The Founders’ Bible: Did Thomas Jefferson Base the Declaration of Independence on the Bible?
The authors of the Founders’ Bible want their readers to believe that America's charter documents were based on Christianity. By that, they mean that the basis of civil law is Christianity, thus making America a Christian nation. One important claim in support of the Christian nation theory is that the Declaration of Independence was based on the Bible.
In an article titled “Inseparably Linked: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” editors Brad Cummings, Lance Wubbels and Paul Jehle describe their view of what Thomas Jefferson did when he wrote the Declaration.
In writing the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson staked the legal claim for lawful separation from England on “the Laws of Nature,” which were widely understood as the will of God revealed in nature, “and of Nature’s God,” being God’s will revealed in the Bible — those two entitled America to be a free and independent nation. The Declaration is America’s birth certificate and legal basis that is bedrocked in Christian principles.
Also, in the Declaration’s second paragraph, Jefferson declared that we “are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Clearly, he was stating facts the Founders already knew. God’s charter for the nations via Creation (Genesis 1:28; 9:1), with mankind’s God-given rights of life, liberty and property, is the foundation upon which the charter or the mission statement for the United States stands.
Perhaps you can see where this is going. The Founders’ Bible authors want you to believe that Thomas Jefferson was writing in code. Instead of explicitly basing the Declaration on the Bible, he wrote generally religious words that really referred to explicitly Protestant Christianity. The authors conclude:
As was true for the Jamestown Charter and the Mayflower Compact, the same is true for the Declaration of Independence — the basis of law in our civil society is Christianity, as based on the Word of God. This is the foundation and blueprint that informs our purpose and destiny. It is our national spiritual birthright. To conclude otherwise is to ignore the basic history anchored in fact. (p. 1248)
What is ignored by the Founders’ Bible is Jefferson’s own words about the Declaration. He wrote several times about the reasons and source of the document. When Jefferson wrote about the Declaration, he did not credit the Bible or Christianity.
First, to Henry Lee on May 8, 1825, Jefferson wrote:
But with respect to our rights, and the acts of the British government contravening those rights, there was but one opinion on this side of the water. All American whigs thought alike on these subjects. When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles or new arguments never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before: but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c. The historical documents which you mention as in your possession ought all to be found, and I am persuaded you will find to be corroborative of the facts and principles advanced in that Declaration.
Who wrote the “elementary books of public right?” Moses? The Apostle Paul? No, Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and Sidney contributed to the “harmonizing sentiments of the day.” A case could be made that some of that harmonizing sentiment derived from religious sources with religious references, but Jefferson did not mention them or appeal to them as primary influences.
In 1823, Jefferson told James Madison (referring to Lee’s theories about the source of the Declaration):
Richard Henry Lee charged it as copied from Locke’s treatise on government. Otis’s pamphlet I never saw, and whether I had gathered my ideas from reading or reflection, I do not know. I know only that I turned to neither book nor pamphlet while writing it. I did not consider it as any part of my charge to invent new ideas altogether, and to offer no sentiment which had ever been expressed before.
According to Jefferson (and in contrast to what the authors of the Founders’ Bible want you to believe), he did not turn to the Bible when writing the Declaration of Independence. Christian historians Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden got it right when they wrote in 1989:
Here then is the “historical error”: It is historically inaccurate and anachronistic to confuse, and virtually to equate, the thinking of the Declaration of Independence with a biblical world view, or with Reformation thinking, or with the idea of a Christian nation. (p. 130).
The Founders’ Bible is full of these kind of errors. While I don’t know if the authors intend to mislead readers, it seems clear that the idea of Christian nationalism has so captured them that claims are assembled (some with some truth, some completely false) with the primary aim being to prove an ideological position. It is disappointing and disqualifying that they have wrapped the Bible around their ideology.