What Did Thomas Jefferson Include in His Edited Gospels

Late last week, David Barton appeared on Bryan Fischer’s American Family Association radio program Focal Point. One topic of conversation was the contents of Thomas Jefferson extractions from the Gospels, aka known as the Jefferson Bible. More properly, the Jefferson Bible is considered to be the Life and Morals of Jesus which Jefferson put together sometime during or after 1820. The first time Jefferson cut and pasted portions of the Gospels was in 1804 when he did it at the White House in a few nights work.

On Fischer’s show, Barton said Jefferson included miracles of healing and feeding the multitude in the 1804 version. In his book, Barton claims that three miracles in Matthew 9 (the raising of Jairus daughter in Mt. 9:1; healing a bleeding woman in Mt. 9:18-26 and the healing two blind men in Mt. 9:27-34) were included by Jefferson in The Philosophy of Jesus. However, a review of Jefferson’s table of texts as found in Henry Randall’s 1858 biography of Jefferson and Dickinson Adams’ definitive work demonstrates that these texts were not included in either of Jefferson’s abridgments.

The fourth false text Barton uses is Matthew 11:4-6 which reads:

4Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: 5The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

Again, a review of the table of texts comes up empty for this passage. Jefferson did not include it in either his 1804 or his 1820 versions.

Now complicating things a bit is the fact there are a couple of transcription errors in Randall’s texts that Dickinson Adams revealed when he studied the handwritten documents years later. I provided images in Jefferson’s own hand here. However, the transcription errors are not relevant to any questions we examine in this post.

Here are Randall’s transcriptions; Barton says he relies on these as well as Dickinson Adams for his research. However, the Matthew 9 and 11 passages are not there. There are a couple of verses which are ambiguous about miracles but in each case, there is strong reason to believe that Jefferson would have extracted the miraculous sounding part. Remember, no copy of the 1804 version survives. We have to go on his table and then compare those passages to what he did with them in the 1820 version. Contrary to what Barton says, the versions are not that different. Here are the two pages of these texts from Randall:

Some will be surprised to see passages relating to the afterlife and a final judgment. However, Jefferson believed that God (without Jesus and the Holy Spirit) would judge people based on their deeds.

There are some disputed passages in the reconstruction by Dickinson Adams. For instance in Mt. 10: 5-31, Jesus gives instructions to his disciples to heal the sick, and raise the dead. However, this verse is not included in the 1820 version and may have been excluded from the 1804 version as well since there was a verse Jefferson did include on the reverse of Mt. 10:8. It is also possible that Jefferson included it in haste or viewed the instructions with a naturalistic meaning, as did his mentor Joseph Priestley. Healing the sick and even raising the dead could be interpreted as spiritually sick and dead. In any case, all of the verses which refer to healings in the 1804 version are in dispute because of their exclusion from the 1820 version and the fact that we do not which surgical cuts Jefferson made in the 1804 version since we don’t have one extant.

Barton also claimed that Jefferson gave his extraction to missionaries for evangelism. Since there was no Easter or Great Commission or John 3:16 in Jefferson’s extractions, one wonders what religion the Indians would have adopted with this little book as their guide.

Want a reality based alternative to The Jefferson Lies? Try Getting Jefferson Right now at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


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  • Nelson

    Dr. Throckmorton I believe that the revisionist Christians are doing a great disservice to Christians as a whole. When people hear of lying and dissimulation of the facts it presents a picture that is quite abhorrent to those who think that Christianity is trying to convert this nation into a theocracy.

    I am amazed that the body of Christ does not rein in someone like David Barton, are the people who truly believe this way a majority of believers? Or are people who don’t believe this way so cowed as to not take a stand against people like David Barton? Either way, the body of Christ is hurt and badly so, for it casts the body of Christ in a light just like that of fundamentalist Muslims. They speak about freedom and its blessings but behind closed doors seek to abrogate the very freedoms that have made their churches come alive.

    There is only trouble ahead for those who believe that America is a Christian nation, one instituted by God for the sole purpose of proclaiming the gospel, that America was founded on Christian principles and that America will flourish once again when Christianity is exalted above all other beliefs, all other systems of thought and of course raised above other religions.

  • Good work on Matthew 9, which isn’t there.


    Some will be surprised to see passages relating to the afterlife and a final judgment. However, Jefferson believed that God (without Jesus and the Holy Spirit) would judge people based on their deeds.

    might leave the wrong impression, as Jefferson’s Bible includes Matthew 25:31-34 and the story of the Sheep and the Goats.

    People can see it for themselves here, in the Smithsonian’s interactive Jefferson Bible, the actual cut-and-paste Jefferson did with his own hands. Jesus certainly appears to be the judge.


    “31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

    32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

    33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

    34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

    35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:


  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    “Jesus certainly appears to be the judge. …

    “31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, …”

    I generally try to stay out of religious arguments. But in this case I want to ask. In the Jefferson bible, does Jefferson specify that “the Son of man” is Jesus, and not man in general? Or are you assuming that because the christian bible referred to Jesus as the “Son of man” that Jefferson did the same? Because I don’t see the name “Jesus” anywhere in your reference above. Is there a preceding passage, in the Jefferson bible that makes it clear who is being referred to in the passage you quoted?

  • Mebbe you’re right, Ken, but that seems an obtuse interpretation to me. Man comes to judge man, accompanied by angels?

    You can look for yourself in the Smithsonian interactive Jefferson Bible. This leads to page 67: Look toward the bottom right corner.


    Good luck.

  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    May 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    “Mebbe you’re right, Ken, but that seems an obtuse interpretation to me. Man comes to judge man, accompanied by angels? ”

    Not so obtuse if you consider the context of what Jefferson was doing (at least according to Warren’s theory). Jefferson was “re-writing” the bible by excerpting the text he believed and leaving out the supernatural parts he didn’t believe (and the parts about the divinity of Jesus). However, Jefferson wasn’t changing the words, just cutting and pasting the text. That puts some significant constraints on his re-write.

    It is reasonable to assume that Jefferson included the passage you quoted to say that man will be judged , in the afterlife based on his deeds. You are assuming he was trying to say Jesus would do the judging, but it is also possible, this was the only passage that fit, so he used it, (and deliberately left out parts of the christian bible that clarify it is Jesus doing the judging). Now if there were another biblical passage that describes the judgment in the afterlife without any reference to Jesus that Jefferson could have used in place of the one you quoted, then you might have an argument that Jefferson was trying to say Jesus would do the judging.

  • For the record, Ken, I’m not saying Jefferson believed Jesus would judge the dead—especially in his letters after he leaves office.

    What I am saying is that the Second Coming is in the “Jefferson Bible” and David Barton is correct on that.

    In his post-presidential papers, Jefferson definitely comes to reject any unique supernatural role for Jesus whatsoever.


  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    May 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    “What I am saying is that the Second Coming is in the “Jefferson Bible” and David Barton is correct on that.”

    And what I’m saying is I don’t find your evidence to support this claim very convincing.

  • Think about what you just wrote, Ken. The passage is in the Jefferson Bible, which is all I’m saying as a statement of unassailable fact.

    You’re saying Jefferson didn’t interpret it that way. That’s fine. I’ll say you’re probably even right. It’s probably intended as a defense of “salvation by works,” contra Calvin. That’s a principled conjecture.

    But you can’t hang David Barton for not seeing it that way. Peace, out.