GRANVILLE SHARP AND THE DEITY OF CHRIST

In this brief post I am going to show how a specific rule of NT Greek grammar, which deals with the use of the Greek definite article, affects the interpretation of specific in relation to Jesus being identified as God. The rule is typically referred to as Granville Sharp’s first rule.

Granville Sharp’s first rule states that when two singular, personal substantives, whether nouns, adjectives, or participles, that are in the same gender, number and case, and which are not proper names, are connected by the Greek conjunction kai (“and”), with only the first substantive having the definite article before it, then both substantives refer to the same person or being. 

Here are two passages where this rule can be observed that clearly identify Jesus Christ as God Almighty in the flesh: 

“looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (TOU megalou Theou KAI Soteros hemon, ‘Iesou Christou), who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Titus 2:13-14

The note provided by the NET translation is especially significant:

tn The terms “God and Savior” both refer to the same person, Jesus Christ. This is one of the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ. The construction in Greek is known as the Granville Sharp rule, named after the English philanthropist-linguist who first clearly articulated the rule in 1798. Sharp pointed out that in the construction article-noun-καί-noun (where καί [kai] = “and”), when two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper names), they always had the same referent. Illustrations such as “the friend and brother,” “the God and Father,” etc. abound in the NT to prove Sharp’s point. The only issue is whether terms such as “God” and “Savior” could be considered common nouns as opposed to proper names. Sharp and others who followed (such as T. F. Middleton in his masterful The Doctrine of the Greek Article) demonstrated that a proper name in Greek was one that could not be pluralized. Since both “God” (θεός, theos) and “savior” (σωτήρ, sōtēr) were occasionally found in the plural, they did not constitute proper names, and hence, do fit Sharp’s rule. Although there have been 200 years of attempts to dislodge Sharp’s rule, all attempts have been futile. Sharp’s rule stands vindicated after all the dust has settled. For more information on Sharp’s rule see ExSyn 270-78, esp. 276. See also 2 Pet 1:1 and Jude 4. (NET Bible)

“Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (TOU Theou hemon KAI Soteros, ‘Iesou Christou):” 2 Peter 1:1

Once again, here is what the NET Bible states:

tn The terms “God and Savior” both refer to the same person, Jesus Christ. This is one of the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ. The construction in Greek is known as the Granville Sharp rule, named after the English philanthropist-linguist who first clearly articulated the rule in 1798. Sharp pointed out that in the construction article-noun-καί-noun (where καί [kai] = “and”), when two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper names), they always had the same referent. Illustrations such as “the friend and brother,” “the God and Father,” etc. abound in the NT to prove Sharp’s point. In fact, the construction occurs elsewhere in 2 Peter, strongly suggesting that the author’s idiom was the same as the rest of the NT authors’ (cf., e.g., 1:11 [“the Lord and Savior”], 2:20 [“the Lord and Savior”]). The only issue is whether terms such as “God” and “Savior” could be considered common nouns as opposed to proper names. Sharp and others who followed (such as T. F. Middleton in his masterful The Doctrine of the Greek Article) demonstrated that a proper name in Greek was one that could not be pluralized. Since both “God” (θεός, theos) and “savior” (σωτήρ, sōtēr) were occasionally found in the plural, they did not constitute proper names, and hence, do fit Sharp’s rule. Although there have been 200 years of attempts to dislodge Sharp’s rule, all attempts have been futile. Sharp’s rule stands vindicated after all the dust has settled. For more information on the application of Sharp’s rule to 2 Pet 1:1, see ExSyn 272, 276-77, 290. See also Titus 2:13 and Jude 4. (NET Bible)

Also note what the following Evangelical scholars state in respect to the foregoing NT passages:

Both of these texts use a construction that fits the following pattern:

Article + Noun + kai + Noun the God and Savior

The most natural way of understanding this particular construction is that both nouns refer to the same person. (In this construction, it does not matter whether the phrase includes a pronoun or where the pronoun appears.) When this construction occurs in ancient Greek using singular personal nouns that are not proper names (that is, nouns like father, Lord, king, not Jesus, Peter, or Paul), the two nouns normally refer to the same person. The first writer to analyze this construction in a formal way did so in the late eighteenth century. He was an English Christian abolitionist named Granville Sharp; for that reason, the analysis of this construction is commonly known as Sharp’s rule.

The New Testament contains plenty of examples supporting Sharp’s rule. The epistles of Paul, for example, refer to “our God and Father” (e.g., Gal. 1:4; Phil. 4:20; 1 Thess. 1:3; 3:11, 13) and “the God and Father” (Rom. 15:6; 1 Cor. 15:24), which certainly refer to one person by both titles God and Father. There are numerous additional examples, many of little or no theological concern (see table on Sharp’s rule).

EXAMPLES OF SHARP’S RULE

Mark 6:3 “the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James”

Luke 20:37 “the Lord the God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob”

John 20:17 “my Father and your Father and my God and your God

Acts 3:14 “the Holy and Righteous One

Eph. 6:21 “Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord”

Col. 4:7 “Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful servant and fellowslave in the Lord”

1 Thess. 3:2 “Timothy, our brother and God’s servant

1 Tim. 6:15 “the King of kings and Lord of lords”

Philemon 1:1 “our dear friend and coworker

Heb. 3:1 “the apostle and high priest of our confession, Jesus”

Heb. 12:2 “the author and finisher of faith”  

James 3:9 “the Lord and Father”  

1 Peter 2:25 “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”

1 Peter 5:1 “as the fellow-elder and witness of Christ’s sufferings”  

Rev. 1:6 “our God and Father

Rev. 1:9 “John, your brother and fellow-partaker

Gal. 1:4; Phil. 4:20; 1 Thess. 1:3; 3:11, 13 “our God and Father

Rom. 15:6; 1 Cor. 15:24; 2 Cor. 1:3a “the God and Father” (also Eph. 1:3; 5:20; James 1:27; 1 Peter 1:3)

 2 Cor. 1:3b “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort”  

2 Peter 1:11; 2:20; 3:18 “our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ”

2 Peter 3:2 “the Lord and Savior

Jude 4 “our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ”

The evidence that Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 call Jesus God goes beyond Sharp’s rule. 48 In Titus, the expression “our Savior” (soteros hemon) occurs six times. In five of those six occurrences, the article “the” (tou) immediately precedes “our Savior” (1:3, 4; 2:10; 3:4, 6); the one exception is Titus 2:13. The obvious and only good explanation for this variation is that “our Savior” is governed by the same article that governs “great God.”

Another piece of evidence in the context of Titus 2:13 is Paul’s use of the word epiphaneia (“manifestation” [NRSV], “appearing” [NASB]), from which we derive the word epiphany. In the Bible this word occurs only in Paul’s writings, mostly in the Pastoral Epistles (2 Thess. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13), and always referring to the manifestation or appearing of Jesus Christ, unless Titus 2:13 is the sole exception. The close parallel between Titus 2:13 and 2 Timothy 1:10 (“the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus”) effectively rules out the possibility that Titus 2:13 is an exception. So when Paul says that Christians are awaiting “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13 NASB), we can be sure that the one who will be “appearing” will indeed be Jesus Christ.

An alternative understanding of Titus 2:13, recently defended by evangelical Pauline scholar Gordon Fee, merits some attention. Fee agrees that Sharp’s rule applies to Titus 2:13, so that “our great God and Savior” refers to one divine person. He argues, however, that the person called “our great God and Savior” is the Father, not Christ. His view is that Jesus Christ is called “the glory of our great God and Savior.” In other words, he understands Paul to be saying that Christians are “awaiting the blessed hope and manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, [which glory is] Jesus Christ.”

If Fee is correct, what Paul says about Jesus Christ still implies his deity, since he would be affirming that the climactic, ultimate revelation of God’s glory will be the appearing of Jesus Christ at his second coming. There are, however, some strong reasons to dispute Fee’s interpretation. All of his arguments in support of that view boil down to the claim that it would be out of keeping with Paul’s way of speaking for him to call Jesus “God.” Yet it is clear that Paul departs from his usual terminology for Jesus in the epistle to Titus, since in this epistle alone he never refers to Jesus as “Lord” (kurios) and refers to Jesus at least twice as “Savior” (soter, Titus 1:4; 3:6), a term he rarely uses for Jesus. Murray Harris rightly warns against “an ever-present danger in literary research in making a writer’s ‘habitual usage’ so normative that he is disallowed the privilege of creating the exception that proves the rule.”

At least eight factors cumulatively offer strong support for understanding “Jesus Christ” to be identifying “our great God and Savior,” not “the glory,” in Titus 2:13.

1. “Our great God and Savior” is immediately adjacent to “Jesus Christ.”

2. It would be odd to speak of the manifestation of God’s glory and not mean that the one who is manifest is God.

3. Paul never refers to Jesus as God’s “glory” (although 2 Cor. 4:4, 6 comes close).

4. All other things being equal, a personal designation like “our great God and Savior” is more likely to be identified as a person (“Jesus Christ”) than is an abstraction (“the glory”).

5. Elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus), whenever Paul uses the word epiphaneia (“manifestation” or “appearing”), it refers to the manifestation of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 8), not of an abstract quality related to God or Christ.

6. In as many as twelve out of eighteen times in his epistles that Paul uses the term “the glory” in the genitive case (tes doxes), it likely functions as a descriptive modifier of the preceding noun (Rom. 8:21; 9:23; 1 Cor. 2:8; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 1:17, 18; 3:16; Phil. 3:21; Col. 1:11, 27; 1 Tim. 1:11; Titus 2:13). English translations often express this usage by the rendering “glorious” (see especially the NET and NIV). Thus, Titus 2:13 may be better translated “the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (see, e.g., NKJV, NIV, NET).

7. Paul immediately follows his reference to Jesus Christ by speaking of his accomplishments for our salvation (Titus 2:14), confirming that in this context Jesus Christ is “our Savior.”

8. The pattern of Paul’s references to “our Savior” in Titus—three references to “God our Savior” each followed closely by a reference to Jesus Christ as “our Savior” (1:3, 4; 2:10, 13; 3:4, 6)—is disrupted if 2:13 does not refer to Jesus Christ as Savior.

A similar text—and one for which the exegetical issues are far simpler—is 2 Peter 1:1, which speaks of “our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Some people argue that this text cannot call Jesus “God” because “God” is clearly distinguished from “Jesus our Lord” in the very next verse (v. 2). This objection, though, assumes that the New Testament cannot affirm both that Jesus is God and that he is distinct from God. To the contrary, in at least four other New Testament texts we find such allegedly “contradictory” statements side by side (John 1:1, 18; 20:17, 28, 31; Heb. 1:8–9). Rather than mistranslate the texts to make them seem unproblematic to our minds, we should consider the possibility that these texts are revealing a paradoxical truth about the very nature of God.

As we read along in 2 Peter, we find several more references to Jesus Christ that closely parallel the wording of the first verse (see table below).

Virtually everyone acknowledges that the “Lord” in these texts is the same person as the “Savior,” namely, Jesus Christ; we need offer no argument or defense of that understanding. Yet in at least two, and possibly three, of these texts the only difference between these descriptions of Christ and that in 2 Peter 1:1 is the use of kuriou (“Lord”) instead of theou (“God”). Since both Lord and God were common titles of deity in both biblical usage and in the broader culture, it is difficult to see any cogent reason to deny that Jesus is called God in 2 Peter 1:1. As Richard Bauckham points out in his commentary on 2 Peter, “There is no reason why variations on the stereotyped formula should not be used.”

The epistle of 2 Peter, then, opens by affirming that Jesus Christ is “our God and Savior.” It closes, appropriately, with a doxology of praise to Jesus Christ: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). The verbal parallels in those opening and closing verses between “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” and “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” as well as the concluding doxology directing eternal glory to Jesus Christ, are stunningly clear affirmations that Jesus Christ is indeed our Lord and our God. Recognizing this is not merely an academic exercise; it is a summons to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ and to begin living in such a way as to glorify him forever. (Robert Bowman & J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ [Kregel Inc., Grand Rapids, MI 2007], pp. 151-156)

As highlighted by the preceding authors, there are four other instance of Sharp’s rule found in Peter’s inspired epistle, which no one would deny clearly refer to Christ:

“for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (TOU Kyriou hemon KAI Soteros, ‘Iesou Christou).” 2 Peter 1:11

“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (TOU Kyriou KAI Soteros, ‘Iesou Christou), they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.” 2 Peter 2:20 

“that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior (TOU Kyriou KAI Soteros),” 2 Peter 3:2

“but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (TOU Kyriou hemon KAI Soteros, ‘Iesou Christou). To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18

Therefore, it is reasonable certain that Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 clearly describe Jesus as the God, in fact as the Great God, and Savior of us all.

The following articles on Granville Sharp’s rule are essential reading:

Granville Sharp’s Rule – Alpha and Omega Ministries

Sharps Rule

Sharp Redivivus? – A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule

FURTHER READING

Jesus Christ: The Great God Jehovah Has Come!

6 thoughts on “GRANVILLE SHARP AND THE DEITY OF CHRIST

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