Northern Ireland news

Centuries-old divinity code cracked by Coleraine student

Student Jonny Woods managed to crack the coded religious documents

CODED religious documents which left academics baffled for centuries have been cracked by a student from Co Derry.

Jonny Woods, a third-year divinity undergraduate at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, has become the first person in the world to read some of the hundreds of pages of shorthand notes left by Baptist leader Andrew Fuller.

Fuller published the hugely influential text The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, which changed the history of the Baptists.

Hundreds of pages of his sermons are held in the archive of Bristol Baptist College.

On examining them, Dr Steve Holmes, head of the School of Divinity at St Andrews, found one headed in longhand Confessions of Faith, Oct. 7 1783.

Knowing this was the date of Fuller's induction into the pastorate of a church in Kettering and that he would have been required to give a confession of faith, Dr Holmes wondered if a copy of the confession printed in a biography might help him crack the code.

Baptist leader Andrew Fuller left hundreds of pages of shorthand notes

After discovering that the two texts were the same, he recruited Mr Woods through the university's undergraduate research assistant scheme to help.

Dr Holmes said when Mr Woods told him he could read the documents "it was an astonishing moment".

After just a few weeks, the student was able to translate the shorthand documents, using the longhand version as a `Rosetta Stone', allowing him to read two of the most historically significant sermons from the collection.

It is hoped that being able to read these documents will offer insight into Fuller's meteoric rise within the Baptist denomination, by revealing the early development of his thought.

'Moment you live for'

Dr Holmes said Andrew Fuller was the figurehead - "the patron saint almost" - of the Baptist church tradition.

"To be reading words of his that no-one had read since he preached them in 1782, it's one of those moments you live for as an academic," he said.

Mr Woods, from Coleraine, said it was an honour to be the first person to read Fuller's sermons and allow people to get an insight into "this incredible man and the amazing stories he has to share".

"I'm excited to continue working on the vast collection of work that he has left to us, in the hope that we can understand more about his thinking and how this developed throughout his ministry," he added.

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