Eric Metaxas and David Barton: Show Me the Miracles

Barton Metaxas picOn Tuesday, I posted an audio clip of David Barton on Eric Metaxas’ radio show talking about the two times when Thomas Jefferson cut up the Gospels to create an extraction of the morals of Jesus. During Jefferson’s first term, he revealed his beliefs about Christianity to some of his closer friends and in the process decided to cut out of the Gospels portions which Jefferson believed were actually from Jesus, leaving the rest behind.
On the program, Barton told Metaxas a made up story about what Jefferson did and mixed in a little truth with some error to create a flawed picture. Metaxas took it in without question. In my Tuesday post, I debunked Barton’s story about how Jefferson got the idea to cut up the Gospels and today I want to set the stage for what is a more difficult aspect of this story: identifying the verses Jefferson included in his first effort to extract the true teachings of Jesus from the Gospels.
The reason it is more difficult to know what Jefferson included in his 1804 effort is because the original manuscript has been lost. There isn’t a copy we can look at. The version completed sometime after 1820 is the one commonly known as the Jefferson Bible. That version can be purchased from the Smithsonian and viewed online.
Do We Know What Jefferson Cut Out of the Gospels?
Reproductions of the 1804 version exist but for reasons I will address in this series, there are some disputed verses which Jefferson may or may not have included. There really is no way to be sure.
Jefferson mentioned both versions in a letter to Adrian Van Der Kemp in 1816, Jefferson wrote about both extractions:

I made, for my own satisfaction, an Extract from the Evangelists of the texts of his morals, selecting those only whose style and spirit proved them genuine, and his own: and they are as distinguishable from the matter in which they are imbedded as diamonds in dunghills. a more precious morsel of ethics was never seen. it was too hastily done however, being the work of one or two evenings only, while I lived at Washington, overwhelmed with other business: and it is my intention to go over it again at more leisure. this shall be the work of the ensuing winter. I gave it the title of ‘the Philosophy of Jesus extracted from the text of the Evangelists.’

The “work of one or two evenings only, while I lived in Washington, overwhelmed with other business” is a reference to his 1804 effort which was done for his “own satisfaction.” When he referred to “his intention to go over it again at more leisure” in an “ensuing winter,” he referred to the version he later completed sometime after 1820. It should be obvious from this letter that Jefferson viewed the second project as a completion of the 1804 work which was “too hastily done” while attending to his presidential duties. Jefferson does not refer to them as two separate projects with separate purposes. Rather, the 1804 version was more like a trial run and the latter was the product of more time and concentration.
How Do We Know What Verses Jefferson Included?
There are two primary sources for our knowledge of what verses Jefferson included. First, ever meticulous and organized, Jefferson prepared a listing of texts he planned to include. Michael Coulter and I included images of the originals (housed at the University of VA) in our book Getting Jefferson RightThe second source is the cut-up Bibles Jefferson used to cut out the verses he pasted together to form the 1804 version. In contrast to Barton’s claim, Jefferson didn’t cut out only Jesus’ words and he certainly didn’t cut them all out and paste them end to end.
Although these sources are critically important, they are not sufficient to be sure about what Jefferson included. A major barrier to certainty is that Jefferson cut out some verses which were not listed in his table of texts. This can be discerned by reviewing the parts of the Gospels which were cut out. What can never be known for sure is why Jefferson cut out more verses than he intended. We cannot assume that he intended to cut out any verse other than what he listed in his table of verses. However, we cannot assume he didn’t decide as he was doing it that he wanted to include something on the fly.
There are good arguments to be made for both possibilities. Jefferson said he did the 1804 version “too hastily.” Thus, he may have made some errors in cutting and cut too many verses or simply cut some in error from the wrong page. Anyone who has literally cut and pasted any kind of craft project can probably relate to that possibility.
On the other hand, it is certainly plausible to think that Jefferson changed his mind as he read through the Gospels again. He may have decided he wanted a particular verse that he didn’t include in the table. Nothing would have stopped him from clipping it.
Another possibility exists for the 1804 version which we know is true for the 1820 version. At times, Jefferson surgically extracted miraculous content from within a verse. In other words, he cut out a verse from the Gospels but when he included it in his manuscript, he only included a part of the verse.  For instance, Jefferson included Matthew 12:15 in his 1820 version, but he left out the end of the verse where the healing took place.*
jefferson bible mt 12
Mt. 12:15 in entirety reads:

But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all.

Jefferson intentionally left out the healing (“and he healed them all”) even though he included the verse. Clearly, it is not enough for us today to know what Jefferson cut out of those Gospels in 1804. For a perfect reconstruction, we would have to know what parts of the verses he included. A few disputed verses do have some miraculous content but that is no guarantee that Jefferson included that content in his compilation. We know he used partial verses in his second attempt; it is very plausible that he did the same thing the first time around.
Barton’s story to Metaxas completely glosses over these facts. If we really want to get inside Jefferson’s thinking about Jesus in the Gospels in 1804, we should first look at the table of texts he constructed (click here to examine those tables). Then we can look at the verses which Jefferson cut out but didn’t list. However, we must approach those disputed verses carefully. We don’t know why he cut them out and we don’t know what parts, if any, he actually included.
Barton Also Uses a Flawed Secondary Source
In The Jefferson Lies, Barton links to two secondary sources for his information about what is in the 1804 version. In at least one case, the source has a major error which we point out in Getting Jefferson Right. In the next post, I will address that secondary source error.
 
I challenge Eric Metaxas to bring on an actual historian and/or me to discuss the issues raised recently about his book, If You Can Keep It or this series.
*Jefferson Bible, ch 1:59-60.

David Barton Told Eric Metaxas an Untrue Story about the Jefferson Bible

Barton Metaxas picLast week, Eric Metaxas had David Barton on his radio show and told the audience that he loved Barton and his work. He also said he used some of Barton’s work to help write his new book If You Can Keep It. That book has been the subject of many critical reviews.

They also briefly discussed Barton’s pulled-from-publication book, The Jefferson Lies. In particular, Barton claimed to enlighten the audience about what is commonly known as the Jefferson Bible. Metaxas started to ask Barton a question about Jefferson’s editing of the Gospels, and Barton jumped in to explain.

I have addressed this story before but want to write a series of posts to show that Barton’s story is mostly fiction. Today, I start with the audio, the transcript and address a few of the key claims. First, the audio segment:

Transcript (the words in bold print are either untrue or highly questionable):

Metaxas: Jefferson is perceived as being rather secular, that he excised the Bible, rather the New Testament to remove the miracles and the…

Barton: Can I jump in on that one for a second because that is the one that Christians will repeat the most often?

Metaxas: Right, of course.

Barton: And I say Jefferson cut out all the supernatural, the stuff he didn’t like? And they say, Yeah. What are you talking about? They say, the Jefferson Bible. I say, really? Yeah, the Jefferson Bible. I say, which one? First off, they didn’t know there were two. And I say, yeah there’s the 1804 and an 1820 so which one so which one are you talking about? And so then I say, have you read either one of them? Well, no. How do you know he cuts it out? Well, that’s what they always say. Well, let me tell you about the 1804 and then go to 1820.

In 1804, Jefferson was given a sermon by a friend named, excuse me 1803, he got a sermon by a friend named Edward Dowse and the sermon was by William Bennet an evangelical in Scotland that says if you want to reach the American Indians do not give them the Bible because they might read Leviticus, they might read the genealogies, he said give them excerpts out of the Bible.

So Jefferson read that sermon, he then goes to the White House and takes two White House Bibles and he cuts out the teachings of Jesus, what we would call the red letters of Jesus. He pasted them end-to-end. He gave that to a missionary friend and said look, this is a lot cheaper than printing the Bible and its got the teachings. In that, he has the dead being raised, Jesus is raising the dead, Jesus healing the sick, Jesus cleansing lepers, Jesus is the son of God, resurrection, heaven, hell, angels. But wait! I thought he cut out all that sp__, no, it’s there.

The second one he did was in 1820. And he said, and by the way, every University in America back then required you to take a course in moral philosophy, every theological school, same thing. And so he [Jefferson] lists nearly 20 writers where he read their moral writings and he concluded that Jesus was better than all of them.

So he went through in 1820 and found 81 moral teachings of Jesus, he compiled them end to end. He called the book the life and morals of Jesus of Nazareth, and it was the stuff like the great commandment, love God with all your heart soul and mind. It was turning the other cheek, it was forgiveness, it was the good Samaritan, it was the Golden Rule, and that’s what he did in four languages. Nobody knew that existed until 1886, and Cyrus Adler the Secretary of the Smithsonian found it from Jefferson’s grandson, they bought it , they got it to Congress and in 1902, US representative John Lacey said you know this is so great, if we could just live by the teachings of Jesus. So Congress printed 9,000 copies and for 50 years if you were a Freshman in the House or Senate, they gave you the life and morals of Jesus, read this and you’ll stay out of trouble.

Metaxas: Unbelievable.

Barton: Now wait a minute what happened to this stuff about hating. Let me point out that Jefferson was a lifetime member of the Virginia Bible Society, the third largest contribution he gave in his life was to the Virginia Bible Society, when his kids and grandkids learned to read, he gave them a Bible to read, he’s a funder of the John Thompson Bible, the largest Bible ever done in America, he’s a funder of the Thomas Scott Bible, he tried to fund the Charles Thomson Bible. If Jefferson hates the Bible, why does he keep doing this stuff? See that’s one of the seven lies we’ve been told about Jefferson. And everybody repeats what they’ve heard. Read it for yourself. It doesn’t cut out the miraculous, or the supernatural. Read it for yourself.

William Bennet’s Sermon
The first false claim is that William Bennet’s sermon gave instructions about how to reach the Indians with the Gospel. I don’t know why Barton keeps making this claim. He made it in the first edition of The Jefferson Lies and often repeats in his media appearances (e.g., Jesse Peterson show) but he walked it back in the recently published second edition. Furthermore, Mark Beliles, an writer used by both Barton and Metaxas as an authority, told me that Barton is wrong about the content of that sermon. In an email, Beliles said:

Yes, Barton overstated the case about that sermon itself. But the sermon clearly promoted the importance of getting Jesus’ morals found in the gospel into the hands of missionaries of the society, and they of course were going to Indians as well as other groups.

Barton did more than overstate the case. Bennet in his sermon didn’t mention mission work to Indians and certainly didn’t tell readers to withhold a Bible from Indians because they might read Leviticus or the genealogies. He didn’t encourage readers to cut up the Gospels and give the Indians a resurrection-free version of the Gospels. Barton just made that up. Don’t believe me? Click the link and read the sermon for yourself.

Why Did Jefferson Cut Up the Gospels?
Barton makes it sound like Jefferson read this sermon and then immediately went to the White House Bibles with knife in hand. One must pause to understand the timing. Edward Dowse sent Bennet’s sermon to Jefferson in April 1803 (read the entire correspondence here). Jefferson didn’t make his first extraction from the Gospels until March 1804.

In this case, we have Jefferson’s own words about why he cut up the Gospels. To Adrian Van Der Kemp in 1816, Jefferson wrote about his extraction:

I made, for my own satisfaction, an Extract from the Evangelists of the texts of his morals, selecting those only whose style and spirit proved them genuine, and his own: and they are as distinguishable from the matter in which they are imbedded as diamonds in dunghills. a more precious morsel of ethics was never seen. it was too hastily done however, being the work of one or two evenings only, while I lived at Washington, overwhelmed with other business: and it is my intention to go over it again at more leisure. this shall be the work of the ensuing winter. I gave it the title of ‘the Philosophy of Jesus extracted from the text of the Evangelists.’

Jefferson referred to this extraction to John Adams, Benjamin Rush and others. In no place, did he refer to the sermon from Bennet or the letter from Dowse as having anything to do with his desire to cut up the Gospels. Jefferson said he selected only those texts “whose style and spirit proved them genuine, and his [Jesus’] own.” Jefferson said the real words and deeds of Jesus were “as distinguishable from the matter in which they are imbedded as diamond in dunghills.”

Regarding the 1804 effort, Jefferson refers to it as a text “of his [Jesus] morals.” In both efforts, Jefferson was going for a compendium of the moral teachings of Jesus which Jefferson believed to be the actual teachings (diamonds) and not material added by the disciples and Gospel writers (dunghill). Let that sink in a minute. Jefferson presumed to know what parts of the Gospels were really true and which were added and not genuine.
Barton is correct that there were two efforts but because of his story about Bennet’s sermon, he artificially makes Jefferson have two purposes. This is misleading.

Relevant to that point, I challenge Barton or Metaxas to identify the missionary who received Jefferson’s 1804 version. No primary source evidence exists that Jefferson ever gave the extraction to anybody.

What Is In The Jefferson Bible?
In fact, when Barton tells Metaxas’ audience to go read the 1804 version, he knows they can’t. There is no actual copy in existence. We have the tables of texts Jefferson wrote to help guide him in his work and we have the cut up Bibles as well. However, we don’t know for sure what ended up in the version since we don’t have it. We do have the 1820 (in the neighborhood of 1820, it is not known exactly when he finished it) which you can read here.
In the next post on Barton’s story on the Metaxas show, I will take up the question about miracles in the 1804 version. We can’t be as sure what was in that one as in the 1820 version but we aren’t completely in the dark as I will discuss in that post. In the mean time, one can see the following posts on that topic, or get my book with Michael Coulter, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President.

Is the Jefferson Bible All the Words of Jesus? Part One

Is the Jefferson Bible All the Words of Jesus? Part Two

Are the Miracles of Matthew 9 in the Jefferson Bible?

David Barton Still Pitching His Discredited Jefferson Lies

Recently, David Barton spoke at Knightdale, NC at the Faith Baptist Church. He spoke on Saturday and then again on Sunday morning. In previous posts, I described his false teaching on HIV and his faulty claim that 50% of students at Christian colleges abandon their faith.
In the third session of his Saturday workshop, Barton makes many of the same claims he made in his book The Jefferson Lies. Because of those errors, Barton’s book was pulled from publication by Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. Michael Coulter and I debunked those claims in Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President. In the following video, watch from 17:50 through 29:30 to hear the bogus claims about Jefferson.
[youtube]https://youtu.be/O1Qgg-v3AZQ[/youtube]
I have covered the stories about chaplains at the University of Virginia, the Thompson Hot Press Bible, the Virginia Bible Society and the Jefferson Bible on the blog. We cover them more extensively in our book. In this speech, Barton rehashed The Jefferson Lies for his audience, without correcting the book’s flaws.
On his website, he has not corrected the false claim that The Jefferson Lies will be re-published by Simon & Schuster. The publisher has no plans to publish the book.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but I still am amazed that Barton peddles these misleading and false claims in church.

Jefferson and the Bible: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part Five

When David Barton was clearing the air on the Glenn Beck Show (8/16/12), he muddied the water regarding Jefferson and the so-called Jefferson Bible.  Here is the segment:

Barton begins by saying

He [Jefferson] cut out the passages and put them all together and he told his friends this is what we can use with the Indians, cause you can read the life of Christ here.

Glenn Beck lets this claim go without challenge. However, this is an astonishing claim. We have not been able to find any primary source evidence for it, and Barton doesn’t offer any. Jefferson’s only reference to Indians in relationship to the 1804 version is the title page:

The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, extracted from the account of his life and doctrines, as given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; being an abridgment of the New Testament for the use of the Indians, unembarrassed with matters of fact or faith beyond the level of their comprehension.

While this sounds like Jefferson may have had some interest in getting his book to the Indians, there are no primary source documents that support this conclusion. The only references to the story told by Barton we can find is in Henry Stephens Randall’s 1858 biography of Jefferson and in the introduction to the 1820 version by Cyrus Adler. First, Randall cites a reference to Indians in an undated letter from Jefferson’s grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph:

His moral character was of the highest order founded upon the purest and sternest models of antiquity, softened chastened and developed by the influences of the all pervading benevolence of the doctrines of Christ which he had intensely and admiringly studied. As a proof of this, he left two codifications of the morals of Jesus — one for himself, and another for the Indians; the first of which I now possess, viz., a blank volume red morocco gilt lettered on the back “The Morals of Jesus” — into which he pasted extracts in Greek, Latin, French, and English taken textually from the four Gospels and so arranged that he could run his eye over the readings of the same verse in four languages. (p. 671)

In a footnote on page 452, Randall wrote:

This is sometimes mentioned as Mr Jefferson’s “Collection for the Indians,” it being understood 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.

In The Jefferson Lies, Barton does not cite any source for his contention that Jefferson gave his 1804 version to missionaries, or to anyone to use with the Indians.

In any case, Randolph’s knowledge of the “codifications” was second hand. A little later in his letter to Randall, Randolph said, “His codification of the Morals of Jesus was not known to his family before his death and they learnt from a letter addressed to a friend that he was in the habit of reading nightly from it before going to bed.” It appears that his family did not know he cut up the Gospels. Randolph’s knowledge of the 1804 version did not come from Jefferson directly. The most likely scenario is that Randolph took the title page at face value without knowing what Jefferson had told his friends: the 1804 effort was done for his own use. There is another report from Cyrus Adler by a great granddaughter of Jefferson that the extraction was for the use of the Indians but there is no indication that Jefferson said this to anyone beyond the title page of the 1804 version.

Thus, the Randall and family reports are not based in any direct knowledge of Jefferson’s intent. Barton presents no primary source verification which is consistent with our findings as well. As we noted in Getting Jefferson Right, we searched for evidence regarding this claim, and we asked the same of the Monticello  Library research staff as well. Nothing turned up. If Mr. Barton has correspondence or some primary source evidence that Jefferson gave the 1804 to anyone, he should produce it. As it stands the report of the Randolph family members and the footnote in Randall’s biography cannot be verified. The story of Jefferson giving his edited Gospels to missionaries for use with Indians appears to be similar to the story of George Washington and the cherry tree.

 

 

 

Don’t believe David Barton, Glenn Beck or me: Read the Jefferson Bible for yourself

Sunday and earlier today, I posted about David Barton’s recent appearance on the Glenn Beck Show where Barton made claims about The Jefferson Bible.

Barton said that Jefferson included miracles such as feeding the multitudes and raising the dead in his 1804 extraction from the Gospels (he didn’t). The best reconstruction of the 1804 extraction can be found in a 1983 book published by the Princeton University Press and edited by Dickinson Adams, titled Jefferson’s Extracts from the Gospels.

The Smithsonian Institute has provided an online way to view the 1820 extraction (Jefferson called it The Life and Morals of Jesus) which is quite user friendly. Click this link to see it.

Don’t take anyone’s word for it. Go look at it yourself.

 

Was the Jefferson Bible just the words of Jesus? Part 2

In the mail Saturday, I received my copy of the Smithsonian edition of the Jefferson Bible. It is a marvelous reproduction of the original on display at the Smithsonian. Here is a picture of one of the pages which is photograph of the original manuscript:

You can’t see the words well but Jefferson cut out the portions of the New Testament he wanted to include in Greek, French, Latin and English. Verses are arranged so that the reader can see how they are translated in each language.

I am interested in the Jefferson Bible because it gives some insight into what Jefferson believed about Jesus. Also, I wanted to inspect the manuscript more closely to address the false claims of David Barton about the Jefferson Bible. In his American Heritage DVD series, Barton said this about Jefferson’s efforts:

What happens is, this little document here is called the Jefferson Bible. We call this the Jefferson Bible and the last 30 years, people have consistently said this is the Scriptures that Jefferson cut out everything with which he disagreed. Well if you go to the front of this work, it doesn’t have the title Jefferson Bible. If you’d used that title with him, he’d have probably punched you out for saying it. The title he gave it is the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. What he did was he went through and cut out all the red letters of Jesus and pasted them from end to end so he could read the red letters of Jesus without stopping. He’s not what he cut out but what he put in. But why did he do that?

He tells us, he did this twice, he did this in 1804 and he did it again in 1819. He said that he did this to be a missionary tool to evangelize the Indians. Because if we can get them to read the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, it’ll changed their lives. So this was not a work that he turned and cut out everything he disagreed with. It’s a work where he took all the words of Jesus and put them there so you could read the words of Jesus non-stop.

I addressed this claim first in January, and want to expand on that post here. About Jefferson’s effort, Barton said:

What he did was he went through and cut out all the red letters of Jesus and pasted them from end to end so he could read the red letters of Jesus without stopping.

and then, he added:

So this was not a work that he turned and cut out everything he disagreed with. It’s a work where he took all the words of Jesus and put them there so you could read the words of Jesus non-stop.

Barton’s claim that Jefferson “cut out all the red letters of Jesus and pasted them end to end so he could read the red letters of Jesus without stopping” is provably false. There are many red letters which Jefferson omitted. Jefferson wrote in the margin of his work the references to the passages he snipped from the manuscripts. Reviewing my edition, I did not find any references to Jesus’ words in John 14-17. Jefferson included lengthy passages from Mt. 5, and Luke 12 but omitted the lengthy sermons in red letters in the chapters 14-17 of John (see John 14-17 in this online red letter edition of the New Testament). Most of the words in this section of John are words of Jesus. Jefferson omitted them.

Jefferson may have done so because in these passages Jesus speaks of Himself as deity. For instance, in John 14:1-4, Jesus says He is going to prepare a place in heaven and calls God His Father:

14:1-4 – “You must not let yourselves be distressed – you must hold on to your faith in God and to your faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s House. If there were not, should I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? It is true that I am going away to prepare a place for you, but it is just as true that I am coming again to welcome you into my own home, so that you may be where I am. You know where I am going and you know the road I am going to take.”

And then John 17: 1-3 proved unreliable as an actual teaching of Jesus to Jefferson:

17:1-3 – When Jesus had said these words, he raised his eyes to Heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son now so that he may bring glory to you, for you have given him authority over all men to give eternal life for all that you have given to him. And this is eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent – Jesus Christ.

Given that Jefferson left out long passages of the words of Jesus, it is clear that David Barton is misleading his audiences when he says Jefferson’s book of teachings of Jesus is all the red letters laid out in order. And when one examines what Jefferson left out (what he considered a “dunghill” from which he extracted “diamonds”), it seems clear that Jefferson believed these passages were not original with Jesus. He told John Adams that his work represented the collection of the real teachings of Jesus, saying:

In extracting the pure principles which he [Jesus] 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 themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurgos, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms 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 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 octavo of forty-six 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 first century.

If you are interested in seeing for yourself how Jefferson edited the New Testament, I recommend the little manuscript. It is a fascinating piece of history, but it is nowhere near what David Barton says it is.

Related:

Is the Jefferson Bible just the words of Jesus?

In his American Heritage series, David Barton  told Matthew and Laurie Crouch that the Jefferson Bible was Thomas Jefferson’s attempt to construct a Bible to evangelize the Indians. He said that Jefferson put together the “red letters” or the words of Christ (often written in red in King James Bibles) for this Bible so he could get across the moral teachings of Jesus. Listen to Barton’s claims in this video:

Regarding Jefferson and his edited Bible, Barton said:

I have to stop on Jefferson for just a minute because when you say the Jefferson Bible, people say, I’ve heard of the Jefferson Bible, that’s where he cut out everything he disagreed with. He was so anti-Christian, so anti-Bible that he cut it all out. Well, temporary time-out; if he’s so opposed to the Bible, why is he one of the founders of a society that promotes the entire Bible? I mean if the Jefferson Bible charge is right, that he cut out the parts with which he disagreed, then why would he fund and contribute and help run a society that gives out all the Scriptures unedited. That’s inconsistent.

What happens is, this little document here is called the Jefferson Bible. We call this the Jefferson Bible and the last 30 years, people have consistently said this is the Scriptures that Jefferson cut out everything with which he disagreed. Well if you go to the front of this work, it doesn’t have the title Jefferson Bible. If you’d used that title with him, he’d have probably punched you out for saying it. The title he gave it is the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. What he did was he went through and cut out all the red letters of Jesus and pasted them from end to end so he could read the red letters of Jesus without stopping. He’s not what he cut out but what he put in. But why did he do that?

He tells us, he did this twice, he did this in 1804 and he did it again in 1819. He said that he did this to be a missionary tool to evangelize the Indians. Because if we can get them to read the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, it’ll changed their lives. So this was not a work that he turned and cut out everything he disagreed with. It’s a work where he took all the words of Jesus and put them there so you could read the words of Jesus non-stop.

In April, 2011, I addressed Barton’s claim that the Jefferson Bible was an evangelism tool (it wasn’t) and yesterday I examined the claim that Jefferson founded the Bible Society of Virginia (he didn’t).

Today, I want to show that Jefferson did not include all the words of Jesus and that he did cut out miraculous elements, presumably because he disagreed with them. Indeed, he told John Adams in 1813:

We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms 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 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.

So Jefferson included the words of Jesus but not all of them because some, he asserted, included the disciples’ “misconceptions as his [Jesus’] dicta.” Just for example, let’s look at a selection from Chapter one of Jefferson’s version. Here is an image from Jefferson’s manuscript. As you can see, this portion combines parts of Matthew 12, and Mark 2. As I will demonstrate, Jefferson omitted many words of Christ and the miracles He performed.

Now look at the Mt 12:10-15.

10And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.

11And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?

12How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.

13Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.

14Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.

15But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all;

(non-italicized words designate what was removed by Jefferson and the red letters are words of Jesus that Jefferson removed)

In reading through the Jefferson Bible, many words of Jesus are missing (e.g., Jn 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me“, Mt 28:19 – “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.“). In fact, there are no post resurrection words of Jesus because Jefferson ended his Bible with the end of Mt 27:60 – “…and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.”

If a modern day President chopped up the New Testament in the way Thomas Jefferson did, that President would be excoriated by Christian leaders. Examining Jefferson’s work, it is clear that the Jefferson Bible is not as Barton described.

To read Jefferson’s edited Bible, go here and/or here.

 

Did Thomas Jefferson give the Jefferson Bible to missionaries?

I can’t find the original quote, but Craig Fehrman wrote in the LA Times yesterday that Daivd Barton said Jefferson gave his edited Bible to missionaries to evangelize Indians.

Fehrman says that is a fabrication. I wonder if Barton will answer this charge.

In any case, the LA Times article is worth a read.

As I have written here, if Jefferson meant for his Bible to be an evangelism tool, then he was pushing a different Christianity than the orthodox version.

Here is at least one place that Barton made the claim about Jefferson and the missionaries:

Was the Jefferson Bible an evangelism tool?

David Barton says it was. Barton is a collector of historical documents who is a favorite of Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. On his website, Wallbuilders, Barton says:

The reader, as do many others, claimed that Jefferson omitted all miraculous events of Jesus from his “Bible.” Rarely do those who make this claim let Jefferson speak for himself. Jefferson’s own words explain that his intent for that book was not for it to be a “Bible,” but rather for it to be a primer for the Indians on the teachings of Christ (which is why Jefferson titled that work, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth”). What Jefferson did was to take the “red letter” portions of the New Testament and publish these teachings in order to introduce the Indians to Christian morality. And as President of the United States, Jefferson signed a treaty with the Kaskaskia tribe wherein he provided—at the government’s expense—Christian missionaries to the Indians. In fact, Jefferson himself declared, “I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.” While many might question this claim, the fact remains that Jefferson called himself a Christian, not a deist.

This section is taken from a prototype of a letter which could be sent to a local newspaper if articles appear which discount the Christianity of the Founders. Barton seeks to portray Jefferson as a Christian, in the evangelical sense. This video clip provides more detail.

As I understand it, Jefferson did indeed favor Christian teaching for Native Americans. However, there is abundant reason to doubt that he wanted them to become Christians in the evangelical sense. If so, his little Reader’s Digest version of the Gospels would have been a poor way to do it. Here is how the Jefferson Bible ends:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
49 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
50 And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
51 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
52 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
53 And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
54 Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.
55 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
56 Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.
57 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
58 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
59 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
60 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
61 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
62 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.
63 There laid they Jesus,
64 And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

No Easter morning?! How can you evangelize without the victory dance of the resurrection? Can you imagine how the evangelical world would react if one of today’s GOP candidates produced an edited New Testament missing Easter? I doubt we would have tributes to his Christianity, such as Barton gave in the video above.
The Jefferson Bible is intriguing and can be freely read at Google Books. To explore the claims of Jefferson’s Christianity, please read the introduction which includes letters about the project to Benjamin Rush and Charles Thompson. This snippet makes Jefferson sound very un-evangelical:

3. According to the ordinary fate of those who attempt to enlighten and reform mankind, he [Jesus] fell an early victim to the jealousy and combination of the altar and the throne, at about 33 years of age, his reason having not yet attained the maximum of its energy, nor the course of his preaching, which was but of three years at most, presented occasions for developing a complete system of morals.
4. Hence the doctrines which he really delivered were defective, as a whole, and fragments only of what he did deliver have come to us mutilated, misstated, and often uninintelligible.
5. They have been still more disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers, who have found an interest in sophisticating and perverting the simple doctrines he taught, by engrafting on them the mysticisms of a Grecian Sophist (Plato), frittering them into subtilties and obscuring them with jargon, until they have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust, and to view Jesus himself as an impostor. Notwithstanding these disadvantages, a system of morals is presented to us which, if filled up in the true style and spirit of the rich fragments he left us, would be the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man. The question of his being a member of the Godhead, or in direct communication with it, claimed for him by some of his followers, and denied by others, is foreign to the present view, which is merely an estimate of the intrinsic merits of his doctrines.

Note in point 3, there is no reference to the resurrection of Christ. In point 4, there is contempt by Jefferson for the New Testament record, calling it “mutilated, misstated, and often uninintelligible.” Then in point 5, the sentence in bold above makes it clear that Jefferson did not see Jesus as divine. From his writings and his reduction of the New Testament, it appears that he thought Jesus was an overachiever in the moral sense, an enlightened teacher who provided his students with enduring guidance. In that sense, Jefferson was a Christian, but in today’s political scene, he doubt he would get a warm reception in Iowa.
……..
Jefferson wrote John Adams about his desire to create a compilation of Jesus’ teaching. In it, it seems clear that he was not simply creating a simplified version of the New Testament for Native Americans. Rather, he was teasing out “diamonds in a dunghill.” In the Oct. 12, 1813 letter, Jefferson wrote to Adams:

In extracting the pure principles which he [Jesus] 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 themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurgos, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms 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 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 octavo of forty-six 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 first century. Their Platonizing successors, indeed, in after times, in order to legitimate the corruptions which they had incorporated into the doctrines of Jesus, found it necessary to disavow the primitive Christians, who had taken their principles from the mouth of Jesus himself, of his Apostles, and the Fathers contemporary with them. They excommunicated their followers as heretics, branding them with the opprobrious name of Ebionites or Beggars.

At the least, Jefferson shows no interest in the canon of the Gospels. Even if he later hoped his efforts would help in making native people more European, his intent as expressed to Adams was to craft a document “for his own use.” Note his belief that the church perverted the teachings of Jesus. He closes his description of his editing work by noting that the Ebionites were excommunicated because they held to the primitive teachings. Not much is known about the Ebionites but apparently they did not hold to the divinity of Jesus and discounted his virgin birth.

Today in history: George Washington on religious freedom

To Bigotry No Sanction, to Persecution No Assistance…

-George Washington

On August 17, 1790, President George Washington wrote a letter to Moses Seixas and the Jewish congregation of Newport, RI. Washington did so in response to a letter sent by the group when Washington visited their city. The account is on the Library of Congress website and provides important historical context for debates over freedom of religion for Muslims.

On August 17, 1790, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, presented a congratulatory address to President George Washington on the occasion of his visit to their city. Both the address, written by Moses Seixas, and Washington’s response appeared together in several newspapers. They encapsulate Washington’s clearest articulation of his belief in religious freedom and the first presidential affirmation of the free and equal status of Jewish-American citizens.

And here is part of what he told the congregation:

All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

I suppose those opposed to Muslim houses of worship would appeal to Washington’s condition at the end – that they conduct themselves as good citizens by providing “effectual support.” I don’t believe religious freedom can be used as a means to protect subversive activities. Thus, one would need to demonstrate that individual projects or religious groups have treasonous plans in order to make a case that religious freedoms should be set aside.

Washington’s words also are in sharp contrast to the spin on religious freedom offered by some on the Christian right (e.g., Bryan Fischer), namely that the founders only intended to stop the government from taking sides in Christian denominational disputes, and knew nothing of tolerance for other faiths. Moses Seixas congregation was not a denomination of Christianity.

Not all founders considered themselves Christian. Thomas Jefferson edited the New Testament producing his own gospel by omitting the supernatural aspects of the life of Jesus. His references to religion were not directed at Christian denominations exclusively but religion in general. So on this day in history, let’s reflect on the common grace of God and the First Amendment.

To Bigotry No Sanction, to Persecution No Assistance…