Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

By virtue of its Age of Reason focus, many of the central doctrines of traditional Christianity—the Incarnation, the Trinity, Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, and so on—have been eliminated from Jefferson’s work. Its Deist views are perhaps today most closely aligned with Unitarianism, and its broad, nonsectarian view of God and its emphasis on Judeo-Christian moral values are a clear reflection of both the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers (including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Paine) and the kind of “civic religion” that continues to be deeply rooted in the national experience (consider, for example, the adding of the phrase “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950’s).

Although Jefferson’s views as expressed in The Jefferson Bible are by no means totally original—the English clergyman and scientist Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) and other writers of the period had written in a similar way about the ethical teachings of Jesus—the work’s true contribution lies in its effort to place the Gospel texts themselves within a wholly rational and Deist framework.