Christmas and the Jefferson Bible

Thomas Jefferson, as you likely know, served as our nation’s third president and was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. For that I am thankful.

While many have credited Jefferson with saying, “The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty,” Jefferson’s view of the Bible and Jesus was made clear in what he actually did with his Bible. Jefferson took a penknife to the pages of Scripture and made his own Bible, cutting out all the miracles of Jesus but retaining the moral teachings of Jesus. He titled his version of the gospels “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” but the work is commonly called the “Jefferson Bible.” You can buy it on Amazon.

After the introduction and preface, the first sentence in the Jefferson Bible is “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus.” The last sentence in Jefferson’s Bible is “There laid they Jesus: and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher and departed.” Jefferson began his account in Luke 2, skipping the miraculous virgin birth, and ended his account with a closed tomb, eliminating the resurrection.

The thinking behind Jefferson’s Bible is popular because it invites us to learn from Jesus and not bow before Him. Learning from Jesus’ example is very different from surrendering to Him as King. Because of our sin and our inability to rescue ourselves, we do not need a moral example nearly as much as we need a Savior. And only when we have been rescued by Him can we truly follow His example.

Just as any story would be altered if you changed the central figure in the story, if you change the character of Jesus, you change the gospel. It fact, it would no longer be the gospel, no longer good news. Removing the deity of Jesus from the Bible changes the entire story and leaves us in our sin without any hope. Jefferson’s Bible begins without a miracle and ends with no hope, with a closed tomb. And if Christ is not raised, we (His followers) should be most pitied.

As Christians, we prioritize both the virgin birth and the resurrection not only because they are true but because without them we have no hope. This Christmas we are not celebrating a moral leader who can give us some insight into how to live our lives better. We are celebrating “God with us.” We are celebrating the good news that Christ came to the world He created to rescue sinners.