America's First Amendment guarantees millions of Christians the right this weekend to boldly celebrate their faith's holiest day of the year, Easter, when Scriptures say Jesus rose from the dead. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is foundational to Christianity.
But ironically, a man and future president who worked to safeguard religious freedom, Thomas Jefferson, could only believe in an earthly Jesus. Jefferson, the third U.S. president and principle author of the Declaration of Independence, created his own version of the Bible, now on exhibit at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History.
Cut and pasted together at his Monticello estate in Virginia, Jefferson's Bible is stripped of the divine. There are no miracles ... and no Resurrection.
"Jefferson was very much a product of thinking of the time, known as the Enlightenment,” said Andrew O'Shaughnessy, director of the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. “And so he was unwilling to accept anything that couldn't be proved on the basis of evidence. So he was determined to remove what he felt couldn't be substantiated."
Jefferson was also a man of reason, says Dr. Peter Onuf, of the University of Virginia. "Miracles would upset the lawful universe Jefferson believed in. If there was going to be enlightenment and therefore the popularity of self-government, there had to be law."
But the premise of a lawful universe convinces Oxford University Mathematician John Lennox that there must be a divine law giver. Lennox, author of "Gunning for God" and "God's Undertaker,” is one of several scholars who have investigated the Resurrection in the two centuries since Jefferson created his Bible. He sees strong historical proof that it actually happened.
"This idea that miracles violate the laws of nature, that is a false notion. The laws of nature are our description of what we observe regularly to happen .... But God is not a prisoner of those laws. He can feed a new event in, if he wants to. It doesn't break the laws."
The Bible's four Gospels say a crucified Jesus was laid in a tomb, a large stone sealed the entry, and a Roman guard was posted.