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Jefferson’s Bible Was a Page Short - Part 1

I picked up my copy of the Jefferson Bible while visiting Poplar Forest, Jefferson's Palladian retreat in Bedford County, Virginia. I have a keen interest in Jefferson, and have read more about him than any other modem figure. I've stood in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., and read his famous words carved in stone. I walked his footsteps in Natural Bridge, Virginia. I've been to the University of Virginia, which he designed and founded in his old age. Jefferson was a remarkable man for his day—in many ways, he was far ahead of his time. I always come away from Monticello impressed with his curiosity, invention, attention to detail, wide-ranging talents, and boundless energy.

But Jefferson had his flaws, and recent history has been less flattering to him than the previous two centuries. Suffice it to say that he was a man—a remarkable man in many ways, but he still walked on clay feet. We see the clay prints most clearly when we pick up The Jefferson Bible. The Lift and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, which he completed in 1819. The dust jacket explains:

Working in the White House in 1804, Jefferson set out to edit the Gospels in order to uncover the essence of true religion in the simple story of the Life of Jesus. Jefferson was convinced that the authentic message of Jesus could be found only by extracting from the Gospels Jesus' message of absolute love and service, rather than the miracle of the Annunciation, Virgin Birth, or even the Resurrection.

Jefferson's Bible gives us, according to the back cover, "a preaching Jesus- of distinctly human-diniensions, without miracles or resurrection."' We are not surprised, then, to find that the last sentence in the "Gospel According to Jefferson" reads:- "There they laid Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed."  You see, Jefferson's Bible is a page short—it ends in Matthew 27 instead of Matthew 28, on Friday afternoon instead of Sunday morning.

What did Jefferson miss? What evidence do we have of the resurrection? There is much, but let's focus on the witnesses.

Collaborating Witnesses. The most outstanding proof that Jesus rose from the dead is that at least 515 eyewitnesses saw Him on twelve different occasions over a period of forty days. "He shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). Jesus had six weeks to establish His identity for all time, and He used the time wisely.
The resurrection of Christ is a fact to be proved, like all other facts, by competent and credible witnesses. If you hit a hole-inone playing golf Saturday, how would you prove it to incredulous friends on Sunday? You would call over your golfing partner to confirm that he saw you do it. If that failed, then you would bring in others who were there to confirm your story. Any sensible person will believe a report corroborated by several credible witnesses. Paul uses the same logic to prove the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. He appeals to the witnesses who had attested to the resurrection, and then showed that it was not possible that so many witnesses were deceived (1 Corinthians 15:5- 7).

THE APPEARANCES LOOKED AT AS A WHOLE

The witnesses are sufficient. The apostle Paul, when writing a letter to a group of new Christians, laid it all out in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6. If every person the Bible identifies as being an eyewitness to Jesus' resurrection were called to the witness stand for cross-examination, it would take 129 hours to hear their testimony at only fifteen minutes a person!' In other words, it would take from opening session on Monday until the closing session on Friday at dinnertime listening around the clock to hear the testimony of those witnesses. We in the twenty-first century have a decision to m ake: whose report will we believe—the five hundred eyewitnesses, or the skeptical "scholars" seventeen hundred years removed from the events?

The witnesses were diverse. Skeptics, most of whom live centuries removed from the events, would have us believe that the appearances can be explained by mass hysteria or mass hallucinations. Yet the facts do not fit this hypothesis. The time frame does not fit. The interactions were spread over forty days—not merely a few hours or a couple of days (cf. Luke 24:13-35; 1 Corinthians 15:5-7).5 Most of these five hundred witnesses were still living twenty-five years later when Paul wrote I Corinthians. There is no record of a single one who ever changed his mind and recanted his testimony.

The number of witnesses and the circumstances do not fit these theories.  A large number of people saw Him alive in different locations, at different times, and under different circumstances.  No two appearances were exactly alike.  Several saw Him more than once, some alone, and some in large groups.  One was in the morning; another in the evening.  In some cases Jesus ate with them; one time He cooked a meal; another, He repeated a miracle He had earlier done - the large draft of fish (John 21:1)  The reactions to seeing the resurrected Christ were also diverse.  Some worshipped; others wept for joy.   Yet all were transformed by the encounter.

The witnesses were uniform in identifying the Lord. Each told similar stories about his or her experience. How could they be sure that the person they were seeing was not a stand-in imposter? Jesus kept the scars from His crucifixion, which no one else could imitate (Luke 24:39). Presumably He could have had any resurrected body He wanted, and yet He chose one identifiable, mainly by scars that could be seen and touched. Doubtless the reason could be summed up in the theme of John's biography: "to the intent ye may believe" (John 11:15). Dr. Luke records Jesus' reference to His body as "flesh and bone" (Luke 24:39), which is the only time that phrase is used in the New Testament (usually the body is identified as "flesh and blood"—five times in New Testament). Some see in this a change in Jesus' resurrection body—that it was bloodless—and tie it to His giving His blood for us. Evidently His body did still have a gapping hole large enough for Thomas to insert his hand (John 20:27).

Allen Webster

Glad Tidings of Good Things
Volume 15, Ferbruary 26