The Jefferson Bible – Who Has Time to Read the Whole Bible Anyway?

Photo: Robert Paul Jr.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, you have to admit the Bible is huge, hard to read, and contains some ridiculous stories with outdated ideologies — talking donkeys, people turning into pillars of salt, sexism, and stoning other religions … whether you believe those stories wholeheartedly or dismiss them as parables from which we are to learn is up to you. Unfortunately all the aforementioned shortcomings have resulted in most people, even those you would describe as religious, never picking up the Bible to read it all the way through. This is unfortunate not in a religious sense, but because it is the only account of the life of Jesus, one of the best role models of all time. How are supposed to learn about this man? Which parts of the Bible are actually important and not outdated or unbelievable? How are we to know which passages to skip over? Luckily Thomas Jefferson took care of this for us.

The third president of the United States?
The same. Jefferson created what we now call “The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” by thoroughly reading the Bible and cutting out the passages he deemed important to paste in his shortened version of the bible. What were his criteria? Mainly it was based upon the passage’s demonstration of Jesus’s teachings and authenticity.

He didn’t believe the Bible was authentic?
Nope. Jefferson was a deist who believed the four evangelists were grossly unqualified to write the account of the life of Jesus. He thought the authors made up or greatly exaggerated numerous elements including the virgin birth, walking on water, rising from the dead, and being the son of God. Despite the perceived fallacies Thomas Jefferson realized the importance of learning from the core teachings of this great man.

What is deism?
Deism is based upon the belief that you only need rational thought, not faith, to understand God. They believe that God put the universe into motion and then left it alone – which means God did not send he own son to earth to meddle. Deists highly regard morality, in fact placing it above everything else. It is for this reason that the life of Jesus was so intriguing to Thomas Jefferson.

What did he come up with?
Jefferson’s new Bible contains about 1000 verses which is only one-eighth of the New Testament. It was not something Jefferson ever shared with the general public because he knew his reputation would take a hit in such a religious time. Long after his death congress published the Jefferson Bible and it is now in the public domain, providing anyone and everyone the opportunity to read it for free online (see links below).

So why did he do it?
For himself. Jefferson wanted to assemble the best code of morals from which he could learn. He only shared it with close friends because he knew it was a radical idea that would not go over well with his intensely religious countrymen.  Thomas Jefferson simply admired Jesus as a great philosopher and the best example of morality. Even though he disagreed with Christianity on so many fronts, Jefferson realized the core teachings are extremely valuable – the core values should not be thrown out because part of the religious beliefs are irrational.

Where can you learn more?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *