Did Thomas Jefferson give the Jefferson Bible to missionaries?

I can’t find the original quote, but Craig Fehrman wrote in the LA Times yesterday that Daivd Barton said Jefferson gave his edited Bible to missionaries to evangelize Indians.

Fehrman says that is a fabrication. I wonder if Barton will answer this charge.

In any case, the LA Times article is worth a read.

As I have written here, if Jefferson meant for his Bible to be an evangelism tool, then he was pushing a different Christianity than the orthodox version.

Here is at least one place that Barton made the claim about Jefferson and the missionaries:

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  • Patrocles

    The idea comes from Cyrus Adler who referred to a tradition in the Jefferson/Randolph family.

    In his introduction to the first edition of the “Jefferson Bible” 1904, Adler wrote:

    “But I undertook to search for the volume, first through Miss Sarah N. Randolph, who, just as I was about to call on her on the subject, died, and, after a lapse of some years and with steps that it is not necessary to detail, obtained it from Miss Randolph, her sister, then living at Shadwell, Va. The latter, in a communication dated July 27, 1895, states of Jefferson that “the idea he had at first was to compile ?a book which would be valuable for the use of the Indians.”

    Source: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Faith-Tools/The-Founding-Faith-Archive/Introduction-To-The-Jefferson-Bible.aspx (The strange question mark may be due to the change from print version to digital version.)

    Adler himself took the idea at face value: “His original idea was to have the life and teachings of ?the Saviour, told in similar excerpts, prepared for the Indians, thinking this simple form would suit them best. But, abandoning this, the formal execution of his plan took the shape above described, which was for his individual use.”

    But in all other quotations of Adler’s introduction, there’s no corroborative evidence for this. So, the family tradition may be a misinterpretation of Jefferson’s intention – understandable, because Jefferson was deeply interested in the “civilisation” of Indians, supported Christian activities among Indians and believed that a reconstructed version of Christianity would be able to conquer the world.

    I can’t find any evidence that Jefferson did indeed give his “bible” to missionaries or had definite plans to give it to any concrete missionary

  • Hearald Oslogothe

    That’s because “The Jefferson Bible”, of Smithsonian fame, is not the Bible he put together for missionaries to the Indian Nations. Jefferson created more than one version of the Bible.

    His letters specifically refer to the 1904 Bible as being an effort to distill the moral teachings of the world (initially not just Jesus Christ, though that is what it ended up being) to members of Congress and the government without the Christian faith. Jefferson DID believe in the separation of Church and State, but it is entirely myth that he did not consider himself a believing Christian. The fact that he asked questions openly, and had doubt, as all human beings do, is no evidence he was an atheist, or deist, as is popular to state as fact today. We have hundreds of his letters, and selecting a few to make a point is quite ridiculous. Read his letters, and decide for yourself what he believed and why he did what he did. Jefferson is not the enigma modern polemicists make him out to be. He was a smart and deliberate man who knew exactly what he believed, but he was simply a product of his society.

    The Bible he created for missionaries to evangelize the Indians was a short version of the Gospels complete with miracles and the divinity of Jesus Christ. He put it together as a way to save money on printing for missionary programs, and still convince the Indians to adopt the Christian faith. This is crystal clear from his letters, and only promulgated by people who haven’t read them… The missionary Bible is NOT the “Jefferson Bible” he put together as a secular book of morality. It is not as if copies of his missionary Bible, or his letters explaining his intent do not exist. They do.

    It is also not as if certain historians and wiki writers aren’t aware of this, and haven’t intentionally misled people about it, because almost all of it is available on line. All you have to do it quit reading the interpretation and commentary and actually read Jefferson’s letters. Obviously, when he read something people do actually like it gets repeated to the point where people actually believe it’s in our Constitution, like the “separation of church and state”. Jefferson was that subset of Deists called a Christian. His letters bear that out without question, and the Bible he created for the Government was simply an exercise in moral teaching he believed could be useful in government even for those without faith. It is clear from his writings that he believed that Christianity has a great deal to teach even those who don’t believe, which isn’t the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t have any faith. There is no enigma or schism. You just have to read what he wrote and it is very clear.

  • Hearald – Please provide proof for your assertion that the 1804 version had in it miracles and the divinity of Christ. Verses of the Bible that you claim Jefferson included will do fine.

    Also, where are the copies of his so-called missionary bible? Please tell me so I can read it.

  • ken


    In addition to the bible refs Warren requested, I like to know specifically which Jefferson letters you were referring to that you believe shows he is a christian (i.e. someone who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ) rather than a deist.