Sir Isaac Newton rejected the Trinity

Sir Isaac Newton’s Crusade Against the Trinitarian cult

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

Already in the 1600s, Christian intellectuals that inspected the Trinitarian theology rebelled against it. The brilliant mathematician Sir Isaac Newton* was vehemently against the invented cult of Trinitarianism. He was an avid believer in the worship of the ONE absolute God. Celebrated author and historian (former nun and Christian) Karen Armstrong seems to agree with Newton’s views.

“Like Descartes, Newton had no time for mystery, which he equated with ignorance and superstition. He was anxious to purge Christianity of the miraculous, even if that brought him into conflict with such crucial doctrines as the divinity of Christ. During the 1670s he began a serious theological study of the doctrine of the Trinity and came to the conclusion that it had been foisted on the Church by Athanasius in a specious bid for pagan converts. Arius had been right: Jesus Christ had certainly not been God and those passages of the New Testament that were used to ‘prove’ the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation were spurious. Athanasius and his colleagues had forged them and added them to the canon of scripture, thus appealing to the base, primitive fantasies of the masses: ‘Tis the temper of the hot and superstitious part of mankind in matters of religion ever to be fond of mysteries, & for that reason to like best what they understand least.’ To expunge this mumbo-jumbo from the Christian faith became something of an obsession for Newton. In the early 1680’s, shortly before publishing the Principia, Newton began work on a treatise which he called The Philosophical Origins of Gentile Theology.This argued that Noah had founded the primordial religion — a Gentile theology — which had been free of superstition and had advocated a rational worship of one God… Later generations had corrupted this pure religion, with takes of miracles and marvels. Some had fallen back into idolatry and superstition. Yet God had sent a succession of prophets to put them back on course… Jesus had been one of these prophets sent to call mankind back to the truth but his pure religion had been corrupted by Athanasius and his cohorts. The book of Revelation had prophesied the rise of Trinitariansm — ‘this strange religion of ye West’, ‘the cult of three equal Gods’ — as the abomination of desolation.” [1]

Similarly, Historian of Science and fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Richard Westfall writes:

“In the Origenes Newton demoted Christ even from the semidive status Arianism accorded Him. He was merely one more prophet, who came to restore the true religion after mankind’s innate propensity for idolatry had corrupted it. Trinitarianism, the worship of a man as God, had in its turn repeated the pattern of idolatry. The “Christian religion was not more true” than the religion of the children of Noah, he stated, “and did not become less corrupted.”

…Trinitarianism was built on superstition in his view. Athansius had deliberately contrived it for the easy conversion of the heathens “by bringing into it as much of ye heathen superstition as the name of Christianity would then bear.”” [2]

Even if Jesus may well be addressed as “God” says Newton, that in no way means that he is of Divine origin as the Father. Echoing Armstrong and Westfall, Senior Minister of the Bonhomme Presbyterian Church Dr. Tom Pfizenmaier writes:

“Ultimately it is the Father, and the Father alone, in whom all worship terminates. Even the traditional understanding of the intermediary role of the Son is somewhat diminished in Newton’s scheme, especially in articles nine and ten. There we find that while we may call Jesus “God” without transgressing the first commandment, he is not to be worshiped as “God Almighty,” but only in relationship to his office as Monarch: as “lord, the Messiah, the Great King, and the Lamb of God.” Christ is not worshiped on the basis of his ontology according to Newton’s theology, but on the basis of his christological office. Newton could not abide worship grounded in the traditional understanding of consubstantiality, which he believed to be based in philosophy, not in scripture, and referred to it as “this strange religion of ye west,” and “the cult of three equal Gods.”” [3]

Four hundred years ago, Newton astutely grasped the understanding that only now many modern interpreters are beginning to realise that when Jesus, if ever, is labelled as “God” (theos) in the Bible that does not denote an ontological godhood in the person of Jesus as it does in the person of the Father. Jesus may be called “God” in view of the cultural or linguistics norms of his time. He is not ontologically “God” means that he is not inherently, in meaning, God Almighty as the Father is. The Christ may only be addressed as such by virtue of his monarchical or prophetic office.

And Professor Anthony F. Buzzard in his wonderful new translation of the New Testament, in the introductory notes, cites Armstrong, who repeats her seeming affirmation of Newton’s critique on the Trinity in a later book called ‘The Battle for God’ that was published in 2000.

“Sir Isaac Newton was no less scathing about the very non-Jewish definition of God as Trinity:

Newton became almost obsessed with the desire to purge Christianity of its mythical doctrines. He became convinced that the a-rational dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation were the result of conspiracy, forgery and chicancery… [Newton maintained] that the spurious doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity had been added to the creed by the unscrupulous theologians in the fourth century. Indeed, the Book of Revelation had prophesied the rise of Trinitarianism — “this strange religion of ye west, the cult of three equal Gods” — as the abomination of desolation.” [4]

 

Notes:

* I wouldn’t say traditional Arianism as forwarded and preached by Bishop Arius is Socinian Unitarianism or Unitarianism in the general sense, but it does come close to it as it disqualifies Jesus from equal sharing in the Father’s Godhood. Traditionally, the Arians thought of Jesus as a small deity that was created by God as His instrument for creation and salvation. These fundamental precepts do not appear to be in Newton’s theology. As Newton says in article eleven of his articles that thoroughly reject the Trinity, Jesus is only “God” in light of his christological office as king or messiah. Many historians might feel comfortable to lump Newton with Arius, but I simply do not see the evidence that he believed at all that Jesus was the agent of creation in whom was divinity. This very Arian belief seems starkly absent in his explications.

Even though Newton never actually and officially defrock himself from the established (Trinitarian) Church, there leaves zero doubt that he did not merely question but utterly rejected the Trinity doctrine. One may describe him as a nominal Trinitarian — one who bears the title without actually believing it. An impartial evaluation of the evidence may come from a work called ‘The Christian Treasury’. In it they affirm what I’ve said here concerning Newton’s continued lifelong association with the Church, but “This is the sum total of the evidence that Sir Isaac Newton was not a Trinitarian; and on this infinitesimal basis rests the claim, put forth with all the boldness and assumption of infallible certainty, that this distinguished man was not merely a disbeliever in the Trinity, but positively a Unitarian — Congregationalist.” (Anon. (1853). The Christian Treasury, Containing Contributions from Ministers and Members of Various Evangelical Denominations. Edinburg: Johnstone & Hunter. p 149) This unbiased evangelical testimony is confirmed below by a couple of Unitarian sources. In a footnote to Newton’s name that John Kenrick mentions in his discussions on Unitarianism, he writes, “See the evidence of Sir Isaac Newton’s Unitarianism distinctly and ably stated by the Rev. B. Mardon of Glasgow, in the Appendix to his sensible and judicious Letter to the Rev. Dr. Chalmers. This evidence is also very judiciously exhibited by Capt. Gifford, R. N., in his late admirable “Remonstrance to the Bishop of St. David’s.”” (1871). Unitarianism The Essence of Vital Christianity: A Sermon Preached at George’s Meeting, Creter, July 10, 1817, before the Members of the Western Unitarian Society and the Devon and Cornwall Association. London: Richard and Arthur Taylor. p. 24) Similarly, John Wilson emphatically testifies to Newton’s Unitarian beliefs: “But that Newton was a Unitarian is quite certain,… as thorough a Unitarian as ever attended Essex-street Chapel. My noble and learned friend (Lord Campbell) will find this clearly proved by Sir David Brewster from examination of the Newton manuscripts, which, that learned person says, leave not a shadow of a doubt upon the subject.” (Wilson, J. (1864). Unitarian Principles Confirmed by Trinitarian Testimonies; Being Selections from the Works of Eminent Theologians Belonging to Orthodox Churches: With Introductiory and Occasional Remarks. Boston: Walker, Wise, and Company. p. 119)

 

Notes:

[1] Armstrong, K. (1999). A History of God: From Abraham to the Present: the 4000-year Quest for God. London: Vintage Books. p. 358

[2] Westfall, R. S. (1986). The Rise of Science and the Decline of Orthodox Christianity: A Study of Kepler, Descartes, and Newton. In David C. Lindberg & Roland L. Numbers (Eds), God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science. Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. p. 231

[3] Pfizenmaier, T. C. (1997). The Trinitarian Theology of Dr. Samuel Clarke (1675 – 1729): Context, Sources, and Controversy. The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill. p. 163

[4] Buzzard, A. F. (2014). The One God, the Father, One Man Messiah Translation: New Testament with Commentary. Restoration Fellowship. pp. 25-26

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