Opinions on faith and life

Stay Sharp

2012-05-31

We use that expression to convey the idea of “keeping our eyes open” or being vigilant in a situation that is tricky or complicated. And this is especially important in reading the Bible; much false teaching, deliberate or not, has arisen from errors in logic or comprehension of complex or deep teachings. But today I want to relate this to a rule of Greek grammar by the same name: the Granville Sharp Rule:1

When the copulative kai connects two nouns of the same case, 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...
Yet as the referenced article explains, this rule is not without controversy. I am always wary of “rules”, as they often turn out to be more circular reasoning than anything else, and this circularity is all too common in hermeneutics. Some who cite this rule are unaware of its limitations and boldly apply it without regard for context. A quote from the article succinctly states the problem:
Winstanley was Trinitarian, but cautioned that a rule that held true only in the New Testament in all but the disputed cases was too flimsy a ground on which to try to prove the divinity of Christ to the Socinians (Unitarians). Instead he said, “[I think] there are much more cogent arguments in reserve, when [Sharp’s] rule of interpretation shall be abandoned.”[11] His biggest criticisms of Sharp’s rule rest in the fact that 1) the early church fathers do not follow it and 2) the early church father’s never invoked this rule to prove the divinity of Christ (though it would have been an obvious tool against such heresy). He concludes, “Hence it may be presumed that the doctrine then rested on other grounds.”
But even if/when the rule applies, it seems that it is sometimes misunderstood. To say that two connected terms apply to the same person is not the same as saying the two terms are identical. For example, in the phrase “She is the chief cook and bottle washer”, it should be obvious that ’cook’ is not interchangeable with ’bottle washer’. What it actually means is that a particular person happens to do both.

Now to a specific teaching arising from what I believe is an erroneous application of the G/S rule. At this article the writer looks at Rom. 8:29, specifically the construction “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined”. Though that verse does not fit the rule (there is no “and”), it is being interpreted in light of one that does: Acts 2:23 (“the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”). Of course the primary error is the argument that if the latter equates plan with foreknowledge, and the former mentions those two terms, then somehow G/S proves that both support the Calvinistic belief that to foreknow is to cause.

But the secondary error is that the writer seems to interpret G/S as making the two nouns identical, rather than making them simply apply to the same person (God in this case). Both foreknowledge and planning are from one and the same God, rather than God’s plan being the same thing as his foreknowledge, as the writer states:

Therefore, according to Granville Sharp’s rule, the two nouns (“plan” and “foreknowledge”) refer to the same thing and what they refer to is God’s plan. In other words, God’s plan and and His foreknowing in Romans 8:29 are the same thing.
Even without the G/S rule we see a redundancy error: ’plan’ refers to ’plan’. The same rationale would also say that God’s foreknowledge is his foreknowledge; it just doesn’t make any point at all. So I don’t see any support for Calvinism here, either by virtue of the G/S rule or by misunderstanding it.

But I think the most overlooked error here is that the G/S rule only applies to nouns that are personal, singular, and not proper. In Acts 2:23 they are impersonal, since plans and knowledge are not the names of persons. The G/S construction (article + noun + kai + noun) is not the same as the G/S rule.2 The phrase “God and Savior Jesus Christ” is a legitimate application of the G/S rule because God and Savior are seen in that context as proper titles, whereas no person is ever called ’plan’ or ’foreknowledge’.

Unless a person is very well-versed in principles of grammar in general, they may misunderstand what they read in scholarly articles about grammatical principles. And as I keep trying to point out, logical thinking is absolutely vital in the avoidance of drawing erroneous conclusions, regardless of topic. Both skills are required for anyone to presume to teach about Greek grammar as a foundation of their argument. This is not to say that the Bible is impossible for the uneducated to comprehend, but that anyone presuming to teach it must not be uneducated. The apostles of the first century didn’t need to be grammarians because koine Greek was the language they used and knew, but even they had to know the Old Testament scriptures and how to think clearly.

Otherwise there would be no need for teachers or preachers. (And Joe, you know I’m not bashing you here, just giving you a little challenge.) ;-)


Footnotes:

  1. wikipedia article
  2. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, 270–73).
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