Many students of science know that Isaac Newton wrote more about the interpretation of biblical prophecy than he did about physics. This quote comes from the third chapter of the second part of his "Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John":
'Tis therefore a part of this Prophecy, that it should not be understood before the last age of the world; and therefore it makes for the credit of the Prophecy, that it is not yet understood. But if the last age, the age of opening these things, be now approaching, as by the great successes of late Interpreters it seems to be, we have more encouragement than ever to look into these things. If the general preaching of the Gospel be approaching, it is to us and our posterity that those words mainly belong:
- In the time of the end the wise shall understand, but none of the wicked shall understand. (Dan. 12:4, 10)
- Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this Prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein. (Rev. 1:3)
The folly of Interpreters has been, to foretel times and things by this Prophecy, as if God designed to make them Prophets. By this rashness they have not only exposed themselves, but brought the Prophecy also into contempt.
The design of God was much otherwise. He gave this and the Prophecies of the Old Testament, not to gratify men's curiosities by enabling them to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled they might be interpreted by the event, and his own Providence, not the Interpreters, be then manifested thereby to the world. For the event of things predicted many ages before, will then be a convincing argument that the world is governed by providence....
There is already so much of the Prophecy fulfilled, that as many as will take pains in this study, may see sufficient instances of God's providence: but then the signal revolutions predicted by all the holy Prophets, will at once both turn mens eyes upon considering the predictions, and plainly interpret them. Till then we must content ourselves with interpreting what hath been already fulfilled.
Newton had a clear concept of the purpose of prophecy. He had what Thomas Kuhn would call a "paradigm" that motivated and directed his efforts.