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Newton’s Biblical Theology and His Theological Physics

  • Richard H. Popkin
Chapter
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 123)

Abstract

In the vast literature about Newton, little is devoted to explaining his religious views, except as personal aberrations, infantile views, or premature signs of senility. In recent years R.S. Westfall, Frank Manuel, James Force and a few others have tried to give some more impressive explanations of why one of the world’s greatest scientists should have spent so much time thinking and writing about religious matters.1 In this paper I should like to turn the problem around, and ask why did one of the greatest anti-Trinitarian theologians of the 17th century take time off to write works on natural science, like the Principia Mathematica?

Keywords

Human History Jewish History Religious View Biblical Text Religious Matter 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Gale E. Christianson, In the Presencee of the Creator, Isaac Newton and his Times, (New York 1984)Google Scholar
  2. James E. Force, William Whiston, Honest Newtonian, (Cambridge 1985)Google Scholar
  3. Frank E, Manuel, Isaac Newton, Historian, (Cambridge, Mass. 1963), and The Religion of Isaac Newton, (Oxford 1974); Google Scholar
  4. Richard S. Westfall, Never at Rest. A Biography of Isaac Newton, (Cambridge 1980).Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    Isaac Newton, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, (London 1728), and Two Letters to Mr. LeClerc, (London 1754).Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    No inventory of Newton’s theological manuscripts has been published. Westfall, in op.cit. gives a survey of where manuscripts are located. I have found others at the University of Kentucky, at the Seventh Day Adventist Seminary at Barien Springs, Michigan, and in private hands. There is a sales catalogue of Sotheby’s for the manuscripts that were auctioned off in 1936.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    On the history of Newton’s manuscripts, see Westfall, op.cit., pp. 875–877.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Isaac Newton, Theological Manuscripts, selected and edited with an introduction by H. McLachlan, (Liverpool 1950).Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    The correspondence is in Yahuda Ms. Var. 1, Box 42.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    This information was acquired in private conversations with friends of Yahuda. He is still a very controversial figure in Israel. Shortly after his death his widow privately published a work of Yahuda’s entitled, Dr. Weizman’s Errors on Trial, an attack on what Chaim Weitzman said about Yahuda in his work, Trial and Error. Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    This appears as an appendix to Frank Manuel, Religion of Isaac Newton, “Fragments from a Treatise on Revelation,” pp. 107–123.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    Yahuda Ms. Var. 1.1, fol. 12r; Manuel, Religion of Newton, p. 118.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    Yahuda Ms. Var. 1.1., fol. 19v.Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    In the chronological order of Newton’s theological writings prepared by R.S. Westfall, unpublished.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    Cf. John Harrison, The Library of Isaac Newton, (Cambridge 1978), p.239.Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    See Manuel, Religion of Newton, pp. 84–85.Google Scholar
  17. 15.
    Newton manuscripts, New College Oxford II fol. 192; Yahuda Var. Ms. 1.7, 1.9 and 1.10B, fol.11v.Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    Newton, Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St.John, (London 1733), chap. I, pp.1) 15.Google Scholar
  19. 17.
    Newton, Ibid., loc,cit. A much more detailed account of this appears in Yahuda Ms. Var. 1.7:3; 1.9:2 and 1.10B.Google Scholar
  20. 18.
    Newton, Observations, pp.4–5.Google Scholar
  21. 19.
    Ibid., p. 10.Google Scholar
  22. 20.
    Ibid., pp. 10–11. Google Scholar
  23. 21.
    Yahuda Ms. Var. 1.7:3, and 1.10B, fol.11v-12r.Google Scholar
  24. 22.
    Newton, Observations, pp. 11–12.Google Scholar
  25. 23.
    The Westminster Confession of Faith, (London 1658), chap. 1,sec. viii, p. 6, states, The Old and New Testaments “being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and Providence kept pure in all Ages, are therefore Authentical.”Google Scholar
  26. 24.
    Newton, Observations, p.238.Google Scholar
  27. 25.
    Ibid., p. 239.Google Scholar
  28. 26.
    See Newton’s letter to Locke, Nov. 4, 1690, (full reference given in note 28); and West-fall, op.cit., pp. 312–313, for further references.Google Scholar
  29. 27.
    Yahuda Ms. Var. 14.Google Scholar
  30. 28.
    The first time two of these letters were published was inLondon in 1754. The full texts, plus a third letter are printed in The Correspondence of Isaac Newton, edited by H. W. Turnbull, (Cambridge 1961), Vol. III, pp. 83) 146.Google Scholar
  31. 29.
    William Andrews Clark Library Ms., Newton, Paradoxical Questions concerning ye morals and actions of Athanasius and his followers; Keynes Ms. 10, King’s College, Cambridge, Paradoxical Questions… See also Yahuda Ms. 1.14.Google Scholar
  32. 30.
    Martin Bodmer Library, Geneva, Newton Ms. on the Mystery of the Grand Iniquity of the Church.Google Scholar
  33. 31.
    On this, see Westfall, Never at Rest, pp. 390–91.Google Scholar
  34. 32.
    See note 28.Google Scholar
  35. 33.
    Cf. Manuel, Isaac Newton, Historian, chaps. VI and IX.Google Scholar
  36. 34.
    Newton, “A Short Chronicle of the First Memory of Things inEurope,” in The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, pp. 1–42; and Manuel, Newton, Historian, chap. III.Google Scholar
  37. 35.
    Newton, Chronology, chap. I and p. 358; and Manuel, Newton,Historian, chaps. IV-VI.Google Scholar
  38. 36.
    Newton, “A Short Chronicle,” pp. 25–26; and Manuel, Newton, Historian, pp. 85–88.Google Scholar
  39. 37.
    Manuel, Newton, Historian, chap. VI.Google Scholar
  40. 38.
    A. S. Yahuda, The Accuracy of the Bible, (New York 1935).Google Scholar
  41. 39.
    From a private conversation in 1985.Google Scholar
  42. 40.
    Yahuda was challenged by the Egyptologist, Wilhelm Spiegelberg.Google Scholar
  43. 41.
    Yahuda’s essay is with his Newton manuscripts in Yahuda Ms. Var. 1, Box 43.Google Scholar
  44. 42.
    For example, see Ms. Keynes 146, New College Ms. 361.1, and Yahuda Ms. Var. 1.7.Google Scholar
  45. 43.
    Newton’s essay, “A Dissertation upon the Sacred Cubit of the Jews and the Cubits of the several Nations,” was published in John Greaves, Miscellaneous Works, (London 1737), Vol II, pp.405–433. Yahuda Ms. Var. 1.2:4, 1.2:5, 1.13:2 and 1.28:5 are on The Temple and the sacred cubit. The most complete statement by Newton on the structure of Solomon’s Temple (with illustrations) is in Babson College Ms. 434, “Prolegomena ad Lexici Prophetici partem secundam, in quibus agitur De forma Sancturarii Judaici.”Google Scholar
  46. 44.
    Newton, Observations, pp. 13–15 and 249–50; and Yahuda Ms. Var. 1.1, fols 1r and 19–20.Google Scholar
  47. 45.
    Cf. letter of Henry More to Dr. John Sharp, August 16, 1680, printed in Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Con way Letters, (New Haven 1930), pp. 478–79.Google Scholar
  48. 46.
    See for example Yahuda Ms. Var. 1.9:22, sec.ix, fol.87 and 10B. See also, Maunel, Religion of Newton, pp.90–91 and 100.Google Scholar
  49. 47.
    See Newton, Observations, p. 278, and Yahuda Ms. Var.1.1, fols. 84 and 28.Google Scholar
  50. 48.
    On Mede, see Katherine R. Firth, The Apocalyptic Tradition in Reformation Britain, 1530–1645, (Oxford 1979), chap. VII;Google Scholar
  51. 48a.
    R.H. Popkin, “The Third Force in Seventeenth Century Thought: Skepticism, Science and Millenarianism,” in E. Ullmann-Margalith,ed., The Prism of Science, (Dordrecht 1986), pp.21)50.Google Scholar
  52. 49.
    Newton, Observations, pp. 252)53.Google Scholar
  53. 50.
    See Michel de Nostradamus, “Préface de M. Nostradamus à ses Prophéties, Ad Caesarem Nostradamus filium,” in E. Leoni, Nostradamus, Life and Literature, (New York 1965), pp. 120–131.Google Scholar
  54. 51.
    On this, see R.H. Popkin, “Newton and the Rise of Fundamentalism,” forthcoming.Google Scholar
  55. 52.
    William Whiston. The Accomplishment of Scripture Prophecy, (London 1708).Google Scholar
  56. 53.
    Newton was obviously interested in some of these prophecies. See for example, Yahuda Ms. Var.1.10B, fol.14, where Newton referred to the prophecies of Cotterus, Christina and Drabnicius, published by Comenius.Google Scholar
  57. 54.
    Newton, Observations, pp. 250–251.Google Scholar
  58. 55.
    Ibid., pp. 251–52.Google Scholar
  59. 56.
    Ibid., pp. 252–53.Google Scholar
  60. 57.
    Popkin, “Newton and the Rise of Fundamentalism.”Google Scholar
  61. 58.
    This theory of Newton is expounded in Leroy Froom, The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers, (Washington 1948), Vol. II, pp.659–669. Newton’s text is quoted on pp. 665–666. Froom was the leading historian of the Seventh Day Adventists.Google Scholar
  62. 59.
    Sir William Whitla, Sir Isaac Newton’s Daniel and the Apocalypse, (London 1922).Google Scholar
  63. 60.
    Force, Whiston, chaps. 1, 4 and 5.Google Scholar
  64. 61.
    Newton, Principia Mathematica, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, Motte translation, (Berkeley 1936), pp. 544–546.Google Scholar
  65. 62.
    Cf. R. H. Popkin, “Newton and Maimonides,” in Essays in Honor of Arthur Hyman, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  66. 63.
    Friedrich Schelling, Darstellung des philosophischen Empiricismus, in Schelling, Werke, Band 10, (Stuttgart and Augsburg 1861), p. 261, translated by Dr. Fritz Marti. I am most grateful to Dr. Marti for bringing this discussion of Schelling’s about Newton to my attention.Google Scholar
  67. 64.
    Force, op.cit. pp. 23–25.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard H. Popkin
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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