The Cotton Patch Gospel recasts the stories of Jesus and the Apostolic letters into the language and culture of the mid-20th century South. Bear in mind that this resource is not a biblical translation, but a creative paraphrase. Dr. Jordan wanted to transport Jesus and first-century Christians to where they were “living where we live, talking as we talk, working, hurting, praying, bleeding, dying, conquering, alongside the rest of us.”
Modern translations change the wording to fit modern language, but leave the setting, time and place in ancient history. What is unique about the Cotton Patch Gospel is that it brings the language, setting, time and place into the midst of the racial tension developing in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. The “cotton patch” approach to the New Testament is to allow the same sense of participation in them which the early Christians must have had. Therefore, Romans now becomes a letter written to Christians in Washington, D.C.; Galatians is addressed to the Churches of the Georgia Convention; and Philippians is being read by the Alabaster African Church of Alabama. New Testament people have become modernized, as well, so that Peter is now called "Rock Johnson" and John is changed to "Jack."
Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, thought of Clarence Jordan as a man of relevance. “He made God’s word relevant. Every situation in life was measured against the life and teachings of Christ.” Jordan says of his version of the New Testament: “While there have been many excellent translations of the Scriptures into modern English, they still have left us stranded in some faraway land in the long-distant past. We need to have the good news come to us not only in our own tongue but in our own time. We want to be participants in the faith, not merely spectators.”
Jordan’s idea of evangelism was rooted in the declaration that God is changing people and the world right now. For him, evangelism required not only “preaching the gospel,” but living out the kingdom of God “in community” and in social action. Clergy, students, teachers (including those who teach Sunday school), and laity will find in the Cotton Patch Gospel not only Jordan’s imaginative gifts, but will be encouraged to ask what Jesus would say and do if He walked among us; how His message would be applied to our consumerist culture; and how we, members of the modern world, can become part of the movement He initiated.
Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) was founder of the Koinonia Farm, a Christian communal farm near Americus, Georgia, that grew and sold peanuts and pecans. He acquired a degree in agriculture, a Ph.D. in New Testament Greek, and qualified with a Masters of Divinity to be a Southern Baptist pastor. Instead, he started a farming community where blacks and whites worked, studied, worshiped, and lived together. Jordan was working on the Gospel of John when he died and was only able to finish the first eight chapters (which are made available here). The Koinonia Farm continued after Jordan’s death and its ministries included civil rights work, prison ministry, racial reconciliation, peace activism, early childhood education, youth and teen outreach, affordable housing, language training, sustainable agriculture, economic development, home repair, elder programs, and more. The community was designated a Georgia Historic Site in 2005.