Granville Sharp: A Model of Evangelical Scholarship and Social Activism
Wallace, Daniel B., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
DANIEL B. WALLACE* Granville Sharp is widely known in evangelical circles for his famous Greek rule that has been used to defend the deity of Christ in various NT passages. Outside of evangelical circles, Sharp is better known as the man who did for England what Abraham Lincoln did for America. He was the prime mover in the abolition of slavery in England. One might even say that he was the force behind Wilberforce. But these two foci are only the tip of the iceberg in this man's remarkable life. He launched a Bible society, saved a denomination from annihilation, and even founded a nation. Such activities were matched only by his literary efforts. His writings covered a vast array of topics-from philology and textual criticism to theology, music, and social causes, especially the cause of freedom for the black slave. At all times Sharp's views of human dignity and freedom were grounded in Scripture. Consequently his writings gave theological articulation to the causes of liberty in three American wars: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.
Why is this paper needed?1 For three reasons: (1) Granville Sharp's name is well known in our circles, yet little is known about the man. (2) Indeed, very little is known about his famous rule-a rule that has been almost universally abused and misunderstood by grammarians and exegetes alike. (3) Further, while many evangelicals who wish to have an impact on society have difficulty finding a role model, Sharp readily supplies one. His story begs to be told afresh. I. A SHORT LIFE OF GRANVILLE SHARP Granville Sharp2 is one of the great forgotten heroes3 of history. His biographers sing his praises at every turn. His chief biographer, Prince Hoare (who penned a two-volume, 900-page work on Sharp's life), goes so far as to say that at the outset of his investigations he intended, out of respect for the dead, to "draw a veil over some peculiarities of Mr. Sharp's character." When he finished his well-researched and comprehensive biography he happily found Sharp's "character to be of that high and dignified nature, to leave no necessity for such a precaution.... I see nothing to veil."4 Granville Sharp was one of a rare breed of men whose life was characterized by a blend of piety, social conscience, scholarship and Christian grace. Although that which has primarily concerned evangelicals-his Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article (and the famous rule found in that work)-is but a small chapter in his own life5 (as it is only one of scores of works published by the man), it may be helpful to see this slender tome in the broader context of Sharp's life and achievements.
Granville Sharp was born on November 10, 1735, in Durham, England, to a heritage of Christian piety and scholarship. He was the youngest of numerous children* born to Thomas Sharp and Judith Sharp (nee Wheler). Thomas Sharp, a prolific religious writer,7 the archdeacon of Northumberland, was the youngest son born to John Sharp, dean of Canterbury (168991) and archbishop of York (1691-1714).8 Thomas' eldest son John was to become the trustee of Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland9 and later take a part in the financial well-being of Granville. But the surgeon William and the engineer-inventor James,lo both becoming quite affluent, were to figure most prominently in their younger sibling's adult life.
As the youngest child, Granville received a negligible stipend for his education, the bulk of his father's designated funds going to the training of the two eldest sons. He became an apprentice for a London linen-draper at the age of fourteen after receiving a minimal education that did not include even "the first rudiments of the learned languages."1 Over the next three years Sharp acquired some knowledge of both Greek and Hebrew in response to the challenges of a Socinian and a Jew, both of whom claimed that his interpretations of Scripture were faulty because they were not based on the original tongues. …