Despite Some Doubts, Jefferson Was Generous to Christian Causes

Thomas Jefferson was not a lifelong skeptic…although later in life, he privately expressed some doubts about core Christian doctrines. Our book, DOUBING THOMAS, shows that he went through several phases of belief or the lack thereof through his long life. The book also shows that he did not believe in the “naked public squre”—he was fine with Christian expression in the public arena. So, for example, when he was president, he did not have a problem with Christian worship services taking place at the U.S. Capitol building. In fact, he attended these services! Furthermore, he was very generous to Christian causes, throughout his life.

Jefferson on January 31, 1814, wrote in his account book: “Inclosed to Samuel Greenhow an order…for 50 Dollars for the Bible society of Virginia [$1200 equivalent today].” Indeed, as correspondence with Greenhow shows, Jefferson’s $50 made him a “member for life” of the Virginia Bible Society. This society was started in 1813 mainly through the leadership of Presbyterian Rev. John Holt Rice to distribute Bibles “…to the poor of our country, and to the Heathen [i.e., the Indians].” Jefferson wrote to Greenhow: “…Your letter on the subject of the [Virginia] Bible Society arrived here while I was on a journey to Bedford,… I therefore enclose you cheerfully…fifty dollars, for the purposes of the [Virginia Bible] society, sincerely agreeing with you that there never was a more pure and sublime system of morality delivered to man than is to be found in the four evangelists…” The four evangelists, of course, refers to the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Greenhow in turn wrote to Jefferson again saying that he was: “…gratified, that my Application has been successful as to it’s Object, because that Success assures me that you approve our Association…”

Despite some private reservations about the reliability of the Scripture texts…it is important to remember that at that very moment, Jefferson, nonetheless, believed in the benefit of knowing the whole Bible and supported its distribution. That in fact was all that the public knew of him at this point, and the other speculations and opinions to John Adams and other friends was in confidence that it would stay private.

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