Tuesday, May 08, 2012

What's In Jefferson's Bible

We've heard the claim Jefferson made his Bible(s) to cut out the supernatural parts. David Barton using, as Warren Throckmorton and others have shown, erroneous scholarship claims, no, Jefferson's Bible was for the purpose of evangelizing the Indians.

Barton needs to take a refresher course on philsophy and read up on, among other concepts, straw man, non-sequitur, and red herring. Barton notoriously engages in these and other fallacies. Even if true that Jefferson made one of his Bibles for a purpose of introducing Indians to "Christian" ideas (I put that in quotes because what Jefferson valued in "Christianity" were not the central doctrines of faith which he rejected) it does not follow that Jefferson did NOT cut up the Bible for the purpose of editing out that which he did not believe.

I need not reiterate the evidence here; Jefferson clearly states, in his letters, that he made his Bible to cut out that which he didn't believe -- what he thought corrupted -- and leave in that which he thought legitimate. Strangely enough Barton seems to understand (because the evidence is so overwhelming that he couldn't deny it) that Jefferson did not believe the entire Bible was legitimately revealed, that indeed Jefferson rejected entire BOOKS of the Bible. For instance, the book of Revelation which Jefferson terms "merely the ravings of a maniac no more worthy of explanation than the incoherences of our nightly dreams." Yes, Barton concedes this on pages 180-81. And Barton concedes Jefferson's unitarianism (how could you not?). Barton seems to want to make Jefferson a biblical unitarian. But still concedes Jefferson, at the very least, disbelieved in entire books of the Bible. Why he can't accept Jefferson wrote his own Bible to exclude the portions with which he disagreed is beyond me given how much else he concedes.

Also, strangley, Barton goes on about the Stone-Campbell movement as the hermeneutical key to understanding Jefferson's creed. It's true that movement of non-creedal, non-Trinitarian Christianity is closer to Jefferson than is orthodox Christianity (they were biblical non-Trinitarians). But if we need "outside" sources to help supplement our understanding of what Jefferson believed, why not go to sources Jefferson claimed as mentors? He didn't claim Stone-Campbell but rather Joseph Priestley and Conyers Middleton in his letter to John Adams, Aug. 22, 1813. Priestley, the most notable Socinian Unitarian of that era, rejected the Trinity. I'm not sure if Middleton did. But BOTH rejected the infalliblity of the Bible. Priestley termed the "plenary inspiration of Scripture" as one of Christianity's "corruptions." And Middleton made his own Bible before Jefferson did, cutting out that which he didn't believe.

On a final note, it helps to read the Jefferson Bible to see what's in it. I never accepted the claim that Jefferson cut out ALL of the supernatural from the Bible. Jefferson believed in an active personal God, which itself seems "supernatural." Jefferson disbelieved in a great deal of the supernatural. And Jefferson, unlike his mentor Priestley, explicitly rejected Jesus' Resurrection. Priestley rejected the Trinity, and as a Socinian, thought Jesus was 100% human not divine at all (Arian unitarians believed Jesus divine but created by and subordinate to the Father; higher than the highest archangel but lower than the Father). Priestley believed Jesus, as God's perfect human Son, resurrected as an example of what God would one day do for all good men. Jefferson believed in an afterlife where all good men would live in eternal bliss.

Jefferson and Priestley were BOTH materialists. That is, for Priestley, you didn't get an afterlife without a Resurrection. So it's not a stretch to conclude Jefferson believed in the future resurrection of all good men. And, according to Jefferson, who was the best man? Jesus. So even if Jefferson's Jesus, unlike Priestley's, had not yet been resurrected, he would be.

What I'm trying to lead to is the valuable Tom Van Dyke discovered Jefferson's Bible left in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus' second coming and judgment, the future state of rewards and punishments. (The "rational Christians" of that era did believe in future punishment for the bad; just not eternal.) It could be that Jefferson mistakenly left those passages in. OR, I think based on what I've outlined above, it "fits" with the kind of Socinian unitarianism in which Jefferson believed.

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