When Thomas Jefferson Rewrote The Entire Bible

“Necessity is the mother of invention..” —Old proverb

In A Nutshell

Thomas Jefferson struggled to reconcile the teachings of the Bible with the teachings of modern-day science. He thought that the Bible was highly embellished and full of downright silly, trivial stories, so he cut and pasted his own. The final 84-page version of his Bible included moral teachings, and left out the mysteries, the miracles, and the divine.

The Whole Bushel

Thomas Jefferson is an interesting, influential figure, and his views on religion are just as complicated as the rest of his life. He believed in God and was frequently called a deist—someone who believes in a supreme being that acted as a creator, but soon lost interest in that creation and left us all to fend for ourselves. Others called him an outright atheist. But by his own work, he was someone who was desperately struggling to make sense of a world in which religious miracles and science were both touted as true.

Clearly, there were a lot of things in the Bible that were at odds with what modern scientists were saying. Jefferson decided that something had to be not entirely accurate or, at least, not represented accurately. He began to look at the Bible as being a source of valuable life lessons intermingled with some extra bits—like miracles and angels and the like—that weren’t all that important.

So he started cutting.

In 1804, he produced a 46-page version of the Bible that he entitled The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. Sadly, there are no surviving copies of that volume, but other records say that it was a compilation of the moral instructions given by Jesus.

In 1820, only a handful of years before he died, he returned to the project. This time, he cut the Bible down to 84 pages, literally cutting passages he thought were important out of a copy of the Bible and pasting them into his new, leather-bound book. This book, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, similarly excluded many of the entries and stories that he thought went against scientific teaching.

Many of the things that he made a point to exclude are stories that even those with only a passing familiarity with the Bible would recognize—the virgin birth, the resurrection, turning water into wine, and so on. Many, many of the stories that he found contrary to common sense—which he believed Jesus was a great defender of—were cut from his version of the Bible.

According to Jefferson, the original ideas behind the Bible had gotten lost in an attempt to create a complete philosophy, and one that would agree with the moral teachings of the ancient Greeks. It was embellished by the simple minds of those that were responsible for writing and recording the Gospels, calling many of those additions mere trickery, superstitions, and imaginative ignorance.

In his words, it was a matter of separating the real teachings of Jesus from the additions of chroniclers. And in his exact words, “separate that as the diamond from the dung hill.”

Oddly, some of the things that he cut out as belonging to the dung hill were stories that give Jesus what most Christians consider his character. For Jefferson, Jesus was not a divine being but an illegitimate child with a kind heart and soul who ended up believing in the divine and was put to death for it.

Show Me The Proof

Smithsonian: How Thomas Jefferson Created His Own Bible
PBS Frontline: Thomas Jefferson and his Bible
Department of Christian Education of the Orthodox Church in America: The Jefferson Bible Rewrite

  • rincewind

    I didn’t know about this. What a good idea! They should reprint this version today.

    • Ray

      Try using Google before commenting.

      • Nathaniel A.

        What would he Google, “Did an American President ever take it upon himself to rewrite the Christian Bible”? Nobody does that, unless you were referring to the “They should reprint this version today.”?

        • Prince

          Agreed, it makes me laugh when I see people that feel as though you should exhaust every available research resource before you post a fleeting thought to an inconsequential comment section.

          • Ray

            Ignorance makes me laugh.

          • Hillyard

            Looking in the mirror must be hilarious then.

          • Ray

            No, it’s not.

          • Blue

            Jesus you must be in a world of mirth then………I guess this explains why we see nothing but ignorance from you, its because you are incessantly giggling in your ignorance….

          • Ray

            Please stop masturbating while you think of me. I don’t want to embarrass you by winning another argument. You’re not educated enough to comment to me.

        • Ray

          It’s already been reprinted.

    • Spartachilles

      There are a few copies on Amazon and the likes, if you are interested.

      • rincewind

        Thanks. I’ll do that.

  • LostSok

    Funny, but I suspect if most conservatives did this today, they’d have thrown out what Jefferson kept…and revered only the dung hill.

    • Ray

      I suspect your comment makes you seem more ignorant than the conservatives you were attempting to insult.

  • Hillyard

    This sounds like a great idea. There are some really good moral lessons in the bible, and other religious books (torah, quran etc) cut out the bs about miracles and non-existent divinities and you have something worth reading.

    • Nathaniel A.

      But that “bs about miracles and non-existent divinities” is what gets people to read it in the first place. If I came out with a book on morality with a pretty convincing story involving deities and miracles, and you made a bulleted list on morality, whose would be more believed in?

      • Hillyard

        It depends upon the mindset of the people. Those that need to believe in a deity will gravitate towards Nathaniel A.’s book of gods and angels, the rest will click on over to LV for ’10 ways to not be an asshat’ by Hillyard. You are 100% about the people reading those books due to the religious content. Perhaps ethics could be taught in public schools – without the need to justify everything because Cthulhu is watching and judging.

        • Passin’ Through

          I kinda agree with Nate. The miracles and non-existent divinities are like the gratuitous sex and violence in today’s movies. They don’t tell the story but they keep people interested.

          • Lorin Chane Partain

            uh, without them there is no story, just a bunch of wise sayings.

          • Randelamerican

            That was Jefferson’s point.

        • Ray

          You’re incapable of writing that list. Your list would be “10 ways to be a retarded little bitch”.

        • Habibi Jane Smith

          Exactly.

  • Manuel Cuesta

    And after all, with his vision of federalism, agrarian regionalism, and what the role of the president should be, he is one of the most “conservative” presidents that America ever had, if not the most. Its interesting to me that the secular left wants to rewrite the founding fathers as total secularist while at the same time they reject them and their legacy (their “outdated” constitution) because they had slaves. They take the parts they want as Jefferson did with the bible.

  • Clyde Barrow

    Thomas Jefferson was an intellectual badass. He appeared to be cautious to not allow emotion to interfere with his thought process. I definitely wouldn’t mind reading a copy of that text, even a stubborn agnostic like myself would likely learn something from it.

  • Lorin Chane Partain

    Jefferson did nothing more then what he accuses others of doing, imposing his worldview on the text.

    • lbatfish

      But at least he had better taste than the other guys who re-wrote the Bible into what it is today.

      • Lorin Chane Partain

        I said it was “accused” not actual. There are a number a very technically accurate translations available, especially in English. Pick one.

      • Nine

        ‘The Bible today’, whilst a somewhat difficult term as there are multiple translations used, is actually closer to the original documents than older translations. Most contemporary translations aim for accuracy in either thought-for-thought or word-for-word notions of such. They run the gamete from anywhere between those two premises. In any case, the translations that the vast majority of Christians read from today are quite accurate, so you can hardly accuse the translators of ‘re-writing’.

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