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The Gettysburg Address: “Under God” or Not?

Today marks 150 years since Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Throughout the day, I have seen several posts on Facebook debating the question, “Was ‘under God’ used by Lincoln?” It appears that there are several versions of the Address and not all of them agree on the “under God” part. In addition to the versions of the speech, there were news reports as well that included the Address. I responded to a friend with a link and he responded with another link.

As stated in the Wikipedia article linked above,

Every stenographic report [the reporters who telegraphed their notes], good, bad and indifferent, says ‘that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom.’ There was no common source from which all the reporters could have obtained those words but from Lincoln’s own lips at the time of delivery. It will not do to say that [Secretary of War] Stanton suggested those words after Lincoln’s return to Washington, for the words were telegraphed by at least three reporters on the afternoon of the delivery.

Obviously, the three agreeing eyewitness accounts, who telegraphed Lincoln’s spoken speech, validate the “later copies”, thus validating the “under God” reference as being “autograph” material.

Why have I gone into such detail? It comes down to how ideas are communicated through multiple copies. And this relates to the Bible’s manuscripts. Not all of the manuscripts agree on word, though there are no doctrinal discrepancies among the 26,000+ New Testament manuscripts and fragments.

We do not have the “original” manuscripts of the NT. However, as we compare the manuscripts we do have with the writings of the early Church Fathers, we can recreate the “original” manuscripts with a very high degree of accuracy.

There are individuals and organizations (such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation), who seek to rewrite American history with their agnostic/atheistic/secularist biases, claiming to be “unbiased”. There are also individuals and organizations who seek to rewrite Biblical history with their agnostic/atheistic/secularist biases, again claiming to be “unbiased”. We all have biases and we should acknowledge them to ourselves and to others.

 

Now, getting back to the Gettysburg Address…

As I learned in Speech class many years ago, there are three speeches:
1- The one that the speaker prepares.
2- The one that the audience hears.
3- The one that is reported.

In the case of the Gettysburg Address, “under God” qualifies as at least two of those. So yes, I believe we can confidently say that Lincoln included “under God” on that fateful day.

I invite your comments below. (Note: Comments will be moderated to remove spam)

 

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