My friend Bill Nolan, Pastoral Associate at St. Thomas Apostle Church, writes a weekly column for his parish. I receive it by e-mail each week.
This week, Bill wrote about what is known colloquially as “The Jefferson Bible.” This is the version of the Bible created by Thomas Jefferson with the aim of creating a condensed compilation of “the doctrines of Jesus, what he believed to be the essential elements of a Christian life.” Bill describes the work as “essentially a biographical chronology and collection of Jesus’ more famous speeches and parables.
What most interests Bill is what Jefferson cut from the original Gospels, both in and of itself and in comparison with what many people would be most likely to cut today. He writes
[I]t is the “cutting” from the original that makes the Jefferson Bible so intriguing. For what Jefferson also sought to do was eliminate from the story that which made him uncomfortable. And what made him most uncomfortable were the stories of the supernatural, the miracle stories, the divinity references, and the Resurrection. In summary, what makes Jesus who he is, at least in the eyes of mainstream Christian tradition.
What I find most interesting in the composition of the Jefferson Bible is that it eliminates – and retains – exactly the opposite of what I find most Catholics would eliminate and retain when it comes to the story of Jesus. It is not the divinity of Christ that we tend to have the most trouble with, it is the humanity of Jesus, the real person, the flesh and blood. It is not the supernatural, but the natural; not the miraculous, but the everyday; not the Resurrection, but the suffering and death.
Bill ends his column with a great thought exercises: If you could cut and paste the Gospels to your liking, what would you keep and what would you cut? I suspect Bill is correct that “your answers might reveal much about the Jesus – and the Christ – you need to know.
Thanks to Bill for allowing me to share his thoughts.