Newton became an Arian around 1672. First let us explain the Arian doctrine. It is a Christian heresy first proposed early in the 4th century by the Alexandrian Arius which, based on a study of the Bible, stated the belief that Jesus was more than man, but less than God. In other words Arians do not believe in the identification of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, so they do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity.
Newton's Arian beliefs
Newton came to believe that the Roman Catholic Church was misguided in its interpretation of Christianity, and had returned to idolatry. Although he partly approved of the Protestant Reformation, he felt it had not gone nearly far enough to return Christianity to its original state. Now if Newton did not believe in the Trinity, he had to consider the First Epistle of John Chapter 2, verse 7, which reads (in the King James version):-
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.Now Newton, who felt that his mission was more to study religion than science, certainly did not stop at reading the King James version of the Bible, but rather read all original versions he could, learning the necessary ancient languages. He discovered that the final phrase 'and these three are one' was not present in any Greek version that he studied. Newton came to the conclusion that it was a deliberate addition to the text to provide justification for the doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote down a list of twelve reasons why he was an Arian. Now of course it was not acceptable for people to hold views considered heresy by the Church, so after Newton's death this list, and his other theological writings, were marked "Not fit to be printed". They were stored and were not read by anyone until Keynes acquired them in 1936.
[See Keynes' Newton]
Here is Newton's list:-
- The word God is nowhere in the scriptures used to signify more than one of the three persons at once.
- The word God put absolutely without restriction to the Son or Holy Ghost doth always signify the Father from one end of the scriptures to the other.
- Whenever it is said in the scriptures that there is but one God, it is meant the Father.
- When, after some heretics had taken Christ for a mere man and others for the supreme God, St John in his Gospel endeavoured to state his nature so that men might have from thence a right apprehension of him and avoid those heresies and to that end calls him the word or logos: we must suppose that he intended that term in the sense that it was taken in the world before he used it when in like manner applied to an intelligent being. For if the Apostles had not used words as they found them how could they expect to have been rightly understood. Now the term logos before St John wrote, was generally used in the sense of the Platonists, when applied to an intelligent being and the Arians understood it in the same sense, and therefore theirs is the true sense of St John.
- The Son in several places confesseth his dependence on the will of the Father.
- The Son confesseth the Father greater, then calls him his God etc.
- The Son acknowledgeth the original prescience of all future things to be in the Father only.
- There is nowhere mention of a human soul in our Saviour besides the word, by the meditation of which the word should be incarnate. But the word itself was made flesh and took upon him the form of a servant.
- It was the son of God which He sent into the world and not a human soul that suffered for us. If there had been such a human soul in our Saviour, it would have been a thing of too great consequence to have been wholly omitted by the Apostles.
- It is a proper epithet of the Father to be called almighty. For by God almighty we always understand the Father. Yet this is not to limit the power of the Son. For he doth whatsoever he seeth the Father do; but to acknowledge that all power is originally in the Father and that the Son hath power in him but what he derives fro the Father, for he professes that of himself he can do nothing.
- The Son in all things submits his will to the will of the Father, which could be unreasonable if he were equal to the Father.
- The union between him and the Father he interprets to be like that of the saints with one another. That is in agreement of will and counsel.
Below the list of twelve points, Newton wrote 13. but did not write anything for this thirteenth point.