The Red Letter Fallacy or Why Jesus' Words Can't Be Privileged Over Paul's

Reading Mike Wittmer on Brian McLaren made me realize something tonight, there is really no reason for anyone to privilege the words of Jesus (often printed in red in Bibles) over those of Paul or anyone else. Here’s the relevant bit from Wittmer:

“Brian [McLaren] has embraced the red letter Bible, where Jesus’ words and actions count more than what Paul or Peter wrote.  He said that one evangelical’s ‘transparent willingness to grant Jesus no more authority than Paul renders me speechless.’  I am not necessarily trying to shush Brian, but I will second what the evangelical said:  Paul’s epistles have the same authority as the words of Jesus, for both are the Word of God.”

My initial thought was that this is something that would matter if one held to inerrancy. If, like me, you don’t hold to inerrancy, then there’s not a guarantee that Paul is truly writing the word of God in every instance. That cuts both ways though, if Paul can err, so can the authors of the four gospels. Moreover, in one case at least (Luke), it’s admitted up front that the account presented is entirely secondhand. Additionally, all of them were likely written after Paul’s earliest epistles. Jesus never wrote anything by his own hand. If there can be errors in Paul, there can be errors in the accounts of Jesus’ words recorded in the gospels. Either both are the word of God without error or they aren’t. There is no reason to privilege one above the other when discerning what the Bible says.

Maybe McLaren has some other reason for putting the words of Jesus above Paul, but if it is this, then he’s not got a really solid footing either way.