Smithsonian Institution

In Jefferson’s Bible, Greek, Latin, French and English translations of the New Testament occupied parallel columns. Jefferson included only the four canonical gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—and only those portions that he felt were Jesus’ real words, without the “unintelligible” interpretation and commentary of the later compilers. In this passage from Luke 12, Jefferson cut out verses 8 through 12, in which Jesus describes himself as the Son of Man.

Jefferson’s faith in liberty and reason led him to believe that everyone could—and should—interpret the Bible for himself or herself. He hoped that his pasted-together version would spur such independent thinking. In 1895, the United States government purchased his edited Bible, entitled the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, and in 1904 Congress published it and distributed it among its members. The slim volume and some of the Bibles that Jefferson cut up while assembling his version now reside in the American History Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.