First Version of the So-Called Jefferson Bible

One of the big objections to the idea that Jefferson was a Christian was that he supposedly edited the Bible—and he did it to remove the miracles. It is true that on two occasions, he edited down portions of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels. Here is a description in our book, DOUBTING THOMAS, that explains the first version of the so-called Jefferson Bible.

In the early 1800s, Jefferson had started giving time to comparing moral teachings of philosophers This was not something common to most sitting presidents so itself is remarkable. Because of the Louisiana Purchase, America’s largest single property acquisition, there were now additional thousands of new tribal groups under American oversight. Henry Randall’s biography of Jefferson, one of the earliest, written when his family and friends were still alive, states about his digest that he “conferred with friends on the expediency of having it published in the different Indian dialects as the most appropriate book for the Indians to be instructed to read in.” What was the “it”? A summary of the teachings of Jesus for the Indians.

Around February or March 1804, Jefferson compiled it himself and called it: The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted From the Account of His Life and Doctrines as Given by Matthew, Mark, Luke & John; Being an Abridgement of the New Testament for the Use of the Indians Unembarrassed with Matters of Fact or Faith Beyond the Level of Their Comprehensions. This abridgement, clearly intended for the Indians, was not a biography of Jesus, only His “philosophy” as the title states. As such it left out most material found in the Gospels that did not fit the goal of compiling a “philosophy,” but there is no evidence at this time of a motive to delete all of the miracles or evidences of Jesus’ divinity. (It does contain some references to miracles—please see below.) But this (after a revision in 1820) was the beginning of what many popularly call today the “Jefferson Bible” – a title never used by Jefferson. Sadly, few today ever hear of the original missionary purpose Jefferson gave it.

Later that year while visiting his home, Jefferson wrote on August 8, 1804 to his evangelical friend Benjamin Rush, saying: “…I have also a little volume, a mere and faithful compilation which I shall some of these days ask you to read as containing the exemplification of what I advanced in a former letter as to the excellence of ‘the Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth.’” When Rush heard of it, he said that the death of Jesus on the cross needed to remain in it.  Although Jefferson was not attempting a biography, only a digest of Jesus’ philosophy, still he decided to cease the project altogether. He never sent the extracts to anyone.

Jefferson’s focus in all this was on the TEACHINGS OF JESUS, which he said in a different context is the best moral teaching ever from anyone in the history of the world.

Here are some miracles in the so-called Jefferson Bible: healing on the Sabbath-Luke 14:1-6.
-Jesus commissioned His disciples to heal the sick and raise the dead, Matthew 10.
-He raised Jairus’ daughter- Matthew 9:18-25.
-He healed the bleeding woman -Matthew 9:20-22.
-the healing of two blind men-Matthew 9:27-31.

Contrary to what some atheists say today, Jefferson was not on a crusade to edit the miracles out of the Bible.

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