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.


When did the Magi visit Jesus?

In the United States, people who celebrate Christmas typically start decorating after Thanksgiving. These decorations include trees, strings of lights, and various other yard or home decorations, which may include a Nativity display.

If you have never seen a Nativity display, it typically consists of a barn-like setting, with a baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, the Magi, and some farm animals. Though these Nativity displays are a long-held tradition and a great reminder that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” the question is “are they biblically accurate?”Let us go back to the sources of these events, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2, NIV).

The Magi, traditionally called “the Three Wise Men,” possibly came from Persia or Babylon (modern day Iran and Iraq, respectively).

The idea of a king being born troubled King Herod, for he saw this newly born king as a threat to his power. Herod then asked his priests and scribes where would the Christ be born and they informed him Bethlehem. Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem.

“After they [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:9-10, NIV).

From the text, there is an indication that time had elapsed between Jesus’ birth and the Magi’s visit to Herod, because it would take quite a bit of time to travel from Persia or Babylon to Israel. Herod, unbeknownst to the Magi, had murderous intentions, and asked when did they see this star? Thus, another indication time had passed. Matthew 2:16-18 describes Herod issuing an order to have all of the children in Bethlehem aged two and under to be killed, but Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fled into Egypt.

The Bible describes the Magi’s visit: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream, not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:11-12, NIV, italics mine).

By the time the Magi came to pay their respects to Jesus, his family had settled into a home in Bethlehem, which would not put the Magi at the manger where Jesus was born. Luke’s Gospel makes no mention of the Magi, but does mention the angel appearing to the shepherds who were watching their flocks that night (Luke 2:8-20). According to Luke, the shepherds were the only people besides Mary and Joseph, present at the manager when Jesus was born. As to when all of this happened exactly, there is one historical fact: King Herod died in 4 BC. Given Herod’s order to kill all of the children two years old and under, could possibly place Jesus’ birth around 6 or 7 BC, which gives us a two to three year window for all of these events.

I write this not to step on anyone’s tradition or take away from anyone’s celebration, I just feel it is important for Christians to know what the Bible says about the events upon which our faith is based. Let us go back to the word ourselves and not succumb to artistic license or the traditions of man. God bless you all.

The Genealogies of Jesus

Genealogy can be defined as the study of family lineage. Many people use ancestry websites, historical records, and stories from family members to help learn about their family history. Through these studies we can learn about where our families originated, what kinds of lives they lived, and other details of note.

In the Old Testament, genealogies were important to the people of Israel. Throughout the Old Testament, there are numerous genealogies, tracing the lineage of Adam to Noah, Noah to Abraham, Boaz to David, and the first nine chapters of First Chronicles, which are multiple genealogies. The genealogies were also kept for certain jobs. For example, in order to be a temple priest, one had to be a descendant from the tribe of Levi, as was Aaron, the brother of Moses, and the first high priest.

Genealogies in the Bible were often used to introduce someone new to the story, a tradition which was carried over to the New Testament, with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Of the four Gospels that serve as the historical biographies of Jesus- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, only Matthew and Luke focus on Jesus’ birth. In the Gospels of Mark and John, Jesus is thirty years old and beginning His ministry.

To our modern eyes and attention spans, reading about so-and-so begat so-and-so and that so-and-so begat this so-and-so can after a while become a little tedious. However, the genealogies of Matthew and Luke offer us different insights and different lists, which could be because the two books were written for two different audiences. Throughout Matthew, Jewish laws and customs are emphasized, while Luke’s Gospel focuses on a more Gentile Christian audience.

Matthew’s Genealogy (1:1-1:17)

“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1, KJV). Notice how Matthew is tracing Jesus’ genealogy to David and Abraham, two pillars of Judaism.

*Matthew lists a total of 42 generations- Fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian exile of 586 BC, and fourteen generations from the Babylonian exile to the birth of Christ.

*Matthew mentions four Gentile women- Tamar, Rachab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.

*Matthew states Jacob as the father of Joseph.

*Matthew 1:16 teaches the doctrine of the virgin birth, a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, in that he states, “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” (Matthew 1:16, KJV, italics mine). Joseph, the writer of Matthew makes clear, was not Jesus’ natural father, which many people would have automatically assumed.

Luke’s Genealogy (3:23-38)

*The writer of Luke places Jesus’ genealogy after the events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist, the Birth of Jesus, Jesus with the teachers at the temple, the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, and Jesus’ baptism.

*Luke list 74 generations, backwards from Jesus to Adam, “the son of God,” (Luke 3:38).

*Luke’s genealogy also backs up the doctrine of the virgin birth, with how it introduces Jesus: “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed), the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.” (Luke 3:23).

*Though women play  a prominent role in Luke’s Gospel, no women are mentioned in his genealogy.

Why do Matthew and Luke differ on who Joseph’s father was? In doing some brief research, one of the theories is that Matthew traced Jesus’ lineage through Joseph, while Luke traced Jesus’ lineage through Mary. Another possibility is that Jacob and Heli were brothers. As was custom outlined in the Old Testament, if a man died, it would be up to his brother to marry his widow, raise his brother’s children, and keep his brother’s lineage going (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Thus, in a legal sense Heli would have become Joseph’s father (possibly through adoption or what we would call a step-father).

Another point of difference is that concerning Jesus’ lineage to David, Matthew list Jesus as a descendant of David’s son Solomon (Matthew 1:6), while Luke traces the lineage through another one of David’s sons, Nathan (Luke 3:31).

It seems every Christmas season there is some real or imagined controversy concerning the holiday season and the Bible-let us not fall into that trap. In the coming weeks, I hope to take a look at other aspects of the nativity stories as portrayed in the gospels. I will look at points of contention and pointing out false perceptions we may have concerning Jesus’ birth. Whether or not someone tells you “Merry Christmas,” or a major coffee chain does or does not include a reference to Christmas on their cups, let us enjoy this time, let us enjoy this day, let us enjoy this present moment. God bless you.