Sir Isaac Newton, the Trinity, and the End of the World

Isaac Newton - by Godfrey Kneller 1689 portrait

 

Image: Sir Isaac Newton

Painter: Godfrey Kneller (1689)

 

The Associated Press is reporting that the National Library of Israel is planning to make available to the public a collection of historical manuscripts that present interesting aspects of the lives and work of Jewish people in different parts of the world.

Among the rare manuscripts to be displayed is the Kafka’s Hebrew vocabulary notebook, probably one of the earliest evidence of the Yiddish language. Another group of manuscripts to be displayed is the Crowns of Damascus. The Crowns of Damascus is a collection of Hebrew Bible manuscripts that were smuggled out of Syria 20 years ago. These Hebrew texts were written between 700 to 1,000 years ago.

Another collection of manuscripts to be displayed is the theological writings of Sir Isaac Newton, an English scientist who is acknowledged to be one of the most influential physicists and mathematicians of all time. In addition to his work on motion and gravity, Newton also wrote about the Bible. In his writings, Newton predicted that the world will end in 2060.

Below is an excerpt of the article by Daniel Estrin for the Associated Press:

NEWTON’S THEOLOGICAL THEORIES

Sir Isaac Newton gave the world three laws of motion that bear his name. But he had other theories too: about Hebrew scripture and the apocalypse.

In his cursive English, occasionally laced with Hebrew words, Newton applied his scientific mind to measurements of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and predicted the end of the world in the year 2060.

These writings should have ended up at Cambridge University, where his descendants donated most of Newton’s original manuscripts in 1872. But at the time, Cambridge expressed no interest in Newton’s theological scribbles, said Milka Levy-Rubin, curator of the Israel national library’s humanities collection.

In 1936, his descendants sold the manuscripts at Sotheby’s auction house. But bidders were far more interested in an auction of impressionist paintings at London’s rival auction house Christie’s the very same day.

Jewish scholar Abraham Shalom Yahuda caught wind of the manuscripts, bought the theological writings, and donated them to what would become the national library.

After reading this news report, I remembered Isaac Newton’s discussion of 1 John 5:6-8. Below are two translations of these verses:

New Revised Standard Version

“This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.”

King James Version

“This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

As most Christians know, the words in bold found in the King James Version are not in the oldest manuscripts. In his book, An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture, Isaac Newton has a long discussion of this textual problem which was added to the letter of 1 John in order to provide a biblical proof for the truth of the Trinity.

Isaac Newton and the Three in Heaven

Below is a short excerpt from what Newton wrote:

Now this mystical application of “the Spirit, Water, and Blood,” to signify the Trinity, seems to me to have given occasion to somebody, either fraudulently to insert the testimony of “the Three in Heaven” in express words into the text, for proving the Trinity; or else to note in the margin of his book, by way of interpretation; whence it might afterwards creep into the text in transcribing.

And the first upon record that inserted it, is Jerome; if the preface to the canonical epistles, which goes under his name, be his. For whilst he composed not a new translation of the New Testament, but only corrected the ancient vulgar Latin (as learned men think), and among the emendations (written perhaps at first in the margin of his book) he inserted this testimony; he complains in the said preface, how he was thereupon accused by some of the Latins for falsifying Scripture; and makes answer, that former Latin translators had much erred from the faith, in putting only “the Spirit, Water, and Blood,” in their edition, and omitting the testimony of “the Three in Heaven,” whereby the Catholic faith is established. In his defense he seems to say, that he corrected the vulgar Latin translation by the original Greek; and this is the great testimony the text relies upon” (pp. 11-13).

What Isaac Newton wrote is that Jerome is saying that the expression “the Three in Heaven” was not found in earlier Latin versions of the New Testament and that the translators of the Old Latin Bible had falsified the Bible by omitting these important words.

According to Newton, when Jerome wrote that he was accused by some Latin Fathers of falsifying the Bible by including the words “the Three in Heaven” in 1 John, Jerome is confirming that “the Three in Heaven” statement was not in the Bible before he produced his translation.

Appealing to the Greek manuscripts as evidence, Newton wrote: “And all these [Greek manuscripts of the Scripture] are against him [Jerome]. For by the unanimous evidence of all these, it will appear that the testimony of “the Three in Heaven” was wanting in the Greek manuscripts, from when Jerome, or whoever was the author of that preface to the canonical epistles, pretends to have borrowed it” (pp. 14-15).

Newton then goes on citing three ancient versions which did not include “the Three in Heaven” testimony: the Old Latin, the Syriac, and the Ethiopic versions of the New Testament. He wrote: “. . . and the authors of these three most ancient, most famous, and most received versions, by omitting it, are concurrent witnesses, that they found it wanting in the original Greek manuscripts of their own times.”

Sir Isaac Newton was right about “the Three in Heaven” statement. Modern scholarship, after many years of reviewing the textual evidence, has concluded that “the Three in Heaven” statement was inserted into the text of 1 John.

Writing more than 300 years ago, Sir Isaac Newton was right in saying that “the Three in Heaven” statement was added into the text of 1 John. He was also right in many of the things he wrote. His theories about optics and gravity, his work on physics and mathematics have become the foundation of modern physics.

Isaac Newton and the End of the World

As I wrote above, Sir Isaac Newton was right in most of the things he wrote. Newton predicted that the world will end in 2060. Is he right in predicting the end of the world in 2060?

We will discover whether Sir Isaac Newton was right in predicting the end of the world in 2060 in 46 years. Until then, we must wait and wonder if Newton will be right again..

Isaac Newton’s book, An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture, is available free on Google Books. Click here to download the book in a PDF format.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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