Book Review-The Jefferson Bible

jefferson bibleWhile at my local library earlier this week, I came across a copy of The Jefferson Bible, or as Thomas Jefferson referred to it, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, which Jefferson created using Greek, Latin, and French manuscripts of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Going through The Jefferson Bible adds another layer of complexity to the character of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson is best known as the third President of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence, and the founder of the University of Virginia. However, Jefferson, like all of us had his moral failures as he was a slave owner who fathered children with one of his slaves. Jefferson also struggled with depression and was nearly bankrupt when he died-due to his overspending.

Thomas Jefferson’s faith was controversial in his lifetime and today. However, Forrest Church, who writes the introduction to this particular edition states that Jefferson has been associated with being a Deist and a Unitarian. Jefferson’s intention was to get to the true words and teachings of Jesus, as he believed Jesus’ teachings had become corrupted over time.

In a letter to John Adams, dated October 13, 1813, Jefferson wrote, “We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus. There will be remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”

Jefferson began the process in earnest in 1804, but started and stopped along the way, finally completing  The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth in 1819. However, the book was not published until 1895, sixty-nine years after Jefferson’s death. What follows is a heavily redacted blend of the gospels. Perhaps more extraordinary than what Jefferson compiled was what he left out in his manuscript:

-No mention of the Virgin Birth.

-None of Jesus’ 37 recorded miracles are listed.

-No mention of His temptation versus Satan.

-Jesus makes no claims to His divinity.

-No references to fulfilled prophecy concerning Jesus.

-No triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

-No resurrection- Jesus is crucified, dies and is buried that is where Jefferson’s Bible ends.

-No mention of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

What Jefferson included was also edited. Jesus’ baptism story is included, but there is no mention of God speaking His approval of Jesus nor any mention of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. Luke’s story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple with the teachers ends with Mary expressing her worry, but Jesus does not reply about “Being about his Father’s business,” (Luke 2:49-50). Another prime example would be Matthew 24, such an important chapter for those who stress end times teachings, all verses concerning the last days and Jesus’ return are omitted.

In today’s world, it can be a daunting task finding the right Bible for you. Which translation? Do you want a study Bible, a prophecy, Bible, an apologetics Bible, or a Bible geared toward another topic? These Bibles say different things because of the manuscripts the translators use. We have disagreements among believers and churches concerning which translation to use and which parts of the Bible to emphasize. Add to this 2,000 years of Church teaching and multiple layers of interpretation, one can easily see why there is so much confusion concerning God’s word.

Back in my earlier, more fundamental Christian days, I would have found Jefferson’s Bible to be appalling, but I think Jefferson had the noble intention of trying to get at the truth for himself. However, as Christians, we take the Bible as an “all or nothing proposition.” We believe that either every word is true as it happened or the whole book is wrong. For Christianity as a whole, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important redemptive event in all of human history. If there is no resurrection, then what hope do we have? Conversely, if Jesus was simply a great teacher whom man turned into God, where are we placing our hope? I believe a faith worth having is a faith worth challenging.

I would recommend reading The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth with a Bible by your side for reference. I also recommend reading The Jefferson Bible for intellectual curiosity and to gain insight into the mind of one of history’s most celebrated and enigmatic people.

Source: Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Introduction by Forrest Church. Afterword by Jaroslav Pelikan. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.

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Examining Our Foundations

For anything, whether it be a house, building, relationship, belief system, or a civilization, a solid and structurally sound foundation must be in place. If a foundation is broken or weak at any point, further stress and strain will create more damage in the future if the foundation is not fixed. If the foundation goes, then the entire building, relationship, belief system, or society is in danger of collapse.

Throughout the course of human history, our response to faulty foundations has been to simply build something new on top of the previous structure. One civilization falls, simply build another one.  The house falling apart? One option compared to costly repairs is to simply move. Instead of constantly rebuilding or moving, what if we were to exercise due diligence and from time to time examine the foundation before it becomes a problem?

I believe in the importance of having a firm set of beliefs. I believe it is important for everyone to have guiding principles and truths in their life, as these truths and principles will serve as a foundation in everything we do, say, and think.  However, life is about continuous growth, which can come via circumstances or exploring new information. Once we are presented with information, we have the choice to accept it or reject it. We must also understand the importance of self-examination concerning our beliefs. It is perfectly fine for a seven-year-old child to spend Christmas Eve eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. However, if that same child grows up to the age of fifty-seven expecting Santa Claus, then that would be an issue.

If we could travel back in time and listen to ourselves five, ten, twenty, maybe thirty years ago, we would probably ask our past selves, “What were you thinking? That’s not how any of this works.” From time to time, we must do a foundational audit of what we believe because what we believed as children or in our youth may not make much sense as an adult.

There is one great obstacle that holds us back from challenging our beliefs and rebuilding the foundations: fear. We fear change. We fear being wrong. We don’t like it when others challenge our core beliefs. When faced with an opposing viewpoint, we often retreat into our mental bunkers or we demonize the opposition as a threat to our way of life. This type of discourse is evident in politics and religion.  Why not simply listen to what someone else says?  Maybe we will learn something new, maybe it will affirm or enhance what we believe. Why not agree to disagree? If we are basing our lives on certain beliefs, don’t you want to be sure you have the right foundation? Think for yourself. Challenge yourself. Stretch yourself beyond the comfort zone. Don’t simply go along with the crowd, but have the courage to ask, Where are we going and Why? 

 

 

A Morning Musing

What happened to the fine art of the civilized conversation? When did eloquence, reason, and logic take a backseat to emotion?

Most people today seem content to stand at the fringe of their ideological extreme, with only the sole intention of either crushing or converting their opposition; No middle ground will be sought. Both sides will declare victory, though nothing will be accomplished. When an event takes place and a “national dialogue” is started, the same rhetoric is heard over and over.

How can anyone listen when everybody is screaming at each other? To quote an old movie line, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” I believe that we have allowed others to control the conversations and we keep having these same conversations again and again. Rarely do we go beyond the headline, the social media post, or what gets repeated and eventually accepted as truth.

How much longer can we afford to be shamelessly pandered to and patronized by political propaganda? How many times have you heard these same generalized promises with no results? If we continue to allow the same institutions and politicians to stir up the same old prejudices and reopen closing wounds, then how can we truly make progress as men, women, and as society?

If we seek to change society, then we must first change ourselves. We must enlighten and educate ourselves, as we cannot rely on others to do it. If we allow others to be our sole source of education, then we will fall victim to their agenda. Do not simply accept what you hear, search out the truth. Do not allow negative emotions to dictate your position nor go for the low hanging fruit that is being dangled in front of you. Nothing will change the past- it’s over, that’s why it’s called the past. Make the most of the present time you have and make today the best it could be. Be wise and discerning of everything you hear and see. Search out the truth will all of your heart, mind, and soul. God bless you.

 

 

 

 

Christ is for All

Could you imagine living a life without barriers? What would life be like without self-imposed and societal-placed barriers? I am not speaking of the abolishment of law and order or a misguided utopia, but what if we could remove the labels off of everyone? People, no matter where they come from, gender, skin color, body type, political or religious belief are simply people.

What if we could view our brother or sister as simply a fellow traveling companion who is on their own journey through life? What if we could stop expecting perfection from those around us? Where’s the grace for them? We certainly would want that grace in the event we make a mistake.

It seems today’s social dialogue is “I’m completely right, you’re completely wrong!” Friendly discussion has gone the way of the dinosaurs. I believe there comes a time when everyone must examine themselves and the direction of their life, so we may see the effect we have on others. For Christians, we have to do some deep soul searching. The questions becomes: “Is the world’s growing hostility toward the Church a direct result of the Church’s hostility toward the world? Are the barriers we put up towards others hindering the effective preaching of the Gospel? I believe so.

Jesus never turned away anyone who genuinely sought Him. Did people reject Jesus? Absolutely. Did the people who came to faith in Christ struggle with sin afterwards? I’m pretty sure they did. I believe that in order to experience growth as Christians and to show the love of God to others, we must accept people where they are at in life. We need to do away with this “us versus them” mentality, because Christ is for all.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is nether slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NKJV).

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and all have been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, NKJV).

“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:9-11, NKJV).

As we live our lives and interact with the people God has placed in our path, remember we are to be salt and light, not judge, jury, and executioner. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin, not ours. We must not look to governments and institutions to solve our problems, we must look inward and pray upward for the strength to change ourselves. God bless you all.

Gideon: God’s Unlikely Leader

The results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election literally shocked the world. All of the data from political experts, pollsters, and pundits indicated a victory for Hillary Clinton. However, Donald Trump was able to win a resounding victory. Though these results unsettled the financial markets, God was not caught off guard by this or any other election. I believe God in His sovereignty would use either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump to fulfill His purposes.

In my lifetime, I do not remember an election that featured two such polarizing figures, whose personal, financial, moral, and political failures were well documented, yet both candidates rose above all party challengers. I am neither a prophet nor can I speak definitively concerning the next four years. However, I like other Christians believe that Jesus Christ is still on the throne regardless of who sits in the White House or any other presidential palace or government building.

During this election cycle, like others, questions arise as if a particular candidate looks, acts, or sounds “presidential.” All of us like to think that we can spot a leader or know what qualities a leader should have, but God tends to call up unlikely leaders. The story of Gideon comes to mind. During this particular scene in the Book of Judges, the Israelites were being oppressed by the Midianites and they cried out for deliverance.

Gideon was hiding wheat in a wine press when he encountered an angel. God used the angel to speak to Gideon’s potential as a leader, though he was hiding wheat from the Midianites.

“When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12, NIV).

Gideon then questions God and dismisses his own ability to lead.

“‘Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all His wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.’” (Judges 6:13, NIV).

“The Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’” (Judges 6:14, NIV).

Gideon once again questions God.

“’Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family.’” (Judges 6:15, NIV).

“The Lord answered, I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” (Judges 6:16, NIV).

After confirming His will through multiple signs, God put Gideon in charge of 32,000 men. However, God decided Gideon had too many people and eventually narrowed down the army from 32,000 to 300. Gideon and his 300 men defeated the Midianites and freed Israel from oppression.

The point of the story is that we truly do not know who or how God will use someone for His purposes. The Bible, history, and everyday life are full of examples of God using ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. David was a shepherd who became king. David’s fighting men were men on the fringes of society, yet they became a formidable force. Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, tax collectors, and other everyday people. God speaks to our potential. We have to seek Him to find that potential. God has gifted each of us for specific purposes. God positions people for purposes as well. As we go forward with the new direction of the United States and the world, let us remember to seek God’s will. We may not have all of the details nor we may not have all of the resources we had at the beginning, but God will work it out. God bless you all.

The Politics of Jesus

The Lord Jesus Christ is the most influential figure to have ever lived. From His sacrificial death and resurrection to His teachings, billions of lives have been changed. The principles Jesus taught and exemplified have also been sources for great social and personal change. If our salvation in Christ is supposed to influence every aspect of our lives, how does this influence our political beliefs for the upcoming Presidential election?

In this post, we will examine the politics of Jesus. However, I will not make the Lord out to be a card carrying member of any political party nor will I be pushing for any particular agenda or platform. Also, keep in mind that there are no perfect candidates nor are there any perfect elections. This current election cycle has a lot of people holding on to their affiliation’s ideological extremes, perceiving to vote for the lesser of two evils, or just tuning out in general. But if Christians are to vote along biblical principles, what exactly does the life of Jesus illustrate in this regard?

For an examination of how a Christian is to respond biblically to their government, I would encourage you to check out my post, “A Christian’s Civic Duty.” https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2015/09/19/a-christians-civic-duty/

When Jesus walked the earth, Israel was a territory of the Roman Empire. However, Jesus’ harshest criticism was not directed at Caesar, but against the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees- the religious leaders of the day. Jesus openly exposed their hypocrisy in placing barriers in front of so many people, while neglecting the teaching of the most important aspects of the Law. Jesus came to earth to die for our sins; He did not seek to start a theocracy. Jesus’ kingdom was as He said, “Not of this world.” Jesus also downplayed the political ramifications of Him being the Messiah. In the Old Testament prophecies, there are no clear distinctions as to the verses that mark the first and second coming of the Messiah. Many people believed the conquering Messiah would come first and overthrow Rome, when the suffering Messiah came first.

Political power can corrupt, but Jesus could not be swayed by the allure of political power. Jesus emphasized devotion to God over allegiance to worldly things and agendas. Jesus crossed cultural barriers, as the Gospels record Him ministering to Gentiles. Jesus also elevated the status of women, as with the examples of the Samaratian woman at the well, the woman with the issue of blood, and the woman who anointed Him with the alabaster jar of perfume. Jesus also welcomed and cared for children.

Jesus also ran social programs, as He feed the hungry, treated the disabled, the sick, and the mentally ill. Jesus believed that we should love and treat each person with dignity and respect. Jesus emphasized blessing (speaking well of) our enemies, or those who seek to criticize us. Jesus broke down social conventions and man-made traditions to reach people with the Gospel or healing. Jesus reached out to those who were cast off by society- prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, the possessed, and other “sinners.” Jesus also taught fulfilling our civic duty and pay taxes to our earthly government. Jesus’s teachings and deeds are vast, and as John put it, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21:25, KJV).

Who or what you vote for is between you and God. I just want to emphasize that as Christians, we must be spiritually discerning of the things that go on inside and outside of the church. We must not be swayed by false promises or fear-inducing rhetoric. We must no longer demonize our political opponents or those whose life choices are different from ours. Jesus taught us to love and forgive all people as He has loved and forgiven us. As this election nears, let us all pray for God’s will to be done and that He would give us the wisdom to go forward. God bless you all.