Honest Bible .

Thomas Jefferson Cut Up His Bible – With Great Respect

Thomas Jefferson spent considerable time and careful attention on Jesus of Nazareth – more, it seems to me, than many preachers I have listened to. And those preachers and other teachers claim that Jesus is their “Lord and Savior,” whom they love and believe in.

WHY HE CUT THE BIBLE

Well, not the whole Bible – he just cut up the Gospels.  He spent several years doing it, starting when he was President, and finishing when he was 77 or 78, a little over 200 years ago..  

He had 8 copies – 2 of a “King James” English version, 2 in French, 2 Latin, and 2 of the original Greek.  He needed 2 copies in case he cut a passage out of a page, but also wanted a passage from the other side of the page.

IN OTHER WORDS, he spent considerable time and careful attention on Jesus of Nazareth – more, it seems to me, than many preachers I have listened to.  And those preachers and other teachers claim that Jesus is their “Lord and Savior,” whom they love and believe in.  Hmm.  Sounds like dismissing Jesus “with faint praise” in order to move on to more interesting things.

That seems pretty important:  “He spent considerable time and careful attention on Jesus of Nazareth – more, it seems very clear to me, than many preachers I have listened to.”

A SERIOUS STUDENT OF JESUS

You cannot carefully edit these texts without paying real attention to them. 

For us, how can you love and “believe in” someone, or call him “Lord” – Jesus for example – when you don’t take his thinking to be worth that kind of serious attention – his words, his priorities, his loves, his explicit instruction?  I guess Jesus himself felt that irony, since he said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do what I say?”

Well, President Jefferson took the words of Jesus seriously.  I call his scissors “holy scissors” because he put a great deal of effort into studying Jesus’ life and teachings, AND into making an easy to use handbook so he could easily and regularly re-study, re-meditate on, Jesus.  Seems like a holy project to me.  We may be certain that if we just took these selections personally, with careful seriousness, we would indeed be more Christlike than we are.

You ask, “How can you say he took Jesus seriously when he cut a lot of Jesus’ words out of the Gospels?”

   Well, here’s how.  He cut them out and pasted them together in a very nice little book, four languages on every 2-page spread so he could compare. He read and thought about those words, over and over, in order to do this project, and before he did this project.  He cut and pasted, over a period of years, the parts he wanted to review, meditate on, even absorb into his own thinking and life.  And don’t imagine that after all this cutting and pasting he had very little left.  His book of excerpts, which he called ‘The Morals of Jesus”, had over 150 pages. That’s a LOT of quotes of Jesus’ teaching. 

True, he was perhaps not any more perfect then you are, or I, morally or intellectually.    

But he created that “Jefferson Bible” from the Gospels not so he could publish it and start arguments, or make money; but so he could reread it, think on it, have it in his mind as he fell asleep.  He may well have spent more time “with Jesus” even before he had the book bound than you or I have. And it was a beautiful little book, in very high quality leather, with gold embossing.  Then he read it!  And meditated on it!

I ASK

Too bad, as Gandhi said, “you Christians” are not “more like your Christ.”  Jefferson was serious about understanding Christ. He regarded the 4 Gospels as “unreliable” but as containing much that was worth study and practice.

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I don’t ask that today’s American churches call the Gospels “unreliable.”  I ask instead that they, we, listen carefully to Jesus, take Jesus (the one we call “Lord”) as seriously as we CLAIM to. Could we take Jesus as seriously, perhaps, as Jefferson did?  And, in the process, stop feeling so superior to Thomas Jefferson, who actually did listen to Jesus.

The Smithsonian edition (2011) of “The Jefferson Bible” says this of Jefferson’s perspective:

Jesus of Nazareth had challenged and reformed the Judaism of his day.  Advising his followers to love their neighbors, Jesus extended a code of ethics beyond the individual’s outer life, or the mere performance of social obligations, to encompass each person’s inner state.

Equally important, Jesus had made the moral duties of affection, benevolence, and philanthropy incumbent on “all mankind.”  Here Jefferson focused on the universality of the Christian code of ethics, its equal claim on all individuals that they live as brethren with their fellows.  (p25)

Don’t you think that if we call him “Lord, Lord” we should at least come up to this standard?

(see The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition, 2011)

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