I understand why some people check out of apologetics debates when it comes to questions involving translations and Greek grammar. It can seem like we are stuck on trivial, arcane matters like debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But sometimes, as in the case that follows, there is a beautiful gem to be found, one that surprises and delights.
For example, there can be no doubt that Saint Paul and the authors of the Gospels believed that Jesus was God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. One of the most obvious places where Jesus is called God in Holy Scripture is in Paul’s letter to Titus:
For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (2:11-13).
Yet, there are some who believe that Jesus was not God, and they will change the interpretation of Scripture to make their case. Some critics claim, for example, that Titus 2:13 should be translated “wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” Note the subtle change, which implies that only the title “Savior” belongs to Jesus and not “great God.” On this reading, Jesus saves us in some sense, but he is not God.
There are a couple of problems here. First, although it is true that we mere humans can be saviors in a limited sense, only God can save humanity from sin, which is the salvation clearly at issue in verse eleven. Furthermore, both titles clearly apply to Jesus in Titus 2:13 because of a rule in Greek grammar called “Granville Sharp’s Rule.” Basically, this rule applies when
- there are two nouns that are not proper names;
- the first noun has an article in front of it, but the second does not; and
- both nouns are connected by the word and (in Greek, kai).
We can see how this rule applies in a similar verse, 2 Peter 1:11: “So there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” In this case, Lord and Savior are not proper names; the Greek word translated as Lord has an article, but the Greek word translated as Savior does not; and both words are connected by the word and (in Greek tou kurio hemon kai soteros Iesou Christos). We can conclude from Sharp’s rule that both “Lord” and “Savior” refer to the same person: Jesus Christ.
Since Titus 2:13 has an almost identical sentence structure to 2 Peter 1:11, why not translate it the same way and say that Jesus is both our Savior and our “great God”?
In a previous article, I refuted attempts to explain away Thomas’s declaration to Jesus in John 20:28—“my Lord and my God”—and showed that we should take it at face value. Some Muslim apologists claim that, because one lone manuscript lacks the definite article “the” before the Greek word for God, it follows that Thomas wasn’t saying that Jesus was God, but rather that he was merely an exalted Lord.
Even if it were true that this lone manuscript has the correct rendering (a wildly improbable hypothesis), New Testament professor Brian Wright shows that Granville Sharp’s rule still applies in this case. We still have two nouns that are not proper names—Lord and God—the first of which has the article, while the second does not, and they are connected by the Greek word and. As Wright says, “John 20:28, no matter which variant or manuscript one chooses, is categorically secure for referring to Jesus as theos [God].”
Finally, I must caution apologists against being overly confident when sharing Sharp’s rule and its implication for proving correct Christology in verses like Titus 2:13. You’ll hear some people say that “there are no exceptions to this rule in the Bible” or, even more brazenly, “there are no exceptions to this rule in any ancient Greek literature.” But that isn’t correct; there are some small exceptions when it comes to, for example, other languages being translated into Greek. These exceptions, however, would not apply to passages like 2 Peter 1:11 and Titus 2:13.
For a more detailed analysis of this rule, I recommend Daniel Wallace’s 2009 monograph, Granville Sharp’s Canon and Its Kin: Semantics and Significance. Here, Wallace presents a more technical, narrow articulation of Sharp’s rule that reinforces its use in New Testament studies. He writes,
The emerging conviction of this monograph—albeit based on partial data—is that the six classes of “exceptions” can readily be explained on sound linguistic principles. These exceptions in fact help to reveal the semantic depth of Sharp’s rule, even to the extent that it is much more than a general principle.