Thomas Jefferson had a complicated relationship with the Bible.

By the time he was elected the nation’s third president in 1801, the Founding Father had become a champion of separation of church and state. His Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a precursor to First Amendment safeguards on religious freedom in the Constitution, passed the state’s general assembly in January 1786. When campaigning for president, Jefferson was berated by his opponents for being “anti-Christian” and “an infidel.”


Jefferson kept his own religious views private. But he always wrestled with the veracity of the New Testament. That’s when his penknife came in handy.

Jefferson believed that in order to glean the most from the New Testament, Jesus’s moral teachings needed to be separated from the miracles in the Gospels that he found suspect. He ordered six volumes — in English, French, Latin and Greek — and took a blade to their thin pages, rearranging Jesus’s teachings in chronological order and cutting out what he saw as embellishments that he didn’t believe. He felt those core teachings provided “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”

Continue reading:  Jefferson took a blade to his Bible: Presidents, faith and the new Bible museum

12 thoughts on “Jefferson took a blade to his Bible: Presidents, faith and the new Bible museum

  1. I’ve heard of Jefferson doing that. Will read the article.

    Something I find suspect in the NT is the number of books that are authored by Paul. Why so many? Well, he was an evangelist, and the new church wanted to grow, grow, grow. Ostensibly to save souls, but maybe really… the better to build a powerful organization?

    Obviously, I’m a critic of my own religion. But the more I understand the consequences of misused power, the more I understand why Jesus said a rich man has difficulty entering Heaven.

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    • From my understanding, and I am no expert, Paul was quite the revolutionary. He basically created a new religion which in many ways ran contrary to prevailing beliefs. From strictly a historical perspective, it is he who appears to be the father of Christianity.

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        • JoAnn, I highly recommend you do some research on Paul. He played a much bigger role in establishing Christianity than most believers want to admit. (Besides that, it’s pretty interesting. 🙂 )

          And I don’t think Robert will mind, but I discuss Paul and his role at great length in my book (along with some other “stuff” you might find interesting).

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        • JoAnn, here’s my published review of Nan’s book:

          This remarkable story of personal spiritual and religious reassessment is much more than that. The book, in actuality, is an epistemological study of Judeo-Christian religion as it evolved over the centuries. The well-reasoned, well-sourced contextual and historical analyses are illuminating to say the least, and yet light and breezy to read. Author Nan Yielding has a gifted writing style which allows her to explore such provocative subject matter in the most inoffensive way. To borrow a biblical parable, I consider Yielding’s brilliant nonfiction work a “pearl of great price.”

          And, there’s more. In addition to the compelling story of personal rediscovery and the unbiased examination of Christianity, Things I Never Learned in Sunday School offers readers astute psychological insight on the importance of objective thinking as well as the reasons why ancient peoples began believing in gods in the first place. How Yielding covered so much ground so thoroughly and yet so concisely should instill great admiration and even envy in today’s writers – including myself.

          I would also like to assuage the apprehension deeply religious people might have about reading this book. Yes, it will challenge some of your beliefs; but, it will do so in the most compassionate manner. You see, the author’s profound spirituality really shines through.

          I’m recommending this book as must-read.

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