The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth: Review and Reflections

I had never heard of this work before this week.  It is apparently the work of Thomas Jefferson, and it is his take on the New Testament, without all of those pesky supernatural things to get in the way.  Yeah....  Here are a few of my thoughts as I read it, followed by my conclusions
  • - 1:55-59 - This brief excerpt makes no sense apart from the miracle that is performed by Jesus.  It is found in Mark 3, where Jesus enters a synagogue on the Sabbath and heals a man with a withered hand.  The Pharisees consider it work and that Jesus is breaking the Sabbath; however, in the Jefferson version, it seems like the Pharisees are ticked off because Jesus asked them a simple question.  It wasn't just the question, it was the act of healing a man with a "whithered" hand that set off the Pharisees.
  • - 2:20-21 - Comes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5).  "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."  Now think about this for a minute.  Jesus says that he is there to fulfill the Law and the Prophets - the very ones who talk about his resurrection, which is left out of Jefferson's version because of its supernatural nature.  To conclude, it also says that nothing should be removed from the Law (which is the OT for us), but Jefferson does the equivalent by chopping off large portions of the gospels.
  • - 3:48-50 - The discussion of the narrow and the wide gate.  By chopping off the supernatural, Jefferson makes the way much wider, and is, in fact, doing the very thing that this passage warns against in the first place.  And the "beware of false prophets" part?  Sure, the Jefferson edition may make more sense to those who are inexplicably offended by the supernatural, but it is an incomplete and, therefore, false message.
  • - 3:63-64 - The people were amazed at Jesus' teaching because he taught as one with authority.  So, why would somebody take away from his teaching?  If Jesus taught with authority that had never been seen before, why would we disregard his teachings?  Jesus himself talked about his resurrection.  Why ignore it if he taught with such authority?
  • - 4:26 - Why would we be afraid of one who can throw us into hell is the natural world is all that there is?  If all we see is all there is, then talking about hell is pointless.
  • - 4:52-56 - Retells the story of those waiting on their lord to return.  The point of this parable is the need to be prepared when Christ returns.  Again, no supernatural, no return of Christ.  Jefferson is proving to be very inconsistent.
  • - 7:57 - "Jesus answered and said to them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel."  "One work"?  What could that possibly mean if not a miracle that Jesus performed?  Jesus admits to doing the miraculous, but Jefferson denies it.
  • - 12:61-70 - Story of the Sadducees trying to trap Jesus with a question about the resurrection that the Jews believed in.  It would be interesting to hear why this wasn't cut out as well.
  • - 13:50-52 - Relates Jesus' telling of the flood story found in Genesis; something that Jefferson certainly wouldn't have believed.
  • - 15:49-58 - Leaves out the part about Jesus sweating blood as he prays, which is an actual medical condition called hematidrosis.  It is rare, but happens in circumstances when a subject is under extreme stress.  Da Vinci mentions soldiers sweating blood prior to battle.
  • - 16:13 - Mentions that one of the disciples cut off a person's ear, but fails to mention that Jesus heals the person.  If we want to focus on Jesus' teachings and love and forgiveness, perhaps healing an ear that was cut off would show his compassion and love and capacity to forgive.  Of course, such a thing cannot possibly happen, right?
  • - 16:37 - Mentions Jesus' saying that if "this temple" is destroyed, he will build another that is made without hands.  John 2 clearly tells us that he is talking about his body and the resurrection when he says this.  The Jefferson Bible makes no mention of John's report of Jesus' words, but he mentions the false witnesses saying it at Jesus' trial.
  • - 16:41 - The high priest asks Jesus if he is the Son of God, and in response to Jesus' answer cries out that Jesus has committed blasphemy.  It is only blasphemy if Jesus' answer is something that would have equated himself with God... like saying that he is the Son of God.  Jesus undeniably says that he is the Son of God here; not just a normal man, as the version is trying to show him to be.
  • -17:37 - the above two points are again discussed here.
  • - Inconsistency in Jefferson's thought that is found throughout: if he wants to get rid of anything that is considered supernatural, then he should take out any reference whatsoever to God, who by His very nature is far beyond anything that is found in the natural world.
I have to say that I am very disappointed in this rendition of the gospels by one of America's most well-known figures.  Now, the content itself, I can't really complain about.  It is straight out of the gospels; however the editing is horrible and inconsistent (as you can see above), as it chops out significant portions of the Gospels (there are 89 chapters in the four gospels; there are only 45 pages and 17 chapters in the edition that I read from the internet).  It may be offensive to some that stories of the miracles fill the verses of the gospels, but these miracles point to Jesus as something more than just a regular guy like ourselves.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time that somebody has tried to edit the New Testament in such a way that it is better for their personal beliefs.  It's always easier to change the text than to change one's life, isn't it?  Marcion is one figure in church history who tried to do this.  He wanted to have a Burger King Scripture as well ("have it your way").  But what this ignores is the fact that the Scriptures aren't about our preferences.

Scripture was written and handed down to us by those who were a part of the story.  1 John talks about how they were there, they saw, they touched, they heard the story of Jesus.  I'm going to take their word on what happened over some political figure 1700 years after the events took place.

Jesus is who Scripture tells us he is.  Whether or not we want to believe it, we have been handed down the stories by those who were there.  We can't chalk it up to first century ignorance, because that is nothing more than 21st century ignorance.  People knew the difference between a person who was dead and a person who was alive.  People didn't survive crucifixion in the first century.  They weren't proclaiming that Jesus survived the crucifixion; they didn't say that he lives on in the memory of his teachings.

Jesus is about so much more than love and peace.  He is about redemption and reconciliation as well.  He is the one who came so that we would know what it means to live in full relationship and fellowship with the Almighty Father.  If you are offended by the miracle stories and refuse to believe simply because they sound like fairy tales, then get over it.  

If I told you at the beginning of last season that the Rays would go from a 66 win team to the AL champs, you would have thought that it was impossible; but it happened (okay, it wouldn't be me if there wasn't a post about sports).  There is a medical phenomenon called "spontaneous remission" in which there is no medical reason for a person to heal, but they do anyway.  The unbelieveable still happens, so why would we rule out the idea that it happened back then as well.

When you look at what happened after the resurrection, the only thing that make sense in light of all the evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead.  That's it.  No other explanation takes into account all the other details of what happened after that first Easter.  The question is not "is this true?" but "what are you going to do with the truth?"  We can ignore it and come up with excuses or we can recognize that something extraordinary and unbelieveable happened and allow ourselves to learn more about it.  Don't chop off the parts that don't make sense.  Read them, over and over again if necessary.  Allow your life to be changed by the truth contained in those words.


Katie Kermeen Swisher said...

Thanks for this babe - great thoughts!

Suzanne said...

I'm shocked by Jefferson. I've always been fascinated by him-his science and some of his writings. I never knew that he had such a warped view on Jesus.
I do enjoy your blogs when they aren't about baseball.