March 20, 2010 in Features

Cut-and-paste approach to reading Bible not a new ignorance

Paul Graves
 

I vaguely remember a moment when my mother started mildly hyperventilating when she saw me begin to write something in my Bible. She thought that was defacing the Bible.

I can only imagine what Mom would think if she knew that Thomas Jefferson actually cut up his Bible back in 1804.

A strong believer in Jesus the man and his ethical principles, Jefferson couldn’t handle any Gospel references to Jesus’ divinity. So he created his own cut-and-paste version of the four Gospels. He called his 46-page book “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Then in 1819, he got his scissors and paste out again. His goal was to “justify the character of Jesus against the fictions of his pseudo-followers” in order “to rescue his character,” according to “Founding Faith” by Stephen Waldman. This edition he called “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.”

It later became known as the Jefferson Bible. Ironically, the original book has been lost, but the four translations he used in his cutting frenzy – Greek, Latin, French and English – have been preserved. They are the basis for further scholarly study of Jefferson’s so-human tendency to focus on only what he believed to be true.

Another biblical cut-up is Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine. While still in seminary, he and some friends cut out verses that had anything to do with poverty and social justice. They ended up cutting out about 2,000 verses in the Old and New Testaments.

Wallis still has that “holey” Bible 30 years later. It dramatically shows what Jewish and Christian Scriptures would look like if we decided “social justice” wasn’t part of what we believe is what God wants us to be about.

Reading these two very revised versions, I wonder about the back side of the pages where those verses were cut out. What other biblical wisdom was eliminated? It’s a valid question. So I was pleased when “The Poverty and Justice Bible” came out in 2008.

It emphasizes Jim Wallis’ point by highlighting – rather than cutting out – those 2,000 verses about taking care of the poor and challenging the inequities of society. (This way, I can still see what wisdom is on the back side of those so important highlighted verses.)

The reduced Bibles of Thomas Jefferson and Jim Wallis were obviously distorted versions. I can’t speak for Thomas Jefferson’s motives, but I can affirm that this distortion was exactly what Jim Wallis and friends wanted to dramatize.

In his new book, “Rediscovering Values: A Moral Compass for the New Economy,” Wallis applauds “The Poverty and Justice Bible.”

It is a “a sign of a new generation of Christians who are determined not to leave the Scriptures in pieces on the floor, but rather to live and act in ways that restore the integrity of the Word of God – in our lives, our families, our communities, our nation, and our world.”

That is why Wallis and Sojourners have invited people to respond to Glenn Beck’s recent outrageous assertion that “social justice” is a “perversion of the Gospel.” Beck also begged folks to leave their churches if they hear “social justice” coming from the pulpit.

I’ve never been a fan of Beck’s fear-based analysis of our society. But in this latest grandstanding, he also shows his obvious, selective ignorance of biblical theology, not to mention the social justice affirmation of his own Mormon Church.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t stand alone in that ignorance. We are all guilty of metaphorical cut-and-paste in our Bibles. Is there any “wise” cut?

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is founder of Elder Advocates, an elder care consulting ministry. He can be contacted via e-mail at welhouse@nctv.com


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