Setting the Record Straight

The goal of our book is to set the record straight on Thomas Jefferson and religion. It is a very nuanced picture. He was not the ACLU’s Jefferson, but nor was he Jefferson the traditional Christian either.

Jefferson was a student of the Bible, even though later in life he had come to believe the mistaken notion that the Scriptures had been corrupted. So, as originally given by God, the Bible was fine. The problem with this view is how early he thought the corruption process had begun—so much so that we can’t completely agree with the Bible we have today.

D. A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School notes that virtually all scholars today, even liberal ones, believe that about 97% of the Greek New Testament text is morally certain. That is an extremely high percentage for the first century. Nothing from the ancient world comes even close, except the Old Testament.

As to Jefferson, he read the Bible a lot. For example, we note in the book: Jefferson quoted the Old Testament. We see, for example, Jefferson:

1804 to Sister Therese Farjon—quotes Proverbs 22:6

1811 to Thomas Law—quotes Joshua 10

1813 to John Adams—quotes Psalm 148

1813 to William Cocke—-quotes Psalm 90:10

1813 to John Waldo——quotes Psalm 121:6

1814 to Walter Jones—–quotes 2 Samuel 3:38

1816 to Mary Briggs—quotes Psalm 37:25

1816 to Amos Cook—quotes Ecclesiastes 2:3-13

1824 to Isaac Engelbrecht—quotes Psalm 15

Fleshing out two of those examples: Jefferson said to John Adams in 1813, “Turn to the 148th Psalm. Have such conceptions ever before been expressed?”[1] And to Isaac Engelbrecht in 1824, “[There is] nothing more moral, more sublime, more worthy of preservation than David’s description of a good man in 15th Psalm.”[2]

Clearly Jefferson uses Old Testament scripture with enthusiasm even after making his digest of the words of Jesus. And he quoted the New Testament and especially Paul:

1804 to Pagequotes 1 Thessalonians 4:13

1809 to Milledgequotes 1 Thessalonians 5:21

1814 to Colesquotes Galatians 6:9

1814 to Coles—–quotes 2 Thessalonians 3:13

1823 to Adamsquotes John 4:24 (which was not in his extracts of the gospels)

1823 to Adamsaffirms the “3 first verses of the 1st chapter of John”

This does not mean that he believed the entire Bible, but it does he was literate in it. As noted previously, Jefferson schooled himself in the teachings of Jesus. He thought they were so important that he painstakingly highlighted many of the Lord’s teachings and placed them in columns—in English, in Greek (the original), in Latin, and in French. This was in 1819/1820. This was never published. He did that earlier in 1804, in English only, with the title page saying this was for the use of the Indians, to introduce them with the teachings of Jesus and not get bogged down in theological disputes that have plagued Christians for centuries. This is what people mean when they talk about “The Jefferson Bible.” They are essentially excerpts from Jefferson of the teachings of Jesus.

[1] Letter to John Adams, October 12, 1813,

[2] Letter to Isaac Englebrecht, February 25, 1824, H. A. Washington.

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