Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture: In a Letter to a Friend by Isaac Newton





Since today's review will be about Isaac Newton, I thought it would be appropriate to play some music by a contemporary musician.  

Everyone knows, G. F. Handel, and J. S. Bach, but not everyone is familiar with  Jean-Philippe Rameau.  The composition, Nouvelles Suites (performed by Alexandre Tharaud) is a transcription  for the piano.  I love the harpsichord, but I have discovered that is not true for everyone and the piano has vastly superior expressive qualities.  You can listen here.


This was a hard book to review, but I want to review it since I read it, however I review it with reservations about my ability to accurately assess the words of someone who history proves to be one of our greatest mathematicians.

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I'm not sure I entirely understand everything that Newton is asserting because almost half of the letter is in Latin and Greek.  I presume this is because Newton is trying to prove his point by going back to the original languages of Scripture.  And what is his point?  That based on two scriptures that he claims have been corrupted, the Trinity does not exist.  Or, to be more precise, Jesus Christ is not divine.

Before I explain his reasoning let me first quote the two Scriptures he is referring to. 

The first  is from 1 John 5:7,8

 7.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.

The above Verses are a direct quotation of the King James Version.   Newton's argument with this translation is that even though it is directly translated from the Greek and Latin, it is only from later manuscripts that the un-italicized portion is inserted.  The earliest manuscripts don't include them.

And indeed, my Bibles, which are English Standard Version, New American Standard, New International Version and Holman Christian Study Bible omit the un-italicized part altogether, although they include a foot note about later manuscripts including it.

To make it clearer to the reader, this is a direct quote from the English Standard Version of the same two verses:  

For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement


The other translations are no different than the above quotation.

Newton asserts that because in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.  And there are three that bear witness in earth were later additions, these two verses were corrupted to make a false claim, namely that  the Trinity (one God in three persons) is non-existent.  

I will here point out that the foot notes in my English Standard Version Bible explains the verses this way:

The Gospel is not based on merely human testimony.  John indicates that there are in fact "three that testify", namely the witness of the Spirit, the water baptism of Jesus (including the "Spirit descending on him like a dove") and the voice of the Father from heaven; Mark 1:10-11 and the blood (which "cleanses us from all unrighteousness"; 1 John 1:7).  These three agree thereby providing persuasive confirmation for believing in Jesus as the "Son of God". The Old Testament taught that every charge must be confirmed by two or three witnesses.

Personally, I have no quibble with what Newton  is expostulating concerning what might be extra-biblical ScriptureHowever, the question is, what is the original Scripture declaring?

For that we need to start with the beginning of the chapter.  I will provide a link here so I don't have to retype everything:  1 John 5.  

In a nutshell, John is stating that Christians' salvation is determined by their belief in Jesus as the Son of God because only He made the sacrifice by shedding His blood on the Cross and paying for the sins of all who believe in Him. 

I will mention that the point is not whether the readers of my blog believe that or not, but rather what the Scripture is actually saying.

It seems to me that Isaac Newton, in one of the most tragic of ironies, misses the entire point of this passage of Scripture based on a portion of -what he considers-spurious words.  I say what Newton considers to be spurious because the more I have been reading various sources concerning the scripture in question I am seeing good arguments for including as well as excluding those portions.  

But even if that part does not belong there, so what?  The context of the entire chapter is to clearly pronounce Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

Several passages of Scripture assert this.  The most obvious passages would be John 1:1-5 and 14 (italics mine).


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 

And Revelation 1:8 and 17,18:

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

 17. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 

The Pharisees knew what Jesus was proclaiming when he forgave the paralytic's sins.  John 10:33:

The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

Then there are Jesus' very own words, John 3:16:

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.  

Now whether you are a Christian or not, no one can argue that Scripture in fact says this.  Pick up any Bible and you can read it for yourself.

It mystifies me that Newton would write an 85 page letter to a friend, declaring an Arian viewpoint.

The other Scripture is 1 Timothy 3:16.  Here it is in its entirety in the KJV that Newton claimed to be corrupted:

1And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

 Newton's argument here is that the Scripture should not be translated "was manifest in the flesh" but should say "made manifest" in the flesh.  My other translations say "manifested in the flesh". I can't comment because the subtlety  is lost on me.

However, Newton's big argument is that theos rather than theon is used.  One is the singular Greek form of God and the second is the plural.  He says that it is clear that the singular form is the true form, therefore there is no Trinity.

Actually, that is wrong.  Because the Trinity doctrine clearly states One God, Three Persons.  So naturally, the singular for God would be used.

It is very possible that I am in way over my head with Newton's arguments.  I have looked up several sources to make sure that I got his argument correct, so I'm not relying entirely on my own reading.  But it completely eludes me how someone as brilliant as Isaac Newton could use such poor reasoning.

He ignores the entire Bible except for two scriptures and uses corrupted versions to base an entire thesis denying the Deity of Christ.  And he takes 85 pages to do it!  What he states, he states clearly enough on the first couple of pages then repeats himself for the next 83.  

It's as though he spent a life time spinning round and round staring at his toes.

If someone wants to deny the truth of Scripture that is one thing, but to insist that Bible is not saying what it is clearly saying throughout the Old and New Testament defies logic.  

But as I say, I may not be understanding Newton's argument.  If anyone else has read this letter I would love to hear their input. 


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13 comments:

  1. This is very interesting analysis Sharon. I had heard about Newton's work on this issue. I understand that there have been several different arguments over the centuries regarding what the Gospels were saying in relation to the Trinity and in regards to the divinity of Christ.

    Without having delved into this book or the argument in any depth, it seems that Newton may have been contending, among other things, that although Jesus may have been the son of God, he was not God himself.

    Have a great week!

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    1. Hi Brian! I am still at a loss over Newton's argument. Even to say you believe Jesus is the Son of God but not God is like saying I believe you're the son of your father but you're not human.

      But what astonishes me is anyone who would claim to be a Christian but deny the claims Jesus made about himself. It would be like someone claiming to be a Muslim but disputing whether Muhammad was really said he was the prophet of God.

      It would be more honest to call yourself an atheist. :)

      Have a good week!

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  2. Dear Sharon:

    I was intrigued by your commentary on this book by Newton. I think you have understood his point clearly and correctly, and have critiqued it well. In response to your question of how could such a brilliant man get it so wrong, I can only offer this Scripture: "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned," (1st Corinthians 2:14, ESV). This verse suggests to me that even the most brilliant human being, without the blessing, gift, and insight received only from God's Holy Spirit, is in a total fog when it comes to spiritual matters. And it would appear, from Newton's book, that, sadly, he was without the help of the Holy Spirit in regard to all this.

    Blessings on your day – keep reading and reviewing!

    Pastor Dennis Bragdon
    Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
    Longview, TX

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    1. Hello Pastor Braggdon! I was just thinking about you yesterday. I looked up Our Redeemer's web page to see if you were still there. I'm so glad to hear from you.

      I think that you are absolutely right. The smartest person in the world, without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit cannot understand Spiritual truths, even if it is displayed right in front of their eyes.

      Thanks for commenting.

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  3. I truly wish I was better versed in church history ---- I have grand plans but lack of time always seems to be my excuse. In any case, I remember watching a DVD on church history, where they claimed that the issue of the Trinity came along hundreds of years after the birth of Jesus. I'm not sure if they felt that it wasn't an issue before (John's explanation was better understood) or that there was some other controversy surrounding it.

    Reading your post and mulling about Newton, I had a thought ....... because he was a mathematician, Newton was used to reduction ...... reducing things to parts and examining those parts. Perhaps this habit or nature of his simply did the same thing with Scripture to the detriment of his understanding it.

    Because I've been going to this Orthodox book group, I have realized that as Westerners, we do have a hurdle to overcome with some aspects of Eastern thought. For example, the priest exampled certain aspects of Eastern thought, and then took us through secular arguments about the validity of certain passages of Scripture. Reading it through "western" eyes, some passages can seem suspect (or confusing) but when you read them with the eastern "flavour" they make total sense. I'd like to explore these thought differences more.

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  4. Hi Cleopatra. That's so interesting that you're attending an Orthodox book group. I would love to sit in on something like that to hear what they have to say.

    Really, what Newton was espousing wasn't new. He was advocating the heresy Arianism which came up in the first hundred years after Christ. It didn't take heretics long, huh.

    Arianism was the reason that the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds were developed and written down, not to mentioned proclaimed in church for the next two thousand years in order to establish and sustain Christian orthodoxy.

    It's really too bad that so few churches do not recite either of them anymore. They are the best mission statements and testimonies any church could ask for.

    Regarding Newton, you should read Pastor Braggdon's comment. He hits the nail on the head. Newton proves that one can be a brilliant mathematician and still have darkened understanding concerning the things of God.

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    1. The Orthodox group is fascinating! They are nothing like I expected, and often Protestantism seems more closely related to Catholicism than Orthodoxy does to Catholicism.

      Yes, the Arians did come to mind when I was reading your post because I know that there were many problems with their doctrines.

      Churches don't do many things anymore that they should but that's a topic for another post .... ;-)

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    2. Hi Cleopatra. That is interesting what you say about Protestantism seems closer to Catholicism than Orthodoxy to Catholicism. I'd be interested in what particular ways that is.

      When my son was in high school, we attended a Lutheran church and went through Luther's smaller catechism. I think everyone should learn it. It clearly defines what exactly we mean when we say we are Christians. Take care!

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    3. Right now, because I've just started learning something about Orthodoxy, it would be hard for me to articulate. But there have been many light bulb moments when I've realized that Catholicism and Protestantism line up more often than Catholicism & Orthodoxy. I think with Catholicsm and Protestantism we tend to focus on the differences without ever looking closely at the similarities.

      Here's something of an explanation that I found in an book about Orthodoxy I picked up a couple of days ago at a used book store:

      "... They (Orthodox Christians) have known no Middle Ages (in the western sense) and have undergone no Reformation or Counter-Reformation; they have only been affected in an oblique way by the cultural and religious upheaval which transformed western Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Christians in the west, both Roman and Reformed, generally start by asking the same questions, although they may disagree about the answers. In Orthodoxy, however, it is not merely the answers that are different --- the questions themselves are not the same as in the west.

      Orthodox see history in another perspective. Consider, for example, the Orthodox attitude towards western religious disputes. In the west it is usual to think of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism as opposite extremes; but to an Orthodox they appear as two sides of the same coin ..... in the eyes of the Russian theologian (Komiakov), the two things went hand in hand; both alike share the same assumptions, for Protestantism was hatched from the egg with Rome had laid."

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    4. Hmmm...your remarks are tantalizing. I am interested to know what and how our questions are different. Or what the questions are.

      I wonder what Protestants and Catholics are asking and what are the Orthodox asking, pertaining to Sin, Separation from God and Salvation. I must research this. Thanks for peaking my interest!

      I do know from my research in Protestant and Catholic that there are definite differences as to how to attain salvation.

      Protestants (I mean conservative, not liberal) believe that we must first be justified through Christ's death and resurrection and we are then sanctified through the Holy Spirit. Sanctification only comes after salvation.

      Roman Catholics believe that salvation is achieved through Christ's death and resurrection and the correct practice of the sacraments. In other words they combine good works with Christ's death as a process of redemption. Conversely Protestants (conservatives, not liberals) believe that no work by us can add to the work that Christ's death and resurrection completed.

      I would be interested to see what Orthodoxy believes on this issue.

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  5. I'm going to commit a small blasphemy here (coincidental to a book I just read and reviewed at Solitary Praxis) by pondering a question suggested by your posting: why is the book that is supposed to be so important to God's children so difficult to interpret, understand, and use (i.e., there are so many conflicting interpretations, which seems like an odd circumstance for the word of God)? Well, I will ponder that for a while.

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    1. I will offer you the answer the Bible provides. It is only by the Spirit of Truth that one can understand the Bible and according to the Bible the heart of man is desperately corrupt. Unless one surrenders to God our own strong will, we will never understand the things of God.

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    2. I should have added this scripture: 1 Corinthians 2:14

      The natural man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

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I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.