When I was at Grove City College, by far one of America’s most politically and religiously conservative evangelical Christian colleges of high quality in America, Warren Throckmorton was the school therapist. I met with him a few times. I liked him quite a bit. He has unambiguous Christian credentials. And these days, on his blog, he does a really valuable job of monitoring dangerous homophobes and theocrats.
Today he has a post on David Barton. Barton’s spin on Jefferson’s “real” reason for editing out parts of the Bible is that it has nothing to do with Jefferson disagreeing with anything in the Bible but with only wanting to evangelize the Native Americans with a text where they could read all of Jesus’s words together with no interruption:
I have to stop on Jefferson for just a minute because when you say the Jefferson Bible, people say, I’ve heard of the Jefferson Bible, that’s where he cut out everything he disagreed with. He was so anti-Christian, so anti-Bible that he cut it all out. Well, temporary time-out; if he’s so opposed to the Bible, why is he one of the founders of a society that promotes the entire Bible? I mean if the Jefferson Bible charge is right, that he cut out the parts with which he disagreed, then why would he fund and contribute and help run a society that gives out all the Scriptures unedited. That’s inconsistent.
What happens is, this little document here is called the Jefferson Bible. We call this the Jefferson Bible and the last 30 years, people have consistently said this is the Scriptures that Jefferson cut out everything with which he disagreed. Well if you go to the front of this work, it doesn’t have the title Jefferson Bible. If you’d used that title with him, he’d have probably punched you out for saying it. The title he gave it is the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. What he did was he went through and cut out all the red letters of Jesus and pasted them from end to end so he could read the red letters of Jesus without stopping. He’s not what he cut out but what he put in. But why did he do that?
He tells us, he did this twice, he did this in 1804 and he did it again in 1819. He said that he did this to be a missionary tool to evangelize the Indians. Because if we can get them to read the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, it’ll changed their lives. So this was not a work that he turned and cut out everything he disagreed with. It’s a work where he took all the words of Jesus and put them there so you could read the words of Jesus non-stop and he did that as a missionary tool to the Indians.
In rebuttal, Throckmorton documents key places where Jefferson not only cut out Jesus’s miracles but also cut out some of the things he said—including everything from after the resurrection, as he ends his Bible with Jesus dead. And he quotes Jefferson’s words to John Adams in 1813:
We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.
If a modern day President chopped up the New Testament in the way Thomas Jefferson did, that President would be excoriated by Christian leaders. Examining Jefferson’s work, it is clear that the Jefferson Bible is not as Barton described. To read Jefferson’s edited Bible, go here and here.
So if you don’t believe the things said about the Founding Fathers by that atheist Freethought Blogs blogger Chris Rodda, believe Warren Throckmorton. Or, better yet, just look at the text itself and ask yourself why a “man of God” like David Barton gets the facts so wrong.
In case you are willing to hear an atheist out too, Chris’s book is Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History Vol. 1 and her must-read blog is This Week in Christian Nationalism.