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How Did Thomas Jefferson Express His Religious Beliefs?

Thomas Jefferson, a beacon of Enlightenment thinking, expressed his religious beliefs through a lens of reason and morality, rather than traditional dogma. He revered the moral teachings of Jesus, yet he questioned the divinity ascribed to him, crafting his own "Jefferson Bible" to reflect his rationalist perspective. How might his unique approach to faith influence our understanding of religious freedom today?

Talk about a doubting Thomas. When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal," he might not have specifically had Jesus Christ in mind, but he would have included him nonetheless.

For proof, we can turn to the controversial cut-and-paste version of the New Testament that Jefferson created after his presidency. Jefferson, famous for his questioning of religion, put together an 84-page Bible that focused on Jesus the man, not Jesus the son of God. In it, Jefferson portrays Jesus as a teacher with great morals, but he excludes all of the miracles attributed to Jesus and any notion of his Resurrection and divinity.

In 1820, Thomas Jefferson created an abridged Bible that left out all references to Jesus's divinity and miracles.
In 1820, Thomas Jefferson created an abridged Bible that left out all references to Jesus's divinity and miracles.

Completed around 1820, when the former president was in his late 70s, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth was kept out of public view both because Jefferson believed in the privacy of a person's religious beliefs and because America at the time was not ready for such a work. Today, it is housed at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. It has been fully digitized and can be viewed in its entirety on the museum's website.

The Jefferson you don't know:

  • Thomas Jefferson designed the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond along with French architect Charles-Louis Clérisseau. In Charlottesville, Jefferson designed the Rotunda at the University of Virginia and his Monticello home, which together are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • Jefferson had a personal collection of nearly 6,500 books, which he offered as a replacement after the British raided the Library of Congress in 1814.

  • On his gravestone, Jefferson is remembered not as a U.S. president but as the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and as the father of the University of Virginia.

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    • In 1820, Thomas Jefferson created an abridged Bible that left out all references to Jesus's divinity and miracles.
      In 1820, Thomas Jefferson created an abridged Bible that left out all references to Jesus's divinity and miracles.