Saturday, March 2, 2013

Frazer Speaks On America's Founders @ Grace Community Church

At his church (John MacArthur's church). You can listen to them here.


wsforten said...

I suppose that since this was posted at my request, I should be the one to start the discussion. There are a lot of errors in Frazer's comments as well as in his book, and I'll just list a few of them to start with:

1. In reference to Benjamin Franklin, Frazer made the comment that "they always called Him Jesus of Nazareth because that emphasizes what? His humanity. They didn't call Him Jesus Christ." (1) I've already demonstrated in another thread that this statement is incorrect when applied to Jefferson, but let me point out here that it is also very much mistaken when applied to Franklin. When Franklin was a young man of twenty-nine, he wrote three pamphlets in defense of Samuel Hemphill in which Franklin spoke very highly of Christ and Christianity. Here are three quotes from those pamphlets:

Christ gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all Iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar People zealous of Good-Works. And there is scarcely a Chapter in the whole Gospels or Epistles from which this Doctrine can’t be prov’d. (2)

I would ask these reverend Gentlemen, Does God regard Man at all? The Answer I suppose will be, That he does, but that it is upon the Account of Christ’s Merits; which I shall grant them, and allow it to be the Merits and Satisfaction of Christ that purchased such easy and plain Conditions of Happiness; but still it is our Compliance with these Conditions that I call inward Merit and Desert which God regards in us. (3)

Christ by his Death and Sufferings has purchas’d for us those easy Terms and Conditions of our Acceptance with God, propos’d in the Gospel, to wit, Faith and Repentance. (4)

2. In reference to George Washington, Frazer repeated the claim that Washington refused to take communion. (5) In his book, Frazer relied partly on the testimony of Nelly Custis and quoted her statement about Washington leaving church early with her on comunion Sundays, and at the end of that particular segment, Frazer wrote:

Why would one who believed in the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ so adamantly refuse to engage in the celebration of that event as instituted and commanded by Jesus? He did not leave an explanation; nor did Nelly. (6)

This is a very interesting statement because while it is true that Nelly did not leave us an explanation for General Washington's actions, she did say something about them that I have never heard or seen mentioned by Frazer. In the very same letter from Nelly Custis which is cited by Frazer, we find her saying:

My mother resided two years at Mount Vernon, after her marriage with John Parke Custis, the only son of Mrs. Washington. I have heard her say, that General Washington always received the sacrament with my grandmother before the revolution. (7)

This is a very important detail for Frazer to have left out. In addition, he makes no mention of the testimony of Major Popham who wrote:

It was my great good fortune to have attended St. Paul's Church in this city with the General during the whole period of his residence in New York as President of the United States. The pew of Cheif-Justice Morris was situated next to that of the President, close to whom I constantly sat in Judge Morris's pew, and I am as confident as a memory now laboring under the pressure of fourscore years and seven can make me, that the President had more than once - I believe I may say often - attended at the sacramental table, at which I had the privilege and happiness to kneel with him. And I am aided in my associations by my elder daughter, who distinctly recollects her grandmamma – Mrs. Morris – often mentioned that fact with great pleasure. (8)

wsforten said...

3. Frazer also claimed that Washington was confronted by several ministers who requested that he give testimony of his Christian faith and that Washington refused to grant their request. This claim is based solely on a rumour that was recorded in Jefferson's diary, and it was denied by the very same ministers who were supposed to have made that request. Here is a statement from Bishop White regarding this claim:

Within a day or two of the above there was another address by many ministers of different persuasions, being prepared by Doctor Green and delivered by me. It has been a subject of opposite statements, owing to a passage in the posthumous works of Mr. Jefferson. He says (giving Doctor Rush for his author, who is said to have it from Doctor Green), that the said address was intended to elicit the opinion of the President on the subject of the Christian religion. Doctor Green has denied this in his periodical work called "The Christian Advocate," and his statement is correct. Doctor Rush may have misunderstood Doctor Green, or the former may have been misunderstood by Mr. Jefferson; or the whole may have originated with some individual of the assembled ministers, who mistook his own conceptions for the sense of the body. The said two documents are in the Philadelphia newspapers of the time. (9)

I could list several more, but I should probably give y'all some time to consider and respond to these first.


(1) The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders - Part I, 29:45 - 30:00
(2) Labaree, Leonard W. et. al., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin vol. 2, Yale University Press, Connecticut, 1960, pg 37-64 (
(3) Ibid.
(4) Ibid., pg 90-125 (
(5) The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders - Part I, 32:40 - 32:55
(6) pg 203
(7) Sparks, Jared, The Writings of George Washington vol 12, American Stationers Co., Boston, 1837, pg 406-407
(8) Johnson, William J., George Washington the Christian, The Abingdon Press, New York, 1919, pg 189-190
(9) Ibid., pg 247-248

jimmiraybob said...

WSF - 1. In reference to Benjamin Franklin, Frazer made the comment that "they always called Him Jesus of Nazareth because that emphasizes what? His humanity. They didn't call Him Jesus Christ." (1) I've already demonstrated in another thread that this statement is incorrect when applied to Jefferson...

Are you're referring to Jefferson having retained passages in his The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth that included "Christ"? If so, your extrapolation of what Jefferson must have meant by doing so was not a very convincing demonstration.

The longer title is, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth as extracted texturally from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French & English. The work is a parallel edition (Greek/Latin/French/English).

You make your case only using the English (KJV) snippets. Since Jefferson had some fluency in the Greek, Latin and French languages your argument is limited by not considering how Jefferson's understanding of the Christ term or the passages could and likely were different than your own if based only on the English. So, the first problem is linguistic. Some other translations from the early Greek or Latin of Mathew 23:8 (included in Jefferson's "Bible") “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren” (KJV) might include(1):

jimmiraybob said...


Weymouth New Testament: "As for you, do not accept the title of 'Rabbi,' for one alone is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.”

Note: “The Weymouth New Testament ("WNT"), otherwise known as The New Testament in Modern Speech or The Modern Speech New Testament, is a translation into "modern" English as used in the nineteenth century from the text of The Resultant Greek Testament by Richard Francis Weymouth from the Greek idioms used in it.”(11) And, “On textual criticism of the Greek Testament Weymouth spent many years' study. The latest results of critical research he codified in 'Resultant Greek Testament, exhibiting the text in which the majority of modern editors are agreed,' 1886. Then followed a tract, 'The Rendering into English of the Greek Aorist and Perfect, with appendices on the New Testament Use of γαρ and ουν (1894; new edit. 1901).”(2)


Darby Bible Translation: “But ye, be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your instructor, and all ye are brethren.”

Note: “First published in 1890 by John Nelson Darby, an Anglo-Irish Bible teacher associated with the early years of the Plymouth Brethren. Darby also published translations of the Bible in French and German.”(8) “Darby did not feel such a need for a new translation in English, because he considered the King James Version to be adequate for most purposes, and he encouraged his followers to continue to use it. But, he decided to produce a highly literal English version of the New Testament for study purposes. This New Testament was first issued in parts, beginning with the Gospel according to Matthew in 1865. The New Testament was completed in 1867. The version is exceedingly literal, based upon modern critical editions of the Greek text, and abundantly supplied with text-critical and philological annotations.”(3)


Douay-Rheims Bible: “But be not you called Rabbi. For one is your master; and all you are brethren.”

Note: “The Douay-Rheims Bible is a scrupulously faithful translation into English of the Latin Vulgate Bible which St. Jerome (342-420) translated into Latin from the original languages. The Vulgate quickly became the Bible universally used in the Latin Rite (by far the largest rite of the Catholic Church).”(4)

jimmiraybob said...


I’m not a Bible scholar, but it appears to me that many of the translations cited above attempted to achieve a greater accuracy by rendering a more faithful adherence to the original Greek; again, Jefferson would have read the verses used in his work in light of his understanding of the Greek language as well as English, Latin and French. It is impossible to glean what his understanding of individual terms.

Secondly, the first being linguistic, if the meaning of the individual terms can't be effectively known, then whole passages remain illusory and there's no way to know Jefferson's spiritual exegesis - if any - of what he decided to leave in.

That the word "Christ" is retained does not necessarily confer either a pious respect or an understanding of divinity.

A third point is that this is especially true when viewed in the context of his voluminous other writings, as others have already pointed out, that emphasize Jefferson's belief in the human and not divine nature of Jesus.


jimmiraybob said...

Also, consider how Jefferson ends his work. The following passages are from The Jefferson Bible(1) with my comments in parentheses:

J. (John) 19/41: Now, in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden: and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.

J. (John 19) 42: There laid they Jesus. (leaving out, “therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulcher was near at hand”)

Mt. (Matthew) 27/60: And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. (Certainly a good place to include a reference to “After three days I will rise again” (Mathew 27/63) if one were inclined to bring up a point of reverence or divinity. Imagine the impact of ending on that note. No one would have to look for vague allusions. But, no.)

With such an abrupt ending, the death of Jesus without mention of or allusion to resurrection or a second coming, it is hard to imagine that Jefferson envisioned anything but Jesus as fully human, the master/teacher of wisdom and ethics, being laid to rest.(1)

1) “…in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.” - Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush (May 21, 1803)

jimmiraybob said...

One more thing for now. In the earlier comments that you refer to, you wrote, "Here Jefferson is quoting Jesus Himself as..."

Jefferson was not quoting anyone. Jefferson extracted a scriptural passage that included words that someone had attributed to Jesus.

jimmiraybob said...

the reference for The Jefferson Bible that I cited above:

1. Jefferson, 1989. The Jefferson Bible. Beacon Press. (with preface by Forrest Church)

wsforten said...

Actually, Jim, if you'll keep reading through the comments in the post: Frazer On Barton-Jefferson-Christianity @ World, you'll find a post from me (about 11 from the end) in which I present evidence for my claim from two different letters written by Thomas Jefferson. A few posts after that, you can see Gregg Frazer himself admitting "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."

In regards to Jefferson's inclusion of the word "Christ" in his Life and Morals of Jesus, let me point out that the English versions which you quoted are not translated from the same Greek text that Jefferson used. The Smithsonian Institute has published scans of Jefferson's original compilation, and it is evident from those scans that Jefferson obtained his Greek contributions from the Textus Receptus which does have the name Xristos in Matthew 23:8.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Jefferson did leave in the words "Christ" in his bible. Maybe it would have been too much of a pain for him to cut "Christ" every time it appears after "Jesus" when making his Bible.

That said, Jefferson still believed that Jesus was 100% man, not divine at all in his nature. He may well have believed, after Priestley in some kind of Socinian conception of Jesus as a Savior, Messiah or "Christ." That would mean, perhaps Jefferson thought, again like Priestley and the other Socinians, Jesus, the man, on a divine mission.

wsforten said...

I have no argument with the claim that Jefferson was a Socinian. As I stated in the other thread, I do not believe that Jefferson was a Christian. I only maintain that he thought himself to be one and that he acted accordingly.

Franklin's references to Christ, on the other hand, cannot be dismissed in this manner.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I am well aware of Franklin's Hemphill pamphlet. There's heterodoxy all over it, like BF's claim that works are more important than faith for salvation.

wsforten said...

I would love to discuss that in more detail. Why don't you provide a few quotes, and we can look at each one individually?

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher. Thus Faith would be a Means of producing Morality, and Morality of Salvation. But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one....Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means."

-- Benjamin Franklin, "Dialogue between Two Presbyterians," April 10, 1735.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"No point of Faith is so plain, as that Morality is our Duty; for all Sides agree in that. A virtuous Heretick shall be saved before a wicked Christian."

-- Benjamin Franklin, "Dialogue between Two Presbyterians," April 10, 1735.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"The worship of God is a duty; the hearing and reading of sermons may be useful; but if men rest in hearing and praying, as too many do, it is as if a tree should value itself on being watered and putting forth leaves, though it never produced any fruit."---Franklin, Letter to Whitefield, 1740

"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."---James 2:26


"I am well aware of Franklin's [1737] Hemphill pamphlet. There's heterodoxy all over it, like BF's claim that works are more important than faith for salvation."---Rowe

"You will see in this my notion of good works, that I am far from expecting to merit heaven by them. By heaven we understand a state of happiness, infinite in degree, and eternal in duration. I can do nothing to deserve such rewards."---Franklin, ibid.

Jonathan Rowe said...


Those are interesting quotations; but are looking here at the Hemphill quotations.

We could try to draw all of Franklin together where it seems he believes in some combination of works and grace for salvation, but views works as more important.

Yes, Frankin, who "doubted" Jesus of Nazareth's divinity, didn't think his own good works were sufficient to get him into Heaven. Did he believe he would spend some time in Protestant Purgatory?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Or that good men still needed that extra push of grace to get them into Heaven's infinite happiness?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't know. It would be consistent with the Franklin I've come to know that he had universalist leanings. But universalism [all puppies go to heaven] although not normative Christianity, isn't non-Christian either.

Unlike Jefferson and Adams, who came to be vitulently anti-Trinitarian, Franklin was agnostic. Big difference, and why all these guys can't be shoved all other the same umbrella.

At age 83, Franklin writes

“… I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho’ it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble.”

Franklin dies several months later, and indeed finds out whether Jesus is God with no trouble atall.

jimmiraybob said...

WSF - ...let me point out that the English versions which you quoted are not translated from the same Greek text that Jefferson used.

Exactly, and I’d hoped that the brief notes of the snippets that I included would make this apparent.

WSF - The Smithsonian Institute has published scans of Jefferson's original compilation, and it is evident from those scans that Jefferson obtained his Greek contributions from the Textus Receptus which does have the name Xristos in Matthew 23:8.

I’ve used the Smithsonian on-line version along with the hard copy edition that I referenced. As to the text used to the Greek (and Latin) translations, apparently he used a different starting point and I’ll cite that below.

In the on-line and hard copy versions of Jefferson’s Bible, the Greek word that correlates with “Christ” is Χριςός, which does translate to Christos, or at least that’s my understanding, and this is a translation from the Hebrew “Messiah”, or anointed one (or some people would say “Rabbi” of “teacher"). My point was that we are looking at multiple translations between several languages that evolved over time and, without marginal notes at the very least, it’s not possible to know what Jefferson’s understanding would be.

From The Jefferson Bible(1):

“Shortly before importuning Priestley, Jefferson had written to a Philadelphia bookseller for duplicate copies of both the English and the Greek New Testament. The English edition was the King James translation published by Jacob Johnson in Philadelphia in 1804; the Greek, Wingrave’s printing of Leusden’s Greek Testament, published in London in 1794.”

As long as we’re continuing to distract from the Barton kerfluffle and having fun, I’ll go on….

“Whether or not Jefferson intended it, the Greek text came with a parallel Latin translation (done in ‘a very dubious kind of Latin,’ in one scholar’s estimation) that proved to be the work of Benedictus Arias Montanus, the Spanish editor of the Antwerp Polyglot of 1569-72. Though Jefferson had expressed an interest only in the Greek with an English translation facing, when the Bibles arrived in three versions, he appears to have determined, for the sake of symmetry, to incorporate also a French translation. A year after Priestley’s death, on 31 January 1805, Jefferson ordered two copies of ‘le Nouveau testament corrigé sur le Grec,’ identical with the Paris Ostervald edition, published in 1802 under the auspices of the British and Foreign Bible Society in London. By mid 1805 Jefferson was thus in possession of the makings of his four-column Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Overall, as has been noted here before, if asked, Jefferson may have considered himself a Christian in some ways, perhaps to mean that he was a good and virtuous man or that culturally he would identify with Christianity before Jewish or Islamic, but the term that TVD used in the earlier cited comments is probably the best description of how I would see Jefferson and likely how Jefferson would see himself – a Jesusist (or Jesusean much as someone might consider themselves an Epicurean or a Platonist, of course Jefferson would not see himself as a Platonist, neither the neo, meso or paleo variety).

1) Jefferson, 1989. The Jefferson Bible. Beacon Press. (with preface and introduction by Forrest Church). p. 16. See also

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Franklin dies several months later, and indeed finds out whether Jesus is God with no trouble atall."

I hope so. But Dr. Frazer believes -- and this is something I personally vehemently disagree with him on -- that if Franklin didn't get it right on the Trinity, he finds out with a LOT of trouble.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Right, and this is why you need to share Dr. Frazer's theology to accept his history. As Locke argues, and the Stone-Campbell movement, and of course the unitarians argued, the people who have "faith" in Jesus in the NT don't necessarily think of or call him "God." The Trinity is a creation of later theology, not the Bible.

To decide who's right and who's not is above the historian's pay grade.

wsforten said...

It is interesting that you should focus solely on Franklin's "Dialogue Between Two Presbyterians" and refer to it as Franklin's pamphlet in the singular sense. Have you not read the other three pamphlets that Franklin wrote in Mr. Hemphill's defense?

Franklin's Dialogue is obviously focused solely on defending Hemphill's practice of preaching morality, and as such it is focused primarily on the teaching of Scripture that "faith without works is dead." In the process, of the discussion, the character identified as S. makes the theological error of claiming that morality can produce salvation apart from faith, but in this, he can take comfort in being in the company of the Galatian Christians who were guilty of the same mistake yet without losing their Christianity as is evidenced by Paul's reference to them as brethren. In spite of this error, most of the other statements by S. seem to be scripturally sound. Jesus Christ was a teacher of morality; faith that exists alone is declared by the Scriptures to be dead and incapable of producing salvation, and we do have a duty to morality.

It should be noted that S. pointed out the necessity of teaching faith in Christ to those who have not already evidenced such faith. He was merely arguing that those who have once professed faith in Christ should be encouraged to better themselves morally. Consider this statement:

Perhaps it may [be] this, that as the good Physician suits his Physick to the Disease he finds in the Patient, so Mr. H. may possibly think, that though Faith in Christ be properly first preach'd to Heathens and such as are ignorant of the Gospel, yet since he knows that we have been baptized in the Name of Christ, and educated in his Religion, and call'd after his Name, it may not be so immediately necessary to preach Faith to us who abound in it, as Morality in which we are evidently deficient.

As for the statement by S. that "A virtuous Heretick shall be saved before a wicked Christian," it is important to keep in mind that the sentence did not end with that statement but also included an explanation which was "for there is no such Thing as voluntary Error." This explanation indicates that S. understands the word "heretic" in a manner different from the common modern understanding. According to Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration, "heresy is a separation made in ecclesiastical communion between men of the same religion." This seems to be the definition which S. employed in this statement, and when this definition is used, his statement agrees with the passage in Matthew 7 from which S. had previously quoted. There we read:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:15-23)

wsforten said...

Having said all of this, let me point out that it is not clear whether Franklin was conveying his own thoughts in this Dialogue. He included a letter at the beginning of it which said,

Mr. Franklin,

You are desired by several of your Readers to print the following Dialogue. It is between Two of the Presbyterian Meeting in this City. We cannot tell whether it may not be contrary to your Sentiments, but hope, if it should, you will not refuse publishing it on that Account: nor shall we be offended if you print any thing in Answer to it.

From the language of this letter, it seems that even if Franklin wrote the actual Dialogue himself, he desired for his readers to know that he did not necessarily endorse everything which it contained. This stands in stark contrast with the more dogmatic language used in "Observations on the Proceedings against Mr. Hemphill," "A Letter to a Friend in the Country" and "A Defense of Mr. Hemphill’s Observations." In those three pamphlets, the similarity that Tom mentioned between Franklin’s defense of Hemphill and his letter to Whitefield is even more evident, for it is within those pamphlets that we discover why Franklin was sure of his arrival in heaven without trusting in his good works.

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