Granville Sharp (1735–1813) was an English political reformer, slavery abolitionist, and Greek language scholar known for his contributions regarding the translation of New Testament Greek as it relates to the divinity of Christ. Sharp believed strongly in the deity of Christ and studied the New Testament in its original language to more ably prove Christ’s deity. The Granville Sharp Rule was first noted in 1798 in his book 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.
The actual rule of Granville Sharp is concerned with the use of definite articles and copulative conjunctions in the New Testament. Copulative conjunctions (also called additive conjunctions) are words that join other words and indicate the relation of additional information. In English, we have one definite article, the; some copulative conjunctions are and, moreover, and also.
The Granville Sharp Rule states, “When the copulative kai 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 ho, 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” (Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article, 3).
In simpler terms, the Granville Sharp Rule says that when two singular common nouns are used to describe a person, and those two nouns are joined by an additive conjunction, and the definite article precedes the first noun but not the second, then both nouns refer to the same person. This principle of semantics holds true in all languages. For example, consider this sentence:
We met with the owner and the curator of the museum, Mr. Holton.
In the preceding sentence, the definite article the is used twice, before both owner and curator. The curator is obviously Mr. Holton, but the owner could be a different person. Did we meet with one or two people? Is Mr. Holton the owner of the museum as well as the curator? The grammatical construction leaves the question open. However, the following sentence removes the ambiguity:
We met with the owner and curator of the museum, Mr. Holton.
In the second example, the definite article the is only used once, before the first noun. This means that the two nouns, joined by and, are both in apposition to the name of the person. In other words, Mr. Holton is both owner and curator. The Granville Sharp Rule makes it clear that we are referring to the same individual.
Two of the New Testament verses associated with the Granville Sharp Rule are Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. The KJV translates Titus 2:13 as, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” In the original Greek, the words for “God” and “Savior” are joined by kai, and the definite article ho is only used once, preceding “God”; according to the Granville Sharp Rule, both God and Savior must refer to the same person, namely, Jesus Christ. The NASB 1977 renders the verse more literally: “Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.”
Similarly, 2 Peter 1:1 refers to “our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Following Granville Sharp’s rule, Jesus Christ is clearly identified as both “God” and “Savior,” another example of the Bible’s teaching of the deity of Christ. The grammatical construction of the Greek makes it plain: definite article + singular noun + copulative conjunction + singular noun = the same person.
Though the Granville Sharp Rule may seem arcane, the concept has an important impact regarding Bible translation and our understanding of the nature of Christ. The New Testament passages where this rule applies highlight the deity of Jesus Christ. He is more than the Messiah; He is God.