It was only a few years ago that I learned about the Jefferson Bible. Thomas Jefferson believed in God. But he did not believe in miracles. In fact, he thought that all the supernatural incidents and miracles in the Bible made the Bible ridiculous. Therefore, in his common sensical way, he created a "better" Bible in which anything supernatural was removed. The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels Compiled by Thomas Jefferson.
He removed a lot. No more Jesus walking on water. No more audible revelations from God. All that was left in Jefferson's Bible were good philosophy.
There are two problems with Jefferson's Bible. The first problem is that the Bible is not just another manual on how to live an ethical life. The Bible is about the spirit of God which enables people to live a good life. Christianity tells us that goodness is hard to achieve without God's supernatural help. Can you imagine trying to obey everything Jesus told us in the Sermon on the mount without God's Holy Spirit helping us? Can you imagine trying to love your neighbor as yourself without knowing that God's own Spirit would work with you? Human goodness without God's supernatural power and love is impossible.
But there was something else wrong with the Jefferson Bible: Jefferson's lack of imagination. When I say "imagination", I don't mean merely accepting the story as an imaginative but symbolic and meaningful myth. I mean really accepting that such miracles as Eve being made from a rib really could happen. Recently, I saw a "spiritual" author on a talk show. He made a parting swipe at people who were unimaginative enough to believe in the miracle of the fishes and Jesus walking on the water. I wish he had been close by so I could tell him about the countless stories which missionaries have related, styories about food being miraculously supplied.
But let's look at a few miraculous events in the Bible which many, including Jefferson, found hard to swallow. In the past these miracles might have seemed downright impossible. But now, with modern science, these miracles don't seem impossible at all.
Let's start with that rib business. According to Moses' account in Genesis, God caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam and then he made Eve from a rib taken from Adam's body. Many Christians have been laughed at for believing this story. But now this story doesn't seem far-fetched. Lately, humans have begun cloning animals. In the process of cloning, a cell is taken from one animal. That cell is then processed and later becomes a duplicate of the first animal. The Eve story of course is greater than cloning. Eve was not a duplicate of Adam. And she was female –an XX pair of Chromosome while Adam was male and had XY chromosomes. God is the creator of the human race and as such he knows more about genetic manipulation and creation than even the most honored human geneticist. What humans are now beginning to discover, what humans may never succeed in achieving –the cloning of a human being-- God did eons ago.
But what about all those prophecies Jefferson considered too weird and unbelievable? Wars in the sky? That is now possible. In the book of Revelations, we read that all the eyes of the world looked on the bodies of the two prophets in the street of Jerusalem. We also read in Revelations that the coming world leader would force everyone, everywhere –slave or free, rich or poor-- to wear a mark when buying or selling. In Jefferson's time, all this would not have been considered possible. But in our time, we know about television and the bio-chip. We know that these once seemingly impossible depictions could very well happen.
As a child, I remember coming across this very same passage about the mark. The idea of a universal mark didn't bother me. What bothered me was the phrase: "slave or free." It seemed to me that John the Revealer, the writer of the Revelations was wrong when he said slaves would have to have this mark. After all, as far as I knew, slavery was over with. No slave existed on the earth. I attempted to work my way through the passage. Maybe John meant people who were spiritually enslaved to sin. Maybe he meant people whose bosses treated them like slave. But then news programs began to show us that slavery still existed in certain parts of African and the Middle East. The Bible was right.
As Christians, we are called to trust God's word. Jude tells us in his book to hold to the faith of our fathers. Sometimes this is hard to do because our minds can't make sense of certain issues. The world, our eyes and our minds tell us one thing. But the Bible says another. From my experience, I can only say that we should not be like Jefferson who cut and pasted out a Bible that pleased his mind and spirit. When we pick and choose what to believe in the Bible, we are showing that we trust our opinions more than we trust God. It's all or nothing. God's truth is true always, even if –for a time– we are too scientific, too unimaginative or too uniformed to believe it.
The topic is so broad this would serve as a foreword to an entire book on the subject of pick and choose Bible translations.
Most people don't realize that they are reading cut and paste Bibles by virtue of the many corrupt Bible translations and paraphrases being promoted.
One of the worst out there is "The Message Bible" by Eugene Petersen which is essentially God's word degraded to Old Hippie Speak...
Cut and paste was not only active in Jefferson's day but in ours as well. Many well-meaning church goers cut-and-paste the scriptures to justify their lifestyles. Basically all cults have their basis in a cut-and-paste theology. Excellent article, quite thought provoking. Keep 'em coming, Carol.