Thomas Jefferson is Not Jesus
Amid the splendor of the monuments in Washington, DC, the Library of Congress is often overlooked. It is filled with exhibits and magnificent artwork that many tourists never see.
After British troops burned down the library during the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson replenished the collection by selling his personal library to the government. The Library of Congress’s archivists have created, as their centerpiece display, a replica of Jefferson’s original set of books.
The most controversial work in the collection is the Jefferson “Bible.”
Jefferson was a student of multiple religions. He loved the moral teachings of Jesus but believed the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) were filled with fabrications created by zealous followers to enhance Jesus’ reputation. So, Jefferson carefully created his own version of the Bible.
Using a sharp knife, he skillfully cut and pasted his own version of the Scriptures by eliminating all the miraculous occurrences and supernatural experiences - the Virgin Birth, the miracles, the Resurrection and more. It left Jefferson with a book of principles that he considered to be good rules for living.
Jefferson’s error is the same one that plagued Adam and Eve in the Garden. Like them, Jefferson wanted a god made in his own image. One writer goes so far as to say that the Jesus of Jefferson’s Bible is a lot like Thomas Jefferson himself!
Jefferson wanted to tame God and fit Him into the confines of Enlightenment Rationalism. That is the essence of what it means to have an idol. When we try to redefine God, we are creating an idol - a false god that serves our misguided attempt to shape the eternal into our image.
Jefferson’s approach to the Scriptures is still in vogue. Many admire Jesus’ moral teachings from The Sermon on the Mount and other discourses. However, they reject (or ignore) the biblical teaching that Jesus is more than a philosopher of morality. They will not acknowledge that Jesus claimed to be God.
If you are seeking God today, you will find Him in His book, the Bible.
Where that differs from the perspective of the Bible, is that the Bible teaches God is self-defined. We cannot fashion Him into a puppet to do our bidding. He declares who He is and demands we meet Him on His terms.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote about this same phenomenon nearly 3,000 years ago. The nation of Judah, part of God’s chosen people, had rejected Him in favor of phony gods they could define.
Through Isaiah’s writings, God makes it clear He rejects any attempts to redefine Him. Here are a few examples:
Isaiah 42:8 - I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.
Isaiah 43:10-11 - “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.”
Isaiah 44:6 - This is what the Lord says - Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.
If you are seeking God today - on His terms - you will find Him in His book, the Bible. Jesus made that clear when He encountered a group of religious leaders in His day who were guilty of the same sin as Adam and Eve and Thomas Jefferson - trying to confine God to a set of rules and regulations.
Jesus pointed out their error by referring to some of Isaiah’s words when he said to them in John 5:39-40, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
God is beyond our complete comprehension and at the same time he is very much knowable to us. That is the mystery of faith. God is discernible through our minds but unable to be confined by our limitations. When we seek Him, as all of Scripture proclaims, He will reveal Himself to us.