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Rethinking the Jefferson Bible
The Bible has been present in my life...all my life. First the Bible stories for children about bravery, God's love and so on. Later, I would ask my farmer Dad the difficult questions. He would patiently explain to me that there were many things in the Bible that he did not understand; but everything needed for me to live a life of inner peace was in Jesus' message...the rest could remain a mystery. OK, got it. Eventually learned this was the hermeneutical approach to scriptural study.
During my rethink or reality check these past dozen years, I have tried to get to the bottom of it all, the Bible. After considerable research and study along came a TV documentary in 2013 on the History Channel entitled "Bible Secrets Revealed" which pretty closely follows what I had already concluded, that is, the Bible is not the inerrant word of God...to be taken literally. The Old Testament is a history-based story of the development of the religio-governance of the Jewish people, the editing of which is still going on. See Wikipedia: Hebrew University Bible Project.
As for the New Testament, I found that Mark was probably written 30 or so years after Jesus' death but probably not by Mark. The three other gospels were probably written later; none by the names on the books. So given my historical-critical study approach, I set out to find how and who told the story of Jesus during those decades before the writings took place? Scholarly research has been and is addressing that very question, that is, the word-of-mouth sayings regarding the Jesus years before the gospel writings. see Wikipedia: "Q Source" or a scholarly book by Burton Mack dealing with the Q source or oral history of Jesus' teachings. The Q1 simple memorized sayings probably included, "the poor will be comforted," "bless your enemies," "treat others as you would be treated," "don't judge, lest you be judged," "love your neighbor," and so on. Simple stuff, easy to remember that resonated with the masses which they passed on to others. There is no Q source oral history passed down regarding miracles of any kind that I could find. Curious!
To my way of thinking, the message in the Bible is all that matters....the devil is in the details and I mean that literally. Therefore, my view of the Old and New Testaments is that they have played an important part in my education and forming the governing world in which I live, mostly for good, sometimes for ill. They are valuable to study.
Then there is Thomas Jefferson's approach. He was interested in the Jesus-only teachings, not the interpretive letters of Paul or all the others in the canon or the editorializing surrounding Jesus'-supposed words. Can't get much deeper into the Jesus-way than that from this distance. So T.J. cut the Jesus teachings out of the gospels with a razor, twice, and compiled his own unique interpretation of the scriptures. The story surrounding what he did and how many of our leaders have responded to it are particularly interesting. i appreciate the miracle-free, Jesus-only, Thomas Jefferson Bible. Many people do. After reading it and its story as part of U.S. history, I ordered several to give away as gifts.
Taking this Jesus-only approach a step further, I ask myself, are any of the other New Testament writings necessary to The Message of The Way? Are the other writings merely commentary or only useful for governance? If so, they should be studied within their context and organizational relevance.
In conclusion, for me, Bible study is rather like my view of education. I went to school a long time ago. I have now forgotten many of the details in the learning, such as, how to use a slide rule. What is important is not to be right about the details but retain and act on the significance of the whole. As for the Bible, the Old had one story to tell. The New, another. But does either get to my answer to the big question of "what's it all about?" Perhaps just following Jesus' way in the Jefferson Bible would be enough for me in my search for that inner peace some refer to as salvation. On the other hand, had I been born in another time or another place, might my search have led me to inner peace but through a different route? Perhaps.
Sources to consider: John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture (2005); Great Courses: The History of Christian Theology, The History of the Bible, Story of the Bible; Wikipedia: "authorship of the Bible", "Jefferson Bible" , and "biblical literalism". Thomas Jefferson, Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (Smithsonian edition). Burton L. Mack, The Lost Gospel: the book of Q and Christian origins (1994)