It’s the 4th of July, the day we celebrate Jesus coming down from Mt. Sinai and delivering the King James Version of the Constitution to a praying George Washington. At least, that’s what we find out from #DavidBartonHistory. On the 4th of July, it’s appropriate that Barton spew his usual lies, this time about Thomas Jefferson’s famous Bible.
Barton was on the Daily Wire with Ben Shapiro and they discussed the infamous Jefferson Bible. It’s not really a Bible at all. He actually prepared two of these, one very incomplete one he put together while he was president and the other longer, more thorough treatment in 1820, when he’s long left public office and has time to devote to its preparation. He called the first one a “Syllabus of an Estimate of the Merit of the Doctrines of Jesus.” The later document was called “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” (or when sending it to Adrian Van Der Kemp in 1816 he called it “the Philosophy of Jesus extracted from the text of the Evangelists”). In 1803, he went the earlier document to his friend Benjamin Rush.
He also sent a letter along with it with his general views of Christianity and notes that he had been falsely accused of being an atheist and he was annoyed by the “anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions.” Nonetheless, he knew that his real views, were they to become known, would still cause him enormous political problems and so, he said, he was “averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public; because it would countenance the presumption of those who have endeavored to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that inquisition over the rights of conscience, which the laws have so justly proscribed.” But he trusted Rush not to reveal what was in the syllabus he was sending, saying, “And in confiding it to you, I know it will not be exposed to the malignant perversions of those who make every word from me a text for new misrepresentations & calumnies.”
So what did he actually believe about Jesus that would be so controversial if made public? That he believed Jesus to be only a man, not the son of God. An admirable man, to be sure, and one who doctrines Jefferson found entirely valid, but only when separated from the falsehoods piled upon it by the gospel writers, who he referred to as a “band of dupes and impostors.” He wrote: “To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.”
That’s right. Not only did he not believe Jesus was divine, he believed that Jesus had never claimed to be divine at all. That claim, he believed, was falsely attributed to him by the gospel writers who were trying to build a religion. So he undertook to figure out which statements attributed to Jesus in the gospels are authentic and which were false quotes later attributed to him. This would be easy, he said, “as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.” So he literally took a razor to a Bible and cut out all the verses he believed were later false interpolations.With that as background, Jefferson has frequently told this lie, most recently to Shapiro and his audience. I don’t want to transcribe the audio, but he told the identical lie in 2016 to Eric Metaxas so I’ll just quote that because William Throckmorton has provided us with the transcript already:
In 1804, Jefferson was given a sermon by a friend named, excuse me 1803, he got a sermon by a friend named Edward Dowse and the sermon was by William Bennet an evangelical in Scotland that says if you want to reach the American Indians do not give them the Bible because they might read Leviticus, they might read the genealogies, he said give them excerpts out of the Bible.
So Jefferson read that sermon, he then goes to the White House and takes two White House Bibles and he cuts out the teachings of Jesus, what we would call the red letters of Jesus. He pasted them end-to-end. He gave that to a missionary friend and said look, this is a lot cheaper than printing the Bible and its got the teachings. In that, he has the dead being raised, Jesus is raising the dead, Jesus healing the sick, Jesus cleansing lepers, Jesus is the son of God, resurrection, heaven, hell, angels. But wait! I thought he cut out all that sp__, no, it’s there.
There is literally zero evidence of any of this. That Bennet sermon simply didn’t say what Barton claims it did. It didn’t mention mission work with the Indians at all, nor does it say anything about preparing a Bible just for them to aid in that work. You can read the whole sermon here in a collection of Bennet’s many sermons. Jefferson did explain why he had cut up the gospels and not once did he mention Bennet, this alleged sermon or a Bible to be sent to the Indians. And no such Bible was ever printed That does not, of course, stop Barton from continuing to repeat the lie. He is not one to let facts interfere with his cartoon version of American history.
Barton also tells people that they should go read the 1804 version of what we now refer to as the Jefferson Bible. There’s just one problem, and he damn well knows it — it doesn’t exist. No copy has survived or has ever been found. So they can’t go read it. We have only what he said about it in sending it to a few select friends. We do have the 1820 version, which you can read here. For more information on this, Warren Throckmorton has much more detail about why it’s a lie.