Thomas Paine and Inspired Revelation.


Finished reading Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason” and thought is might spark some interest one the topic of inspired revelation.

You may or may not know that Thomas Paine was an American patriot who wrote “Common Sense” in 1776, at the dawn of the American Revolution. Butlike many of those who formed early American political thought, Paine was a Deist.

In “The Age of Reason”, Paine claims that God reveals Himself through only two sources: creation and conscience:

“THE WORD OF GOD IS THE CREATION WE BEHOLD: And it is in this word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man.”

  • “As for morality, the knowledge of it exists in every man’s conscience.”*

What is curious about these claims is that a form of them can be found in Scripture itself:

*“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” - Romans 1:18-20 *

*“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;” - Romans 2:14-15 *

So in an odd sense, Paine is right. But he goes on to dismiss any revealed knowledge of God as found in the Bible, and spends most of the work deconstructing it. Paine claims that if God speaks to a person, then that revelation is valid only for that person, else it is hearsay and not revelation.

But this is a point I’d like to address. Paine believes that if God is going to reveal Himself to every man, it must be done in a manner that is UNIVERSAL. In other words, a major flaw in the written word such as we find in the bible is that it is limited in the language in which it is written. In Paine’s time, only those who know Hebrew, Greek, Aramiac, Latin, Spanish, and English would benefit from it, leaving out a majority of the world, including such countries as Japan, China, and Polyneasia.I have to admit that Paine has a point. I can’t imagine God not speaking to all peoples of the world in some fashion. After all, he created them, didn’t He?

Paul even addresses this issue in Acts 17:26-28:

“And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.”

So the question is, to what extent does God speak to the individual, particularly those who have never heard of the written text? And what, if any, effect does it have in our belief in Universal Reconciliation?


C.S. Lewis certainly seemed to be an inclusivist, to some degree at least with characters like Emeth in The Last Battle. I’ve also come across some amazing ways people (apart from obviously Saul/Paul) have come to Christ, in places not yet reached by the Gospel . e.g. More Than Dreams. My hunch would be that the we shouldn’t expected or rely on other methods (apart from sharing Bible) but that God does occasionally use other ways. I think creation can prompt big questions, but hard to find details of Christ/Cross by smelling the roses or looking at a sunset :slight_smile:

Similarly I think our conscience is important guide, but again doesn’t give us all the details. However, I’m confident God will judge according to what has been revealed to you, as well as every other factor e.g. family environment, culture, mental capability, etc. And because I think He can even do things after death, everyone will have a fair opportunity sometime.