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Age of Reason or Age of Ignorance: A Rebuttal to Thomas Paine


Masud Masihiyyen

People who have difficulties believing in miracles naturally confront the basic Christian tenet of Christ’s resurrection on the third day of His death. This denial generally appears in the form of utmost defiance armed with sarcasm to the extent of an open insult. In addition, people who believe in miracles but belong to a faith system other than Christianity also object to Christ’s bodily resurrection and consequently endeavor to undermine the integrity of the resurrection accounts in the Gospels. Muslims, who are commanded by their scripture to deny Jesus’ crucifixion and death, often walk in the footsteps of anti-Christian scholars who defy and attack the reality of Christ’s resurrection.

It is without doubt that the particular historic period of Enlightenment brought about the upheaval of anti-Christian sentiments, and the devout supporters of this philosophical movement claimed a return to the age of reason through the negation of religious teachings and the Bible. Having been brought up in a principally Christian environment, the initiators of the age of rationalism against beliefs and dogmas wrote books that mostly targeted Christianity and the integrity of its sacred scripture.

A prominent writer of that age was Thomas Paine, whose surname became homophonous with much trouble (pain) he caused for Christ’s faithful followers. Paine’s anti-Christian and anti-Biblical remarks and allegations were compiled in his book entitled “The Age of Reason”. As this title suggests, Paine’s aim was to prove with the help of some Biblical quotes that Christianity was a religion alien to reasoning and logic. While making every effort to bash Christianity, Paine gave priority to attacking the authenticity of the New Testament and disproving the reality of Christ’s resurrection. Below are three claims that he put forward in his book along with our rebuttals to each. The aim of this study is to show our readers how Thomas Paine, a supposed man of reason, falls into logical fallacies and makes ridiculous and unreasonable statements.


The book of Matthew states, that when Christ was put in the sepulchre the Jews applied to Pilate for a watch or a guard to be placed over the septilchre, to prevent the body being stolen by the disciples; and that in consequence of this request the sepulchre was made sure, sealing the stone that covered the mouth, and setting a watch. But the other books say nothing about this application, nor about the sealing, nor the guard, nor the watch; and according to their accounts, there were none. Matthew, however, follows up this part of the story of the guard or the watch with a second part, that I shall notice in the conclusion, as it serves to detect the fallacy of those books.1

After reading this section by Thomas Paine, we cannot help asking the question whether Paine was purposefully being unserious in order to test his rational followers and measure the amount of their enlightenment when he wrote these lines. If Thomas Paine were serious, it is crucial to feel sad and even grieved upon seeing a man of reason like Paine fall into the trap of an obvious logical fallacy. After taking pains to summarize the account of Jesus’ burial in the Gospel of Matthew, rational writer Paine lays special emphasis on the fact that some of the things recorded by Matthew are missing from the writings of the other three Evangelists. He later uses this in support for his main argument that Matthew was much better at fabricating scenarios that illustrated his foolishness.

First of, Paine cannot figure out through commonsense that the authenticity or veracity of an account is not necessarily bound to its appearance in another independent source. It is therefore rather odd to see that Paine tries to derive an objective fact from his purely subjective comments, in other words, from his personal expectations stipulating the existence of a narrative in the Gospels other than Matthew’s. He fails to understand that it was quite natural for an Evangelist to touch upon a subject unmentioned by another or record an incident that would mirror the peculiarity of his writing style. Would it be reasonable to expect that the four Evangelists come together and sign a contract to promise people that they would talk about the same incidents in their Gospels without any difference or exception? Thus, Thomas Paine’s objection and critique fall apart since he cannot prove that the Evangelists had to discard the notion of peculiarity while committing the Good News to writing.

Besides, the fact that Matthew was the only Evangelist to record the details about the sealing of Jesus’ tomb and the watch of the soldiers indicates his being a great writer whose writing style was in line with the notions of textual consistency and coherence. If Thomas Paine had examined Matthew’s entire Gospel carefully instead of quoting some verses at random for the sake of feeding his biased arguments, he would (hopefully) have understood why Matthew alone wrote about the appeal of the Jewish religious leaders for the sealing of Jesus’ tomb and the settlement of some soldiers at the entrance for a watch until the third day. In order to answer this simple question, one does not have to be an enlightened rational thinker and philosopher like Paine, for reading the following verses from Matthew’s Gospel will suffice to initiate the chain of inferences:

The next day (which is after the day of preparation) the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that while that deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give orders to secure the tomb until the third day. (Matthew 27:62-64 NET Bible2)

These sentences show that the Jewish religious authorities went to Pilate and requested that Jesus’ tomb be sealed because they were aware of Jesus’ prediction regarding His resurrection on the third day. If those leaders had not been aware of Jesus’ claim, they would not have bothered the Roman governor. This leads us to the second vital question: HOW did the Jewish leaders know about Jesus’ particular claim with the detailed information concerning the time of His resurrection? The answer, once again, can be found only in Matthew’s Gospel:

Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. (Matthew 12:38-40)

Evidently, during His prophetic ministry Christ had foretold His death and resurrection in public through drawing an analogy between Prophet Jonah and the Son of Man (Himself). As Jonah had stayed in the belly of the huge fish for only three days, the Son of Man would stay in the heart of the earth for only three days and not more. Jonah’s staying in the belly of the huge fish had represented his death as he had been isolated from the world of the living and cast into a dark world in deep waters. Accordingly, his coming out from that dark place back to the world of the living symbolized his resurrection. Jonah’s symbolic death and resurrection had functioned as the predictor of Jesus’ actual death and resurrection, for the fulfillment of predictions means the changing of symbols and typologies into realities. In short, Jesus had revealed His future death and resurrection along with the time of His coming back to life. Since the Jewish authorities were not a bunch of idiots, they understood what Jesus meant, which later instigated them to take precautions against Jesus’ predicted resurrection on the third day.

Quite naturally, Evangelists Mark and John did not record the appeal of the Jewish religious authorities for the securing of Jesus’ tomb because they did not also record the above conversation in Matthew’s Gospel between Jesus and His adversaries with regard to the demand of a great sign. It is rather surprising to see that Thomas Paine, a great man of logic, questions and challenges a quite logical approach from Mark and John. Why would these two Evangelists include the narrative peculiar to Matthew whilst they did not refer to the association drawn by Jesus between Prophet Jonah and the Son of Man (Himself) concerning the resurrection on the third day of His death? Why would they ignore the notions of textual coherence and consistency by writing only one of the two related accounts dependent on one another? To disappoint Thomas Paine, the Evangelists gave priority to coherence and cohesion within their respective writings instead of striving to copy from one another in a meaningless way.

What about Luke? Although Luke did not give the account of the Jewish religious leaders’ demand from Pilate in Matthew (27:62-66), he repeated the analogy drawn by Jesus between Prophet Jonah and the Son of Man:

As the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation; it looks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be a sign to this generation. (Luke 11:29-30)

Despite its thematic affiliation with Matthew 12:38-40, this narrative turns out to be peculiar to Luke, being obviously different from what Matthew recorded. The typological link between Jonah and the Son of Man on the basis of a sign is maintained by Luke, but Jesus’ statements seem to have been uttered on a different occasion than the one given by Matthew. This we know because Luke does not talk of the challenge posed by Jewish religious authorities for the manifestation of a great sign from heaven. More important, in Luke Jesus does not make an overt analogy between Jonah’s coming back from the belly of the fish and the Son of Man’s (His) bodily resurrection. Thus, in Luke the sign of Jonah is approached by Jesus from a different perspective and limited to the concept of representing a great sign for people. As Jesus’ remarks and teachings about the sign of Jonah in Luke do not reveal anything about His resurrection and the exact time of its occurrence, it would be ridiculous for Luke to say that the Jewish authorities tried to prevent Jesus’ resurrection without having any clues about His particular prediction. Thus, it was natural and reasonable for Luke to exclude the narrative in Matthew 27:62-66.

Finally, it should be noted that Jesus’ reference in Luke to the sign of Jonah and the link He establishes between Jonah and the Son of Man with regard to being a great sign for people are in perfect harmony with the following verses, which are recorded only by Luke and include a prediction about Christ’s death:

Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “Listen carefully: This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected. Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!” (Luke 2:34-35)


The writer of the book of Matthew, after giving this account, relates a story that is not to be found in any of the other books, and which is the same I have just before alluded to. "Now," says he, [that is, after the conversation the women had had with the angel sitting upon the stone,] "behold some of the watch [meaning the watch that he had said had been placed over the sepulchre] came into the city, and shawed unto the chief priests all the things that were done; and when they were assembled with the elders and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying, Say ye, that his disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept; and if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught; and this saying [that his disciples stole him away] is commonly reported among the Jews until this day."

The expression, until this day, is an evidence that the book ascribed to Matthew was not written by Matthew, and that it has been manufactured long after the times and things of which it pretends to treat; for the expression implies a great length of intervening time. It would be inconsistent in us to speak in this manner of any thing happening in our own time. To give, therefore, intelligible meaning to the expression, we must suppose a lapse of some generations at least, for this manner of speaking carries the mind back to ancient time.

Thomas Paine was actually a philosopher who wrote a lot, but made little sense as it can be clearly seen in the above quotation. This was mostly because he was a man of hasty conclusions that were far from reason. Focusing on the time adverbial in the particular verse below, Paine concludes that Matthew cannot be the author of the Gospel attributed to him:

So they took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story is told among the Jews to this day. (Matthew 28:15)

At first, we must ask Thomas Paine to enlighten us by explaining how many years Matthew or the author of this Gospel implied to have intervened through the use of the phrase “to this day”. 10 years? Maybe 50 or more than 100? Paine’s argument does not go any further than leaving us in suspense since the great length of time he points at is based on relativity and personal speculation. Paine is also reluctant to consider the possibility that Matthew used this phrase for the sake of an exaggeration when he simply wanted to emphasize the ironic contrast between the absurdity of the report in view and the awkward length of its circulation among the Jews. In that case even 20 years would correspond to a great length of time when the weak points of the story were taken into consideration. In short, through the phrase “until this day” Matthew stressed that the concocted story was still surprisingly popular among the Jews at the time he wrote the Gospel.  


The absurdity also of the story is worth noticing; for it shows the writer of the book of Matthew to have been an exceeding weak and foolish man. He tells a story that contradicts itself in point of possibility; for though the guard, if there were any, might be made to say that the body was taken away while they were asleep, and to give that as a reason for their not having prevented it, that same sleep must also have prevented their knowing how, and by whom, it was done; and yet they are made to say that it was the disciples who did it. Were a man to tender his evidence of something that he should say was done, and of the manner of doing it, and of the person who did it, while he was asleep, and could know nothing of the matter, such evidence could not be received: it will do well enough for Testament evidence, but not for any thing where truth is concerned.

Of all Thomas Paine’s arguments and critiques to be examined in this study, this is the strongest one worth a meticulous analysis. Paine’s objection and defiance, which take the form of overt insults flung at Evangelist Matthew, aim to undermine the integrity of Jesus’ resurrection account by highlighting the supposed problems and weak points of the scenario invented by the Jewish religious authorities. Actually, Matthew was not the person who produced the allegation concerning the theft of Jesus’ corpse by His disciples at the time of the soldiers’ sleep, but Thomas Paine holds Matthew responsible at least for his reference to this incredible story no matter how unfair his accusation may sound. Thus, Paine oddly believes that the incredibility and foolishness of a report can be ascribed to its objective transmitter and gain him negative qualities.

Paine, due to his biased sentiments, regarded the whole narrative of the Jewish leaders’ unrighteous acts and strategies after Jesus’ unpreventable resurrection as a story fabricated by Evangelist Matthew. No matter whom this scenario originated from, Paine found it rather illogical and foolish as it was impossible and unthinkable for the soldiers to state that they saw Jesus’ disciples come at night and steal His body whilst they all were asleep. In other words, Paine thought that the Jewish religious authorities or the soldiers involved in this incident were not a bunch of goofs to make up such a stupid story and expect people to believe it.

Thomas Paine’s argument seems valid if we do not take into consideration the significance of inferential strategies. To clarify, let’s suppose a similar scenario: A person wakes up in his bed one morning and sees his house in a mess with many valuable objects missing. Immediately he calls the police station to report the incident of burglary. While answering the questions of the police officer, he says that the burglary took place at night when he was asleep. How does the police officer react to this piece of information? Does he conclude that the burgled person is a foolish and weak liar whose report is not credible solely because it is impossible for a person to report an incident of burglary that happened whilst one was asleep? If we follow Thomas Paine’s “logic”, this is where we end up. This simple example proves that there was nothing wrong with the soldiers’ knowing about and talking of an event of theft that occurred during their sleep. The soldiers woke up and saw that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb anymore. This they bound to some thieves.

Paine also ridiculed the claim that the cover-up story invented by the Jewish religious figures and put in the mouth of the soldiers gave the identity of the people who supposedly stole Jesus’ body from the tomb, which was improbable and unthinkable because the soldiers would fail to identify the thieves while asleep! This objection at first makes sense, but later disappears if we slightly modify our exemplary scenario above: A person wakes up and finds his valuable objects stolen. He calls the police and tells them that his ex-wife burgled him when he was asleep. The police examine the validity of this report and claim and ask the burgled man how he came up with that definite conclusion (despite his being asleep!). The man says that his house was not broken into in spite of the burglary, but the door was opened with the spare key, the place of which was known to his ex-wife alone! If we follow Paine’s faulty reasoning again, we have to expect the police to mock the burgled man as a foolish liar and dismiss his report pointing at his ex-wife as number one suspect only because his house was burgled when he was asleep.

Above all, the cause of Thomas Paine’s foolish weak argument is his ignorance of the connection in Matthew’s Gospel between the account of the Jewish religious authorities’ demand from Pilate and the false report given by the soldiers after Jesus’ resurrection. Paine makes an erroneous comment on the integrity of the story because his critique necessitates the separation of two related and consecutive incidents, which results in a logical disaster. Any objective and careful reader of Matthew’s Gospel can understand that the cover-up story in Matthew 28:11-15 was based on the claims put forward by the Jewish religious figures in Matthew 27:62-66. Strikingly, these religious figures went to Pilate, designated Jesus as a deceiver, and stigmatized His disciples, marking them as the only suspects of a “probable” criminal act even BEFORE Jesus’ burial:

The next day (which is after the day of preparation) the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that while that deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give orders to secure the tomb until the third day. Otherwise his disciples may come and steal his body and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” (Matthew 27:62-64)

The statement “The last deception will be worse than the first”, uttered by the chief priests and Pharisees in the above account, ironically points at the link between the two distinct but related and consecutive reports (scenarios) invented by the Jewish authorities. Those leaders made up two false accusations and deceived people. In other words, the deceivers were actually Jesus’ adversaries who beguiled people with the help of two concocted stories, the first of which basically slandered Jesus’ disciples and made them number one suspects of a probable theft.

The first deception of the Jewish religious authorities:

Jesus’ disciples are dishonest people. They will come to steal their Master’s body and tell people that Jesus’ claims for bodily resurrection came true.

The second deception of the Jewish religious authorities:

Jesus’ disciples did what they had planned to do. They came to the tomb at night and stole Jesus’ body when the soldiers were asleep. The watching soldiers could not keep them from stealing the body because the disciples waited for the soldiers’ falling asleep, thus, the most appropriate time that would enable them to take Jesus’ corpse away.

The second deception was worse than the first one because:

  1. It was based on the first deception and supported by it, which made it even more credible despite the addition of the second lie that the disciples came to steal the body “at night when the soldiers were asleep”.
  2. It involved other people than the Jewish religious figures and became stronger than the first claim/lie due to the soldiers’ contribution and compliance.
  3. It was more credible in the sight of the people because no one knew that the story was originally made up by the chief priests and Pharisees and later put in the mouth of the soldiers through bribery.

Consequently, the chief priests and Pharisees knew well that no one would object to the reliability of the second deceitful story ascribed to the soldiers, for the first deceitful story (the one that led Pilate to secure the tomb and commission some soldiers for the watch) had already convinced the people that Jesus’ disciples would come and try to steal their Lord’s body. When Jesus’ resurrection occurred despite the efforts of prevention, His adversaries developed their first untrue story by simply adding into it the motif of the soldiers’ sleep at night so as to provide a pertinent excuse for the theft of the body. However, rationalist writer Thomas Paine did not pay attention to any of these significant and reasonable factors and exposed both his ignorance and arrogance by writing a weak objection disregarding the vital connection between the two accounts in Matthew’s Gospel.


People who assert to have reached the age of reason through the denial and mockery of Christian tenets and scripture are actually in constant darkness without Christ, the source of light and enlightenment. Thomas Paine became one of such prominent figures when he attempted to criticize the Bible and challenge the reality of Christ’s resurrection with his arrogance accompanied by ignorance in the name of so-called reason.



1 All of Paines claims in this study are taken from the second part of his book named "The Age of Reason" (online source).

2 All Biblical quotations in this paper come from the same source.

Articles by Masud Masihiyyen
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