The Unbreakable Threefold Cord: A Defense of the Trinity (Part 9)


In this part, we will look at an important yet simple Greek rule of thumb that provides more inscrutable evidence that the Apostles believed that the Person of Jesus Christ was just as divine as the Father Whom He served. The rule of which I speak is called Granville Sharp’s rule. Unitarian henotheists (such as Mr. Burch) will do all in their power to refute Granville Sharp’s rule because, if it is allowed to stand, the case for the deity of Christ is shut closed, locked, and the key thrown into the depths of the sea.

Granville Sharp: Abolitionist and Grammarian

Often when we think of the abolitionist movement in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we think of William Wilberforce. You may have seen the movie Amazing Grace that chronicled Wilberforce’s relentless efforts to influence the Parliament to end the slave trade with his guidance from John Newton, who wrote the immortal song bearing the title of the movie. However, you may not be familiar with another man in company with Wilberforce by the name of Granville Sharp. Like Wilberforce, Sharp tirelessly pursued the end of slavery to his dying day.

Granville Sharp was a man of many talents, including skills in debate, music, and grammar. He became a scholar of New Testament Greek  renowned to this day through his own self study. The controversy over Socianism[1] was historically at a high point, and this generation of Reformers found themselves battling the extra-Biblical sacerdotal traditions of the Roman Catholic church as well as the humanistic rationalism of the Socinians. In Sharp’s studies in the Greek language to prove the divinity of Christ, he focused on syntactical and grammatical considerations in additional to the standard existing contextual proofs. In 1798, Sharp published a short work that would become the basis of much controversy in the debates between trinitarians and unitarians. This work was called 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 (yes, titles of books at this time had to make sure the reader knew what he would be reading!).

In the third edition of Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article in 1803, Sharp added a fairly lengthy preface in which he rebutted some of the teaching of a Socinian by the pseudonym Gregory Blunt concerning his belief that Jesus was ontologically only a man and that the Holy Spirit was not person.[2]  The fourth and final edition was released in 1807 in which more interaction was added. In this work, Sharp formulated six rules of Greek grammar in which he demonstrated how different combinations of the presence or lack of articles (“the”) with two nouns separated by the conjunction kai (“and”) affected if they referred to the same object or different objects. The first of these rules is the most important in proving the divinity of Christ and has become known as “Sharp’s rule.”

Rules are not made to be broken

When Sharp lists his rules for the definite article, he states the first one this way:

When two personal nouns of the same case are connected by the copulative kai, if the former has the definite article, and the latter has not, they both relate to the same person.[3]

In other words, if the construction article+noun+”and”+noun is present and the nouns are personal and in the same case, both nouns refer to the same person rather than two different persons. However, this definition of the rule was given more in summary as it differed from the other five rules listed, and not all of its limiting criteria were listed. Unfortunately, many laypersons and even Greek scholars have misused and miscited “Sharp’s rule” where Sharp did not intend for it to apply. Sharp elaborated his first rule later in the work with the following:

When the copulative kai connects two nouns of the same case [viz. nouns (either substantive or adjective, or participles) of personal description respective office, dignity, affinity, or connection, and attributes, properties, or qualities, good or ill,] if the article ó, 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….[4]

Biblical apologist and Greek scholar Dr. James White observed the following about Sharp’s rule as he originally intended its scope:

The vital point that is available to the reader of Sharp’s work is this: *Sharp’s rule is valid only for singulars, not plurals; and it is not intended to be applied to proper names*. His rule only applies to persons, not things. As you can see, Granville Sharp’s rule is much more limited in its scope than the more modern definitions reveal.[5]

In short, Sharp’s rule applies for the article+noun+”and”+noun structure only if the following conditions are met:

  1. the nouns are in the same case (e.g. nominative, genitive, etc.)
  2. the nouns are both singular
  3. the nouns are both descriptive personal (not proper names or things).

Here are examples of phrases that would fall under the conditions covered by the rule:

  • “before God and the Father” (James 1:27)
  • the [one who was] blind and the dumb both spake and saw” (Matthew 12:22)
  • God even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3)
  • “the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1)
  • “into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11)

The following would not be examples of this rule:

  • “the dog and cat” (these are not personal)
  • “the governors and princes” (these are not singular)

As we can see, Sharp’s rule is rather specific and has a scope of applicability. With much study, Granville Sharp himself observed that his rule had no exceptions when it is understood according to the scope intended. He said:

“…and there is no exception or instance of the like mode of expression, that I know of, which necessarily requires a construction different from what is here laid down, EXCEPT the nouns be proper names or in the plural number; in which cases there are many exceptions; though there are not wanting examples, even of plural nouns, which are expressed exactly agreable [sic] to this rule.”[6]    (underlining is italics in the original)

Sharp’s Rule to the chopping block?

Thus far, no one has found exceptions to Sharp’s rule in the Greek New Testament. This does not mean to say that no exceptions exist in the Greek language in which the New Testament was written.[7]  In fact, one of Sharp’s most challenging critics was a fellow Trinitarian by the name of Calvin Winstanley. Winstanley, a Greek scholar, cautioned against relying on such lexical and syntactical rules to make a case if exceptions to the rules could be found. Particularly, he found several classes of exceptions in Koine Greek in the classics of Aristotle and Plato, the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, and the church fathers.[8]  Still, while Sharp was yet alive, Thomas Fanshaw Middleton, the bishop of Calcutta wrote in defense of Sharp’s rule.[9]

Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek and Bible manuscript scholar and professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, has examined much of the controversy over Granville Sharp’s rule in the last 200+ years since Sharp made his original proposals. His thorough research is contained in his article “Sharp Redivivus? A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule.”[10]  Wallace slightly reformulates Sharp’s rule so that Winstanley’s exceptions are no more:

In native Greek constructions (i.e., not translation Greek), when a single article modifies two substantives connected by καί (thus, article-substantive-καί-substantive), when both substantives are (1) singular (both grammatically and semantically), (2) personal, (3) and common nouns (not proper names or ordinals), they have the same referent.[11]

Now, Sharp’s original rule is given fresh, new garb of 21st century Greek scholarship, and no doubt if Granville Sharp were alive today, he would appreciate the thorough examination and vindication of his well-thought-out, highly specialized, yet simple rule.

Special pleading or circular reasoning?

It was an exciting day when I was able to meet many members of my extended family on my wife’s side for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the summer of 2012. Waiting patiently in the lobby for some of the honored guests to show up, I saw Mr. Burch arrive amidst the growing and bustling crowd. This was the next time I had seen Mr. Burch since our encounter at my book signing where we spent a good while debating the Trinity. He graciously purchased a copy of my book Freedom to Give and had read about 75% of it since that time. Now, in the lobby of the restaurant, we had a brief conversation about my book, in which he approvingly, yet jokingly retorted, “I can’t take much more proof!”

Soon, shifting subjects, Mr. Burch mentioned that he had looked at the Granville Sharp rule that I had brought up at our book signing discussion. He said that the rule seemed like “circular reasoning” to him. It appeared to be a form of special pleading in which the rule itself was inferred from selected texts of the New Testament, then applied anachronistically. I proceeded to mention the fact that 2 Peter chapter 1, verses 1 and 11 both exhibit the same Granville Sharp construction; yet, with only a difference of one word, they clearly prove the deity of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the noise at this time was getting too loud for us to hear each other and the conversation was cut short there. The rest of the family arrived and we entered the dining area at separate tables.

I will proceed to demonstrate what I was eager to express to Mr. Burch at the Chinese restaurant in 2012. Beginning with the verses in the epistle of 2 Peter. There are a total of five Granville Sharp constructions in the three chapters of this relatively small epistle. All five of these constructions pertain to the identity of Jesus Christ:

  1. “through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ”  (1:1)
  2. “into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”  (1:11)
  3. “through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”  (2:20)
  4. “the apostles of the Lord and Saviour”  (3:2)
  5. “the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”  (3:18)

Notice that four of the five Granville Sharp constructions call Jesus Christ “Lord and Savior.” Now, neither I nor Mr. Burch (nor any Arian or Socinian) would feel the least bit threatened with calling Jesus Christ “Lord and Savior.” We all agree that Jesus Christ as a human being died on a Cross and that this death was recognized by the Father as a sacrifice that was sufficient to atone for our sins. We would all agree that He was buried and rose from the dead, and that the Father has exalted Jesus Christ as “Lord” (Acts 2:36; Philippians 2:9-11). Those who do not believe that Jesus is “God” in the conventional understanding would still acknowledge Him as “Lord.” However, one of these five constructions–the very first verse of the epistle calls Jesus Christ “God and Saviour” instead of “Lord and Saviour” (at least if Sharp’s rule is valid)!

2 Peter 1:1 is one of the controversial verses, and no doubt has been a focal point in the debate over Sharp’s rule. In fact, the New World Translation (NWT)–the mistranslation of the Bible by the Watchtower Society–renders the relevant phrase in this verse as “through the righteousness of our God and the Savior Jesus Christ.” [italics added] This wording appears to be a linguistic effort to distinguish between “our God” and “Savior Jesus Christ” as if the verse is referring to two persons. However, the NWT renders the Granville Sharp construction found in verse 11 as “into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Verse 11 obviously calls Jesus Christ “our Lord and Savior,” and Jehovah’s Witnesses would have no problem saying such. Nevertheless, why does it seem like verse 1 is referring to two persons whereas verse 11 is referring to one person? Does the Greek of these two verses help us translate correctly? Let us see!

  • “tou theou hemon kai sotaros Iesou Christou”  (1:1)
  • “tou kuriou hemon kai sotaros Iesou Christou”  (1:11)

As you can see, the phrases in these verses are exactly the same! They are word-for-word, case-for-case the same except for one word. In verse 1, the word is theou (“God”), and in verse 11 the word is kuriou (“Lord”). Both of these words are in the same case (genitive). The only difference between these two phrases is that one uses the word for “God” and the other uses the word for “Lord”! Why should a translation of the Bible make one verse sound like it is talking about two persons and the other verse sound like it is talking about one person if the phrases are syntactically and grammatically identical?![12]  I would ask Mr. Burch and other henotheists the following question: Upon what grammatical basis could one argue that Jesus Christ is not “our God and Savior” according to the Greek of these two verses?

Another example of the same grammatical construction is found in 2 Thessalonians 1:12, in which Jesus is called “God and Lord”:

  • “That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • “…tou theou hemon kai kuriou Iesou Christou.”

As you can see, the underlined phrase from the KJV is another Granville Sharp construction in the Greek. It is also word-for-word identical to 2 Peter 1:1 except that sotaros (“Saviour”) is replaced with kuriou (“Lord”). The only reason one would object to both “God” and “Lord” being applied to the one person of Jesus Christ would be contextual, such as the fact that verses 1 and 2 both distinguish between “God” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” grammatically and by calling God “the Father.” In fact, in both verses 1 and 2 where “God the Father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” are distinguished, there is no definite article in the Greek before either “God,” or “Lord,” making these phrases fall under Granville Sharp’s fifth rule that dictates that the two are different persons.  Therefore, if Sharp’s rules (properly understood) are accurate–and there is every reason to believe so–2 Thessalonians chapter 1 calls both the Father and Jesus Christ “God” as an exclusive, proper title!

Last, but certainly not least, is one of Granville Sharp’s classic and iron clad examples that demonstrates not only grammatically, but also contextually that Jesus Christ is “God” in the proper sense. This verse is Titus 2:13, but we will see some of the surrounding verses that give it a one-two-three-four-five punch!

  • “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”  [or, “of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ”] “…tou megalou theou kai soteros hemon Iesou Christou”

Again, if Sharp’s rule holds true in this case–and we have seen no evidence to the contrary–Jesus Christ is both “God” and “Saviour.” In fact, not only is Jesus Christ “our God,” but He is “our great God”!  Yet, even if one could shake away the certainty of the Greek grammar in this case, the context of this verse blows the challenges away!

Here are five contextual reasons that “our great God” must apply to Jesus Christ:

  • The glorious appearing: Nowhere in the Old or New Testaments are we told that God the Father will make Himself manifest in a “glorious appearing.” On the contrary, we are often told the no one can see God (the Father) at any time, but it is the Son that people see! (Exo 33:20; Joh 1:18; 6:46; 2Co 4:4; Col 1:15; 1Ti1:17; 6:16; 1Jo 4:12,20). The One Who shall “appear” is the Son, Jesus Christ (Mat 16:27; 25:31; 26:64; Mar 8:38; 14:62; 1Ti 6:13-14; Heb 9:28; Col 3:4; 2Ti 4:1,8; 1Pe 1:7; 1Jo 3:2; Rev 1:7). Job himself, in the oldest book of the Bible mentioned that he would see his “redeemer” on the last day and that his body would be resurrected (Job 19:25-27), yet “God” is the only One mentioned in this context. It is Yahweh God Who is the “redeemer” of the Old Testament (Psa 19:14; 25:20; 130:8; Isa 54:5; 59:20).
  • God our Saviour: Even if one were to try to argue that “our great God” refers to the Father and “Saviour” refers separately to Jesus Christ, the fact that “God” without any personal modifier is called “our Saviour” in the near context would make this difficult. Verse 10 mentions “the doctrine of God our Saviour.” If Titus 2:13 references the Father and the Son respectively, why would “Saviour” be a distinguishing characteristic of “God” (the Father), then be used to distinguish the Son from the Father?
  • Only one person under discussion: The next verse (v.14) continues the sentence begun in verse 13. The “great God and Saviour” Who will gloriously appear is the One “who gave himself for us.” It was not both the Father and the Son who gave themselves for us, but rather the grammar shows that a singular person is under discussion.
  • Only Jesus died: Considering again the phrase above “who gave himself for us,” it is obviously referring to the sacrifice that Jesus Christ bore on the cross of Calvary! It was not the Father Who died on the cross, but the Father gave the Son (Joh 3:16; 6:40)!
  • Old Testament language of Yahweh: Finishing with verse 14, we see language used of the Work of Christ that sounds familiar if we know the Old Covenant: “that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” The Apostle Paul is clearly alluding to covenantal language found in the Old Testament that only Yahweh does! It is Yahweh Who “redeems” His people from their sins (2Sa 7:23; 1Ch 17:21; Psa 130:8; Eze 36:25). It is Yahweh Who covenanted to make Israel a “peculiar people” (Exo 19:5; Deu 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Psa 135:4).

There are several other verses to consider that exhibit Granville Sharp’s rule and make the case for the deity of Jesus Christ, but the few discussed here more than prove the case. Although the subject of intense criticism and scrutiny, Granville Sharp’s rule when properly understood has withstood the test of time and attacks from unitarians. Yet, with the work of Greek scholars such as Dr. Daniel Wallace and Dr. James White, this simple rule of Koine Greek grammar shines brighter than when Sharp first discovered it. Granville Sharp’s rule remains one of many tools in the belt of Biblical exegesis for the Trinitarian, and a stake through the heart of unitarian eisegesis.

  1. Socinianism is a “Radical Reformation” movement that began with Italian anabaptists in the sixteenth century. Its defining points include a unitarianism that goes beyond the belief of Arians and modern groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe that The Son of God (the logos) was a supernatural creature of God who was involved in creating everything else. Socinians believe that the Son of God did not exist as a person until the man Jesus Christ was conceived in the virgin Mary. Sir Anthony Buzzard is a modern example of a Biblical scholar whose Christology is similar to Socinianism.
  2. Granville Sharp, 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 (London: Granville Sharp, 1803), xi – xxxviii.
  3. Ibid., xxxix.
  4. Ibid., 3.
  5. James White, “Granville Sharp’s Rule: Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1,” Alpha and Omega Ministries, 2005, http://vintage.aomin.org/GRANVILL.html (18 August 2014).
  6. Granville Sharp, Remarks on the Use of the Definitive Article, 6.
  7. Daniel B. Wallace, “Sharp Redivivus? A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule,” Bible.org, 30 June 2004, https://bible.org/article/sharp-redivivus-reexamination-granville-sharp-rule (18 August 2014).
  8. See: C. Winstanley, A Vindication of Certain Passages in the Common English Version of the New Testament. Addressed to Granville Sharp, Esq. (Cambridge: University Press—Hilliard and Metcalf, 1819), 8-11.
  9. See: Thomas Fanshaw Middleton, The Doctrine of the Greek Article Applied to the Criticism and Illustration of the New Testament, ed. Hugh James Rose (London: J. G. & F. Rivington, 1833).
  10. See Daniel B. Wallace, “Sharp Redivivus? A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule,” Bible.org, 30 June 2004, https://bible.org/article/sharp-redivivus-reexamination-granville-sharp-rule.
  11. Ibid.
  12. It should be of note that the King James Version (KJV) and other English translations before render the two verses differently as well. However, the translators of the KJV (except for one) were all Trinitarians, and the KJV was translated before the Granville Sharp rule was discovered and formulated. Therefore, one need not fault the KJV for not following a good rule that was discovered after the fact. The New World Translation, however, was translated long after Sharp’s rule was known and vindicated. Because the Watchtower Society does not believe that Jesus Christ is God in the Trinitarian sense, their choice of word rendering is deliberate, despite the Greek text.

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