The Jefferson Bible: American Religion

I’m sure many have heard about the Jefferson Bible of the early 19th century.  This is the (in)famous edition of the NT that has all the miracles and supernatural events snipped out.  In his own words, Thomas Jefferson said “it is a paradigma of his [Jesus’] doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book and arranging them on the paper of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject” (p. 18).  In Jefferson’s view, Jesus’ teachings have been “disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers” who perverted the “simple doctrines” he taught by platonizing them, “frittering them into subtilties (sic) and obscuring them with jargon” (p. 16).  That sounds familiar – I’m thinking of Dan Brown or Deepak Chopra or higher criticism of 100 years ago or the Jesus Seminar.  There’s a lot to discuss here!

Jefferson believed that religion (including Christianity) was strictly a personal, private, inner matter.  Here’s how he said it.

“Say nothing of my religion.  It is known to my God and myself alone.  Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life; if it has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one” (p. 10).

Jefferson’s “religion” excluded the resurrection of Jesus – the stone was not rolled away.  In fact, he ends his cut-and-paste-NT with this verse:

“There laid they Jesus: and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed” (p. 168).

Jesus died.  The end.  However, because Jefferson believed in the moral teaching of Jesus, he considered himself a good Christian.

“To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself.  I am a Christian only in the sense in which he wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other.”

You get the picture.  The NT has been distorted.  Though Jesus is still dead, he was a good guy worth following; if you do your best to live like him, you’re a Christian.  And keep your religion to yourself, please, I’ll keep mine to myself.

Of course I don’t have time to go into it all here now, but I do recommend this “Bible” simply for the fact that it is a great example of American religion.  It is worthwhile to have a basic understanding of these things so we can better engage religious people around us and tell them the biblical truth that we didn’t make up, the truth that is a public fact of history, the truth that we have no business altering, cutting, or pasting: Jesus, the eternal Son of God and savior of sinners, came to earth, lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death on the cross, and rose again the third day to destroy the forces of sin, darkness, and hell.

This is not my opinion, it’s not a private value, not an inner hunch, not something in my heart, but a true fact to be proclaimed publicly, believed in, and lived according to in every area of life, private and public.

shane lems

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