Christian Memes

Christians have memes. At least American evangelical and fundamentalist Christians do, and I imagine we’re not alone. A meme is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” (Don’t hold it against the poor little word, but it was coined by Richard Dawkins.)

So we get this idea that the high priest had a rope tied to his ankle so that if he died in the Holy of Holies people could pull him out. Not true. A mere meme. Spread, who knows how, throughout the believing community.

If you’ve read this blog for long, you’ll know that I think “love is an action, not a feeling” is another unjustified meme.

Not that all memes are wrong. I suppose “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” would be an example of a meme that carries significant truth (John 3:16) without exactly coming from Scripture. Like any slogan, its virtue is brevity, and it can therefore be misleading (see Psalm 5:5, where God says He hates the wicked). But its brevity is still virtuous.

One of the more recent memes goes like this: “I don’t want a red-letter Bible, because I don’t accept the implication that Jesus’ words are somehow more divine than the rest of the words in Scripture.”

Granted. Some people have really thought things like this—“Red-Letter Christians,” they’re called. So this meme carries a significant truth: Jesus’ words are from God, and so are Paul’s and Moses’ and even Samson’s.

But I still like my red letters. They’re visually convenient without adding typographical clutter. They help my reading and preaching, because they enable me to look across a two-page spread in Matthew and tell immediately where Jesus is speaking. They orient me on the page, helping me follow the discourse.

They are one reason why the Sermon on the Mount has made such an impact on me. As a kid I noticed that Matthew 5–7 was the longest stretch of red in the New Testament. I thought that was neat, so I read that stretch.

Let’s not let this meme go too far.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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