An Edit for the Ages

by DanWolgemuth on September 29, 2023

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Declaration of Independence.

Words that have reverberated through history. Words that informed and guided.

Yet, the opening words of this landmark document were edited. And the consequences were, and potentially are, catastrophic.

Never would I have known, until I read the new monumental work by British author and theologian, Andrew Wilson. The book is Remaking the World, How 1776 Created the Post-Christian West.

Wilson highlights the fact that it was Thomas Jefferson who sent a draft version of these opening lines to Benjamin Franklin for his review and potential edits. The original version contained a different choice of words that established a religious imperative for life and liberty. As originally written, it said, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable…”

Sacred. Undeniable.

Declaration of Independence rough draft with Benjamin Franklin’s edits. Public domain.

Although Thomas Jefferson was religiously skeptical, he presented the argument of the equality of mankind, based on cosmic significance, linked to a Creator.

It was the pen of Benjamin Franklin that crossed through the text and replaced the divine with the rational. “Self-evident”. Truths that can easily be grasped by anyone and everyone… and yet, as Andrew Wilson points out, they are not.

Put in Biblical terms, the words of Judges 17 ring out… “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (ESV)

“Right in their own eyes” and “self-evident”. A rationale emboldened by logic, but corrupted by sin.

Personal definitions that elevate preference over absolutes. An open door for prejudice and bigotry based on individualistic values and virtues. Hardly the raw material to construct a nation in which we celebrate the fact that “all men are created equal”. This statement of human dignity requires the imperative of Scripture and the fingerprints of God.

“The fundamental equality of human beings, and their endowment with inalienable rights by their Creator, are essentially theological beliefs.” (Andrew Wilson, Remaking the World, page 131)

The imago deo. Image bearers.

            So God created man in his own image,

                        in the image of God he created him;

                        male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27, ESV)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)

No editors pen can touch what the Spirit of God established. Not even Benjamin Franklin.

As followers of the living, loving Christ… this is where we must land. Human dignity, value and worth is neither progressive nor conservative. It’s neither political nor constitutional… no, it’s fundamentally Biblical, and upon that foundation, we build our lives.

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