This installment will be the third and last in a series of posts made in response to Mr. Dave Miller's Why the Texas Taliban fears Mr. Jefferson. One can read the entire text of Mr. Miller's arguments by clicking here.
I think I have put forward quite a bit of information for Mr. Miller to respond to should he ever be so inclined, and this post will address two subjects brought up by Miller that
First, in reference to the so-called Jefferson Bible, this writer expounds on
First, Jefferson was one of the founders of the Virginia Bible Society and contributed liberally to the distribution of the complete, unedited, traditional Bible.
Second, no such work as a “Jefferson Bible” actually exists; it is a widely-used pejorative concocted by modern writers loosely referring to one of two works that Jefferson prepared about the teachings of Jesus (the first in 1804 and the second in 1820). Significantly, Jefferson assigned a specific title to each work accurately describing its scope and purpose; neither was a “Bible.”
For years prior to the 1804 work, Jefferson had taken an active role in promoting Christianity among the Indians. He not only signed numerous federal laws to that end but also carried on a correspondence about the subject with several ministers and government officials, who recommended “a plan by which the blessing of Christianity might be propagated among the heathen.” One friend showed Jefferson a sermon endorsing a plan whereby just the simple teachings of Jesus (i.e., Jesus’ own words) were presented to Indians, avoiding the many controversial doctrines over which groups of Christians so often fought. Jefferson took two Bibles that he had in the White House, cut the words of Jesus from those Bibles, and pasted them into a separate folio, arranging them so that Indians could read the teachings of Jesus in a non-stop, end-to-end fashion.
Jefferson titled that work “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, Unembarrassed [Uncomplicated] with Matters of Fact or Faith beyond the Level of their Comprehensions.” This work is the so-called “Jefferson Bible,” and significantly, it did include miracles, such as Jesus’ command to His disciples to heal the sick and raise the dead, the account of the resurrection of Jarius’ daughter, the healing of the bleeding woman, the healing of two blind men, the casting out of a demon, and other acts of a miraculous and supernatural nature.
Jefferson’s second religious work was undertaken more than a decade later. Titled “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” Jefferson took the moral teachings of Jesus and arranged them end-to-end in four side-by-side columns – one column in English, Latin, French, and Greek. Jefferson described that work to his friend, the Rev. Charles Clay:
"Probably you have heard me say I had taken the four Evangelists, had cut out from them every text they had recorded of the moral precepts of Jesus, and arranged them in a certain order; and although they appeared but as fragments, yet fragments of the most sublime edifice of morality which had ever been exhibited to man."
Because the purpose of the 1820 work was to compile the morals of Jesus from his teachings, that work did not contain miracles. As confirmed by Jefferson scholar, Dr. Mark Beliles: Because of Jefferson’s intention to compile primarily what Jesus taught rather than what he did, many of the miracles and other events included in the Gospels concerning Jesus were naturally deleted.
Today, some claim that the 1820 work (rather than the 1804 work) is the “Jefferson Bible,” but that 1820 work was not for public use and Jefferson would never have allowed it to have been described as a “Bible”; it was merely a personal devotional aid for his own use. Jefferson’s eldest grandson noted that his grandfather “was in the habit of reading nightly from it before going to bed.”
How did either of Jefferson’s simple works on the words of Jesus come to be characterized by modern writers as a supposedly anti-Christian “Jefferson Bible”? A contemporary researcher has accurately reported:
"Unfortunately, all those who have published the “Jefferson Bible” since 1903 have been almost universally either Unitarian or rationalist and secular in their approach, and their introductions to the book have. . . . misrepresented Jefferson’s motivations and beliefs to conform to their own theological assumptions or agendas.""
So there you have it. Next time someone brings up the "Jefferson Bible", simply ask them "Which one? The 1804 or the 1820 work?". If they hesitate at all, then you can be sure that they really don't know what they're talking about.
Likewise, when someone brings up the subject of UVA being founded as a "secular" institution, ask them if they know who Rev. Samuel Knox is. Once they admit that they have no idea at all, then it's safe to assume that likewise,they would not know that Rev. Knox was Jefferson's very first faculty selection for the University of Virginia.
While skeptics and secularists bemoan that Christians are supposedly dumb and against learning, they convenientlly forget the fact that the vast majority of the colleges founded in the US in the 17th and 18th centuries were founded by religious people (Princeton-Presbyterians, Harvard-Puritans, Dartmouth-Congregationalsts etc.).
The University of Virgina was intended to be non-sectarian, not secular. This is quite consistent in keeping with Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom that we examined yesterday insofar as no particular denomination should have an advantage over another. Dr. Mark Beliles and Dr. David Barton write...
"Since the University would have no single denominational seminary but rather the seminaries of many denominations, Jefferson and the Visitors (i.e., Regents) decided that there should be no clergyman as university president and no specified Professor of Divinity, either of which might wrongly cause the public to think that the University favored the particular denomination with which the university president or Professor of Divinity was affiliated. As Jefferson explained:
In conformity with the principles of our constitution which places all sects [denominations] of religion on an equal footing – with the jealousies of the different sects in guarding that equality from encroachment and surprise, and with the sentiments of the legislature in favor of freedom of religion manifested on former occasions [as in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom] – we have proposed no Professor of Divinity.
But the fact that the school would have no Professor of Divinity did not mean that religious instruction would not take place. To the contrary, Jefferson personally ensured that religious instruction would occur, directing that the teaching of . . .
"the proofs of the being of a God – the Creator, Preserver, and Supreme Ruler of the Universe – the Author of all the relations of morality and of the laws and obligations these infer – will be within the province of the Professor of Ethics".
Jefferson made sure that the teaching of religion to students definitely would occur, but he merely placed it under a professor different than was traditionally used; Jefferson absolutely did not eliminate religious instruction. In fact, he wanted it clearly understood that not having a Professor of Divinity definitely did not mean that the University would be secular:
It was not, however, to be understood that instruction in religious opinions and duties was meant to be precluded by the public authorities as indifferent to the interests of society. On the contrary, the relations which exist between man and his Maker – and the duties resulting from those relations – are the most interesting and important to every human being and the most incumbent on his study and investigation.
(Incidentally, in 1896 after the trans-denominational reputation of the school was fully established, a Bible lectureship was established by the University; by 1909, it had become a full Professorship of Divinity.)
Jefferson also made clear that the religious instruction which would occur at the University would incorporate the numerous religious beliefs on which Christian denominations agreed rather than just the specific theological doctrines of any one particular denomination. As he explained, “provision…was made for giving instruction in…the earliest and most respected authorities of the faith of every sect [denomination] and for courses of ethical lectures developing those moral obligations in which all sects agree.""
So as we can see, the overall picture of Jefferson's religious beliefs is a bit complicated and to merely dismiss the man as a "theist", "Deist" or any other classification is a bit overly simplistic as the man really does not fit neatly into any one, tidy little religious box that is clearly labeled that we here 2 centuries later can judge and determine by our standards.
In conclusion I would like to thank all of the visitors to this site over the last couple of days for stopping by. My sitemeter has been working overtime lately and I especially thank Mr. Day for his mention on his great blog.