Question: "What is the Thomas Jefferson Bible?"

Answer: The Thomas Jefferson Bible, also known as the Jefferson Bible, and officially titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, is a work of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. Jefferson finished his “Bible” in approximately 1819. It is not actually a complete Bible but an attempt at a harmony of the Gospels, with much of the content of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John literally cut and pasted in the order Thomas Jefferson thought best.

The most interesting, and disappointing, aspect of the Thomas Jefferson Bible is the fact that, as a naturalist, Thomas Jefferson did not believe in the supernatural. He therefore removed virtually all the miraculous events recorded in the Gospels. While some references to angels, heaven, hell, and a future eternal life remain, the accounts of Jesus’ miracles, allusions to the deity of Christ, and the story of Jesus’ resurrection are absent.

An earlier version of the Thomas Jefferson Bible was titled The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, Being Extracted from the Account of His Life and Doctrines Given by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; Being an Abridgement of the New Testament for the Use of the Indians, Uncomplicated with Matters of Fact or Faith Beyond the Level of Their Comprehensions. Thomas Jefferson seemed to have believed that the “true” story of Jesus needed to be extracted from the Gospels and that the miracles were a distraction from Jesus’ philosophical and moral teachings. Jefferson took it upon himself to “uncomplicate” the story by excising the miraculous. In this way, his work resembles that of the Jesus Seminar.

The problem is that Jesus’ miracles and His teachings worked together. Acts 2:22 declares, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.” The miracles attested to the truth of Jesus’ teachings. The wonders and signs demonstrated that Jesus was far more than a great moral and philosophical teacher. In the Thomas Jefferson Bible, Thomas Jefferson made the precise mistake that C. S. Lewis warned of about 150 years later:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity, pp. 51–52).