Interesting story from over the weekend that fits within the stream of recent posts on this blog. One of Thomas Jefferson’s self made “bibles” is going on display in the Smithsonian soon. In many ways this is hardly unique. A lot of people do their own “cut and paste” version of Scripture, but very few go to the extreme that Jefferson did with his. Most people are content to simply ignore vast portions of Scripture on the belief that they have been “done away with” or are obsolete or something like that.
Jefferson’s “bible” is an attempt to discern what he thought were the real teachings of Jesus. You see, while atheists like to proclaim Jefferson as one of their own and thus try to dismiss his use of Christian terminology and thought, it turns out that Jefferson was far more interested in the words and work of Christ than they might like to admit:
During the election of 1800, Jefferson was denounced as a “howling atheist” and “a confirmed infidel” known for “vilifying the divine word, and preaching insurrection against God.” But the Virginian also revered Jesus as “the first of human Sages” and was, according to one biographer, “the most self-consciously theological of all American presidents.”
Let me be quick to point out that Jefferson’s theology and view of Christ was nowhere near orthodoxy. Jefferson was actively engaged in remaking God to suit himself and his own views. That is why he produced a cut and paste scripture of his very own. Jefferson generally downplayed the miracle stories about Jesus and didn’t believe in the resurrection either based on these accounts, but atheists might want to take a pause before declaring him one of their own:
After completing this second micro-testament, Jefferson claimed in a letter to a friend that it demonstrated his bona fides as a Christian. “It is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”
This is not your typical atheist speech pattern. Jefferson claims about himself is that he was a “true disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.” I would dispute this point vigorously as the things that he denies aren’t just the work of a couple of overzealous followers of Christ, they are bedrock beliefs that are rooted in the Old Testament long before Christ even lived. Jesus’ disciples didn’t “make up a bunch of stuff,” they testified to what they saw firsthand and proclaimed how this was all shown beforehand in the Law and the Prophets.
16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
– 2 Peter 1:16-21
Jefferson was apparently unable to recognize this and was content to create his own “cleverly devised myths” in their stead. That makes him a heretic, not an atheist.