William Whiston was a scientist, mathematician, clergyman, prolific writer, and colleague of English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton. In the year 1702, Whiston succeeded Newton as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, England. This chair, or professorship, has been held by some of the greatest minds in science and technology.
WHISTON is also known, especially to Bible students, for his translation into English of the writings of first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. The Works of Josephus shed considerable light on Jewish history and the world of the early Christians.
Whiston applied his keen intellect to many topics, especially science and religion. He believed that the Bible’s account of creation is accurate and that the design, elegance, and order evident in nature point to a divine Architect.
Moreover, Whiston believed that the churches of Christendom had fragmented into many denominations because the clergy had strayed from the Bible, preferring the non-Biblical teachings and traditions of church councils and so-called Church Fathers.
Because Whiston recognized the Bible as a book of spiritual truth, he rejected the notion of eternal torment in hellfire. He viewed it as absurd and cruel, as well as an insult to God. What especially pitted him against church authorities, though, was his rejection of the Trinity, which doctrine defines God as three coequal and coeternal persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, it is claimed that there are not three gods, but one god.
“FROM RENOWNED ACADEMIC TO OUTCAST”
After careful research, Whiston concluded that the Trinity was not taught by early Christians but was later adopted when pagan philosophy infiltrated Christianity. His friends warned him about the perils of publishing his findings, but Whiston could not ignore what he perceived to be a perversion of Jesus’ true nature as the Son of God and a created being.
The University of Cambridge barred from office any who taught ideas contrary to Anglican doctrine, which meant that Whiston could lose his chair. Nevertheless, he did not keep silent—unlike Newton, who also considered the Trinity to be a false teaching but was covert in expressing his views. Whiston wrote: “No worldly motives whatever . . . shall dissuade me.”
Because he refused to compromise his beliefs, Whiston “went from renowned academic to outcast”
In 1710, Whiston was expelled from Cambridge. Because he refused to compromise his beliefs, he “went from renowned academic to outcast.” Even then, he was not cowed. In fact, while being accused of heresy, he wrote a series of essays called Primitive Christianity Revived—“primitive” meaning original Christianity, that practiced by Jesus’ early followers. Later, Whiston founded the Society for Promoting Primitive Christianity, which met in his London home.
Although losing his professorship and suffering financially for a time, Whiston continued to write and to lecture in coffeehouses in London. In 1737, as a contribution to the understanding of early Christianity’s historical context, he published his translation of Josephus’ writings. It has been in print ever since.
Because of his courageous but unpopular stand, Whiston is viewed by many today as “an eccentric figure,” says author James E. Force. Others, however, admire him as a Bible scholar, as a sincere searcher for religious truth, and as a man determined to live by his beliefs.