Apr 20

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The Jefferson Bible! You may have heard of what is called the Jefferson’s Bible but just what is it? Does the Jefferson Bible mean that the third President of the United States of America was a person who embraced Christianity? We know, as it has become a common phrase, “a wall of separation between church and state,” and that this phrase has been etched into our legal system, even though it is not part of the Constitution of America. Therefore, an interest in Jefferson’s spiritual thoughts and what he really thought about the Bible and our nation.
First, just what was the Jefferson Bible? It needs to be noted that Jefferson constructed two religious works: 1) The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, was completed in 1804, but no copies exist today and 2) The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, was completed in 1820. It is most interesting to learn how Jefferson did his work on the second one. He did not write it, but he put it together by cutting and pasting with a razor and glue numerous sections from the New Testament extractions of the doctrine of Jesus. Jefferson’s condensed composition is especially notable, for it excluded all the miracles by Jesus along with most of the supernatural events; however, he also removed sections of the four gospel accounts that covered the resurrection and the passages that portrayed Jesus as divine. With this, Jefferson removed the truth that Jesus was the Son of God and the authority behind his moral life! Jefferson’s exclusions reveal a great deal in understanding his view of the New Testament; it was not inspired!
Second, if not inspired, just what was Jefferson’s view of Jesus? The name of the work will reveal what the book was about as he entitled it: “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” Jefferson was seventy-seven years old at the time. By this it is seen that he believed that Jesus’ life and teaching were very valuable to be emulated by Americans! In this work, he arranged the passages in a chronological order, thus, telling the story of Jesus’ life, parables and his moral teachings! While this is good, it also reveals, that Jefferson saw Jesus as a good man with worth while teachings, but he was only a man! This sounds much like a growing number of professors in our universities and colleges today!
With this one can see that Jefferson saw the value and the need for Americans to embrace what he put in the Jefferson Bible! His goal was to clarify the teachings of Jesus, which he believed provided “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man!”
In 1787, Jefferson wrote: “Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”
Jefferson lived in a world where political rulers routinely established a single faith as the official religion. He promoted religious freedom in order to secure the rights of differing religions and to protect the freedom of an individual to practice the religion of their choosing. It is within this context that we must take Jefferson’s words: ““a wall of separation between church and state!” Yet, he wrote in the front of his personal Bible: “I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.” If only more people today would have this understanding! One more point just here, Jefferson wrote referring to the Bible: ““So strong is my belief, that when duly read and meditated on, it is of all books in the world, that which contributes most to making men good, wise and happy.”
One more interesting fact, the Govern-ment printing office published a facsimile of the Jefferson Bible in 1904 which was distributed to the two chambers of Congress! Following the elections, each newly elected Senator was presented with a copy of the book until the supply ran out in the 1950’s. With these concluding remarks, it is hoped that the reader will have a better view of Jefferson’s words: “a wall of separation between church and state!” He did not want a state religion but was not opposed to religion and the state!

Frank R. Williams

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