An Answer To A Friend Regarding The Age Of Reason
by Thomas Paine
Paris, May 12, 1797
In your letter of the twentieth of March, you give me several quotations from the Bible,
which you call the Word of God, to show me that my opinions on religion are wrong, and I
could give you as many, from the same book to show that yours are not right; consequently,
then, the Bible decides nothing, because it decides any way, and every way, one chooses to
But by what authority do you call the Bible the Word of God? for this is the first point
to be settled. It is not your calling it so that makes it so, any more than the Mahometans
calling the Koran the Word of God makes the Koran to be so. The Popish Councils of Nice
and Laodicea, about 350 years after the time the person called Jesus Christ is said to
have lived, voted the books that now compose what is called the New Testament to be the
Word of God. This was done by yeas and nays, as we now vote a law.
The Pharisees of the second temple, after the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon, did
the same by the books that now compose the Old Testament, and this is all the authority
there is, which to me is no authority at all. I am as capable of judging for myself as
they were, and I think more so, because, as they made a living by their religion, they had
a self-interest in the vote they gave.
You may have an opinion that a man is inspired, but you cannot prove it, nor can you have
any proof of it yourself, because you cannot see into his mind in order to know how he
comes by his thoughts; and the same is the case with the word revelation. There
can be no evidence of such a thing, for you can no more prove revelation than you can
prove what another man dreams of, neither can he prove it himself.
It is often said in the Bible that God spake unto Moses, but how do you know that God
spake unto Moses? Because, you will say, the Bible says so. The Koran says, that God spake
unto Mahomet, do you believe that too? No.
Why not? Because, you will say, you do not believe it; and so because you do, and
because you don't is all the reason you can give for believing or disbelieving
except that you will say that Mahomet was an impostor. And how do you know Moses was not
For my own part, I believe that all are impostors who pretend to hold verbal communication
with the Deity. It is the way by which the world has been imposed upon; but if you think
otherwise you have the same right to your opinion that I have to mine, and must answer for
it in the same manner. But all this does not settle the point, whether the Bible be the
Word of God, or not. It is therefore necessary to go a step further. The case then is: -
You form your opinion of God from the account given of Him in the Bible; and I form my
opinion of the Bible from the wisdom and goodness of God manifested in the structure of
the universe, and in all works of creation. The result in these two cases will be, that
you, by taking the Bible for your standard, will have a bad opinion of God; and I, by
taking God for my standard, shall have a bad opinion of the Bible.
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The Bible represents God to be a changeable, passionate, vindictive being; making a world
and then drowning it, afterwards repenting of what he had done, and promising not to do so
again. Setting one nation to cut the throats of another, and stopping the course of the
sun till the butchery should be done. But the works of God in the creation preach to us
another doctrine. In that vast volume we see nothing to give us the idea of a changeable,
passionate, vindictive God; everything we there behold impresses us with a contrary idea -
that of unchangeableness and of eternal order, harmony, and goodness.
The sun and the seasons return at their appointed time, and everything in the creation
claims that God is unchangeable. Now, which am I to believe, a book that any impostor
might make and call the Word of God, or the creation itself which none but an Almighty
Power could make? For the Bible says one thing, and the creation says the contrary. The
Bible represents God with all the passions of a mortal, and the creation proclaims him
with all the attributes of a God.
It is from the Bible that man has learned cruelty, rapine, and murder; for the belief of a
cruel God makes a cruel man. That bloodthirsty man, called the prophet Samuel, makes God
to say, (I Sam. xv. 3) `Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have,
and spare them not, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep,
camel and ass.'
That Samuel or some other impostor might say this, is what, at this distance of time, can
neither be proved nor disproved, but in my opinion it is blasphemy to say, or to believe,
that God said it. All our ideas of the justice and goodness of God revolt at the impious
cruelty of the Bible. It is not a God, just and good, but a devil, under the name of God,
that the Bible describes.
What makes this pretended order to destroy the Amalekites appear the worse, is the reason
given for it. The Amalekites, four hundred years before, according to the account in
Exodus xvii. (but which has the appearance of fable from the magical account it gives of
Moses holding up his hands), had opposed the Israelites coming into their country, and
this the Amalekites had a right to do, because the Israelites were the invaders, as the
Spaniards were the invaders of Mexico. This opposition by the Amalekites, at that
time, is given as a reason, that the men, women, infants and sucklings, sheep and
oxen, camels and asses, that were born four hundred years afterward, should be put to
death; and to complete the horror, Samuel hewed Agag, the chief of the Amalekites, in
pieces, as you would hew a stick of wood. I will bestow a few observations on this case.
In the first place, nobody knows who the author, or writer, of the book of Samuel was,
and, therefore, the fact itself has no other proof than anonymous or hearsay evidence,
which is no evidence at all. In the second place, this anonymous book says, that this
slaughter was done by the express command of God: but all our ideas of the
justice and goodness of God give the lie to the book, and as I never will believe any book
that ascribes cruelty and injustice to God, I therefore reject the Bible as unworthy of
As I have now given you my reasons for believing that the Bible is not the Word of God,
that it is a falsehood, I have a right to ask you your reasons for believing the contrary;
but I know you can give me none, except that you were educated to believe the Bible;
and as the Turks give the same reason for believing the Koran, it is evident that
education makes all the difference, and that reason and truth have nothing to do in the
You believe in the Bible from the accident of birth, and the Turks believe in the Koran
from the same accident, and each calls the other infidel. But leaving the
prejudice of education out of the case, the unprejudiced truth is, that all are infidels
who believe falsely of God, whether they draw their creed from the Bible, or from the
Koran, from the Old Testament, or from the New.
When you have examined the Bible with the attention that I have done (for I do not think
you know much about it), and permit yourself to have just ideas of God, you will most
probably believe as I do. But I wish you to know that this answer to your letter is not
written for the purpose of changing your opinion. It is written to satisfy you, and some
other friends whom I esteem, that my disbelief of the Bible is founded on a pure and
religious belief in God; for in my opinion the Bible is a gross libel against the justice
and goodness of God, in almost every part of it.
End of An Answer To A Friend by Thomas Paine (sometimes spelled Thomas Payne).