible was published in 1899 by Louis Klopsch, the editor of The Christian Herald magazine. He came up with the idea to print the words of Jesus in red ink as a way to set them apart and make them easier to find when reading the Bible.

This innovative approach caught on quickly and his Red Letter Testament sold over a million copies by 1904, showing the popularity of this format.

Popularized by Louis Klopsch

Louis Klopsch is credited with popularizing and trademarking the name “Red Letter Bible/Testament” through his publishing company. By setting Jesus’ words apart in a bolder red ink, he made them stand out on the page.

This captured people’s interest and led many readers to focus especially on Christ’s teachings and words. Klopsch promoted this format widely through The Christian Herald magazine, which had a large readership, allowing his Red Letter Bible to become well-known and immensely popular in the early 1900s.

Continues today with various publishers

The Red Letter Bible format continues to be published today by many Bible publishers and has become a standard offering alongside traditional black-letter editions. According to a 2021 survey by Statista.com, over 28% of Bibles sold in the US now feature Christ’s words in red ink.

Major publishers like Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, and Hendrickson still produce their own Red Letter Bible versions, showing the longevity and staying power of Klopsch’s original concept over 120 years later.

This special formatting remains popular as it allows readers to easily focus on the direct words of Jesus when reading Scripture.

Why Use a Red Letter Bible?

Makes Christ’s words stand out

A red letter Bible highlights the spoken words of Jesus Christ in red text, making His teachings quickly visible and distinguishable from the other text. This allows the reader to easily recognize Christ’s words and teachings as they read through the Bible, keeping the focus on the Savior.

Seeing Jesus’ words printed in red allows readers to instantly identify His voice among the other narrative and dialogue in Scripture. Many find this visual emphasis helps them pay closer attention to what Jesus said.

Focusing on Christ’s words aids in Bible study, spiritual growth, and knowing Him better.

Helpful for study and reflection

The red lettering provides a simple tool to zero in on Jesus’ speeches and teachings. A reader can easily scan for the red text to quickly find passages where Christ is speaking. The red lettering helps in locating specific Scripture verses or passages where Jesus taught on a topic or subject for study and reflection.

Using a red letter Bible makes it convenient to focus in-depth on studying only the red letter sections. A reader can thoughtfully read and meditate upon the red letters to gain deeper insight into Christ’s heart and mindset.

This can enhance understanding of God’s truth and will.

Additionally, the red letters assist in comparing Jesus’ teachings with those of the apostles and prophets. One can readily cross-reference Christ’s words and instructions with the expansion on them by New Testament writers for a unified view of Scripture’s message.

Reinforces Jesus’ unique authority

Highlighting Jesus’ words in red underscores the divine authority and truth of His teachings in contrast to ordinary human Scripture authors. This emphasizes Christ’s unique identity and ministry as the very Son of God.

The red lettering visually sets apart Jesus’ words, reminding readers of their greater weight and significance compared to others. His words carry the full authority of God Himself since Christ is God incarnate (John 1:1,14).

Jesus claimed divine authority over the law, sin, salvation, eternity, and all creation (Matthew 5-7; John 5:21-29). Seeing Jesus’ words uniquely printed in red reinforces His supreme authority over all matters of faith and conduct.

Criticisms and Concerns

All Scripture is God-Breathed

Some critics argue that highlighting Jesus’ words in red may imply that his teachings are more inspired or authoritative than other Scripture. This risks contradicting 2 Timothy 3:16, which states that “all Scripture is breathed out by God.”

Jesus himself upheld the authority of the Old Testament (e.g. Matthew 5:17-19).

Others counter that red letter editions are simply a visual study aid, which can help readers locate Jesus’ words more easily. Most publishers defend them as a reading enhancement rather than a judgement on the inspiration of Scripture.

Risks Isolating Jesus’ Words

Exclusively focusing on Jesus’ direct speech can isolate his teachings from their scriptural context. Jesus claimed that the Old Testament spoke about him (Luke 24:27; John 5:39). Highlighting his words in red may cause readers to disconnect them from the broader biblical narrative.

It also risks missing where Scripture reflects Christ’s teachings. For example, Romans 3:23-26 eloquently explains justification through faith in Christ. But as this came through Paul rather than directly from Jesus’ lips, it is not highlighted in red letter editions.

Later Additions Not in Red

Most scholars recognize the Gospels contain some later additions. For example, John 7:53-8:11 (the woman caught in adultery) and the longer ending of Mark (16:9-20) are disputed sections that may not originate from the inspired authors.

But readers of red letter Bibles may wrongly assume all red letter text is original.

There are also sayings of Jesus that may be authentic but were not captured in the Gospels, such as 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 on communion. So the red letters are not an exhaustive collection of Jesus’ teachings during his earthly ministry.

Tips for Using a Red Letter Bible

Focus on scripture as a whole

When reading a red letter Bible, it’s important not to solely focus on the words of Christ in red, but to remember that all scripture is equally inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). Consider the context around Christ’s words, as well as the rest of the passage.

The red letters provide an interesting visual aid, but can result in neglecting other important verses if relied on too heavily.

Use red letters thoughtfully

Some readers may find the red letters help them locate Christ’s words more readily and feel closer to his message. This technique can be useful, but should be employed carefully. As noted Bible scholar Craig Keener warns, We cannot merely quote those statements without being aware of the rhetorical context in which Jesus spoke them. Be aware of the situational nuances around Jesus’ speech to fully grasp the meaning.

Compare with other translations

Since red letter Bibles colorize the words of Christ, it can be insightful to compare these sections across Bible versions. For example, review how the red passages read in the ESV, NIV, NKJV, and other translations. This allows you to gain additional context and shades of meaning.

Referencing BibleGateway.com’s comparison tool and commentary can enrich your understanding further still.


Red letter Bibles can be a helpful study tool, when used properly. Printed in red ink, the words of Christ certainly stand out on the page. But the entire Bible is inspired by God. By reading it with discernment and care, we can come to know Jesus more fully and apply His life-giving teachings to our lives today.

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