The Jefferson Bible


Thomas Jefferson


When establishing the United States, Thomas Jefferson and America's other Founding Fathers were inspired by the revolutionary ideas of 18th century Europe, a period known as the Enlightenment.  Instead of relying on traditional faith and institutions, Europeans began to use reason and science as their guide.  This new way of thinking would eventually break the chains of European monarchy and the theology that supported it.

During the Enlightenment period, religious dogma was seriously questioned.  Thomas Jefferson was one of America's a leading critics of Judeo-Christian orthodoxy.  Indeed Jefferson's skepticism was so profound that he could not be described as a Christian in the conventional meaning of the word.  Jefferson did not believe in the divinity of Christ, nor did he believe that Christ had performed miracles.  Jefferson did, however, believe in a "superintending power" in the universe, and that Jesus was a great reformer and moral leader.  In one of his many letters to John Adams, Jefferson remarked:

And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter.  But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.

When Jefferson ran for the office of U.S. President, he correctly predicted that his opponents would use his writings in attempt to smear him.  In the tumultuous election of 1800, New England's clergy, along with the conservative Federalist Party, vilified Jefferson as a "howling atheist."

Toward the end of his life, Jefferson took Greek, Latin, French, and English extracts of the New Testament and cut and pasted together his own version of the Bible.  His goal was to eliminate what he regarded as distortions in the Gospels.  Jefferson believed that the New Testament was written by unlearned apostles who often misunderstood Jesus and misrepresented his teachings.  Jefferson felt that his edited version of the Bible best expressed the moral code of what Jesus really taught.



Jefferson Quotes on Religion:

"[A] short time elapsed after the death of the great reformer of the Jewish religion, before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their oppressors in Church and State; that the purest system of morals ever before preached to man, has been adulterated and sophisticated by artificial constructions, into a mere contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves; that rational men not being able to swallow their impious heresies, in order to force them down their throats, they raise the hue and cry of infidelity, while themselves are the greatest obstacles to the advancement of the real doctrines of Jesus, and do in fact constitute the real Anti-Christ."
--Thomas Jefferson, to Samuel Kercheval, 1810

"It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it [the Book of Revelation], and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherencies of our own nightly dreams."
--Thomas Jefferson, letter to General Alexander Smyth, January 17, 1825

"But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
--Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity."
--Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

"The common law existed while the Anglo-Saxons were yet pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name of Christ pronounced or knew that such a character existed."
--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Major John Cartwright, June 5, 1824

"For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement of England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of the Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law....  This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century.  But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first Christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686.  Here then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it....  That system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians."
--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

"Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion.  Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must approve the homage of reason rather than of blind-folded fear.  Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences....  If it end in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others it will procure for you."
--Thomas Jefferson, to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787