Examination of the Prophecies
Examination of the Prophecies:Author's Preface
Examination of the Prophecies:The Book of Matthew - passages 1-6
Examination of the Prophecies:The Book of Matthew - passages 7-12
Examination of the Prophecies:The Book of Mark
Examination of the Prophecies:The Book of Luke
Examination of the Prophecies:The Book of John
Examination of the Prophecies:The Book of Matthew -- passages 7-12
by Thomas Paine
I pass on to the seventh passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew viii, 16, 17. "When the evening was come, they brought unto him Jesus many that were posessed with devils, and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled
which was spoken by Esaias Isaiah the prophet, saying, himself took our infirmities, and bore our sickness."
This affair of people being posessed by devils, and of casting them out, was the fable of the day when the books of the New Testament were written. It had not existence at any other time. The books of the Old
Testament mention no such thing; the people of the present day know of no such thing; nor does the history of any people or country speak of such a thing. It starts upon us all at once in the book of Matthew, and is altogether an invention of the New Testament-makers and the Christian Church.
The book of Matthew is the first book where the word `devil' is
mentioned. We read in some of the books of the Old Testament of things
called familiar spirits, the supposed companions of people called witches and wizards. It was no other than the trick of pretended conjurers to obtain money from credulous and ignorant people, or the fabricated charge of superstitious malignancy against unfortunate and decrepit old age. But the idea of a familiar spirit, if we can affix any idea to the term, is exceedingly different to that of being posessed by a devil.
In the one case, the supposed familiar spirit is a dexterous agent, that comes and goes and does as he is bidden; in the other, he is a turbulent roaring monster that tears and tortures the body into convulsions. Reader, whoever thou art, put thy trust in thy Creator, make use of the reason He endowed thee with, and cast from thee all such fables.
The passage alluded to by Matthew, for as a quotation it is false, is in
Isaiah liii, 4, which is as follows: "Surely he the person of whom Isaiah is speaking hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." It is in the preter tense.
Here is nothing about casting out devils, nor curing of sicknesses. The passage, therefore, so far from being a prophecy of Christ, is not even applicable as a circumstance.
Isaiah, or at least the writer of the book that bears his name, employs the whole of this chapter, liii, in lamenting the suffereings of some deceased persons, of whom he speaks very pathetically. It is a monody on the death of a friend; but he mentions not the name of the person, nor gives any circumstance of him by which he can be personally known; and it is this silence, which is evidence of nothing, that Matthew has laid hold of, to put the name of Christ to it; as if the chiefs of the Jews, whose sorrows were then great, and the times they lived in big with danger, were never thinking about their own affairs, nor the fate of their own friends, but were continually running a wild-goose chase into futurity.
To make a monody into a prophecy is an absurdity. The characters and circumstances of men, even in the different ages of the world, are so much alike, that what is said of one may with propriety be said of many; but this fitness does not make the passage into a prophecy; and none but an impostor, or a bigot, would call it so.
Isaiah, in deploring the hard fate and loss of his friend, mentions nothing of him but what the human lot of man is subject to. All the cases he states of him, his persecutions, his imprisonment, his patience in suffering, and his perserverance in principle, are all within the line of nature; they belong exclusively to none, and may with justness be said of many.
But if Jesus Christ was the person the Church represents him to be, that which would exclusively apply to him must be something that could not apply to any other person; something beyond the line of nature, something beyond the lot of mortal man; and there are no such expressions in this chapter, nor any other chapter in the Old Testament.
It is no exclusive description to say of a person, as is said of the
person Isaiah is lamenting in this chapter, He was oppressed and he was
afflicted, yet he openeth not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the
slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his
mouth. This may be said of thousands of persons, who have suffered op-
pression and unjust death with patience, silence, and perfect resignation.
Grotius, whom the Bishop of Llandaff esteems a most learned man,
and who certainly was so, supposes that the person of whom Isaiah is
speaking, is Jeremiah. Grotius is led into this opinion from the agreement
there is between the description given by Isaiah and the case of Jeremiah,
as stated in the book that bears his name.
If Jeremiah was an innocent man, and not a traitor in the interest of
Nebuchadnezzar when Jerusalem was besieged, his case was hard; he
was accused by his countrymen, was persecuted, oppressed, and
imprisoned, and he says of himself, (see Jer. xi, 19) "But as for me I was
like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter."
I should be inclined to the same opinion with Grotius, had Isaiah lived
at the time when Jeremiah underwent the cruelties of which he speaks; but
Isaiah died about fifty years before; and it is of a person of his own time
whose case Isaiah is lamenting in the chapter in question, and which
imposition and bigotry, more than seven hundred years afterwards,
perverted into a prophecy of a person they call Jesus Christ.
I pass on to the eighth passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew xii, 14-21: "Then the Pharisees went out and held a council
against him, how they might destroy him. But when Jesus knew it he
withdrew himself; and great numbers followed him and he healed them all;
and he charged them they should not make him known; that it might be
fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias (Isaiah) the prophet, saying, Behold my
servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased;
I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall show judgement to the Gentiles."
"He shall not strive nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in
the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not
quench, til he send forth judgement unto victory. And in his name shall the
In the first place, this passage hath not the least relation to the purpose for which it is quoted.
Matthew says the Pharisees held a council against Jesus to destroy him--that Jesus withdrew himself--that great numbers followed him--that he healed them--and that he charged them they should not make him known. But the passage Matthew has quoted as being fulfilled by these circumstances does not so much as apply to any one of them.
It has nothing to do with the Pharisees holding a council to destroy
Jesus--with his withdrawing himself--with great numbers following him--with
his healing them--nor with his charging them not to make him known.
The purpose for which the passage is quoted, and the passage itself, are
as remote from each other, as nothing from something. But the case is that
people have been so long in the habit of reading the books called the Bible
and Testament with their eyes shut, and their senses locked up, that the
most stupid inconsistencies have passed on them for truth, and imposition
for prophecy. The Allwise Creator has been dishonored by being made the
author of fable, and the human mind degraded by believing it.
In this passage, as in that last mentioned, the name of the person of
whom the passage speaks is not given, and we are left in the dark
respecting him. It is this defect in the history that imposition and bigotry
have laid hold of, to call it prophecy.
Had Isaiah lived in the time of Cyrus, the passage would descriptively
apply to him. As King of Persia, his authority was great among the Gentiles,
and it is of such a character the passage speaks; and his friendship for the
Jews, whom he liberated from captivity, and who might then be compared to
a bruised reed, was extensive.
But this description does not apply to Jesus Christ, who had no authority
among the Gentiles; and as to his own countrymen, figuratively described by
the bruised reed, it was they who crucified him. Neither can it be said of
him that he did not cry, and that his voice was not heard in the street. As a
preacher it was his business to be heard, and we are told that he traveled
about the country for that purpose.
Matthew has given a long sermon, which (if his authority is good, but
which is much to be doubted since he imposes so much) Jesus preached to
a multitude upon a mountain, and it would be a quibble to say that a
mountain is not a street, since it is a place equally as public.
The last verse in the passage (the fourth) as it stands in Isaiah, and
which Matthew has not quoted, says, "He shall not fail nor be discouraged
till he have set judgement in the earth, and the isles shall wait for his
law." This also applies to Cyrus. He was not discouraged, he did not fail,
he conquered all Babylon, liberated the Jews, and established laws.
But this cannot be said of Jesus Christ, who in the passage before us,
according to Matthew, (xii 15), withdrew himself for fear of the Pharisees,
and charged the people that followed him not to make it known where he
was; and who, according to other parts of the Testament, was continually
moving from place to place to avoid being apprehended.
But it is immaterial to us, at this distance of time, to know who the
person was: it is sufficient to the purpose I am upon, that of detecting
fraud and falsehood, to know who it was not, and to show it was not the
person called Jesus Christ.
I pass on to the ninth passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew xxi 1-5. "And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were
come to Bethpage, unto the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two of his
disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and
straightaway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her; loose them and
bring them unto me. And if any man say ought to you, ye shall say, the Lord
hath need of them, and straightaway he will send them. All this was done
that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye
the daughter of Sion, Behold the King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting
upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass."
Poor ass! let it be some consolation amidst all thy sufferings, that if
the heathen world erected a bear into a constellation the Christian world has
elevated thee into a prophecy.
This passage is in Zechariah ix, 9, and is one of the whims of friend
Zechariah to congratulate his countrymen, who were then returning from
captivity in Babylon, and himself with them, to Jerusalem. It has no concern
with any other subject. It is strange that apostles, priests and commentators
never permit, or never suppose, the Jews to be speaking of their own affairs.
Everything in the Jewish books is perverted and distorted into meanings
never intended by the writers. Even the poor ass must not be a Jew-ass but
a Christian-ass. I wonder they did not make an apostle of him, or a bishop,
or at least make him speak and prophesy. He could have lifted up his voice
as loud as any of them.
Zechariah, in the first chapter of his book, indulges himself in several
whims on the joy of getting back to Jerusalem. He says at the eighth verse,
"I saw by night (Zechariah was a sharpsighted seer) and behold a man
setting on a red horse (yes, reader, a red horse), and he stood among the
myrtle trees that were in the bottom, and behind him were red horses,
speckled and white." He says nothing about green horses, nor blue horses,
perhaps because it is difficult to distinguish green from blue by night, but a
Christian can have no doubt they were there, because "faith is the evidence
of things not seen."
Zechariah then introduces an angel among his horses, but he does not
tell us what color the angel was of, whether black or white, nor whether he
came to buy horses, or only to look at them as curiosities, for certainly they
were of that kind. Be this however as it amy, he enters into conversation
with this angelon the joyful affair of getting back to Jerusalem, and he saith
at the sixteenth verse, "Therefore, thus saith the Lord, I AM RETURNED to
Jerusalem with mercies; my house shall be built in it saith the Lord of hosts,
and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem." An expression signi-
fying the rebuilding of the city.
All this, whimsical and imaginary as it is, sufficiently proves that it
was the entry of the Jews into Jerusalem from captivity, and not the entry of
Jesus Christ seven hundred years afterwards, that is the subject upon which
Zechariah is always speaking.
As to the expression of riding upon an ass, which commentators
represent as a sign of humility in Jesus Christ, the case is, he never was so
well mounted before. The asses of those countries are large and well-
proportioned, and were anciently the chief of riding animals. Their beasts of
burden, and which served also for the conveyance of the poor, were camels
and dromedaries. We read in Judges x, 4, that Jair (one of the Judges of
Israel) "had thirty sons that rode on thirty ass-colts, and they had thirty
cities." But commentators distort everything.
There is besides very reasonable grounds to conclude that this story of
Jesus riding publicly into Jerusalem, accompanied, as it is said at verses
eight and nine, by a great multitude, shouting and rejoicing and spreading
their garments by the way, is a story altogether destitute of truth.
In the last passage called a prophecy that I examined, Jesus is
represented as withdrawing, that is, running away, and concealing himself
for fear of being apprehended, and charging the people that were with him
not to make him known, No new circumstance had arisen in the interim to
change his condition for the better; yet here he is represented as making
public his entry into the same city from which he had fled for safety. The
two cases contradict each other so much that if both are not false, one of
them at least can scarcely be true.
For my own part, I do not believe there is one word of historical truth
in the whole book. I look upon it at best to be a romance; the principle
personage of which is an imaginary or allegorical character founded upon
some tale, and in which the moral is in many parts good, and the narrative
part very badly and blunderingly written.
I pass on to the tenth passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew xxvi, 51-56. "And behold one of them wahich was with Jesus
meaning Peter stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a
servant of the high priest, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him,
put up again thy sword unto its place: for all they that take the sword
shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my
Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
But how then can the scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be?"
"In that same hour Jesus said to the multitudes, Are ye come out as
against a thief, with swords and with staves for to take me? I sat daily
with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. But all this
was done that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled."
This loose and general manner of speaking, admits neither of detection
nor of proof. Here is no quotation given, nor the name of any Bible author
mentioned, to which reference can be had.
There are, however, some high improbabilities against the truth of the
First--It is not probable that the Jews, who were then a conquered
people, and under subjection to the Romans, should be permitted to wear
Secondly--If Peter had attacked the servant of the high priest and cut
off his ear, he would have been immediately taken up by the guard that took
up his master and sent to prison with him.
Thirdly--What sort of disciples and preaching apostles must those of
Christ have been that wore swords?
Fourthly--This scene is represented as having taken place the same
evening of what is called the Lord's Supper, which makes, according to the
ceremony of it, the inconsistency of wearing swords the greater.
I pass on to the eleventh passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew xxvii, 3-10. "Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw
that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty
pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in
that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us,
see thou to that. And he cast down the thirty pieces of silver, and departed,
and went and hanged himself.
"And the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, it is not lawful
to put them in the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took
counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.
Wherefore that field is called the field of blood unto this day.
"Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet,
saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was
valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value, and gave them for the
potter's filed, as the Lord appointed me."
This is a most barefaced piece of imposition. The passage in Jeremiah
which speaks of the purchase of a field has no more to do with the case to
which Matthew applies it than it has to do with the purchase of lands in
America. I will recite the whole passage.
Jeremiah xxxii, 6-15: "And Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came unto
he, saying, Behold Hanameel, the son of Shallum thine uncle, shall come
unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth, for the right of
redemption is thine to buy it. So Hanameel mine uncle's son came to me in
the court of the prison, according to the word of the Lord, and said unto me,
Buy my field I pray thee that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin; for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself.
"Then I knew this was the word of the Lord. And I bought the field of
Hanameel mine uncle's son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the
money, even seventeen shekels of silver. And I subscribed the evidence
and sealed it, and took witnesses and weighed him the money in the
"So I took the evidence of the purchase, both that which was sealed
according to the law and custom, and that which was open; and I gave the
evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of
Maaseiah, in the sight of Hanameel mine uncle's son, and in the presence
of the witnesses that subscribed the book of the purchase, before all the
Jews that sat in the court of the prison.
"And I charged Baruch before them, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts,
the God of Israel; Take these evidences, this evidence of the purchase, both
which is sealed, and this evidence which is open, and put them in an
earthen vessel, that they may continue many days. For thus saith the Lord
of hosts, the God of Israel; Houses and fields and vineyards shall be
posessed again in this land."
I forbear making any remark on this abominable imposition of Matthew.
The thing glaringly speaks for itself. It is priests and commentators that I
rather ought to censure for having preached falsehood so long and kept
people in darkness with respect to those impositions.
I am not contending with these men on points of doctrine, for I know that
sophistry always has a city of refuge. I am speaking of facts; for whenever
the thing called a fact is a falsehood, the faith founded upon it is delusion,
and the doctrine raised upon it not true. Ah, reader, put thy trust in thy
Creator, and thou wilt be safe; but if thou trust to the book called the
Scriptures thou trust to the rotten staff of fable and falsehood. But I
return to my subject.
There is among the whims and reveries of Zechariah, mention made of
thirty pieces of silver given to a potter. They can hardly have been so stupid
as to mistake a potter for a field: and if they had, the passage in Zechariah
has no more to do with Jesus, Judas and the field to bury strangers in than
that already quoted. I will recite the passage.
Zechariah xi, 7-14: "And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O
poor of the flock. And I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty,
the other I called Bands; and I fed the flock. Three shepherds also I cut off
in one month; and my soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me.
Then said I, I will not feed you; that which dieth, let it die; and that which
is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat everyone the flesh
"And i took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break
my covenant which I had made with all the people. Annd it was broken in
that day; and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was
the word of the Lord. And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my
price, and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of
"And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter; a goodly price that
I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast
them to the potter in the house of the Lord. Then I cut asunder mine other
staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and
There is no making either head or tail of this incoherent gibberish.
His two staves, one called Beauty and the other Bands, is so much like a
fairy tale that I doubt it had any other origin. There is, however, no part
that has the least relation to the case stated in Matthew; on the contrary,
it is the reverse of it. Here the thirty pieces of silver, whatever it was
for, is called a goodly price, it was as much as the thing was worth, and
according to the language of the day, was approved of by the Lord, and the
money given to the potter in the house of the Lord.
In the case of Jesus and Judas, as stated in Matthew, the thirty pieces
of silver were the price of blood; the transaction was condemned by the Lord,
and the money when refunded was refused admittance into the treasury.
Everything in the two cases is the reverse of each other.
Besides this, a very different and direct contrary account to that of
Matthew, is given of the affair of Judas, in the book called the "Acts of the
Apostles"; according to that book the case is, that so far from Judas
repenting and returning the money, and the high priest buying a field with
it to bury strangers in, Judas kept the money and bought a field with it for
himself; and instead of hanging himself as Matthew says, that he fell
headlong and burst asunder. Some commentators endeavor to get over one
part of the contradiction by ridiculously supposing that Judas hanged
himself first and the rope broke.
Acts i, 16-18: "Men and brethren, this Scripture must needs have been
fulfilled which the Holy Ghost by the mouth David spake before concerning
Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus (David says not a word
about Judas), for he (Judas) was numbered among us and obtained part of
our ministry. Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity,
and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst and his bowels gushed
Is it not a species of blasphemy to call the New Testament revealed
religion, when we see in it such contradictions and absurdities? I pass on to
the twelfth passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew xxvii, 35: "And they crucified him, and parted his garments,
casting lots; that it might be fulfilled that was spoken by the prophet, They
parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots."
This expression is in Psalm xxii,18.
The writer of that Psalm (whoever he was, for the Psalms are a collection
and not the work of one man) is speaking of himself and his own case, and
not that of another. He begins this Psalm with the words which the New
Testament writers ascribed to Jesus Christ: "My God, my God, why hast
thou forsaken me" --words which might be uttered by a complaining man
without any great impropriety, but very improperly from the mouth of a
The picture which the writer draws of his own situation in this Psalm, is
gloomy enough. He is not prophesying, but complaining of his own hard
case. He represents himself as surrounded by enemies and beset by
persecutions of every kind; and by the way of showing the inveteracy of his
persecutors he says, "They parted my garments among them, and cast lots
upon my vesture."
The expression is in the present tense; and is the same as to say, they
pursue me even to the clothes upon my back, and dispute how they shall
divide them. Besides, the word `vesture' does not always mean clothing of
any kind, but Property, or rather the admitting a man to, or investing him
with property; and as it is used in this Psalm distinct from the word garment,
it appears to be used in this sense. But Jesus had no property; for they make
him to say of himself, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have
nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head."
But be this as it may, if we permit ourselves to suppose the Almighty
would condescend to tell, by what is called the spirit of prophecy, what
would could come to pass in some future age of the world, it is an injury to
our own faculties, and to our ideas of His greatness, to imagine it would be
about an old coat, or an old pair of breeches, or about anything which the
common accidents of life, or the quarrels which attend it, exhibit everyday.
That which is in the power of man to do, or in his will not to do, is not
subject for prophecy, even if there were such a thing, because it cannot
carry with it any evidence of divine power, or divine interposition.
The ways of God are not the ways of men. That which an Almighty
power performs, or wills, is not within the circle of human power to do, or to
control. But any executioner and his assistants might quarrel about dividing
the garments of a sufferer, or divide them without quarreling, and by that
means fulfill the thing called a prophecy, or set it aside.
In the passages before examined, I have exposed the falsehood of them.
In this I exhibit its degrading meanness, as an insult to the Creator and an
injury to human reason.
Here end the passages called prophecies by Matthew.
Matthew concludes his book by saying, that when Christ expired on the
cross, the rocks rent, the graves opened, and the bodies of many of the
saints arose; and Mark says, there was darkness over the land from the
sixth hour until the ninth.
They produce no prophecy for this; but had these things been facts, they
would have been a proper subject for prophecy, because none but an
Almighty power could have inspired a foreknowledge of them, and
afterwards fulfilled them. Since thenm there is no such prophecy, but a
pretended prophecy of an old coat, the proper deduction is, there were no
such things, and that the book of Matthew was fable and falsehood.
I pass on to the book called the Gospel according to St. Mark.
Examination of the Prophecies:The Book of Mark