The Religious Beliefs of Sir Isaac Newton

compiled by Helen Fryman (tuppence@NS.NET)



From an email inquiry: I was handed some information from a cultic faith that proclaims that Sir Isaac Newton was not a Trinitarian, but in fact wrote in disagreement concerning the dogma.

This is what the article claimed:

"Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), in England, rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and wrote detailed historical and Scriptural reasons for doing so, but he did not have these published during his lifetime, evidently out of fear of the consequences. Sir Isaac Newton and Henry Grew were among those who had earlier rejected the Trinity as unscriptural."

Now, after searching the A&E Biography database at I read this:

Newton, Isaac

Isaac Newton was born in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, a premature infant not expected to live. His father (of the same name) had died just 3 months before. His mother, Hannah Ayscough Newton, remarried when he was three, and left him with his grandmother until her second husband died, in 1653, when Newton was 11. He was educated at King's School, Grantham, and it was assumed he would continue in the farming tradition of his family, but finally his mother was convinced that he should be prepared for entry to university, and in 1661 he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, as a poor scholar who would have to earn his keep by doing menial tasks for the Fellows.

Newton showed no particular promise in his early years at Cambridge, but Isaac Barrow, who held the Lucasian chair of mathematics, gave him much encouragement. Newton took his degree without distinction (in 1665), and would have prepared for his MA, but in 1664 the Great Plague broke out in London, and the university was closed down the following year.

At home during the plague years, he studied the nature of light and the construction of telescopes. By a variety of experiments upon sunlight refracted through a prism, he concluded that rays of light which differ in colour, differ also in refrangibility - a discovery which suggested that the indistinctness of the image formed by the object-glass of telescopes was due to the different-coloured rays of light being brought to a focus at different distances. He concluded (rightly for an object-glass consisting of a single lens) that it was impossible to produce a distinct image, and was thus led to the construction of reflecting telescopes, perfected by William Herschel and the Earl of Rosse. At the same time, he was working out his ideas on planetary motion.

On his return to Cambridge (1667), Newton became a Fellow of Trinity College, and, in 1668, took his MA. In the following year, Isaac Barrow resigned his chair in favour of his young pupil. Newton's lecture series resulted in an essay which later formed Book 1 of Opticks .

A falling apple had posed in Newton's mind the question of whether the force exerted by the Earth in making the apple fall was the same force that made the Moon "fall' towards the Earth, and so pull it in to an elliptical orbit round the Earth. Calculations showed him that it did, but it was not until 1684, after an exchange of letters with Robert Hooke, that Newton was fully in command of the dynamic principles involved. In that same year, Edmond Halley visited Newton to try to work through some planetary questions. To his surprise, Newton told him that the force between Sun and planets, resulting in an elliptical orbit, operated according to an inverse square law and that he had proved it. He later sent a small treatise on the subject to Halley. Halley persuaded Newton to write a book and, after much antagonism between Newton and Hooke, who demanded credit for discovering the inverse-square law of attraction, the book appeared in 1687 under the title Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy).

This important work, which had remained unpublished for years, established Newton as the greatest of all physical scientists. Its impact was immense. Newton had rewritten the whole science of moving bodies. He completed what the late mediaeval physicists had begun and Galileo had tried to bring to fruition; and his three "laws of motion" formed the basis of all further work.

Meanwhile, the part Newton took in defending the rights of the university against the illegal encroachments of James II procured him a seat in the Convention Parliament (1689--90). In 1696 he was appointed warden of the Mint, at a time when the government had debased the coinage, and a strong, incorruptible man was needed to deal with counterfeiters. He became master of the Mint from 1699, having shown himself to be a brilliant administrator. He again sat in parliament in 1701 for his university, and in 1704 published Opticks in English, which he had refused to do until Hooke, his old enemy, was dead.

Much of Newton's life was spent in conflict with other scientists, particularly Hooke, Leibnitz, and Flamsteed, and he sought revenge for slights real or imagined by deleting references to their help from his work. He always took criticism very badly, responding furiously - an anxiety which has often been explained in terms of his abandonment as a child - and showed signs all through his life of a persecution mania. A breakdown in 1693 heralded the end of his scientific work. Knighted in 1705, his last years were spent under the care of his niece. He never married, but was at his happiest in the role of patron to younger scientists and, from 1703, as a tyrannical president of the Royal Society.


My question is simply thus:

Was Newton a Trinitarian, or was he one that denounced the dogma but yet attended a learning facility that bore the name of the very dogma that he supposedly denounced?

Thanking you in advance God bless you richly, Mark


I believe he right out to lunch concerning Christian doctrine, sorry but without a library here I can't back it up with references. More recent thinking (I've heard) is that in his later years he was suffering from poisoning, I'm not sure exactly what from, but I've heard that alabaster was used a lot in cosmetics, etc., and that many historical figures were likewise being slowly poisoned.

Its worth looking into, but I'm persuaded that he was estranged from any form of Christianity as we understand it.



Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, in his book "Science and Biblical Faith," 1993, (distributed by CRS Books) has two chapters on Newton. He says, on p. 44, "Newton was perhaps the greatest biblical scholar of his age."

Barnes explains,

In 1669 Newton became Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, one of the most honored professorships in the scientific world. In 1673 he was told that he must take Holy Orders (be an ordained minister of the Church of England) to remain at Trinity. That was in Trinity College's charter granted by the King of England. Newton would not take those Holy Orders. ... Some of the church's thirty-nine articles of faith were not in accord with his interpretation of the New Testament. He was so important to Trinity that an appeal was finally granted by the King to delete that requirement for Newton.

As I understand it, Newton's position on the doctrine of the "trinity" was, that he would not endorse what he could not understand. (Douglas Cox)


Friends, Here is one of two posts about Newton. He is a slippery fish indeed, he doctored up his published works and left the real basis of his works unknown to all but a select few, who suffered greatly for there heretical Arianism. Others though profited by the teachings that his disciples propagated, the Unitarians and future enlightenment thinkers of the next century.

Harder still is it to grasp the total effect of Newton's mind in the Arianism that he was so deeply into. One of the reasons is that his personal papers and first drafts works still lay largely unpublished as collections Yahuda in Jerusalem, and Keynes in Britain.

However, Westfall, and Manuel are the most familiar with the entirety of the manuscripts from these collections and hence their assessment is the most concise concerning Newton. Others are beginning to surface in published works.

In Christ, Mike


Richard H. Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton, (Cambridge University Press: 1980)

From Chapter 15. Years of Decline. p.819-827:

Both the Chronology and the Observations upon the Prophecies appeared in print after Newton's death. other theological papers, which were also products of his old age, did not. They provide a perspective by which we can judge the extent to which Newton edited those which he prepared for publication. Among them are many sheet that took up again the history of the early church. A codicil to Catherine Conduitt's will, in which she expressed her strong desire that Newton's theological papers be published, mentioned "the history of the Creed or criticism of it, and a Church History compleat..." [New College MS 361.4, f. 139.] Although the papers mentioned above contain fragments that appear to belong to such works, the works themselves do not appear among the papers not accessible.. [There is one extensive batch of theological papers, in the Bodmer Library, Geneva Switzerland, which is not accessible.] At least ten different chapter headings of a history of the church do survive among them, one of which is numbered Chapter XVI. [Yahuda MS 15.7, f. 124. Other chapters titles in Yahuda MSS 7.3m, f. 5v; 15.2, f. 23; 15.3, ff. 55, 57, 59; 15.5, ff. 91-2.]

In so far as I can judge from the fragments, the history of the early church underwent a change analogous to those in the Chronology and the Observations upon the Prophecies but less complete. Whereas Newton had once centered his attention on the fourth century and the triumph of trinitarianism, he now concentrated more on the earlier period of primitive Christianity and attempted (as Catherine Conduitt's codicil suggests) to reconstruct the creed of the early church. Perhaps we can see in the papers the reason why her expressed desire to publish them was not carried out. The distance between newton's religion and the established faith of the Church of England emerges in these and allied papers far more clearly than it did in the published works.

Among the allied papers, one of the most significant, which exists in the multiple drafts like everything to which Newton attached importance, bore the title "Irenicum." It was the paper Conduitt called "his Irenicum his creed," which would have made revealed religion less mischievous -- that is, it would have, had Newton worked up his courage to publish it. [No Item among Newton's theological manuscripts suffered more at McLachlan's hands than "Irenicum." [What he printed form Keynes MS 3, where several drafts are collected, contains in my opinion the least typical parts. The paper that comes closest to capturing the sense of "Irenicum" (pp.31-5 from Keynes MS 3, pp. 9-14) has been rearranged and distorted by the insertion of passages from other sheets of Keynes MS 3.]


Westfall is alluding to a work edited by Herbert McLachlan, M.A., D.D., (Principal, Unitarian College, Manchester Lecturer in Hellenistic Greek, University of Manchester): Sir Isaac Newton: Theological Manuscripts (Liverpool, 1950). As a Unitarian, McLachlan sees Newton as one of the originators of Unitarian thought and values his criticisms of Newton of the trinity and the Nicean Creed as such. More about Newton in McLachlan's view in The Religious Opinions of Milton, Locke and Newton (Manchester University Press, 1941). It is also possible that McLachlan views are picked up in the Watchtower work The Proclaimers concerning great minds that rejected the trinity and labeled it as a pagan construct (listed along with Henry Grew on p.124-126). (Helen Fryman)

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"Irenicum" returned to the theme of the "Origines": "All nations were originally of one religion and this religion consisted in the Precepts of the sons of Noah..." The principal heads of the primitive religion were love of God and love of neighbor. this religion descended to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses delivered it to Israel. Pythagoras learned it in his travels and taught it to his disciples. "This religion," Newton concluded, "may be therefore called Moral Law of all nations." [Keynes MS 3, p. 27.] Chapter I, "Of the Church of God, " in his history of the early church began with the same theme.

The true religion was propagated by Noah to his posterity, and when they revolted to ye worship of their dead Kings and Heros and thereby denied their God and ceased to be his people, it continued in Abraham and his posterity who revolted not. And when they began to worship the Gods of Egypt and Syria, Moses and the Prophets reclaimed them from time to time till they rejected the Messiah from being their Lord, and he rejected them from being his people and called the Gentiles, and thence forward the believers both Jews and Gentiles became his people. [Yahuda MS 15.3, f. 57.]

To the two great commandments of the primitive religion, to love God and to love one's neighbor, the Gospels added the further doctrine that Jesus was the Christ foretold in prophecy. the risen Christ appeared to his disciples and commanded them to preach repentance and remission of sins in his name. Repentance and remission of sins, "Irenicum" insisted, refer to transgressions of the two basic laws, sins such as idolatry, a failure in the love of God, and covetousness, a failure in the love of neighbor. [Keynes MS 3, p. 1.] When Jesus was asked what was the great commandment of the law, he answered that it was to love god, and he added that the second commandment was to love your neighbor. "This was the religion of the sons of Noah established by Moses and Christ and still in force." [Keynes MS 3, pp. 5-7.]

Thus, Newton argued, we are to believe in one God and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, who is next to him in power and glory. All this was taught from the beginning in the primitive church. It is what Paul called mild for babes. Those things taught after baptism were meat for men of full age. After baptism, men were urged to study the Scriptures, "and especially the Prophesies," to learn as much as they could, and they were to teach others what they learned. Beyond the minimal requirements for baptism, however, they were, in the primitive church, to proceed in the spirit of charity. they were not to break communion, to excommunicate, or to persecute over matters beyond the requirements for baptism. To impose now any article of communion that was not such from the beginning was to preach another gospel. To persecute the Christians for not receiving that Gospel was to make war on Christ. [Keynes MS 3, pp. 3,14. The second of these passages is printed (incorrectly) in McLachlan, Theological Manuscripts, p.35. Cf. similar passages in Yahuda MSS 7.1m, f. 2; 7.3b, f. 1.] The tow great commandments, he insisted over and over, "always have and always will be the duty of all nations and The coming of Jesus Christ has made no alteration in them." As often as mankind has turned from them, God has made a reformation -- through Noah, Abraham, Moses, the Jewish prophets, and Jesus. Now that the gentiles had corrupted themselves, men must expect a new reformation.

And in all the reformations of religion hitherto made the religion in respect of God and our neighbor is one and the same religion (barring ceremonies and forms of government which are of a changeable nature) so that this is the oldest religion in the world... [Keynes MS 3, p. 35.]

"These are the laws of nature," he added in another paper, "the essential part of religion which ever was and ever will be binding to all nations, being of an immutable eternal nature because grounded upon immutable reason." [Yahuda MS 15.5, f. 91.]

The law was enchanter then the days of Moses [he wrote on the back of a bill dated May 1719] being given to Noah and all his posterity, and therefore when the Apostles and Elders in the Council at Jerusalem declared that the Gentiles were not obliged to be circumcised and observe the law of Moses, they expected this law as being imposed on all nations not as the sons of Abraham [sic] but as the sons of Noah not by circumcision by an earlier law of God not by conversion to the Christian religion but even before they were Christians. And of the same kind is the law of abstaining from meats offered to Idols and from fornication, not as Christians but as Gentiles -- as being imposed on all nations not by the law of Moses but by an earlier law of God, not as sons of Abraham but as sons of Noah, not as Christians but even as Gentiles. And of the same kind is the law of abstaining from meats offered to Idols and from fornication. [Yahuda MS 7.4, n. f.]

Newton returned to the same theme in "A short scheme of the true Religion," in which he argued that the precepts that fill out the command to love your neighbor were taught to the heathens by Socrates, Cicero, Confucius, and other philosophers, to the Israelites by Moses, and to the Christians more fully by Christ. "Thus you see there is but one law for all nations the law of righteousness and charity dictated to the Christians by Christ to the Jews by Moses and to all mankind by the light of reason and by this law all men are to be judged at the last day." [Keynes MS 7, pp. 2-3; printed in McLachlan, Theological Manuscripts, p. 52. Cf. a sheet with nine "Propositions": Keynes MS 3, pp. 17-18; Theological Manuscripts, pp. 28-31.]

One cannot miss the filiation of such concepts, stemming form the"Origines," with Newton's Arianism. In other papers he continued to explore the nature of God and Christ and to reaffirm in his old age the Arian stance he had taken originally in his young manhood. Some of the fragments on the early creed contain the most important statements of his theological position that he ever set on paper. His research on the early church led him to a statement of the true creed.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was buried, the third day rose again form the dead. He ascended into heaven and from thence shall come to judge the quick and the dead whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the holy Ghost who spoke by the Prophets.

Such a creed, easy to understand even to those of limited capacity, was fit to be proposed as a statement of the first principles of religion. It contained no theories but only practical truths on which the whole practice of religion depended. Passages such as this, form the time of the calculus controversy, reflected aspects of the philosophic stance that Newton assumed vis-a-vis Leibnitz. the primitive religion, easily understood by the meanest people, was handed down simplicity "untill men skiled in the learning of heathens Cabbalists and Schoolmen corrupted it with metaphysicks, straining the scriptures from a moral to a metaphysical sence and thereby making it unintelligible." [Yahuda MS 15.5, f. 97v. Similar passages were very common among the theological papers that dated from the years after 1715.] To cap his other crimes, Leibniz repeated the intellectual stance of the archfiend Athanasius.

Newton proceeded to explicate the meaning of his creed.

We must believe that the is the father Almighty, or first author of all things by the almighty power of his will, that we may thank and worship him and him alone for our being and for all the blessings of this life... the holy invisible God and the only God whom we are to worship and therefore we are no to worship any visible image picture likeness or form. We are not forbidden to give the name of Gods to Angels and Kings but we are forbidden to worship them as Gods. "For there are Gods many and Lords many) yet to us there is but one God the Father of whom are all things and we in him and one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all things and we by him," that is, but one God and one Lord in our worship: "One God and one mediator between God and man the man Christ Jesus." We are forbidden to worship two Gods but we are not forbidden to worship one God and one Lord: One God for creating all things and one Lord for redeeming us with his blood.

We must not pray to two Gods but we may pray to one God in the name of one Lord... We must believe that he was crucified being slain at the Passover as a propitiary sacrifice for us, that in gratitude We may give him honour and glory and blessing as the Lamb of God which was slain and hath redeemed us and washed us from our sins in his won blood and made us Kings and Priests unto God his Father. We must believe that he rose again from the dead that we may expect the like resurrection and that he ascended into heaven to prepare a place or mansion for the blessed that by the expectation of such a glorious and incorruptible inheritance we may endeavor to deserve it.

We must believe that he is exalted to the right hand of God (Acts 2--) or is next in dignity to God the Father Almighty, the first begotten the heir of all things and Lord over all the creation next under God, and we must give him suitable worship... The worship which we are directed in scripture to give to Jesus respects his death and exaltation to the right hand of God and is given to him as our Lord and King and tends to the glory of God the Father. Should we give the father that worship which is due to the Son we should be Partripassians, and should we give the Son all that worship which is due to the father we should make two creators and be guilty of polytheism and in both cases we should practically deny the father and the Son...

We must also believe that Jesus Christ shall come to judge the quick and the dead, that is to reign over them in justice and judgment untill he shall subdue all rule and all authority and power, and all enemies be put under his feet the last of which is death, and by consequence untill all enemies be put under his feet. And this his coming to judgement we must believe that we may with understanding pry for the coming of his kingdom and fit ourselves to stand before him in that day, and to deserve an early resurrection...

[Yahuda MS 15.3, ff. 45-6. Cf. a short restatement of this position on f. 46v. Also Yahuda MS 15.5, f. 95v, and Keynes MS 3, pp. 43, 45. This space is in the original.]

The Arian features of Newton's Christology continued to be evident. Although we are to worship Christ as Lord, "yet we are to do it without breaking the first commandment." The true manhood of Christ was important to Newton, who believed that trinitarianism effectively denied his manhood and with it the reality of his suffering on the cross. However, "he was not an ordinary man but incarnate by the almighty power of God and born of a Virgin without any other father than God himself." [Keynes MS 3, p. 45. Yahuda MS 15.3, f. 46.] That is, Newton had reached back to the primitive church to resurrect a concept of Christ as a human body animated by a divine or semidivine spirit. He rejected any notion of a unity of substance between God the Father and Christ the Son, and asserted instead what he called a monarchical unity --

an unity of Dominion,the Son receiving all things from the father, being subject to him, executing his will, sitting in his throne and calling him his God, and so is but one God with the Father as a king and his viceroy are but one king. for the word God relates not to the metaphysical nature of God but to his dominion.

[Yahuda MS 15.7, f. 154. Cf. a number of other manuscripts on the nature of Christ; all of them post-1715; Yahuda MSS 15.3, ff. 58, 66v; 15.4, ff. 67-8; 15.5, ff. 87, 90v, 96-8; 15.7, f. 108; Keynes MS 11, printed in McLachlan, Theological Manuscripts, pp. 44-7.]

Though created by God in time, Christ existed before the world began. As the spirit of prophecy, he was the angel of God who appeared to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses and governed Israel in the days of judges. After Israel rejected him and desired a king, the angel appeared no more but rather sent his messenger to the prophets. [Yahuda MS 15.5, f. 96]


This is obviously wrong. The bible does witness to the fact that the Angel of the LORD did in fact appear to the prophets, Elijah, and to others after the choosing of Saul as King over Israel through Samuel. (Helen Fryman)

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for Newton, to whom prophecy was the very essence of revelation, the most essential thing about Christ was not his special relation to god but his special relation to prophecy. To the original true worship of the sons of Noah, he asserted, "Nothing more has been added... with relation to Jesus Christ then to believe in the predictions of the holy Ghost by the Prophets concerning him, viz that he is the Messiah and the son of man predicted by Daniel and ye son of God predicted by David in the 2nd Psalm, and the Lamb of god predicted in ye Pascal Lamb by Moses, andc." [Yahuda MS 7.3k, no. f. before f. 1.] Whenever Newton attempted to summarize the true religion in a series of articles, a further aspect of the special relation of Jesus to prophecy always appeared.

That all foreknowledge of things is originally in the breast of him that sitteth upon the throne, and that the Lamb received this prophecy from him and was the only being in heaven earth or under the earth who was worthy to receive it from him, and by his death obtained this worthiness...

[Yahuda MS 7.2e, f. 4v. Cf. another list on the same sheet and a sheet with twelve articles, Keynes MS 8; reprinted in McLachlan, Theological Manuscripts, pp. 56-7.]

As Newton also insisted, giving ear to the prophets is the mark of the true church.

When Voltaire came to England in the 1720's, he interested himself in Newton's religion as well as his philosophy. The latter he could find in the published works. he learned what he could about the former from newton's friends, such as Samuel Clarke. "Newton was firmly persuaded of the Existence of a God, and by that word he understood not only a Being infinite, omnipotent, and eternal, who is the creator, but a master who has made a relation between himself and his creatures..." [Voltaire, Oeuvres completes de Voltaire (Beuchot), 72 vols. (Paris, 1834-40) 38, 11.] Clarke instructed Voltaire well. Among Newton's theological papers, many passages emphasized the very point.

We are therefore to acknowledge one god infinite eternal omnipresent, omniscient omnipotent, the creator of all things most wise, most just, most good most holy: and to have no other Gods but him. We must love him feare him honour him trust in him pray to him give him thanks praise him hollow his name obey his commandments and set times apart for his service as we are directed in the third and fourth commandments. for this is the love of God that we keep his commandments and his commandments are not grievous 1 John 5.3. These things we must do not to any mediators between him and us but to him alone, that he may give his Angels charge over us who being our fellow servants are pleased with the worship which we give to their God. And this is the first and principal part of religion. This always was and always will be the religion of all Gods people, from the beginning to the end of the world.

[Keynes MS 7, p. 2; printed in McLachlan, Theological Manuscripts, p. 51. Cf. Keynes MS 3, p. 35, and Yahuda MSS 15.3, f. 59; 15.5, f. 98. The last manuscript, a theological paper, is interesting in the virtual identity of part of it to the General Scholium to the Principia.]

It is impossible to mistake the intense affective quality of such passages, which one can only describe as worshipful, and we should be rash indeed to challenge their sincerity.l The piety they express can be found more readily in the General Scholium to the Principia and the Queries attached to the Opticks. Shortly after Newton's death, John Craig, in summarizing his achievement for Conduitt, asserted that "the reason of his showing the errors of Cartes's philosophy, was because he though it was made on purpose to be the foundation of infidelity." [Keynes MS 132] Newton's papers form over the years support Craig's statement. Such had been the heritage he received before his long pilgrimage through Christianity. It has supported the picture frequently presented of a religiously traditional Newton largely wedded to the forms of established Protestantism. [Richard S. Brooks, "The Relationships between Natural Philosophy Natural Theology and Revealed Religion in the thought of Newton and Their Historiographic Relevance" (dissertation, Northwestern University, 1976). William H. Austin, "Isaac Newton on Science and Religion," Journal of the History of Ideas, 31 (1970), 521-40. Leonard Trengrove, "Newton's Theological Views," Annals of Science, 22 (1966), 277-94.]

Newton was a far more complex man, however, than such picture allows. Pious he undoubtedly was, but his piety ha been stained indelibly by the touch of cold philosophy. It is impossible to wash the Arianism out of his religious views. Newton set out at an early age to purge Christianity of irrationality, mystery, and superstition, and he never turned from that path. His study of the prophecies, the work most frequently cited in support of a contrary interpretation of his religion, was in fact one of the cornerstones of his program. True, he undertook to purge Christianity in the name of Gospel purity, but in the light of the role that Arianism played in the early church and the role that it and its offspring played in the eighteenth century, one cannot view Newton's Arianism in isolation from the intellectual currents of his day.

Rather we do him more justice and acknowledge anew his manifest genius by allowing that here too he stood in the van, although the very reform of Christianity he sought to foster was already, in his old age, surging far beyond the limits he had envisaged. He justified himself in terms of the Bible, but the Bible as he understood it was far removed from the Bible of traditional belief. Where that bible contained truths beyond reason, Newton summed up true religion in terms that effectively dispensed with all of revelation beyond the prophecies. Christians for centuries had understood divine revelation in terms of a new dispensation foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New; divine revelation as Newton understood it centered on two books, Daniel and Revelation, which revealed the almighty dominion of God over history as natural philosophy reveal His dominion over nature. newton questioned the plenary inspiration of the received canon of books, and regarded the historical books of the Old Testament as the compilations of men. [New College MS 361.2, ff. 132-3. Newton, Observations upon the Prophecies, pp. 4-13. Newton, Chronology, pp. 357-8. Manuel, Newton, Historian, pp. 59-60.]


Here is some of the most devastating critique of Newton's "God". Cold and separated, without any real contact with us, even our salvation is effected by a creature, only by his will.

In Christ, Mike


Richard S. Westfall Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (Cambridge University Press: 1980)

Chapter 15. Years of Decline. p.827-830:

Though he wrote at some length about Christ, his interest largely exhausted itself in proving that Christ was not God. His soteriology, the focus of traditional Christian concern, was uninspired and jejune, substituting a mere legal pact for the reconciliation of fallen man to the majesty of God which generations of theologians had explored. The two fundamental duties of true religion, to love God and to love one's neighbor, seem to present the opportunity for spiritual insight. Alas, newton sought to give them content, he could do so only in negative terms.

We are to forsake the Devil, that is, all false God and all manner of idolatry, this being a breach of the first and great commandment. And we are to forsake the flesh and the world, or as the Apostle John expresseth it, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, that is, unchastity, covetousness pride and ambition; these things being a breach of the second of the two great commandments.

[Keynes MS 3, p. 1. Cf. Manuel, Newton, Historian, pp. 137-138, on Newton's analogous dehumanized treatment of history.]

The new covenant in Christ's blood promising life renewed had become in his hands a list of peremptory thou-shalt not's.

Somehow Newton blended this desiccated vision of Christianity with a living faith in the almighty God which suffused his life.

We must believe that their is one God supreme Monarch that we may fear and obey him and keep his laws and give him honour and glory. We must believe that he is the father of whom are all things, and that he loves his people as his children that they may mutually love him and obey him as their father. We must believe that he is the pantokrator Lord of all things with an irresistible and boundless power and dominion that we may not hope to escape if we rebel and set up other Gods or transgress the laws of his monarchy and that we may expect great rewards if we do his will.

We must believe that he is the God of the Jews who created the heaven and earth all things therein as is exprest in the ten commandments that we may thank him for our being, and for all the blessings of this life, and forbear to take his name in vain or worship images or other Gods. We are not forbidden to give the name of Gods to Angels or Kings, but we are forbidden to have them as Gods in our worship. for tho there be that are called God whether in heaven or in earth (as there are Gods many and Lords many, yet to us there is but one God the father of whom are all things and we in him and one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all things and we by him: that is, but one God and one Lord in our worship.

[Yahuda MS 15.3, f. 46v.]


If in this verse that is continually quoted by JW's and Newton as proof that Christ is not God because he is Lord, what exactly are "all things" that Paul is speaking of here? For if "all things" came by God the Father, and "all things" came through "Christ the Son, Lord" then how is it that Christ is a "thing" a "creature"??? Denying the "all things" as it pertains to Christ is to deny "all things" when it pertains to the Father. hence this verse is a refutation of this Arianism, because Paul uses the same phrase "all things" referring to created beings of the Father and the Son. and anyway, does this mean that God the Father is not Lord? Newton equivocates on this one too.

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The concept of pantokrator caught Newton's imagination and held it. The word appeared repeatedly throughout the theological papers form his final years. Autocrat over all that is, He dictated the form of the natural world and the course of human history. Newton did not meet him in the intimacies of watchful providence, a point related to his Arianism. Rather he found Him in the awful majesty of universal immutable laws -- an austere God, one perhaps whom only a philosopher could worship.

Very few items indicate a more personal side to Newton's religion. One that does, a letter from Joseph Morland, a member of the Royal Society, probably written in 1716, the year Morland died, should not be omitted.

Sir, I have done and will do my best while I live to follow your advice to repent and believe I pray often as I am able that god would make me sincere and change my heart. Pray write me your opinion whether upon the whole I may dye with comfort. This can do you no harm written without your name. god knows I am very low and uneasie and have but little strength.

Yours most humble servant Jos. Morland

Pray favour me with one line because when I parted I had not your last words to me you being in hast.

[H.W. Turnbull, ed. Correspondence of Isaac Newton (Cambridge: 1961) vol 7, 382.]

Even in a rare venture in the cure of souls, it appears, Newton could not lay aside his fear of disclosing too much.

Whereas Newton published statements of his belief in God, he not only kept the unorthodox aspects of his religion to himself, but he exercised some care in London to mask his heterodoxy behind a facade of public conformity. He continued to act as a trustee of Archbishop Tenison's chapel on Golden Square until 1722. [Cf. Warren to Newton, 19 Dec. 1721; Corres 7, 182.] When Parliament passed an act in 1711 to finance the construction of fifty new churches in the expanding suburbs of London, Newton became on of the commissioners appointed to implement Parliament's will, and he sat on the commission until at least 1720. [Summons to meetings of the commission in 1717 and 1720; Corres 6, 406-7; Corres 7 483-4.]

Likewise he accepted membership on the new commission to supervise the completion of St. Paul's cathedral, and attended meetings of it in the period 1715-21. [A record shows his attendance at a total of twelve meetings in the period 1715-21 ("Minute Book. H.M. Commission for Rebuilding St. paul.'s Cathedral," The Wren Society, 16 [1939], 33-137). there is a notice of a meeting in New College MS 361.2, f. 77v.] In view of such assiduous attention to the proprieties, it is not surprising that William Stukeley, noting his care to attend Sunday services and his well-thumbed Bible, called him, "an intire Christian" and opined that he steady support of the Church of England was the product of true philosophy. Stukeley also mentioned that Arians tried to claim Newton [Stukeley, pp. 69-71.] He was probably sincere in his vigorous denial of their claim, for Newton did not lightly lay his soul bare.

A few did know better. In his letter to Conduitt after Newton's death, John Craig mentioned Newton's extensive religious study and said that he had not published his theological writings "because they show'd that his thoughts were some times different form those which are commonly receiv'd, which would engage him in disputes, and this was a thing which he avoided as much as possible." [Keynes MS 132.] Conduitt, who scarcely needed Craig's instruction in the matter, made his reference, in the sketch of Newton's life that he sent to Fontenelle, even more elliptical. Newton believed firmly in revealed religion, he told Fontenelle, "but his notion of the Xtian religion was not founded on a narrow bottom, nor his charity and morality so scanty as to shew a coldness to those who thought otherwise than he did in matters indifferent..." [Keynes MS 129A, p. 22.]

A few rumors did circulate. Thomas Hearne picked one up on 1732.

Sir Isaac Newton, tho' a great Mathematician, was a man of very little Religion, in so much that he is ranked with the Heterodox men of the age. Nay they stick not to make him, with respect to belief, of no better principles than Mr. Woolaston [corrected later to Wolston], who hath written so many vile books and make so much noise.

[Thomas Hearne, Remarks and Collections, ed. C.E. Doble et al., 11 vols. (Oxford, 1885-1921), 11, 100-1. Thomas Woolston (Hearne's Wolston) was a freethinker whose works attracted some notoriety in the 1720's.]

Andrew Michael Ramsay, who knew friends of Newton such as Fatio and Clarke, asserted in a letter that Newton had wanted to revive Arianism by means of his disciple Clarke, though Clarke also confessed shortly before his death how much he regretted the publication of his arianizing work. [Joseph Spence, Anecdotes, Observations, and Characters, of Books and Men, ed. Samuel Singer (London, 1820), p. 379.]

Newton himself did not make Clarke's mistake. Well concealed behind circumlocutions such as Craig's and Conduitt's, his heterodoxy slid into virtual oblivion, not to be uncovered until the twentieth century or to be fully revealed until the Yahuda papers became available quite recently.

His conclusions functioned only vicariously in the religious ferment of the eighteenth century. When Joseph Hallet, alarmed by the spread of Arianism, published in 1735 An Address to Conforming Arians to convince them of their hypocrisy and to lead them to repent, he named two men as the source of the infection, William Whiston and Samuel Clarke. [Reprinted in Thomas Gordon, A Cordial for Low Spirits, 2 vols. (London, 1751), 2, 321-49.] Both were Newton's disciples and known as such. Later another disciple, Hopton Haynes, would publish Unitarian tracts, and a more aggressive Unitarian, Richard Baron, would lament that Samuel Clarke, who had performed good work in purging Christianity of much absurdity and rubbish, had stopped short in Arianism when a fully rational Christianity lay only another step beyond. [In his preface to ibid., pp. xv-xvi.] But Newton's extended quest, barely hinted at in his published works, had to enter the stream of religious controversy through disciples more daring than he. he carefully laundered what he himself prepared for publication. The rest he locked away. It is wholly unlikely that his views, formulated a generation before similar ones became widespread, had a significant causal role in the religious history of the Enlightenment.


Thought this might be of interest in as a background of Newton's method and means for "deciphering" the prophetic books of the bible.


p.s. One thing that is of interest. One of the things that kept the Western Scholars from deciphering the Egyptian language is the belief that the figures were symbols with mystical definitions. However, as time progressed by the late 19th century this was seen to be false by German Scholars who completely decoded the temple script.


Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs Assistant Professor of History, Northwestern University, Evanston, ILL

The Foundations of Newton's Alchemy: or "The Hunting of the Greene Lyon" (Cambridge University Press: 1975)

Chapter 4. Chemistry and Alchemy at Cambridge, 106-111

The problem was the accommodation of the non-Christian learning, then being revived, to the Christian framework of western Europe.

[ff. The following discussion adheres in a general way to D.P. Walker, "The Prisca Theologia in France," Journal of the Warburg and Courtaulad Institute 17 (1954), 204-59 and D.P. Walker, The Ancient Theology. Studies in Christian Platonism from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century (London: Duckworth, 1972)]

A similar problem had followed on the heels of the flood of translations from the Arabic in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but Aristotle and even Averoes had proved easier to Christianize than were the esoteric materials of the Hermetic Corpus, of Eastern mysticism, and of the Jewish Cabbala which the Renaissance rediscovered. Since, however, the Christian revelation had to be the touchstone of truth, all of those fascinating new-old ideas in the esoteric writings of antiquity had to be reconciled with Christianity or else rejected out of hand.

Orthodox thinkers were prone to hold strictly to the Christian revelation and discard all other formulations as false and useless, or worse, because they came from damned pagans. But even the most orthodox had to admit some validity to the Jewish revelation because it was plainly from God, Who had chosen the Hebrew people as the receptacle of His prophecies and wisdom, until in the fullness of time the revelation of Christ should supersede the earlier partial revelations. One must think in terms of a literal and full belief in Holy Scripture as the revealed Word of God to comprehend the argument at all.


Here in lies the bias of the said author against the doctrine of inspiration of the bible and also the possibility of "revealed" religion. (Helen Fryman)

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There were other thinkers in the Renaissance, however, who moved from a position of strict orthodoxy to a syncretic use of Christian and non-Christian revelations, by extrapolation from the accepted idea that the Jews had had at least a partial truth. Some held that Gentiles as well as Jews were prepared by God for the ultimate Christian revelation by partial revelations; others held that Moses had had that great gift from God and that other peoples had learned their wisdom from the Jews who were bearers of the pure Mosaic tradition. Occasionally the discovery of partial truths by the use of natural reason was allowed to the pagans, but the emphasis throughout all the arguments was on revelation.

Following the syncretic thinkers a little further along their difficult journey, it may be seen that if all true knowledge is to be considered as stemming from an original divine revelation, whether one or many, then all true traditions must be reconcilable with each other. Such reconciliations presented complex problems in interpretation for the syncretists, but they were assisted in their efforts by two attitudes which had long been adopted in Biblical exegesis.

One was the realization that parts of the Bible had to be interpreted allegorically if they were ever to be reconciled with orthodox Christian doctrine. For example, if the Christian doctrine of the Trinity be true, then the Old Testament must also bear witness to the truth. Thus the ancient Hebrew invocation, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord", received a tortious Trinitarian interpretation. In like manner it was said that Solomon's Song of Songs must be about Divine Love rather than about a very human and sensual love.


My Note: The author is obviously ignorant of the fact that Moses Maimonides changed a word in this schema from "echad" to "yachid" because the verse itself give a picture of a God who is one and yet had diversity within him. Likewise the Zohar, oral tradition of the 2nd Century AD of the Jews (Cabbalists) interprets this verse as being of the three in one, God the Father, God the Son: Messiah, and God the Holy Spirit. As Quoted in Rabbi (converted) Cohen's work "Trinity in the Old Testament". Likewise the Angel of the LORD is called God and Jehovah as well. Many Church Father taught that this "angel" (which merely means messenger in the Hebrew, not denoting a nature of the sender) was in fact the Son in the OT. Witness to this can be given in the verses attributed to Christs coming in Malachi 3.1, and Hebrews 11, as well as I Cor 10, where ancient manuscripts read "as they tempted Christ" in the desert. This is just the tip of the ice berg on this issue. Reference: Borland, Christ in the OT for a full treatment.

Any good commentary will tell you that Song of Songs, in the history of the interpretation of the church was seen as the church and Christ because of the sensuality of the book, since ascetic practices were elevated against the clear teaching about the sanction of sex in marriage. In the 4th century when this was occurring, the allegory of Augustine and Origen of the OT, celibacy and the beginnings of the priesthood and Mariology was just beginning. Jerome was attempting to defend the claim that Mary was a virgin for her entire life even after the birth of Christ against Gnostic claims of her infidelity in the conception of Jesus and comparison of her to other pagan goddesses and their progeny.

In the history of the church the two types of interpretations have little to do with each other. Allegory in the Song of Songs, as Christ and the church to avoid the sensuality issue, because of ascetic bias against sex, is completely different and unrelated motivation from the textual reasons for reading the schema as diversity in the Godhead of the OT. See Genesis 1,26,27 for starters. (Helen Fryman)

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There was in addition a belief anciently and widely held that many mysteries, religious and other, had been deliberately disguised or hidden by initiates so that the secrets could be guarded form minds not fit to receive them. One needed only to point to Christ' use of parables to find Christian justification for that belief, and it could then be extended to cover all sorts of veiled esoteric literature and even to account for certain sects of supposed wise men who had left no writings but had relied on oral traditions to convey their knowledge to initiates.

Armed with those two approaches, the Renaissance syncretists might readily transform the Greek pantheon into one god with may names, claim that Hermes and Zoroaster had acquired the original revelation of Moses by oral tradition, or find every new scientific discovery hidden in the fables and myths of the ancients. For Henry More [Newton's mentor and tutor at Cambridge, Platonist and Unitarian] to claim that the Gymnosophists of ancient Egypt -- who left no writings -- had held to a belief in the pre-existence of souls, or for Charleton [?] to find arguments for the unity of the world in so many and varied philosophers, show how far the arguments had been carried by the middle of the seventeenth century.

Henry More evidently gave great weight to the theory that the original revelation had been given to Moses, as he called Moses "the greatest Philosopher certainly that ever was in the world." Similarly Newton later tended to emphasize the importance of the Hebraic transmission of God's Word, for, he thought that the Brachmans of India had learned their religion, albeit in a corrupted form, from the "Abrahamans", or the sons of Abraham, from which he thought the name "Brachman" derived. [Isaac Newton, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended. To which is Prefix'd, A Short Chronicle form the First Memory of Things in Europe, to the Conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great (London: Printed for J. Tonson in the Strand, and J. Osborn and T. Longman in Pater-noster Row, 1728), p. 351.]

For the purposes of the present study, however, Newton's exact belief in possible lines of transmission of ancient secrets is less important than his ready acceptance of other aspects of the doctrine of "prisca sapientia", the belief that the ancients had veiled their deepest knowledge in myths and fables or in deliberately obscure language. Studies on widely separated aspects of Newton's total work have demonstrated his lasting commitment to that view.

Newton understood original true religion to have been vested in certain of the patriarchs and in Christ, as has already been noted in Chapter 1. To Newton it seemed that the religious revelation granted to those figures had been clearly conveyed and required no particular interpretation, only care that it not be diminished by later corruptions. Not so with Biblical prophecies, however, for there the language was "mystical" and required careful treatment. Newton set out his technique for interpreting prophecies in detail in one of his theological manuscripts, published in part by McLachlan, and since it was a technique he used across the whole range of his studies, with only minor variations, an extensive excerpt from that manuscript on "The Language of the Prophets" will be given here. The rational matter-of-factness of Newton's approach should be noted, as well as his willingness to draw upon the several techniques of textual comparisons, cross-comparison to other systems of mystical interpretation, and comparisons of the prophetic language with the natural world in which it was founded by "analogy."

He that would understand a book written in a strange language must first learn the language... Such a language was that wherein the Prophets wrote, and the want of sufficient skill in that language is the main reason why they are so little understood. John did not write in one language, Daniel in another, Isaiah in a third and the rest in others peculiar to themselves, but they all write in one and the same mystical language... The Rule [for fixing the signification of the Prophet's types and phrases] I have followed has been to compare the several mystical places of scripture where the same prophetic phrase or type is used, and to fix such a signification to that phrase as agrees best with all places: and, if more significations than one be necessary, to note the circumstances by which it may be known in what signification the phrase is taken in any place: and, when I had found the necessary signification, to reject all others as the offspring of luxuriant fancey, for no more significations are to be admitted for true ones than can be proved.

And as Critics for understanding the Hebrew consult also other oriental languages of the same root; so I have not feared sometimes to call in to my assistance the Eastern expositors of their mystical writers (I mean the Chaldee Paraphrast and the Interpreters of dreams)... For the language of the Prophets, being Hieroglyphical, had affinity with that of the Egyptian priest and Eastern wise men, and therefore was anciently much better understood in the East than it is now in the West. I received also much light in this search by the analogy between the world natural and the world politic. For the mystical language was founded in this analogy, and will be best understood by considering its original.

[ff. Isaac Newton, "The Language of the Prophets," in Newton, Theological MSS, ed. by Herbert McLachlin pp. 119-26, quotation from pp. 119-20 (1, n. 12).]

Following his rules of operation, Newton gave several examples of his work in which the "mystical" language of the Prophets is reduced to historical or political terminology, as for example a new moon signifying a people's return from dispersal. In his historical works also Newton moved from the esoteric to the commonsensical, and in his hands complex mythologies were transformed into prosaic prehistory, for he understood the gods to represent divinized kings and the myths themselves to encapsulate real datable events. Eventually he was to work out a fixed date for the expedition of the Argonauts and to offer a revised chronology of the ancient kingdoms based on it. His method involved a complete euhemeristic interpretation of the mythological figures of the constellations to arrive at a catalogue of the fixed stars as they had appeared to the ancients, and then calculations of the subsequent precession of the equinoxes to fix the date. [Frank E. Manuel, Isaac Newton, Historian (1, n. 13)]

Newton considered his work in these areas to be fully as scientific as his work in optics and astronomy. Indeed his methodology was quite as rigorous and rational in his studies of the esoteric language systems of prophecy and myth as it was in his studies of the natural world, and one need only question his basic assumption, i.e., that real truths were embodied in myths, fables, and prophecies. But for Newton that assumption was not questionable because it stemmed from his belief in the "prisca sapientia", the ancient wisdom granted by God to mankind through revelation. That wisdom was hidden in the esoteric language of the ancients and could be recaptured by rational methods, and any knowledge discovered by other methods -- as by the experimentation, induction, and mathematizing he applied in natural philosophy -- could always be reconciled with the old knowledge occultly preserved. Further more, Newton certainly thought there could be interaction between the two approaches to knowledge, that the one validated the other, and that the one approach might give clues for interpretation in the other.

The paper by McGuire and Rattansi noted in Chapter 3 has shown how Newton utilized this double approach in certain draft Scholia and draft Queries which he at one time intended to include in revised editions of the Principia and the Opticks. [ff. McGuire and Rattansi, "Newton and the Pipes of Pan," (3, n. 159).] There it appears that Newton had decided that some discoveries of Pythagoras on musical harmonies had been applied by that famous ancient to celestial relationships, and that Pythagoras had as a consequence of that application recognized the inverse square law, of gravity, the "true harmony of the heavens." Pythagoras had hidden knowledge in parables to keep it from the vulgar, but the knowledge was nevertheless kept alive in the myths which dealt with the musical instruments of the gods -- the Pipes of Pan and Apollo's Harp. But-- and this is the crucial point -- Newton also took his reasoning back in the other direction, and from the myths which he had interpreted in the light of his own scientific discoveries, he ventured to suggest that the ancients had thought God was the direct cause of gravity. The conclusion Newton drew from his interpretations of the myths then undoubtedly influenced his scientific thinking in its turn.

By what means do bodies act on one another at a distance? The ancient Philosophers who held Atoms and Vacuum attributed gravity to atoms without telling us the means unless in figures: as by calling God Harmony representing him and matter by the God Pan and his Pipe...Whence it seems to have been an ancient opinion that matter depends upon a Deity for its laws of motions as well as for its existence.

[ff. Draft variant to Query 23 of the 1706 Latin edition of the Opticks, University Library, Cambridge, Portsmouth Collection MS Add. 3970, f. 619r. quoted in ibid., p. 118.]

It has seemed well to dwell at such length at this point upon Newton's early introduction to the "prisca sapientia" tradition through his reading of Henry More [Immortality of the Soul (London: 1659)] and others because that tradition played such an enormous role in Newton's study of alchemy that any real understanding of Newton's alchemy is precluded if his adherence of the "prisca sapientia" doctrine is ignored. As will be explained in the next chapter, Newton applied his rules for understanding strange languages to the language of alchemy just as he did to the language of prophecy. He took certain myths to be the bearers of alchemical secrets and on occasion allowed the story line of the myth to determine his experimental procedure. Moreover, the fact that Newton believed so strongly in the notions that the ancients had deliberately hidden their secrets in the esoteric languages explains why he so often seems to have chosen some of the most obscure alchemical literature and terminology for study -- no doubt he thought the choicest secrets were concealed there.

Posted December 1, 1999

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