Did a U.S. president rewrite the Bible?

The Jefferson Bible

Scholars refer to the Jefferson Bible as a cut-and-paste job. That's literally what it is. Jefferson actually cut out the verses he liked from a few copies of the Bible and pasted them into a blank book. So he didn't actually rewrite the Bible -- but he did restructure it and write the table of contents for his book.

After retirement from public life, Jefferson worked on his bible some more. He added the corresponding Bible verses in three other languages (Greek, Latin and French) in addition to the English-language translation he originally used. In his final version, each page had two columns. On the left-hand side, he put the Greek in the first column and the corresponding Latin in the next column. On the right-hand side, he listed the French and English versions.

In all, 990 verses made the final cut. The verses he chose chiefly came from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. What he actually considered worth reading and "genuine" were events like the Sermon on the Mount, certain parables (such as the ones about the good shepherd, the wedding feast and the 10 talents, among others) as well as the Lord's Prayer [source: Hardon].

As we mentioned, miracles are completely absent from Jefferson's bible. This includes the stories of Jesus turning water into wine, healing the sick, raising Lazarus from the dead and scores of others. What most people consider the most significant miracles -- the virgin birth and the resurrection -- aren't mentioned, either. The Last Supper is depicted in part, but Jefferson skips over the part about the Eucharist. These miracles and events are at the core of the Christian belief that Jesus was, in fact, the son of God. That's exactly why Jefferson skipped them. Unlike the Gospel writers, Jefferson didn't believe in the divinity of Jesus. He thought it was the belief in Jesus' divinity that muddled the evangelists' accounts.

That he focused on Jesus' words and not his miracles isn't to say that Jefferson's bible doesn't have a narrative structure. It does tell a story of Jesus. Because he was merely cutting and pasting, however, Jefferson had to sometimes take a teaching out of its immediate context. In all, the story of Jesus certainly carries less punch, as you'd expect when the virgin birth and dramatic resurrection are omitted. What remains are the thoughts of an insightful philosopher, which overshadow the details of his life -- an effect Jefferson no doubt intended.