Thomas Jefferson’s Revision of the Bible

Most Americans know something about Thomas Jefferson. He was President, founder of the University of Virginia, a huge influence on the Constitution and one of the towering figures of the Founder’s generation. 

Jefferson’s religion remains hotly disputed. He is generally considered author of the phrase “separation of church and state,” and all that means in the American past and present. Was he like today’s fundamentalists, as some claim? Or did he wear his religion lightly, as others claim? 

What is rarely noted in the discussions about Jefferson and religion is that he came up with his own version of the New Testament. His book is titled “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” Jefferson did a version of cut and paste, literally cutting sections of pages out and pasting them together in a new version. He seems to have used it for his own contemplation of religion in his last years.

He emphasized Jesus’ teachings. Jefferson includes Christ’s entombment but leaves out the resurrection. His version of the Bible was passed down in the family, and acquired by the Smothsonian in the 1890s. 

Possibly the oddest thing connected to the book is that in 1904 the Smithsonian printed 9,000 copies of Jefferson’s Bible. Until the 1950s every newly-elected U.S. Senator was given a copy. 

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