An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture

An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture

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An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture is a dissertation by the English mathematician and scholar Sir Isaac Newton. First published in 1754, 27 years after his death, it claimed to review all the textual evidence
Textual criticism
Textual criticism is a branch of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts...

 available from ancient sources on two disputed Bible passages: and .

Newton describes this letter as "an account of what the reading has been in all ages, and what steps it has been changed, as far as I can hitherto determine by records", and "a criticism concerning a text of Scripture". He blames "the Roman church" for many abuses in the world and accuses it of "pious fraud
Pious fraud
Pious fraud is used to describe fraud in religion or medicine. A pious fraud can be counterfeiting a miracle or falsely attributing a sacred text to a biblical figure due to the belief that the "end justifies the means", in this case the end of increasing faith by whatever means available...

s". He adds that "the more learned and quick-sighted men, as Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

, Erasmus, Bullinger
Heinrich Bullinger
Heinrich Bullinger was a Swiss reformer, the successor of Huldrych Zwingli as head of the Zurich church and pastor at Grossmünster...

, Grotius, and some others, would not dissemble their knowledge".

1 John 5:7


In the King James Version Bible, 1 John 5:7 reads:
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father
Father
A father, Pop, Dad, or Papa, is defined as a male parent of any type of offspring. The adjective "paternal" refers to father, parallel to "maternal" for mother...

, the Word
Logos
' is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "a ground", "a plea", "an opinion", "an expectation", "word," "speech," "account," "reason," it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus ' is an important term in...

, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.


Using the handpicked writings of the early Church Fathers
Church Fathers
The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were early and influential theologians, eminent Christian teachers and great bishops. Their scholarly works were used as a precedent for centuries to come...

, the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 and Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 manuscripts and the testimony of the first versions of the Bible, Newton claims to have demonstrated that the words "in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one," in support of the Trinity
Trinity
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons : the Father, the Son , and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet coexist in unity, and are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial . Put another way, the three persons of the Trinity are of one being...

 doctrine, did not appear in the original Greek Scriptures. He then attempts to demonstrate that the purportedly spurious reading crept into the Latin versions, first as a marginal note, and later into the text itself. He noted that "the Æthiopic, Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, and Slavonic versions, still in use in the several Eastern nations, Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Muscovy, and some others, are strangers to this reading". He argued that it was first taken into a Greek text in 1515 by Cardinal Ximenes on the strength of a late Greek manuscript 'corrected' from the Latin. Finally, Newton considered the sense and context of the verse, concluding that removing the interpolation
Glosses to the Bible
Biblical scholars use the word glossa or gloss, in connexion with glosses of Biblical texts. A gloss meant an explanation of a purely verbal difficulty of the text, to the exclusion of explanations required by doctrinal, ritual, historical, and other obscurities...

 makes "the sense plain and natural, and the argument full and strong; but if you insert the testimony of 'the Three in Heaven' you interrupt and spoil it." Today most versions of the Bible omit this verse, or retain it as only a marginal reading.

1 Timothy 3:16


The shorter portion of Newton's dissertation was concerned with 1 Timothy 3:16, which reads (in the King James Version):
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.


Newton argued that, by a small alteration in the Greek text, the word "God" was substituted to make the phrase read "God was manifest in the flesh." instead of "He was manifest in the flesh." He demonstrated that early Church writers in referring to the verse knew nothing of such an alteration.

Summary of both passages


Newton concludes: "If the ancient churches in debating and deciding the greatest mysteries of religion, knew nothing of these two texts, I understand not, why we should be so fond of them now the debates are over." It was only in the nineteenth century that Bible translations appeared 'correcting' these passages. Modern versions of the Bible usually omit the addition to 1 John 5:7
Comma Johanneum
The Comma Johanneum is a comma in the First Epistle of John according to the Latin Vulgate text as transmitted since the Early Middle Ages, based on Vetus Latina minority readings dating to the 7th century...

, but some place it in a footnote, with a comment indicating that 'it is not found in the earliest manuscripts'. Modern translations of 1 Timothy 3:16 now typically replace "God" with the 'correct' "He".

Historical background



Newton did not publish these findings during his lifetime, likely due to the political climate. Those who wrote against the doctrine of the Trinity
Trinity
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons : the Father, the Son , and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet coexist in unity, and are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial . Put another way, the three persons of the Trinity are of one being...

 were subject to persecution in England. The Blasphemy Act 1697 made it an offence to deny one of the persons of the Trinity to be God, punishable with loss of office and employment on the first occasion, further legal ramifications on the second occasion, and imprisonment without hope for bail on the third occasion. Newton's friend William Whiston
William Whiston
William Whiston was an English theologian, historian, and mathematician. He is probably best known for his translation of the Antiquities of the Jews and other works by Josephus, his A New Theory of the Earth, and his Arianism...

 (translator of the works of Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

) lost his professorship at Cambridge
Cambridge
The city of Cambridge is a university town and the administrative centre of the county of Cambridgeshire, England. It lies in East Anglia about north of London. Cambridge is at the heart of the high-technology centre known as Silicon Fen – a play on Silicon Valley and the fens surrounding the...

 for this reason in 1711. In 1693 a pamphlet attacking the Trinity was burned by order of the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

, and the next year its printer and author were prosecuted. In 1697 Thomas Aikenhead
Thomas Aikenhead
Thomas Aikenhead was a Scottish student from Edinburgh, who was prosecuted and executed at the age of 20 on a charge of blasphemy. He was the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy.-Indictment:...

, an eighteen-year-old student charged with denying the Trinity, was hanged
Hanging
Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain...

 at Edinburgh
Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

, Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

.

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