Jefferson Explains His So-called “Jefferson Bible” (Version 1, 1804—intended for the Indians)

[File image] There are two main points to our book, DOUBTING THOMAS (co-authored by Charlottesville pastor, Dr. Mark Beliles and me). 1) Jefferson was not a lifelong skeptic. When he was most productive and helpful to the country, he was from all outward appearances a believing Christian. 2) Regardless of theological unorthodoxy on his part, he did not believe in the separation of God and government—which is the way the ACLU and other secularists try to make him out to be. Jefferson would have been appalled at our nation’s crusade against any reference to God in the public square. For example, on a regular basis, when he was president, Jefferson attended the Christian worship services held at the U.S. Capitol building—services he approved of, services that continued long after he was president. Another patron saint of the ACLU, James Madison, also attended those worship services when he served as president.

Nonetheless, after Jefferson left the presidency, he began to seriously dabble with questions of unbelief and unorthodoxy. On October 12, 1813 Jefferson wrote to John Adams and included a copy of the Syllabus of Jesus’ morals, i.e., the document that he had written in 1803 for Benjamin Rush. Here Jefferson also spoke about the 1804 compilation of verses from the Gospels, but he never shared it with anyone. (This compilation is often called—unfairly, as we point out in the book—“the Jefferson Bible.”) Jefferson wrote: “…I now send you, according to your request a copy of the Syllabus…It was the reformation of this ‘wretched depravity’ of morals which Jesus undertook. In extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to them…We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the Amphibologisms [i.e., phrases that can be interpreted in different ways] into which they have been led by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation [in 1804] for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging, the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an 8 vo. [i.e., Octavo format] of 46. pages of pure and unsophisticated doctrines, such as were professed and acted on by the unlettered apostles, the Apostolic fathers, and the Christians of the 1st. century;….”

Jefferson continues: “We must leave therefore to others, younger and more learned than we are, to prepare this euthanasia for Platonic Christianity, and it’s restoration to the primitive simplicity of it’s founder.…” Jefferson also says in this letter for the first time that his abridgement of the words of Jesus was something he personally used, ten years after first doing it “for the use of the Indians” (in his own words in the subtitle). Jefferson uses the term “Platonic” for a form of Christianity that he felt emerged in Europe due to a mixture of Christianity with the thought of the Greek philosopher Plato who lived a few centuries before Christ. This letter is discussed more fully in the chapter on the Bible.

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