By Andreas Köstenberger
A few years ago, my family and I visited Westminster Abbey, the venerable cathedral that over the centuries has witnessed a large number of historic events. The Abbey has served as the coronation church since 1066 and is the final resting place of seventeen monarchs and of many other significant people in England’s history.
Toward the end of our visit, I noticed one of the less conspicuous burial places in the Abbey, a plaque bearing the name of Granville Sharp (1735–1813). In the larger world, Sharp is primarily known for his work opposing the slave trade; in fact, he was one of the first to campaign for its abolition. In scholarly circles, however, his fame rests on having formulated what has come to be known as the “Granville Sharp Rule.”
In short, this rule asserts that if two or more singular substantives (except for personal names) are governed by a single article, the second and any subsequent substantives relate to or further describe the first. The major significance of Sharp’s Rule pertains to several important christological passages in the NT which, if Sharp’s Rule is valid, affirm the deity of Jesus. Thus, in Titus 2:13, Paul writes, “while we wait for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Over the centuries, there has been considerable discussion as to what Sharp’s Rule is and whether or not it supports the identification of Jesus Christ as God.
J. Christopher Edwards, for example, has argued that “Jesus Christ” stands in opposition, not to “our great God and Savior,” but to “the glory of our great God and Savior,” affirming that Jesus is the glory of God but not necessarily God himself. Murray Harris, in a concise but compelling response, defended the traditional view, citing several major problems with Edwards’s view. Harris noted that it is highly unlikely that “Jesus Christ” affirms the entire phrase “the glory of our great God and Savior” rather than the more immediate antecedents, “great God and Savior.” He also pointed out that while the title “Savior” is applied to Jesus elsewhere in the Letters to Timothy and Titus (2 Tim 1:10; Titus 1:4; 3:6), the title “glory of God” is not. Also, Harris noted that almost all grammarians and lexicographers, as well as many commentators on Titus and the majority of modern English translations, support the traditional rendering of Titus 2:13.
The deity of Jesus does not rest solely on the Granville Sharp Rule and the passages to which it may apply. For example, in John 20:28 Thomas is shown to worship Jesus with the words, “My Lord and my God!” There can be no question that the referent of “Lord” and “God” in this passage is Jesus. In fact, the passage seems to form an inclusio in John’s Gospel together with the initial affirmations of Jesus’s deity in 1:1 and 1:18. Other New Testament passages likewise affirm Jesus’s deity both explicitly and implicitly. Nevertheless, not a little weight rests on a mere article (or lack thereof) in the New Testament. For this and other reasons we should make every effort to arrive at an accurate understanding of the Greek article and other important features of New Testament Greek.
This blog is adapted from Andreas J. Kӧstenberger, Benjamin L. Merkle, and Robert L. Plummer, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 151–52.
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Andreas J. Köstenberger is senior research professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.