A look back at the little known “Jefferson Bible” – Thomas Jefferson’s re-write of the King Jamees Bible
As president, Thomas Jefferson took scissors and removed the miracles from the New Testament. He titled his work product: “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” (See photo.)
What was his purpose?
According to one historian, Jefferson’s motive was “to reconcile Christianity with the Enlightenment and at the same time answer all those critics who said that he was an enemy of all religion. Jefferson discovered that Jesus, with his prescription for each of us to love our neighbors as ourselves, actually spoke directly to the modern enlightened age.”
That sounds about right.
Jefferson once told a nephew: “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”
In other writings, mostly private letters, Jefferson criticized John Calvin, the orthodox church father Athanasius of the fourth century, the doctrine of the Trinity and salvation by faith. He referred to Calvin and Athanasius as “false shepherds foretold as to enter not by the door into the sheepfold, but to climb up some other way” alluding to Jesus’s teachings about false prophets in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John.
In a letter written to a friend on January 26, 1824 Jefferson wrote that he hoped that all Christians “would rally to the Sermon in the mount, make that the central point of Union in religion, and the stamp of genuine Christianity.”
But Jefferson was discrete.
According to one historian, Jefferson’s motive was “to reconcile Christianity with the Enlightenment and at the same time answer all those critics who said that he was an enemy of all religion
He asked that his thoughts on religion be kept confidential, responding once to a request to publicize his views by paraphrasing scripture: “You press me to consent to the publication of my sentiments and suppose they might have effect even on Sectarian bigotry. But have they not the Gospel? If they hear not that, and the charities it teacheth, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”
This complex man thought a lot about Christian themes. As ambassador to France in the late 1780s Jefferson had collected about sixty paintings. Many of these had religious themes. Some were: “Prodigal Son”, “St. Peter Weeping”, Magdalen Penitent”, “Herodias Bearing the Head of John the Baptist.”
When Thomas Jefferson died in 1826 he received a Christian burial.
Like Lincoln, Jefferson held religious views far more liberal than those of all recent presidents.