In the arsenal of orthodox Trinitarian apologists is something known as the Granville Sharp Rule and its specific application to certain NT texts bearing on Christology, in particular 2 Peter 1:1 and Titus 2:13. These two verses are often employed as proof-texts for the deity of Jesus based solely on the Granville Sharp Rule (GSR). In the online NET Bible commentary notes on both of these passages it is asserted that they are “the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ,” and this is attributed to the GSR.
Granville Sharp was an amateur British theologian and staunch defender of trintarianism, who, in response to the growing unitarian (Socinian) movement of his day, taught himself Greek in order to better debate the issue. That he was motivated by theological concerns is evident from the full title of his book published in 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. In this work Sharp set forth six principles regarding the use of the definite article in Greek, one of which has become famously known as the Granville Sharp Rule. Sharp stated the rule in this way – “When the copulative και connects two nouns of the same case, [viz. nouns (either substantive or adjective, or participles) of personal description, respecting office, dignity, affinity, or connexion, and attributes, properties, or qualities, good or ill], if the article ὁ, 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: i.e. it denotes a farther description of the first-named person . . .” In short the rule states that when you have two nouns joined by “and” (kai in Greek), and the definite article appears before the first noun but not the second, then both nouns have the same referent. In the remainder of this article this construction will be referred to by the acronym TSKS (the + substantive + kai + substantive).
In order for this rule to be absolute Sharp had to eliminate from its scope certain categories of nouns: 1. impersonal nouns 2. plural nouns 3. proper nouns. So then, for the rule to apply the nouns have to be personal, singular and common. How this relates to the two passages of concern is as follows:
1 Pet. 1:1 – ( τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος )
ARTICLE + NOUN + “and” (καὶ) + NOUN
Titus 2:13 – ( τοῦ μεγάλου θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος )
ARTICLE + NOUN + “and” (καὶ) + NOUN
Because these two passages follow the pattern that Sharp laid out he concluded that there is only one referent in view to which the titles ‘God’ and ‘Savior’ apply, and that referent is Jesus Christ. This became for Sharp a strong proof that the NT does indeed apply to Jesus the designation the God. Now, at first glance, this does appear to be a solid case for the deity of Jesus, but is the matter really that simple?
Objections To Sharp’s Rule
While many scholars, both in Sharp’s time and today, have jumped on the bandwagon, there have also been many who have not. But why should this be if Sharp’s rule just is an observable fact of Greek grammar? Many who have opposed the rule, both then and now, have been orthodox trinitarian Christians, and so, not motivated by an anti-trinitarian bias. Dr. Calvin Winstanley, a contemporary of Sharp and a trinitarian scholar, wrote a treatise1 opposing Sharp’s rule, in which he cited many exceptions to the rule he found in the writings of the church fathers and in secular Greek writings.
Moulton and Turner, in discussing these two passages in A Grammar of New Testament Greek, stated: “In Hellenistic, and indeed for practical purposes in classical Greek, the repetition of the article was not strictly necessary to ensure that the items be considered separately.” Dr. Turner further stated in Grammatical Insights into the New Testament: “Unfortunately, at this period of Greek we cannot be sure that such a rule [regarding the article] is really decisive. Sometimes the definite article is not repeated even where there is clearly a separation in idea.”
It is also worthy to note that Sharp advocated for an alteration of eight verses in the NT, touching on christology, based on his rule, which would explicitly designate Jesus as our God. Yet in the intervening years, subsequent English versions have largely not followed Sharp’s suggestions in these passages, with the exception of Titus 2:13 and 1 Peter 1:1. Edward D. Andrews, CEO and President of Christian Publishing House and Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version, himself a confessed trinitarian, has written an article on the Christian Publishing House Blog demonstrating why Sharp’s rule should not be the deciding factor in how these passages are translated.2
Further Modifications to the GSR
One of the most avid and influential defenders of the GSR today is Dr. Daniel Wallace. He is the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible and the Executive Director for the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. On the Bilbe.org website he has published an article titled Sharp Redivivus? – A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule, in which he presents a formidable defense of the GSR. In this article Wallace addresses four categories of exceptions to Sharp’s rule found by Dr. Winstanley in ancient Greek writings outside of the NT. For each of these exceptions Wallace then modifies the rule to exclude them from its scope. For instance, one category is that of nouns that, though singular, are generic. Wallace’s solution:
“We might, however, in light of Winstanley’s exceptions, modify Sharp’s rule to say both that nouns which are plural syntactically and those which are plural semantically (i.e., generic nouns) are not within the purview of the rule. Another way to put this is that Sharp’s rule applies only to nouns which have an individual referent, as opposed to a class or group.”
Winstanley also pointed out an example from the LXX of Prov. 24:21, which reads, “Fear God . . . and the king.” In the Greek there is no article before ‘king’ and so it follows Sharp’s rule of a TSKS construction, yet involves two referents. Wallace does acknowledge this as a true exception but exempts it on the basis that the LXX is “translation Greek”:
“Thus, we might modify Sharp’s rule still further by saying that sometimes (once—so far) translation Greek will violate the rule, if the base language has a contrary construction.”
Another exception found by Winstanley was from Herodotus’ Histories which reads, “the cup-bearer and cook and groom and servant and messenger.” Here the first personal noun has the article but the subsequent ones do not. Wallace simply modifies the rule further:
“We might therefore, in refining Sharp’s rule still further, add that where several nouns are involved in the construction it may or may not follow the rule.”
So it seems that whenever exceptions to the GSR are found, Wallace’s mode of dealing with them is to fit them into a category which can be exempted from the rule. Now I am not saying that this is totally without warrant but it does seem just a bit contrived.
In his article, Wallace next deals with the eight christologically significant passages for which Sharp proposed a revision. Here’s what he said:
“Sharp invoked dubious textual variants in four of the eight texts to support his rule (Acts 8:28; 1 Tim 5:21; 2 Tim 4:1; Jude 1). As well, in 1 Tim 5:21 and 2 Tim 4:1, if the almost certainly authentic reading of τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ Χριστοῦ ᾿Ιησοῦ (for τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Χριστοῦ ᾿Ιησοῦ) is accepted, then the text can also be dispensed with, for “Christ Jesus” is surely a proper name, and thus does not fall within the limitations of Sharp’s rule. Further, two other passages seem to involve proper names. Second Thessalonians 1:12 does not have merely “Lord” in the equation, but “Lord Jesus Christ.” Only by detaching κυρίου from Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ could one apply Sharp’s rule to this construction. Ephesians 5:5 has the name “Christ” in the equation, though one would be hard-pressed to view this as less than a proper name in the epistles.” This leaves two passages, Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1, which have escaped the difficulties of textual uncertainty and the charge of disqualification via proper names.
So Wallace excludes six of the eight passages as not falling under Sharp’s rule because they are either dependent upon textual variants or they include proper nouns. This leaves us with our two passages, which he thinks fits the GSR. He then goes on to show the validity of the rule in the case of these passages. But wait a minute! Am I missing something here? How can Wallace say that 2 Thess. 1:12 is beyond the scope of Sharp’s rule because the name Jesus Christ is attached to the title Lord but then admit Titus 2:13 and 1 Pet. 1:1 where the name Jesus Christ is attached to the title Savior. In fact, 2 Thess. 1:12 and 2 Pet. 1:1 are grammatically identical except for the different titles attached to the name Jesus Christ:
2 Thess. 1:12 – τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.
2 Pet. 1:1 – τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ·
So why does Wallace see a difference between these two verses? He doesn’t even touch on it in the article, as if he was unaware of the contradiction. But Wallace is certainly correct in the case of 2 Thess. 1:12, that because the name Jesus Christ is attached to the title Lord, a single referent cannot be maintained. Indeed, most reputable English versions translate the verse as implying two referents, including the NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, HCSB, NET, ASV, ERV. So then why cannot the same be said of 2 Pet.1:1? Yet every one of these same versions, with the exception of the KJV and ASV, translate 2 Pet. 1:1 as if only one referent were in view. This is certainly an inconsistency in these translations. I can only guess that the reasoning behind this lies in the presupposition that the word Savior in 1 Pet. 1:1, rather than being attached to the name Jesus Christ, is instead to be joined to our God.
What I now propose is a further modification of the GSR, another category that should be considered exempt from it’s scope. Here is the new category:
Any TSKS construction found in the NT where the first noun is God and the second noun is a title, with or without a 1st person possessive pronoun, followed immediately by the name Jesus Christ.
So then 2 Thess. 1:12, Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet. 1:1 would all be exempt from Sharp’s so called rule. Now surely someone is bound to object on the grounds that such a limitation to Sharp’s rule is certainly arbitrary and biased. But I don’t think that is the case. The fact of the matter is that in these types of passages, where there seems to be some ambiguity in the Greek construction as to whether or not Jesus is being equated with the God, it is not grammar alone which is the deciding factor. Dr Winstanley put it this way:
“If the sacred writers have expressed themselves ambiguously in
some instances, and on the same subject clearly in others, and still more in a great plurality of others, we are bound, in exclusion of every extraneous authority, to consult them as their own best interpreters . . .”
With this in view, I state unequivocally that the universal and unanimous mode of expression in the NT documents is to identify the God as the Father and to distinguish between the God and Jesus Christ.3 This is acknowledged by most, if not all, NT scholars. Brian James Wright, in a paper titled Jesus as Theos: Scriptural Fact or Scribal Fantasy?, which he presented at the Evangelical Theological Society’s southwestern regional meeting in 2007, stated, “No one contests that the NT usually reserves the title Theos for God the Father.” Similarly, Murray Harris in his 1992 book Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus, concluded his chapter on the use of Theos in the NT with this assessment of the data:
“No attempt has been made in the preceding survey to be exhaustive. But we have seen that throughout the NT [(the) God] is so often associated with and yet differentiated from [lord Jesus Christ] that the reader is forced to assume that there must be both a hypostatic distinction and an interpersonal relationship between the two . . . God is the Father (in the trinitarian sense)4, Jesus is the Lord (1 Cor. 8:6). When [(the) God] is used, we are to assume that the NT writers have [the Father] in mind unless the context makes this sense of [(the) God] impossible.”pg 47 (the words in brackets are in Greek characters in the original)
Therefore, any NT passage that has an ambiguous grammatical construction which could be attributing the title the God to either the Father or to Jesus Christ, must be decided in favor of the Father, unless factors other than grammatical can establish Jesus as the referent. When I speak of the ambiguity of the grammar in these passages I do not mean to imply that there would have been any such ambiguity in the minds of the original authors or the original readers. It is, in fact, the imposition of the presupposition of trinitarianism upon these texts that has produced the ambiguity.
Further Problems For The GSR
These considerations expose the circular reasoning involved in applying the GSR to Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet. 1:1. Because these passages fit the pattern for Sharp’s rule it is assumed that the rule has no exceptions in the NT. But as Dr. Winstanley wrote in response to Sharp:
“There are, you say, no exceptions, in the New Testament, to your rule; that is, I suppose, unless these particular texts [i.e., the ones Sharp used to adduce Christ’s deity] be such, which you think utterly improbable. You would argue, then, that if these texts were exceptions, there would be more. I do not perceive any great weight in this hypothetical reasoning. But, however plausible it may appear, the reply is at hand. There are no other words, between which the insertion of the copulative would effect so remarkable a deviation from the established form of constructing them to express one person, and of course would so pointedly suggest a difference of signification . . . it is nothing surprising to find all these particular texts in question appearing as exceptions to your rule, and the sole exceptions . . . in the New Testament . . .”
So if we accept the new limitation to Sharp’s rule that I have suggested, and this limitation being based upon the two incontrovertible facts regarding the NT data, these being 1) the God is invariably identified as the Father and 2) the God is consistently distinguished from Jesus Christ, then the verses that fall under this limitation are indeed NT exceptions to the GSR, including Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet. 1:1, as well as 2 Thess. 1:12.
The validity of this approach can be seen even in the immediate context of 2 Pet. 1:1. For immediately after writing ,“To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ,” the author wrote, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Almost every modern version translates v.1 as if Jesus is being designated as the God and v. 2 as if he is distinguished from the God. The trinitarian may respond that this is exactly what the doctrine of the Trinity teaches, that Jesus is God but is distinguished from God the Father. But if the God is distinguished from Jesus in v. 2 because he is the Father, then how can the God in v.1 be identical to the Son? Are we dealing with modalism here?
Sharp and other proponents of his rule have assumed that the rule applies to these passages and that, therefore, there are no exceptions to the rule in the NT. But they have ignored the other factors which I have noted, which should be determinate in deciding whether one or two referents are in view in these passages. A good example of this faulty reasoning is seen in the chapter on 2 Peter 1:1 in Murray Harris’ book. Under the heading B. Arguments for a Reference to One Person and the sub-heading 1. The Single Article, Harris acknowledges:
“Now it is true that (1) the article is not required with the second noun if the distinction between the two nouns is regarded as obvious or is assumed; (2) Savior is shown to be definite by the Jesus Christ that follows, so that an article is not required; and (3) the single article may be accounted for by the writer’s conceptual association of two separate items.”pg. 233
Here Harris recognizes that there are other factors which may determine the number of referents in 2 Pet. 1:1. The first one he mentions coincides with the two incontrovertible facts regarding the NT data that I mentioned above. In the second point he is conceding that Savior is to be regarded as definite because of it’s attachment to the name Jesus Christ, a point that I made earlier in this article. Finally, in point three he allows that the absence of the article before the second noun could be because the author perceived an association between two distinct referents, a point that other grammarians have noted. But instead of allowing these considerations to guide his determination of how the passage should be understood he simply by-passes them and looks for other reasons to maintain a single referent, no doubt, so that the verse can be adduced as a proof text for the deity of Jesus.
Because of the significance of the other factors upon which I have proposed a new limitation of the GSR, it becomes necessary to look for other viable grammatical options in these passages. Both of our passages are in the genitive case with an implied definite article for the second nouns based on their attachment to the proper name Jesus. Hence, the following translations are permissible, even preferable.
Titus 2:13 – “. . . waiting for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
2 Peter 1:1 – “. . . To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and of the Savior Jesus Christ.”
While most English versions translate these passages as if Jesus Christ is the sole referent of the titles the God and Savior, not all have followed suit with Sharp’s rule. Here are some English versions which translate both or either of these verses as if two referents are in view, i.e. the God and Jesus Christ : Weymouth NT, The Webster Bible, The Third Millennium Bible, KJV, The Complete Jewish Bible, ASV, Hebrew Names Version, Douay Rheims, Tyndale Bible, World English Bible, Wycliffe Bible, A Faithful Version, Darby Bible, ERV, J.B. Philips NT, NAB, Moffatt NT, New Matthew Bible.
- TITUS 2:13 and 2 PETER 1:1: What Is the Long-Debated Controversial Granville Sharp Rule?
- See my article: Who Is God According To The Authors Of The NT?
- The words in parentheses are original and betray Harris’ presupposition, which colors his assessment. Nothing in the NT requires us to understand that when it presents God as the Father it is in “the trinitarian sense”. The simple truth of the NT is that the Father is the God, and the son is the man Jesus of Nazareth.