Saturday, February 16, 2013

Frazer On Barton-Jefferson-Christianity @ World

I'm hoping that title says it all. You can read it here.


Tom Van Dyke said...

I agree with Gregg on the facts [nobody can disagree!] except for his claim about capitalizing "He" in reference to Jesus, indicating a belief in his divinity. Although that can be true, such capitalization was not universal--one commenter points out that some editions of the KJV don't capitalize it!

[It was also the custom in those days to capitalize the names of kings, so capitalizing the "H" in He could still be done who believed Jesus was a messiah or king albeit still not "divine."]

[But all this is nitpicking, innit? OTOH, much of this Barton controversy is.]

As for the substantive point, I've seen no evidence jefferson believed Jesus to be anything more than man, or the scriptures anything but the work of men, not divine inspiration.

{Although the Second Coming WAS left in the "Jefferson Bible."}

On the debating front, by not quoting Barton directly in his charge,

David Barton’s fundamental claim in chapter 7 of The Jefferson Lies is that Jefferson was orthodox for the first 70 years of his life and only rejected the fundamental doctrines of Christianity in the final 15 years of his life.

Frazer allows Barton to slip the noose in his reply.

“Early in life Jefferson apparently was a typical Anglican gentleman, but later in life he embraced unorthodox beliefs. [In fact, I devoted 16 pages in my book to documenting Jefferson’s heterodox beliefs.] But throughout all phases of his life he maintained an open respect and admiration for Jesus Christ and Christian values and morality, and he regularly promoted Christianity in ways that make today’s secularists and separationists uncomfortable.”

Which, BTW, is Barton's thesis, one that his critics don't confront. They may get him on points, but his larger thesis itself stands unmolested.

"..."so I will now resume my efforts attempting to beat back the secularist progressive movement that wrongly invokes Jefferson in their efforts to expunge any presence of faith from the public square."

[I've rather been defending Barton on these grounds at the Throckmorton blog. Perhaps he's taking notes. ;-P]

Gregg Frazer said...

Hi Tom,

Re the capitalization: I was pointing out that Barton inserted capitalization where it was not present in Jefferson's original. There is no other reason for BARTON to insert it. What was standard in the 18th century is irrelevant to my point. Barton was trying to make it look like Jefferson did it -- but he didn't.

As I explained in an earlier comment, the Second Coming was NOT left in the Jefferson Bible. The verse that WE know refers to the Second Coming was left in, but all of the contextual verses -- and corollary verses in other locations -- which identify it with the Second Coming are left out. So, by itself, there is no way to know that it refers to a Second Coming.

Re the debating point: I didn't quote Barton directly because World limited me to just 1000 words! I had to be very short & succinct in everything. In another place, he says just what I said he said (page 160, for example). So, he would have avoided that and quoted what he did in the response -- deflecting away as he always does.

Notice that he doesn't even try to defend his abuse of the original texts -- he switches subjects to his role as a cultural battler. But that isn't what was in question -- what was in question was his standing as a HISTORIAN.

If I'd had space, I certainly would have confronted even this mild claim of his. Namely, Jefferson NEVER expressed respect or admiration for "Jesus CHRIST" -- only for simply "Jesus" or "Jesus of Nazareth"; his names emphasizing his humanity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Gregg, you & I seldom disagree on the battle of factoids. You are most always right. But Barton's argument is at best arguable although I probably agree with your interpretation rather than his on virtually every point.

It is also worth mentioning that the pronouns for Jesus are not capitalized in Jefferson’s original, as he, unlike Barton, did not consider them to be pronouns for God.

Despite the lack of direct quoting of Barton---prohibitive, as you indicate by saying World placed a 1000-word limit on your rebuttal, I trust you fully on this. Betw you & me, I probably would have let such a minor point slide, Gregg, as that quibble just got in the way of your better points.

Notice that he doesn't even try to defend his abuse of the original texts -- he switches subjects to his role as a cultural battler. But that isn't what was in question -- what was in question was his standing as a HISTORIAN.

Well, I have my own quibbles with your own work as a HISTORIAN [caps yrs not mine], not on the details and factoids, but on greater thesis, that the Founding wasn't "Christian." Barton is more the sideshow.

I like "theistic rationalism," but I don't think it tells enough of the whole story.

The God of the American Founding was Jehovah, the providential creator-God, and nobody else. The One God of the philosophers and of the Stoics, the Almighty G-d of the Jews and of the Christians. The rest is details.

And your definition of Second Coming, mebbe you're a pre-trib, but when Jesus comes back at the head of a horde of angels to judge the living and dead, that's in the Jefferson Bible, so let's litigate that separately, if you want to continue to litigate it at all. it's there.

Call it the Second Coming or don't, but Jefferson's Bible leaves in.

31When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: 32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: 33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35For I was an hungered, and you gave me meat...

In all honesty, theologically, I think Jefferson left the passage in his "Bible" to argue that those who are generous according to the Beatitudes are going to Heaven---"salvation by works."

But if David Barton is a sophistic idiot [or if the sky is blue], he has an arguable point here.

Your own thesis, Gregg, well that's it's own story, not Barton's. Asked and answered here, BTW.

Scroll down for "WS Forten's" comments, not mine. A Mr. Fortenberry, perhaps you're already acquainted.

If not, heh heh. I'd be happy to introduce you.

wsforten said...

I think that you are overlooking a few things, Gregg. First, Jefferson labeled the Sabellians, Sorcinians, Arians, Apollinarians and Macedonians as heretics. It is doubtful that he would do this if he thought that one of these theologies contained the correct understanding of Christianity. This is made even more significant given the fact that Jefferson defined the term "heretic" in this same document as one who "is an impugner of fundamentals." Thus, it is evident that Jefferson recognized the aforementioned sects as being heretical sects which disagreed with the fundamentals of Christianity.

The significance of this leads us, of course, to the observation that Jefferson did not describe the Arminians as heretics. This would seem to indicate that he agreed with their doctrine as stated in this document. This is perfectly consistent with your description of Arminianism as a theological term for theistic rationalism and as "the technical term for democracy in religion." Both of which you indicate would have been acceptable to Jefferson. It would seem, then, that you would probably agree with the conclusion that Jefferson's notes on religion reveal his approval of Arminianism.

The difference between Jefferson's approval of Arminianism and his stated disapproval of the other sects listed demonstrates that this document is more than just an encyclopedic listing of what various religious groups believed. Jefferson was clearly recording his opinion of these groups. This leads to the obvious conclusion that since Jefferson did not state any disapproval of Locke's system of Christianity, as he did of others in his list, then he likely approved of that system. Judging by the statements about Locke in your book, I would think that you would have no argument with the idea that Jefferson approved of Locke's system of Christianity.

Now, as you have pointed out, the statement "The Apostles creed was by them taken to contain all things necessary to salvation" occurs within Jefferson's description of Locke's system of Christianity. If Jefferson was writing of his approval of Locke's system, then it would necessarily follow that he approved of this statement regarding the Apostle's creed.

This statement, however, is not the only one which you and Barton should be discussing. I have not read Barton's book, and I am in the process of slowly analyzing yours, so I do not know if either of you mention any other statements from Jefferson's notes on religion, but it strikes me as very odd that you would make such a big deal out of the preposition "them" in the statement about the Apostle's creed and not say anything about the preposition "our" which Jefferson used a few sentences earlier when he said, "Consequently, the fundamentals of Xty were to be found in the preaching of our Saviour, which is related in the gospels. If Jefferson intentionally used the preposition "them" in the last sentence of this section in order to separate himself from those who accepted the Apostle's creed, then surely it must follow that he was just as intentional in his use of the preposition "our" to describe the Savior.

wsforten said...

Of course, you may be inclined to respond that Jefferson was simply quoting Locke in his use of the personal possessive, but I hope that you would quickly recognize the folly of doing so, for this is not the only place in Jefferson's notes on religion where he refers to Jesus as "our Saviour." In addition to the two instances in the section on Locke, Jefferson also uses this same phrase in a later paragraph in which he is clearly stating his own opinion and not that of Locke. There we find him saying, "The Council of Antioch ann [ ] expressly affirms of our Saviour οὐϰ ἐστιν ὁμουσιοϛ that he was not consubstantial to the father." And then, toward the end of the document, Jefferson once again uses this phrase in his argument for religious freedom when he states: "Our Savior chose not to propagate his religion by temporal punmts or civil incapacitation." Clearly, Jefferson was stating his opinion that Jesus was his Savior and not just listing the beliefs of other men in an encyclopedic fashion as you claimed.

In addition, Jefferson's usage of the pronoun "we" also argues against your claim. In explaining the Protestant rejection of the authority of tradition (in contradiction to the claim of the Council of Trent that the traditions of the Church are equal to the Scriptures), Jefferson wrote, "As to tradition, if we are Protestants we reject all tradition, & rely on the scripture alone." Once again, it seems that if Jefferson was intentional in his earlier use of the preposition "them," then it only seems logical to conclude that he was just as intentional in this use of the preposition "we." This would seem to indicate that at this point in his life, Jefferson considered himself to be a Protestant.

This preposition was used again in Jefferson's statement of the necessity of choosing a bishop, but the most telling usage of these possessive prepositions comes at the very end of Jefferson's notes where we read: "It was the misfortune of mankind that during the darker centuries the Xn. priests following their ambition and avarice combining with the magistrate to divide the spoils of the people, could establish the notion that schismatics might be ousted of their possessions & destroyed. This notion we have not yet cleared ourselves from." Here we have a statement from Jefferson in which he directly affiliates himself with Christianity. This statement, along with the other preposition usages that I have mentioned, seems to lend much more credence to Barton's view than to yours. Regardless of whether Jefferson was a "real" Christian, it is certain that this document conveys his personal belief that he was a Christian and not just an encyclopedia of facts about various denominations and sects.

By the way, I have completed my analysis of the first chapter of your book, and I have published a response to it that you may want to read. If you would care to do so, you can find it online at this link:

wsforten said...

By the way, I also find it very intriguing that you would claim that "Jefferson NEVER expressed respect or admiration for "Jesus CHRIST" -- only for simply "Jesus" or "Jesus of Nazareth"; his names emphasizing his humanity." I am curious as to what significance, if any, you place on the fact that Jefferson's Life and Morals of Jesus included included seven references to Jesus as the Christ.

I am also immensely curious as to your opinion of Paul's reference to Jesus of Nazareth in Acts 22:8 as contrasted with the absence of that descriptor in Acts 9:5. Do you think that the Lord identified Himself as Jesus of Nazareth, or do you think that Paul changed the story so as to make it more personal to the Jews before whom he was speaking in the later passage? If you hold to the former view, then I fail to see how you can condemn Jefferson's usage of a name that Jesus used of Himself. If the latter, then I fail to see how you can disagree with Jefferson's claim that Paul corrupted the words of Jesus.

jimmiraybob said...

WSF - "...the fact that Jefferson's Life and Morals of Jesus included included seven references to Jesus as the Christ."

This piques my curiosity. What, if any, significance do you attribute to Jefferson having included Christ in work?

jimmiraybob said... this work.

Jonathan Rowe said...

WS Forten: What do you think of Jefferson's faith? Do you think it qualifies as "Christianity?" Do you think Jefferson was an orthodox Arminian and then became a more militant unitarian at a particular point? If so what point?

wsforten said...

I've not come to a conclusion on Jefferson's beliefs at this point. If you've had an opportunity to read my book refuting Chris Pinto, then you will recall that I stated that "I do not believe that Mr. Jefferson was a Christian, for I can find no record of him ever accepting Christ as his Savior." In the above linked analysis of the first chapter of Gregg's book, I provide a detailed explanation of the qualifications by which I judge an individual to be a Christian or not. I must point out, however, that I have not yet completed my study of Jefferson's writings, and I am open to the possibility that I may yet discover some statement by him which would confirm the claim that he was a Christian. For now, though, I hold to the position that Jefferson probably was not a Christian, but he sincerely thought himself to be one, and he was certainly no enemy to the Christian faith as many people are prone to claim.

This, of course, leads to an answer of jimmiraybob's question. I think that Jefferson's inclusion of the references to Christ are evidence that he thought himself to be a Christian and had no real objection to the use of that title in reference to Jesus.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'd call him a "Jesusian" like someone can be a Platonist or an Aristotelian.

But since Jefferson claimed that Jesus never made any supernatural claims about himself, that they were attached to him by the later corruption of his words, belief in a supernatural role for Jesus was not only unnecessary but impossible.

Gregg Frazer said...

So much here and I have so little time.


Whether or not one quotes originals correctly or not -- especially quotes that are the whole basis of one's argument -- constitutes more than a battle of "factoids."

Re theistic rationalism telling enough of the whole story: you remember, that I do not claim that all of the founders -- or even most of them -- were theistic rationalists. And that I say that there were Christians among the founders and almost no deists. No single term or concept explains the "whole story" -- no general claim can be made concerning "the founders" other than that they were a diverse group with varying beliefs. And that I also posit some Christian influence.

Re who the God of the founding was: the God of Christianity is not the same god as that of the Stoics and the other groups you mention. We'll just have to disagree on that point.

Re the Second Coming & the Jefferson Bible: JESUS coming at the head of a horde of angels, etc. is NOT in the Jefferson Bible. Since he disconnected the passage from its context -- placed it in a group of parables inserted from elsewhere -- and removed the corollary passages that explain the context and who the Son of Man is, it merely says the "Son of Man" -- there is nothing to identify Jesus as that Son of Man. Or to indicate that it is a SECOND coming -- it is completely disconnected from a first coming. I explained this in detail in an earlier "comments" section and don't have time to regurgitate it. If you're interested in my argument, look it up. I think I was responding to WSForten.

Sorry, I'd like to go through the whole argument, but I have no time.

Gregg Frazer said...


None of the "Notes on Religion" is Jefferson's own commentary. It is an encyclopedic account of various views for his own reference. He does not "label" the various groups "heretics" in his own opinion -- he is attaching to them their official status according to the church -- the ones he calls heretics were all officially declared so by church councils. That's why he refers to them as "Xn heretics" -- the Christians have officially said that -- i.e. it is the position of Christians. So, the fact that he doesn't call Arminians heretics is that they hadn't been officially declared to be so -- again, he is making encyclopedic notes, not personal commentary.

So, Jefferson is not stating his approval or disapproval of the groups, but simply descriptions of them. It is as if you were given an assignment in school to list groups & what they believed -- without your own commentary.

Either way, Locke did not say that he himself approved of the Apostles Creed, either -- he said that it was taken by those to whom it was written to contain ....

Re "them": Jefferson is simply quoting Locke -- almost verbatim from Locke's "Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity" -- so Jefferson summarizes Locke's "in the first Ages of the Church" as "the people they were written to" in a previous sentence and substitutes the pronoun "them" in place of that messy & potentially repetitive construction. It is not Jefferson's opinion of the Apostles Creed OR Locke's opinion of the Apostles Creed. So, whether TJ generally agrees with Locke on religious matters or not is irrelevant.

Re "our": again, Jefferson is quoting Locke's "Vindication." Just two pages before the Apostles Creed comment from Locke, Locke says: "... the Fundamental Articles of Faith, as I had through the Preachings of our Saviour" and he talks about collecting them from the Epistles -- just as TJ does in the "Notes." Jefferson is not saying "our" -- he is laying out what Locke says and Locke says "our."

So, yes, Jefferson was just as intentional in using "our" as he was in using "them" -- he intentionally used Locke's terms to describe Locke's system. If only Barton and others were as conscientious in citing others.

Re your statement that the later use of "our" is Jefferson clearly stating his own opinion: No, he actually gives the source for that comment in the text: Joannes Zonoras's History of Primitive Christianity, as others have noted: "A concluding note to this conciliar history of Trinitarian Doctrine is taken by Jefferson from the preface of a History of Primitive Christianity which mentions a Council of Antioch that flatly contradicted the Council of Nicaea by declaring that "our Savior . . . was not consubstantial to the Father." [] You will note that, once again, Jefferson quotes the original source nearly verbatim. But it is not HIS opinion.

I don't have time to run down the originals that Jefferson is quoting in each case, but the point should be established -- the "Notes" is, in fact, merely an encyclopedic effort on Jefferson's part for his own use in religious discussions/debates.

Gregg Frazer said...

Re Jesus as the "Christ": there are some verses mentioning the word "Christ" included in "Life & Morals," but none which affirm that Jesus IS the Christ. There are several verses in which people ask whether He is the Christ and Pilate annoys the Jews by calling Him that -- but no affirmation of it. Certainly, merely including verses in which the term is used does not constitute "respect or admiration" for Jesus AS the Christ.

Re Paul's use of the term "Jesus of Nazareth": Jesus of Nazareth is a perfectly appropriate and biblical term -- I never said that it wasn't! I merely said that it is a term emphasizing His humanity. It is good/right/appropriate to do that -- but not to the exclusion of His deity. That was Jefferson's (and Franklin's and others) problem. They never affirmed His deity, but only used the humanity-emphasizing designation.

Re Jefferson's Christianity: I have never suggested that Jefferson did not consider himself to be a Christian -- of course he did. He said so numerous times. That does not make him a Christian, though. The critical question is: what did he think it meant to be a Christian? He expressed great concern for the fundamentals of Christianity -- but what were the fundamentals of Christianity, according to him? He was a vehement opponent of "the Christian faith," but a supporter of what he called "primitive" Christianity -- the moral teachings of Jesus divorced from the core doctrines of real/biblical Christianity.

I, like Tom, refer to Jefferson as a "Jesusian" -- one who likes his vision of the person Jesus and some of Jesus' teachings.

I won't be back any time soon -- I have a sermon to prepare for Sunday and a Bible Study message covering the whole book of Psalms for next Friday!

Tom Van Dyke said...

it merely says the "Son of Man" -- there is nothing to identify Jesus as that Son of Man.

You're just digging deeper, Gregg: then you still have to explain who Jefferson thought the "Son of Man" is, because "Son of Man" is a uniquely Christian formulation--as is Judgment Day itself!

As for the God of the Founding merely being the god of the philosophers and the Stoics, you need to prove that with texts too.

Which I don't believe you can. Yes, "natural theology" of the Aristotelian-Aquinas/natural law sort can be located via reason, the "classical "proofs of God" of classical theism---however, the Judeo-Christian tradition has always subsumed the [One] God as its own. [See Acts 17, where Paul the Apostle claims the Athenians' "Unknown God" is the one Paul comes to preach.]

"May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, and planted them in the promised land, whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven, and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah."---GWash, Letter To the Hebrew Congregation of the City of Savannah. May, 1790.

wsforten said...

Thank you for responding, Gregg. The link which you provided was very informative, and in light of it, I am willing to consider a revision of my previous statements. It does appear that three out of the four of Jefferson's uses of the pronoun "our" were quotes from other authors. The fourth use was Jefferson's own choice of wording although I would be willing to consider the argument that he chose that preposition in order to be consistent.

However, this still does not resolve my contention with your position. You have stated emphatically that "None of the 'Notes on Religion' is Jefferson's own commentary." This is simply false. We can debate a great deal about how much of this document was Jefferson's own commentary, how much of it was an admission of his approval of the conclusions of others and how much of it was mere quotation without approval, but even your own source admits that portions of this document clearly convey Jefferson's own opinions. Your source states:

The great number of different religious sects in the world, with which he became familiar in his study of heretics, led Thomas Jefferson to draw a practical conclusion in his Notes (Emphasis mine)

This is followed by a quote from a portion of the Notes which your source attributes to Jefferson's personal opinion. This source also noted that:

Jefferson was right in citing, with evident approval, Locke's teaching that... (Emphasis mine)

This statement agrees with my point that Jefferson likely approved of Locke's system of Christianity. Furthermore, your source also pointed out that:

"Jefferson ... refused to follow Locke when the latter denied toleration to those who held... (Emphasis mine)

This, once again, demonstrates that Jefferson expressed his own opinion to some extent in his Notes on Religion. This is directly contradictory to your claim, and it lends credence to the idea that Jefferson actually agreed with Locke's system of Christianity.

In regards to the references to Christ found in Jefferson's Life and Morals of Jesus, you made another absolute denial. You wrote:

there are some verses mentioning the word "Christ" included in "Life & Morals," but none which affirm that Jesus IS the Christ.

Let me ask you to consider the following quote from Jefferson's compilation:

8: But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.
9: And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
10: Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

Here Jefferson is quoting Jesus Himself as forbidding the disciples from declaring themselves to be masters over each other. The reason that this was forbidden was that His disciples were to have only one Master. The identity of that Master is here given as being the Christ. Now compare this with the following extract:

30: Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
31: If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.

Here we have Jefferson very selectively quoting Jesus as saying that the disciples were to have only one Master who is Christ and later quoting Him as saying that He is the one who is their Lord and Master. This cannot be passed off as mere coincidence. The flow of the text in this compilation reveals that Jefferson was very meticulous in his selection of verses, and you admitted in your book that this book reveals Jefferson's "affirmation of a significant portion of the New Testament."

wsforten said...

You didn't really address the question that I asked about Paul's reference to Jesus of Nazareth, but let me respond to what you did say. You claimed that it was inappropriate for Jefferson to emphasize the humanity of Jesus to the exclusion of His deity, and you condemn Jefferson, Franklin and others for never affirming the deity of Christ. Setting aside the discussion over whether these men ever made such an affirmation, I would like to point out that you have not explained why referring to Jesus exclusively as Jesus of Nazareth would be inappropriate. You are essentially condemning these men for not saying something in the same way that you would have said it. This is tantamount to declaring that the book of Esther was written by an atheist because it never mentions the name of God.

wsforten said...


There are several references to the Son of Man throughout Jefferson’s Life and Morals of Jesus which indicate that he understood that phrase to be a reference to Jesus. Here are the most pertinent of them:

And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

51: And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
52: For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Once again, your thoroughness is formidable, Mr. F. I continually point out to Barton's detractors that if held to the merciless standards they hold him to, they're going to take their lumps too. and they're not going to like it.

[See also Mt 18:23-34.]

Actually my own point was far more modest, merely that Barton or anyone else has a viable argument based on this passage [these passages], not that the inclusion of "Son of Man" and Judgment Day represent Jefferson's literal beliefs. [That stuff doesn't appear elsewhere in his writings.]

However, it does present a problem for Jefferson's idiosyncratic Bible--his "Bible" is still forced to leave in metaphysical religious concepts that depend on divine revelation---there's no way we even could know whether there IS a Judgment Day unless the Bible knows something man cannot know on his own!

Gregg Frazer said...

Again, I don't have time for a lot of verbal sparring -- take that as a cop-out if it makes you feel better. But here are a few points that can be done relatively briefly.


I did NOT say that the god of the founding was the god of the Stoics, etc. I was responding negatively to your suggestion that the God of Christianity & Judaism and the god of the Stoics & the philosophers was the same God as that of Christianity. I prefaced it with "re the god of the founding" to place the comment in context among your many comments.

Acts 17:23 does NOT teach that the god of the Athenians and the God of Paul are the same!!! The whole point is that the Athenians, hedging their bets, had an altar to an "unknown" god -- i.e. one that they did not know (not one of theirs). Paul used that to tell them of the God that they confessed to NOT knowing. Come on!


I do not subscribe to/agree with everything that the source says. I merely used it to point out that the statement was a quote from Zoronas. I thought that would satisfy you that the Notes are all from other sources without having to prove them all. I guess I was wrong.

re "this cannot be passed off as mere coincidence": yes, it can. C'mon, you really think Jefferson connected a single word in a verse in Matt. 23 with a single word in a verse in John 13 -- which are 10 pages apart in his compilation? We'll just have to disagree -- you clearly have more faith in Jefferson's intensity than I do -- or you desperately want to make a point.

IF Jefferson were interested in affirming that Jesus was the Christ, he could have included -- that is, NOT ACTIVELY ELIMINATED -- verses which declare it clearly -- such as Mark 8:29 or Matt. 1:1 or Matt. 1:16 or Matt. 1:18 or Luke 2:11 or Luke 2:26 or Luke 4:41 or many others. He did not include verses which are definitive concerning Jesus being the Christ and he did not passively leave them in -- he purposely removed them, sometimes leaving in surrounding verses.

I thought I answered the Jesus of Nazareth question, but let me try again. I emphasized (I thought bent over backwards) that it is a perfectly appropriate way to refer to Jesus! The point is that while it is a perfectly appropriate way to refer to Jesus, it is telling when someone ONLY uses that designation. I didn't say it was a sin; I simply said it was a problem. Don't get carried away. In and of itself, it's not a damning proposition, but it is one of many indicators of disbelief in the deity of Jesus -- and that is a big problem.

bpabbott said...

I thought the inquiry in the Jefferson's opinion on Jesus' divinity had been settled long ago.

The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

That Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God, physically speaking, I have been convinced by the writings of men more learned than myself in that lore.
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, August 4, 1820

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well the whole Barton thesis--with which I do not agree--is that Jefferson got explicitly anti-Trinitarian [as above, 1820, 1823] closer to the end of his life. A close reading of the letter to Derieux in 1788

The letter plainly states Jefferson had "difficulty" with the concept of the Trinity. That comes up short of "rejected." That comes up short of unitarianism. But only David Barton exaggerates, not his critics, who parrot each other that Jefferson "rejected" the Trinity in this letter to Derieux.

"Anti-Trinitarian" [like the Jefferson of 1813, who baldly rejects Trinity] isn't the same as having "difficulties."

Further, many unitarians of that era still accepted Jesus as Messiah, a unique and divinely decreed role among yet above all men. This still makes Jesus speak with divine authority, and the scriptures divinely inspired.

Although I don't see that Jefferson ever believed that, I think it's at least reasonable to argue that he didn't come to explicitly reject it until well into later [post-presidential] life.

wsforten said...

Thank you for providing another comment, Gregg. I can certainly understand your hectic schedule, and I am honored that you have considered my comments to be worthy of your time.

In regards to my position on Jefferson's notes on religion, I'm afraid that I have to agree with you. You were wrong to think that identifying a single statement as a quote would satisfy me that Jefferson's notes are all from other sources. In order to prove an absolute statement like "None of the 'Notes on Religion' is Jefferson's own commentary" you would have to be able to provide a source for every statement made in Jefferson's notes.

Even beyond that, however, you would also have to prove that Jefferson was not using those quotes in order to state his personal opinions. I once wrote a ten page paper on my philosophy of education which consisted entirely of quotations from the Bible. And I have often used quotes from other men to convey my own opinion in a more succinct or authoritative manner. You have likely done this many times yourself. In fact, your earlier comment is a perfect example. Instead of merely telling me that Jefferson was quoting Zoronas, you quoted someone else affirming that fact. You claim that you do not agree with everything stated by the source of your quote, but you at least agreed with his statement regarding Jefferson's quote of Zoronas, and we can safely conclude that your use of that quote was an expression of your own opinion of its accuracy. It is possible that Jefferson did the same thing in his notes on religion, and you would have to disprove this possibility as well in order to claim that nothing in Jefferson's notes can be seen as an affirmation by him of any particular religious belief.

Now, you may be thinking that this is a very heavy burden of proof for me to require of you, but I don't think that to be the case. You have made an absolute claim, and it seems to me that absolutes have an inherently high burden of proof. I'm willing to admit that there is a possibility that Jefferson was merely jotting down random selections that piqued his curiosity. I do not think it a very good possibility, but I am willing to admit it none the less; and if you had mentioned it only as a possibility, I might not have troubled you with my contentions. However, the fact that you presented your position as an absolute without providing an equivalent level of support for your claims seems rather disingenuous.

Suppose, for example, that I made the claim "None of Gregg Frazer's statements about the Constitutional Convention are correct." This is an absolute claim, and you would probably demand a very heavy burden of proof in order to accept it. What if I were to point out that your denial of any significant reference to God or the Bible in Madison's notes is directly refuted by the existence of several such references including one in which it was directly stated that the members of the convention should keep in mind the biblical requirements for rulers? Would that be enough to convince you that none of your statements are correct? Of course not. In order to prove that claim, I would have to be willing to invest the time necessary to present proof of error in each of your statements. If that is the level of proof that you would require in order to be satisfied with my absolute claim, then I think it is only proper to hold you to the same standard in regards to your absolute claim.

wsforten said...

You claimed that Jefferson just coincidentally included two passages in his Life and Morals of Jesus which, when taken together, show that Jesus claimed to be the Christ. This strikes me as a very odd thing for you to say. Which is more likely to be a mere coincidence - that after twenty years of study, Jefferson's second attempt to distill the philosophies of Jesus included verses which show that Jesus claimed to be the Christ, or that Jefferson did not include verses which you think he should have included? For my part, I think the latter to be much more likely to be coincidental. After all, you are the one claiming that this book should be seen as Jefferson's "indictment of the parts of the Bible left on the cutting room floor" and his "affirmation of a significant portion of the New Testament." And it is you who wrote that this book conveys Jefferson's determination of "which portions of the Bible were legitimately from God." But when it is pointed out that this book contains statements which disagree with your opinion of Jefferson, then those statements are to be dismissed as coincidental. It seems to me that you are placing great significance on the passages which Jefferson did not place in his work and dismissing as irrelevant those which he just as purposefully chose to include.

By the way, I find it very interesting that your book includes at least three statements about Jefferson attacking the Bible with scissors when we can see from the very Bibles which he used to create his compilations that he very carefully excised the passages with a sharp blade and not with scissors.

wsforten said...

Well, Gregg, since you do not currently have the time to defend your claims, I have taken the liberty of attempting to validate your position myself. Unfortunately, I fear that my study may have undermined your claims entirely. In your article, you stated that:

Furthermore, Jefferson’s reference to “the corruptions of Christianity” was a reference to Joseph Priestley’s A History of the Corruptions of Christianity

This is not necessarily true. Jefferson used the phrase “corruptions of Christianity” in his Notes on Virginia which were written in 1781 and expanded and published in 1782. Priestley’s book An History of the Corruptions of Christianity was also published in 1782. In order for you to claim that Jefferson’s use of this phrase is definitively a reference to Priestley’s book, you must be able to demonstrate that Jefferson did not include this phrase in his original writing of the Notes on Virginia and that he was able to obtain a copy of Priestley’s book prior to the inclusion of this phrase in the final edition of his Notes. I have not been able to discover any way of proving such an improbable chain of events.

Here is what Jefferson wrote in this instance:

Had not the Roman government permitted free inquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free inquiry been indulged at the era of the Reformation, the corruptions of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged. (1)

In addition to this, your denial of Jefferson’s recognition of Jesus as the Christ also suffered greatly under my attempt to validate it. In your posts above you said:

If I'd had space, I certainly would have confronted even this mild claim of his. Namely, Jefferson NEVER expressed respect or admiration for "Jesus CHRIST" -- only for simply "Jesus" or "Jesus of Nazareth"; his names emphasizing his humanity.

A little while later, you wrote:

That was Jefferson's (and Franklin's and others) problem. They never affirmed His deity, but only used the humanity-emphasizing designation.

And in your final post, you said:

I thought I answered the Jesus of Nazareth question, but let me try again. I emphasized (I thought bent over backwards) that it is a perfectly appropriate way to refer to Jesus! The point is that while it is a perfectly appropriate way to refer to Jesus, it is telling when someone ONLY uses that designation. I didn't say it was a sin; I simply said it was a problem. Don't get carried away. In and of itself, it's not a damning proposition, but it is one of many indicators of disbelief in the deity of Jesus -- and that is a big problem.

It seems to me that these comments are an expression of the claim which you have often made in your speeches on the founding fathers, namely, that Thomas Jefferson never referred to Jesus as the Christ but always referred to Him as simply Jesus or Jesus of Nazareth. As you’ve probably guessed, I am about to criticize yet another of your many absolute statements.

wsforten said...

The flaw in your claim can actually be proven by the very letter from Jefferson to Peter Carr which you presented in your article. In that letter, Jefferson first referred to Jesus as simply Jesus, but then just a short while later referred to Him as Christ. Here are Jefferson’s exact words:

You will next read the New Testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus ... I forgot to observe, when speaking of the New Testament, that you should read all the histories of Christ, as well of those whom a council of ecclesiastics have decided for us, to be Psuedo-evangelists, as those they named Evangelists.(2)

This clearly disproves your claim and agrees with my position that Jefferson sincerely thought himself to be a Christian and had no objection to the use of the title of Christ in reference to Jesus. But perhaps you would argue that Jefferson did not express any respect for Jesus as Christ in this letter. This objection is easily overcome by recalling another of Jefferson’s references to Christ. In an 1814 letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote:

The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ leveled to every understanding, and too plain to need explanation, saw in the mysticisms of Plato materials, with which they might build up an artificial system, which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power and pre-eminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason, that nonsense can never be explained.(3)

Here we find Jefferson equating “the doctrines of Christ” with “the doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself,” and as you have yourself noted on several occasions, Jefferson had so much respect for these doctrines that he referred to them as diamonds. Thus it is clear that, even at as late of a date as 1814, Jefferson had no qualms about expressing respect and admiration for Jesus as the Christ. Of course, this does not make him a Christian, but it does show that your claims about Jefferson’s beliefs are very seriously flawed.

(1) Lipscomb, Andrew A., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. II, (Washington, D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903), 221-222

(2) Randolph, Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol I, (Charlottesville: F. Carr, and Co., 1829), 218

(3) Randolph, Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol IV, (Charlottesville: F. Carr, and Co., 1829), 242.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The flaw in your claim can actually be proven by the very letter from Jefferson to Peter Carr which you presented in your article. In that letter, Jefferson first referred to Jesus as simply Jesus, but then just a short while later referred to Him as Christ.

Uh oh. Don't mess with the F-Berry.

Although, Bill, calling Jesus "Christ" is not the same as calling him "the Christ," which I'd consider a bald acknowledgment of Jesus having a cosmic role beyond other men.


Jonathan Rowe said...

A lot of folks think "Christ" is Jesus' last name.

Gregg Frazer said...


After your scissors complaint in which you "jumped the shark" (that's an idiom; a manner of speaking -- like "took a pair of scissors to"), I was ready to pull out of this exchange.

But to be fair and open to proper criticism, I have to acknowledge that you are right about Jefferson using the word "Christ" a couple of times.

If that makes all of my work invalid, then no one should read it.

I don't think it shows that my claims about Jefferson's beliefs are seriously flawed; rather, I think it shows that one of my claims about Jefferson's statements is flawed.

Re the corruptions of Christianity: read again the paragraph after the infamous capitalization paragraph in my World piece. Jefferson himself said that his reference was to Priestley -- in letters to Priestley 12 days before and to his daughters 4 days after the reference in question.

As for clearly disproving my claim re whether Jefferson thought himself to be a Christian, you haven't paid sufficient attention to my claim. I acknowledge that Jefferson thought himself a Christian -- I repeated that acknowledgment in this blog recently.

wsforten said...

Thank you, Gregg. I appreciate your honesty. It speaks highly of you that you are willing to admit your error.

In regards to Jefferson's reference to the corruptions of Christianity, perhaps you could point out to me exactly where in his letter to Priestley he said that this phrase was a reference to Priestley's book. It seems to me that doing so would solve this particular point of contention beyond all doubt.

bpabbott said...

Regarding the corruptions of Christianity, there is some commentary here on Priestley's influence on Jefferson's faith.

Tom Van Dyke said...

In Ben Abbott's link here, footnote 43 says

" 1787, [Jefferson] believed Jesus had had "pretensions to divinity*" whereas in 1803 TJ maintained that Jesus had never claimed to be divine**...

Not quite Barton's timeline but consistent with the general idea that Jefferson went from a soggy skepticism to bald pontificating about Jesus and the Bible.

Consistent also with, as previously noted, the letter to Derieux of 1788 that confesses "difficulty" with the Trinity***, whereas by 1803 or so, TJ is militantly anti-Trinitarian.

*Letter to Peter Carr, Aug. 1787

**Letter to Rush, Apr. 1803

***See my comment

Tom Van Dyke said...

The chair must make a ruling in Dr. Frazer's favor here, at least provisionally, to raise benefit of the doubt.
GF: Furthermore, Jefferson’s reference to “the corruptions of Christianity” was a reference to Joseph Priestley’s A History of the Corruptions of Christianity

WF: This is not necessarily true. Jefferson used the phrase “corruptions of Christianity” in his Notes on Virginia which were written in 1781 and expanded and published in 1782. Priestley’s book An History of the Corruptions of Christianity was also published in 1782.

Priestley's original text Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion was published in 1772. The 4th part, "Corruptions of Christianity," was so lengthy as to be spun off into a separate book.

I cannot come up with the 1772 edition of Priestley's Institutes, but I think it's likely he used the phrase in it, and gave some hint about the thesis, that the scriptures were corrupted by early churchmen and of course the evil papists.

And from what I gather, Priestley's Institute is more a derivative work, a roundup of "Dissenter" theology of the previous 50 years more than him being the next Luther, Calvin or Joseph Smith.

Jefferson could easily have been aware of the "corruptions of Christianity" as a prevailing meme and Priestley attached to it as early as 1772.

Thx for the discussion, everybody. First class stuff.

wsforten said...

That's a very interesting observation, Tom. I must confess that I have not read Priestley's Institutes, but a quick perusal does indicate that he used the term "corruption" in regards to Christianity on several occasions. I did not, however, notice any linking of this term to the concept of the Trinity or to the Deity of Christ, so if Jefferson was referring to this publication in his Notes on Virginia in 1776, then it is likely that he did not at that time consider the Trinity to be one of the corruptions.

I also took a moment to search the catalog of Jefferson's library and found the following description of his copy of Priestley's Institutes:

Priestley’s institutes of natural & revealed religion. 2. v. 8 vo.
1815 Catalogue, page 67. no. 51, as above, 12mo.
Institutes of natural and revealed religion. In Two Volumes. To which is prefixed, An Essay on the best method of communicating religious knowledge to the Members of Christian Societies. By Joseph Priestley, LLD. F.R.S. The Third Edition. Vol. I [-II]. London: Printed in the Year mdccxciv . [1794-- Ed. ]
BX9840 .P8
2 vol. 12mo. Vol. I, 175 leaves; vol. II, 172 leaves; collates in twelves.
Fulton and Peters, Addenda, page iii.
Bound for Jefferson in tree calf, gilt ornaments on the back, plain endpapers. Both volumes initialled by him at sig. I. With the Library of Congress 1815 bookplates.
Jefferson’s copy was bound in calf, gilt, by John March on July 10, 1803. (Huntington.)
Purchased from N. G. Dufief in 1803. On May 5, Jefferson wrote to Dufief: “ . . . I shall be glad if you succeed in getting the Greek & English Harmonies of D r. Priestly. I state below some other works of his, which, if to be had, I should be glad to recieve . . .

" Institutes of natural & revealed religion. 2 v. 8 vo. }

" A History of the early opinions concerning Jesus Christ. }

" 4. v. 8 vo. } by D r. Priestly

" Disquisitions relating to matter & spirit. }

" Sequel to the Disquisitions. }”
Dufief sent this book on May 19: “Vous recevrez par le Sloop Hiland, Priestley’s institutes, his early opinions . . .”

This would seem to indicate that Jefferson did not read this book until 1803 at the earliest, and I think that, unless Gregg can discover some evidence of Jefferson having borrowed a copy from someone else, we can safely conclude that Jefferson was not referring to Priestley's work when he mentioned the corruptions of Christianity in his Notes on Virginia.


wsforten said...

A correction on my previous comment:

I have found a passage in Priestley's Institutes which refers to the deity of Christ as a corruption of Christianity. On page 216 of vol. I, we read:

This very article was the subject of one of the first and the most radical of all the corruptions of christianity. For upon the very same principles, and in the very same manner, by which dead men came to be worshipped by the antient idolaters, there was introduced into the christian church, in the first place, the idolatrous worship of Jesus Christ, then that of the Virgin Mary; and lastly, that of innumerable other saints, and of the angels also; and this modern christian idolatry has been attended with all the absurdities, and with some, but not all the immoralities, of the antient heathen idolatry.

Therefore, if Gregg can provide evidence that Jefferson read this book prior to writing his Notes on Virginia, then I would be willing to admit the possibility, though not the certainty, that Jefferson might have been referring to Priestley's work when using the phrase "corruptions of Christianity."

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'll work from memory here--- Priestley's new forward to the 1882 edition mentions the "Corruptions of Christianity" and its thesis. And I believe BenA's footnote linked above has Jefferson getting his copy of "Corruptions" in the mid-1790s, which took TJ from skeptic to militant. But check all that if you want it rock-solid.