Thomas Jefferson was an interesting man. He fought valiantly to separate the church and state, but attended an Episcopal Church. Near the end of his life, he considered himself a "Unitarian by myself"*. Nowadays, more and more people are coming to terms with the truth that he realized was present in the Bible, namely that Paul was the "first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus"*.
After realizing this, Thomas Jefferson wanted to sort out exactly what Jesus taught to separate it from Paul. He felt that Jesus's teachings were "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man." To this end, he created The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, which we called today The Jefferson Bible. Originally, Thomas Jefferson cut out extracts from six copies of the King James Version of the Bible, as well as some French, Latin, and Greek versions. He then edited and arranged the passages in a chronological order to tell the story of Jesus's life and moral teachings. This extract excludes most of the miracles that Jesus performed, such as walking on water and even Jesus's resurrection.
Thomas Jefferson created The Jefferson Bible for private use and did not intend for other people to read or study it. When he passed away he willed it to his family, who eventually sold it. This is how we have this book today.
What follows is a copy of the English portion of The Jefferson Bible.
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How Thomas Jefferson Selected Which Verses to Keep Back to Top ↑
Thomas Jefferson was very peculiar about which verses to keep and which verses to remove out of his Bible. In his little to William Short on August 4, 1820,* the same year he compiled the Jefferson Bible, Jefferson writes: "We find in the writings of his [Jesus's] biographers matter of two distinct descriptions. First, a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications. Intermixed with these, again, are sublime ideas of the Supreme Being, aphorisms and precepts of the purest morality and benevolence, sanctioned by a life of humility, innocence and simplicity of manners, neglect of riches, absence of worldly ambition and honors, with an eloquence and persuasiveness which have not been surpassed."
Following extensive study, Holowchak in 2019 book Thomas Jefferson's Bible, With Introduction and Critical Commentary states that there were five primary principals that Thomas Jefferson used to select the verses he selected. (See pages 97 through 101, book not available for free online.) These are:
- Sublimity Thesis
- All passages sublimely expressive of a Supreme Being are to be selected.
- All aphorisms and precepts of pure morality and benevolence are to be selected.
- All passages describing Jesus as humble, innocent, simple, and ambition-free are to be selected.
- All passages at variances with the laws of physical nature are not to be selected.
- All passages inconsistent with the historical character, Jesus, based on satisfactory testimony, are not to be selected.
References Back to Top ↑
* Jefferson, Thomas (1820). "From Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 4 August 1820."