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Rethinking the Jefferson Bible

Updated on November 19, 2015

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)

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    • jksouthard profile imageAUTHOR

      JK Southard 

      2 years ago from USA

      Kim, the inner peace I seek for myself occurs now, not after death. The Way that Jesus taught is how to find that inner peace today...is the way I see it. Others may find alternate avenues to inner peace today. We are all different in so many ways. JK

    • profile image

      KimBroz 

      2 years ago

      Is the quest for inner peace the same as trying to achieve salvation? To me, salvation was based on fear - fear of going to hell, fear of sinning, fear of not being "good" enough to go to heaven. In spite of being taught that you don't have to be perfect to go to heaven or achieve salvation, I still thought that you had to be pretty close! How can achieving inner peace be based on fear? I submit that it can't be. And, inner peace has to do with the "here and now" not something that will occur after we are dead. So I think that the "quest for inner peace" doesn't have anything to do with the quest for "salvation" as defined by Christianity (or Christianity as I know it). Perhaps one should de-couple the quest for inner peace from the quest for salvation. I think the two are very different!

    • jksouthard profile imageAUTHOR

      JK Southard 

      2 years ago from USA

      Thanks for the Jefferson quotes back to me. My imagination and intellect are both questionable...I, most of all, am aware of that fact. I still search for belief that does not violate basics of science in my world...hate those dichotomies in life. Appreciate your insight. JK

    • profile image

      D.L. Wright 

      2 years ago

      Della’s observation regarding your being supremely studiousness seems absolutely “spot on.” Honest inquiry seems to me a desirable endeavor and to be commended. Of similar value is to acknowledge that there is inherent futility in such inquiry. To suggest after much study that the bible is the inherent word of God and that the miracles attributed to Jesus to be actual historical events cannot be validated in the 21st century. Nor can they be shown to be spurious at this point in history. Honest studious men have, after considerable reasoning, landed on both sides of this question. Your efforts are as commendable as any.

      Now to the “Jefferson approach,” does, in separating the Jesus teachings from the miraculous claims, suggest that T.J. rejected the miracle claims. Does the “Q Source” infer that its author(s) reject the miracles simply based on their absence from the transcript? For both these questions I bow to your studies. Perhaps there is evidence for both.

      But let me return to Jefferson who is generally recognized as an exceedingly studious individual. T.J. is quoted after making an attribution to God as saying, “. . . if there is one” suggesting his uncertainty. Conversely, he is quoted elsewhere as saying, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.” This seems to indicate an unswerving conviction of God’s existence. Certainly this does not necessarily indicated Jefferson vacillating nor does it have anything to do with the acceptance or rejection of miracles or teachings of Jesus. Could the “Jefferson Bible” not be a statement of conviction but an experiment born out of thoughtful inquiry?

      Let me close with another Jefferson quote that seems to be a most honest reflection on his inquiries and any resulting suppositions. “The moment a person forms a theory; his imagination sees in every object only the traits which favor that theory.” This seems to suggest that T.J. questioned himself along with all he observed and studied. Could this have applied to your father’s studies? Could/should it apply to ours as well? I hope it does for me and trust that it does for you as well. And a final T.J. quote, “He who knows best knows how little he knows.”

    • jksouthard profile imageAUTHOR

      JK Southard 

      2 years ago from USA

      Della, searching is a constant, it seems. Matthew 7:7 or Jefferson XI:95.

      Thanks for the up lift. JK

    • profile image

      Della Chadwick 

      2 years ago

      Well, JK. You seem to think a lot. You seem to have studied a lot. You seem to have listened a lot. Your search isn't over. After all, Tom Jefferson didn't have all the answers either. He continued to search. Your father was a wise man who used his knowledge and desire to continue learning. Think he was ever completely satisfied?

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