Granville Sharp

The divinity of Christ is a theme over which major theological battles have been fought over the centuries. Even in our current theological climate this truth is denied. The quest for the historical Jesus, Higher Criticism and the likes, have all contributed their part in the battle.

Historically Christ’s divine nature was under question from the very start of His ministry. His confrontations with the Jewish people and especially the leaders, showed that they did not take to this idea of Him claiming to be the Son of God very easily. They even accused Him of being born of a prostitute!

A heretic named Arius

It was through the heretic named Arius (AD 250-336), an elder in Alexandria, that Christ’s divinity was proclaimed as a truth at the church councils that followed. He held the position that Jesus was of a subordinate nature to God. This meant the Son of God was created and therefore subordinate to God. Athanasius rose up in opposition to the notion of Arius that Christ was not God. His famous “On the Incarnation of the Word” is nothing short of proclaiming Christ both Human and Divine, the God-man, taking upon Himself human nature to redeem man from his sin and eternal ruin.

This issue was taken up officially by the Church and in 325 BC the Nicene Council gathered to discuss the divinity of Christ. Two opposing streams were gathered. On the one hand those that held to the idea of“hetero-ousios”, stating that Christ was of another substance than God. The other side, which was the view Athanasius put forth, held to the notion of “homo-ousios”, i.e. Christ is of the same substance of God. At the end of this Council, the view that Christ was of the same substance, i.e. that He was in essence God, and as human both God and man, was upheld officially. The result was that Arius was banned as heretic, but more importantly the Nicene Creed saw the light, with a strong focus on the divine nature of Christ. According to this Creed we believe

“in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”

The Creed of Athanasius elaborates extensively on this theme as well as on the Trinity:

“30. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.

31. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.

32. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.

33. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.

34. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.

35. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.

36. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.

37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;”

The divinity of Christ under attack

This did not see the end of the heresy though. The issue rocked up ever so often. A related doctrine that was affected by this, was that of the Trinity. The consequences of denying the divinity of Christ for the doctrine of the Trinity is evident. If Christ is not of the same substance as God, then the Trinity is a hoax. It works the other way around as well: denying the Trinity, renders Christ of another substance. There is no doubt that this cuts to the core of Christian belief and truth.

Mention was made of the quest for the Historical Jesus. Movements like the Jesus Seminar and Westar is adamant in their opinions regarding the divinity of Christ. Their efforts do no less than isolate the historical Jesus from the divine Word in an effort to strip away the divine nature from Jesus Christ and leave us with a wonderful prophet and great example, but no God that became flesh for the sins of the world. Their influence in South Africa has been felt. People like Marcus Borg and Richard Rohr are being quoted as authentic and authoritative on the question of the historical Jesus. Prof. Andries van Aarde has close ties with the Westar Institute.1

The Scriptures give guidance

But what does the Scriptures have to say about the divinity of Christ? As Bible believing Christians we confess that the Scriptures do have the last and authoritative say in this regard. The question is furthermore how the Scriptures go about in presenting Christ as of the same substance than God. For this we need to delve into the original texts of the New Testament.

The following are a couple of verses used to indicate Christ’s divinity: John 1:1; John 20:28; Romans 9:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:12; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1; Acts 20:28; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 2:2; 1 John 5:20 and Jude 4.

In 1798 an interesting document was published, written by a certain Granville Sharp. The document, 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, caused quite a stir, especially in the application of its results to the divinity of Christ. In this document2, Sharp discusses 6 principles, but it was the first that let the cat loose among the pigeons.3 It states the following:

“When the copulative καὶ 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 . . .”

It boils down to the following: where two nouns of the same type are joined by the copulative καὶ (and) and the first of the two nouns are preceded by the article ὁ (the) and the second noun is not preceded by this article, the second noun relates to the first as a further explanation of the first. From this rule of Sharp, these are four requirements that validates this rule:

  1. It must be personal, in other words, the nouns must reference a person and not a thing;
  2. It must be common epithets and not proper names;
  3. Both must perform the same function within the sentence, i.e. it must be in the same case;
  4. It must be singular.

What does this have to do with the divinity of Christ? Hopefully this article will show that this rule has enormous implications for the truth concerning the divine nature of Christ. This will also help you the next time a Jehova’s Witness knocks on your door to show you that Christ is not God and there is no such thing as the Trinity. Let’s look at a couple of Scripture passages to see the application.

Titus 2:13

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (King James Version)

The Nestlé-Aland Greek text4 reads as follows:

προσδεχόμενοι τὴν μακαρίαν ἐλπίδα καὶ ἐπιφάνειαν τῆς δόξης τοῦ μεγάλου θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

The relevant section is the following:

τοῦ μεγάλου θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν (Trans.: the great God and Saviour of ours)

When we apply Sharp’s rule on this, we get the following:

  • definite article:             τοῦ (the)
  • noun:                             θεοῦ (God, further qualified as great – μεγάλου)
  • copulative:                    καὶ (and)
  • noun:                             σωτῆρος (Savior)

This verse can be interpreted in three ways:

  1. Jesus Christ is “the great God and Savior”
  2. The “great God” and the “Savior”, Jesus Christ, are distinguished from each other
  3. In the broader context, Jesus Christ relates to the “glory” and the “great God and Savior” references God only.

Applying Sharp’s rule to this verse, it is clear that option a above is the more likely interpretation of the text, i.e. that Jesus Christ is our “great God and Savior”. This interpretation underpins the divinity of Christ. From the broader context of verses 11-15 this interpretation is confirmed, especially in light of verse 14.

2 Peter 1:1

This verse reads as follows:

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: (King James version)

The Greek version reads thus:

Συμεὼν Πέτρος δοῦλος καὶ ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῖς ἰσότιμον ἡμῖν λαχοῦσιν πίστιν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

The relevant part of this verse is

τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος (Trans.: the God of ours and Saviour)

Disecting it on the basis of Sharp’s rule, the following is clear:

  • definite article:              τοῦ (the)
  • noun:                              θεοῦ (God, further qualified as great – μεγάλου)
  • copulative:                     καὶ (and)
  • noun:                              σωτῆρος (Savior)

A similar phrase is found in 2 Peter 1:11 (as well as 2:20 and 3:18):

τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Trans.: the Lord of ours and Savior Jesus Christ)

From this it is without any doubt that Christ is the Lord and Savior that Peter refers to. A comparison of the structure with that of 2 Peter 1:1 reveals it as identical, accept that in 1:1 it is a reference to “God” (τοῦ θεοῦ) whereas in 1:11 it is a reference to “Lord” (τοῦ κυρίου).Logical analysis will conclude that the way we read these verses should not differ from each other. Therefore, applying Sharp to 1:1 would render the most likely and preferred interpretation that Christ is referred to as God and Savior, thus again a Scriptural confirmation of His divine nature.

Conclusion

The contribution of this rule of Sharp to the understanding of this construction in the Greek language should not be overlooked. Its application to these verses serves as a powerful confirmation of the Biblical teaching of Christ as God and Man. The further application to confirm the doctrine of the Trinity should therefore also be clear.

Christ made the very powerful claim in John 8:58 that He is God, and through Divine inspiration the Apostles underpinned this when they wrote theses epistles. Thus, showing by the principle of the Perspicuity of Scripture, that the Word of God bears testimony to our Savior’s divinity in becoming human. This is how Christ presented Himself, the Apostle’s proclaimed Him thus and the Church confessed Him through the ages and will confess Him at His return in glory and power.

Footnotes

 http://www.westarinstitute.org/membership/westar-fellows/fellows-directory/andries-van-aarde/

2 Wallace, Daniel B Sharp Redivivus? – A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule

3 Sharp wrote a treatise on the Trinity which was published in 1777. A tract on the law of nature, and principles of action in man.

4 Nestle-Aland 28th edition

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