Mr. Iliffe, a professor of history at Oxford, documents the depth and breadth of Newton’s religious inquiry, explaining how, in thousands of manuscript pages, Newton explored the mechanics of optics and motion alongside diligent theological research. His topics were varied, covering biblical prophecy, God’s infinitude, the Incarnation, idolatry and the nature of the soul. Mr. Iliffe demonstrates how Newton pored over biblical scholarship, exhibiting a mastery of Greek as well as the chief sources on church history.
Interestingly, Newton’s study of prophecy overlapped the period of his most groundbreaking scientific work—in part because the discipline with which he approached one intensified the rigor of the other. Newton’s underlying assumption was that religious truth was itself rational, because it, like science, was an explanation of the divine order. While Newton did not use the Bible as a book of science, his science was grounded in Christian assumptions that “humans were made in the image of God” and that rational thought could provide insight into the Creator God. His interpretation of scripture developed a universal order, through which all prophecy could be understood—assumptions that also provided a framework for the mathematic system of Newton’s “Principia….”