Friday, December 30, 2016

Isaac Newton's Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture by Henry Green 1856


Isaac Newton's Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture by Henry Green 1856

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It is to writings not published in their life-time that we must have recourse for the clearest evidence of Locke's and Newton's views of Trinitarian Doctrine. In his History of the Royal Society, p. 284, Dr. Thomson had declared;—- “Newton's religious opinions were not orthodox; for example, he did not believe in the Trinity. This gives us the reason why Horsley, the champion of the Trinity, found them unfit for publication;" yet Brewster, writing in 1880, considered the assertion of Sir Isaac Newton's being an Anti-Trinitarian as “not warranted by any thing which he has published.” The Question really at issue is the fact itself,-and this fact must be substantiated, not simply by what they printed, but by what they wrote. The Manuscripts which they left must decide the controversy.

Sir Isaac Newton's Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture, I. John v. 7, [For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one] and I. Tim. iii. 16, [And 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] published in his collected works by Horsley, might have been the production of any honest-minded man who desired the pure text of the Sacred Writings; though it is very unlikely that a believer in the Trinity would have written as he has done: “it is,” he says to disarm hostility, “no article of faith, no point of discipline, nothing but a criticism concerning a text of Scripture, which I am going to write about.” Some expressions, however, reveal the animus with which he entered upon the criticism. A believer in the Trinity would have inserted some saving clause to vindicate the soundness of his faith in that particular dogma, and to show, though he was assailing one of its strongholds, that he still regarded it as a doctrine resting on a rock: he would scarcely have said of the baptismal formula, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” Matt. xxviii., 19, “the place from which they tried at first to derive the Trinity.” Neither is it likely that a Trinitarian would have written;—-“Will you now say that the testimony of the “three in heaven' was razed out of their books by the prevailing Arians? Yes, truly, those Arians were crafty knaves, that would conspire so cunningly and sly, all the world over at once (as at the word of a Mithridates,) in the latter end of the reign of the Emperor Constantius, to get all men's books into their hands, and correct them without being perceived, ay, and conjurors too, to do it without leaving any blot or chasm in their books, whereby the knavery might be suspected and discovered.”—Horsley's Newton, vol. V., 496, 498, 508.

The comment on I. Tim. iii., 16, the other corruption which Newton exposed, savours too of Anti-Trinitarianism. “And besides, to read QEOS/theos, makes the sense obscure and difficult. For how can it possibly be said 'that God was justified in the Spirit!' But to read O', and interpret it of Christ, as the ancient Christians did, without restraining it to his divinity, makes the sense very easy. For the promised and long expected Messias, the hope of Israel, is to us ‘The great mystery of godliness.' And this mystery was at length manifested to the Jews, from the time of his baptism, and justified to be the person whom they expected.”——Horsley's Newton, v., 548



Locke's acquaintance with Newton began between the years 1688 and 1690, and it was then that Newton first communicated to Mr. Locke, in strictest confidence, the valuable papers on the Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture. “The author, with his characteristic timidity, shrunk from the responsibility of sending them forth to the public with the sanction of his name, and thus expose himself to the scoffs or the censures of the theological bigots of the age, who were either incompetent or indisposed to appreciate the value of his labours. Mr. Locke was at this time meditating a voyage to Holland; and Sir Isaac's first purpose was, that he should take these papers with him, and, through the medium of some literary acquaintance, procure the translation and publication of them there in the French language. He wished in this manner, without bringing himself personally before the public, to ascertain the feeling and judgment of Biblical critics, as to the subjects of his work. Then ‘After it had gone abroad long enough in French,' he 'might', he states, 'perhaps put it forth in English.’” ——King's Life of Locke, p. 229-230; or vol. i., 427-428.

The nature of this “Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture” it is interesting to re-consider, and we give it in Brewster's words:--

“This celebrated treatise relates to two texts in the Epistles of St. John and St. Paul, the first of these is I. John, v., 7 (I John 5:7), ‘For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.' This text he considers as a gross corruption of Scripture, which had its origin among the Latins, who interpreted the Spirit, Water, and Blood, to be the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in order to prove them one. With the same view Jerome inserted the Trinity in express words, in his version. The Latins marked his variations in the margins of their books; and in the twelfth and following centuries, when the disputations of the schoolmen were at their height, the variations began to creep into the text in transcribing. After the invention of printing, it crept out of the Latin into the printed Greek, contrary to the authority of all the Greek manuscripts and ancient versions, and from the Venetian press it went soon after into Greece. After proving these positions, Sir Isaac gives the following paraphrase of this remarkable passage, which is printed in Italics,--

“Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God, that Son spoken of in the Psalms, where he saith, ‘Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.' This is he that, after the Jews had long expected him, came, first in a mortal body, by baptism of water, and then in an immortal one, by shedding his blood upon the cross, and rising again from the dead; not by water only, but by water and blood; being the Son of God, as well by his resurrection from the dead,(Acts, xiii., 32-33,) as by his supernatural birth of the virgin, (Luke, i., 35.) And it is the Spirit also, that together with the water and the blood, beareth witness of the truth of his coming; because the Spirit is truth; and so a fit and unexceptionable witness. For there are three that bear record of his coming; the Spirit which he promised to send, and which was since shed forth upon us in the form of cloven tongues, and in various gifts; the baptism of water, wherein God testified ‘this is my beloved Son;' and the shedding of his blood, accompanied with his resurrection, whereby he became the most faithful martyr, or witness of this truth. And these three, the spirit, the baptism and passion of Christ, agree in witnessing one and the same thing, (namely, that the Son of God is come;) and, therefore, their evidence is strong; for the law requires but two consenting witnesses, and here we have three: and if we receive the witness of men, the threefold witness of God, which he bare of his Son, by declaring at his baptism, ‘this is my beloved Son,' by raising him from the dead, and by pouring out his spirit on us, is greater; and therefore ought to be more readily received.”—Brewster, vol. ii., 331-333.

The text of the heavenly witnesses is now indeed given up, by the most eminent biblical scholars, as a notorious corruption. Porson, in his letters to Archdeacon Travis, triumphantly proved that it ought not to form a part of the Sacred Text; and it demands the efforts of all who venerate the writings of the apostles to endeavour to purify the New Testament from an almost universally acknowledged forgery. Surely those who occupy the high places in the Christian church, should be able to say, “we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ.”—II. Cor., ii., 17.

In referring to these able letters, Sir Charles Lyell, as quoted by Brewster, remarks, “that by them the question was for ever set at rest.” “Had it been a question in science, it might have been expected that presumptuous error, when once sternly refuted, would not dare to re-appear; but theological questions are never set at rest, and the very corruption of the Sacred Text, which Sir Charles characterizes as having been ‘given up by every one who has the least pretension to scholarship and candour, has been defended in our own day by Dr. Burgess, Bishop of St. David's, and afterwards of Salisbury, with a boldness of presumption and a severity of intolerance, unworthy of a Christian divine."—Brewster's Memoirs, ii., 334, 335.

“The other notable corruption of Scripture discussed by Sir Isaac, is that which he charges the Greeks with having perpetrated in the text of St. Paul, Great is the mystery of godliness, God manifested in the flesh. According to him, this reading was effected by changing O into OS, the abbreviation for QEOS,--whereas all the churches, for the first five hundred years, and the authors of all the ancient versions, Jerome as well as the rest, read ‘Great is the mystery of godliness which was manifested in the flesh.' For this is the common reading of the Ethiopic, Syriac, and Latin versions to this day, Jerome's manuscripts having given him no occasion to correct the old vulgar Latin in this place."—Brewster, vol. ii., 335.

The opinions of critics, since the time of Newton, have been much divided in reference to this passage, I. Tim., iii., 16; a summary of those opinions we add from the Principles of Textual Criticism, by J. Scott Porter, p. 482.

“The first word of the second clause in this verse is variously read.

1. QEOS EFANERWQH—-‘God was manifested.' This is the reading of the Received Text, approved by Mill, Bengel, Berriman, Woide, Henderson, Scholz, Davidson, and many other eminent critics.

2. OS EFANERWQH—-‘Who was manifested.' This reading Griesbach has taken into the text of the New Testament, and it is supported by Carpenter and Belsham; and also Dr. J. Pye Smith, though with some hesitation.

3. O EFANERWQH—'Which was manifested,'—referring to the mystery mentioned immediately before. Grotius, Sir Isaac Newton, Wetstein, Wakefield, Norton, and several other writers, prefer this reading.”

The arguments for each of these readings are then stated and examined, and for several reasons which he adduces, Scott Porter concludes; “in my judgment the true reading is "o which.”—p. 493.

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