Granville Sharp and the Deity of Christ

Posted by: Clark Bates, February 28, 2017

The name Granville Sharp probably means very little to many of you reading this article.  In fact, unless you’re a historian or classical grammarian I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d never heard of him before.  In light of this, perhaps a history lesson is in order.

Who Was Granville Sharp?

Granville Sharp lived through the last half of the 18th and into the 19th century in England.  He became one of the first campaigners for the abolition of the slave trade and a tireless contender for social justice.  He became the founder of the St. George’s Bay Company, later called the Sierra Leone Company, dedicated to helping former slaves resettle in Sierra Leone.  His work eventually founded the community that became Freetown, Sierra Leone.  So, what does an 18th century English abolitionist have to do with the deity of Christ?

Granville was born to the Archdeacon of Northumberland and theologian, Thomas Sharp, and being the middle of 11 children, by the time the young Sharp was old enough to be educated there were no funds.  As a result, Granville Sharp was mostly home educated.  At the age of fifteen, Sharp apprenticed at a linen-draper in London, regularly engaging his keen mind in debate with his fellow apprentices, finally meeting another worker aligned with the Unitarian sect known as the Socinians.  A key feature of the Socinian belief is an abject denial of the divinity of Christ.  In an effort to better debate his colleague, Granville taught himself Greek.

The Granville Sharp Rule

Through his studies, Sharp eventually formulated six principles involving the Greek article (often translated “the” in English).  One of these six principles became known as The Granville Sharp Rule.  This rule states that,

“When the copulative kai (and, but) connects two nouns (singular) of the same case, if the article ho (the), or any of its cases, precedes the first of the said nouns or participles, and is not repeated before the Second noun or participle, the latter always relates to the same person that is expressed or described by the first noun or participle.”[1]

Now, if you read that and you don’t know anything about Greek (and even if you do), you’ve probably just become more confused than you were before, but what Granville Sharp discovered and formalized in this rule has profound implications for the Christian understanding of the nature of Christ.  There are two passages within Scripture that apply this rule: Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1.

Titus 2:13 reads like this:

Titus 2:13 English Standard Version Titus 2:13 (SBLGNT)
13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ 13 προσδεχόμενοι τὴν μακαρίαν ἐλπίδα καὶ ἐπιφάνειαν τῆς δόξης το μεγάλου θεο κα σωτρος μν ησο Χριστο,

What does this mean for a proper understanding of the text?  I’ve highlighted in bold the applicable sections of the Titus passage for better identification.  According to The Granville Sharp Rule, the use of the article (του) before God (θεου) and the presence of the connecting conjunction “and” (και) means that the following noun phrase “Savior Jesus Christ” (σωτηρος Ιησου Χριστου), because it lacks the article, refers back to God.  In layman’s terms, the Granville Sharp Rule explains that this form of Greek construction in Titus 2:13 can be understood in no other way than to say that “our great God” is equal to “Savior Jesus Christ”.

Trinitarians may not find this entirely shocking or exciting, but in many Unitarian sects and pseudo-Christian cult groups like the Church of Latter-Day Saints or Watchtower Society repeatedly insist that verses like this are speaking of two separate entities.  What Granville Sharp has proven is that the writers of the New Testament, in their use of Koine Greek, constructed their words in such a way as to confirm without doubt that Jesus was God.

Here is the same construction for 2 Peter 1:1,

2 Peter 1:1 English Standard Version 2 Peter 1:1 (SBLGNT)
Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

 

Συμεὼν Πέτρος δοῦλος καὶ ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῖς ἰσότιμον ἡμῖν λαχοῦσιν πίστιν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ το θεο μν κα σωτρος ησο Χριστο·

As you can see, the same use of the article and the conjunction combine the two nouns “God” and “Jesus Christ”.  Just as in Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1 Affirms the divinity of Jesus beyond question, because of what we now call The Granville Sharp Rule.

P72 and the Council of Nicaea

An often-repeated claim from skeptics is that the divinity of Christ was not a belief of the Christian church prior to the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.  It is claimed that the emperor Constantine decided that the New Testament would teach this doctrine and thus commanded all other Christian texts that taught otherwise be burned.  However, as with many conspiracy claims, history has a way of producing disruptive facts.  Enter the manuscript known as P72.

In 1952, a grouping of manuscripts was discovered in Pabau, Egypt.  Among these manuscripts were various Christian documents, all of which were purchased by Martin Bodmer, giving them the name, “The Bodmer Papyri”.  Of the New Testament manuscripts discovered, a papyrus numbered 72 (P72) was among them.  This papyrus dated to the mid-3rd century (200-300) AD, and contained the oldest existing copy of Jude, 1 Peter and 2 Peter.

How this bears upon the discussion above is found in the opening line of 2 Peter 1:1:

 

 

Here we see the same Greek construction, albeit in uncial text, that has been demonstrated above.  While Granville Sharp had not formulated his Rule until the 18th century, the text of Scripture remained as it is now from its inception, including the use of the article and conjunction, demonstrating again, that the earliest church recorded that Jesus Christ was equal with God.  This document was buried in the sands of Egypt approximately 100 years before Constantine and the Council of Nicaea.  The deity of Christ was not a result of conspiracy, but a key feature of early Christology.

The Christian church owes a great debt to a self-trained, mostly unknown, English abolitionist, by the name of Granville Sharp.

[1] Sharp, Granville (1798). Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article in the Greek Text of the New Testament, Containing Many New Proofs of the Divinity of Christ, from Passages Which Are Wrongly Translated in the Common English Version (PDF). London. p. 8.

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