Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Truth in Translation: Evaluating Dr. BeDuhn's Treatment of Granville Sharp's Rule
12/03/2009 - Mike PorterSome time ago I began what was intended to be a series of articles addressing translation issues raised by Dr. Jason BeDuhn of Northern Arizona University. It certainly was not my intention to take so long to return to the articles, and some of our readers have gently, but consistently reminded me (not to mention a certain elder at my church) that such a work beckons a response if for no other reason than to dispose of some of the erroneous arguments and conclusions put forth by BeDuhn. Considering the rather high standard he set for himself in his work and considering the amount of play his name is getting by Jehovah's Witnesses as a neutral Greek scholar, it seems important to address.
But, first, I would like to make a correction from my first post. There I mentioned that Dr. BeDuhn's doctoral studies were in Manichean studies. That is incorrect. His doctoral degree is in Comparative Religion. His doctoral dissertation was on Manicheaism. Indeed, that is where his specialty lies. It is important to point this out because Dr. BeDuhn denigrates the qualifications of many Old and New Testament scholars of various translations by stating that they were theologically trained and possess some adequate training in the biblical languages. When one considers the considerable weight of scholarship that was on the original translation committee of the NASB, for example, one must acknowledge that there is a significant imbalance to the words Dr. BeDuhn gave in regards to the scholarship of such projects. Dr. Moises Silva, for example, is a well-known scholar with many significant works relating to biblical linguistics and translation, hermeneutics and exegesis (some which have been standard textbooks for colleges and seminaries such as Biblical Words and their Meanings: And Introduction to Lexical Semantics). Men such as Dr. Bruce Waltke were on the original translation committee as well. Dr. Waltke still has the standard 2nd year textbook for Hebrew Syntax. Many other recognizable names are here: (and let's not forget that certain highly recognizable name for the textual consultants of the NASB Update - something of a household name for readers of this blog).
Such dismissals did not serve Dr. BeDuhn well since it positioned him to a higher level of scholarship than men such as these who have written significantly on and contributed greatly to the biblical scholarship Dr. BeDuhn claims to uphold. As I have mentioned earlier, I am willing to assign Dr. BeDuhn the status of scholar, but there is nothing in his writings that have persuaded me that he is a biblical scholar, and that distinction is significant to this conversation.
To that end, I wish to discuss some of the chapters of his work Truth In Translation. It is not my intention to address every issue he raises, but merely to demonstrate that Dr. BeDuhn seems to lack either the information or the neutrality he claims to have in order to approach this subject.
For this article I have chosen Chapter 8: Words Together and Apart. Here, Dr. BeDuhn addresses Granville Sharp's Rule looking at certain passages of Christological significance. Dr. BeDuhn cites Titus 2:13 as evidence of theological bias inserted into the translation. He cites numerous translations to make his point, but two will suffice for this discussion.
KJV Titus 2:13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the
great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
NASB Titus 2:13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of
our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,
Immediately you may notice that there is a distinct manner in which the two nouns 'God' and 'Savior have been translated. The KJV translates the two nouns as referring to two distinct persons, presumably of the Father and of Jesus Christ. The NASB, however, translates the two nouns as both referring to Christ. Why the difference' Dr. BeDuhn explores this question by citing what he believes are parallel passages within Titus (Tit 1:4) and 2 Thessolonians (2 Thess 1:12).
In the preliminary discussion of Titus 2:13, Dr. BeDuhn argues that that Tit 1:4 is a comparable passage but does not note until later that the reason why the NASB and similar translations make a distinction between "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ our Lord" has to do with what is known as Granville Sharp's Rule. Dr. White has an excellent introduction to the rule here that I linked to above. Simply stated, when a noun that is personal, singular and not proper has the article and a second noun of the same nature (personal, singular and not proper) has no article, and both are connected by "and" (kai), the two nouns refer to the same person.
Titus 1:4 does not match the criteria for this rule so there is a distinction of persons.
Dr. BeDuhn cites 2 Thess 1:12 as another parallel passage. Indeed, the structure of the Greek is much closer to Titus 2:13 than Titus 1:4 is since it is very similar to the pattern found in Granville Sharp's rule. BeDuhn notes that even here most of the translations demonstrate a distinction between God and Jesus. Note our two translations, the KJV and NASB:
KJV 2 Thessalonians 1:12 That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
NASB 2 Thessalonians 1:12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Greek phrases under discussion are transliterated here:
Titus 2:13 tou megalou theou kai soteros hemon Iesou Cristou
2 Thess 1:12 tou theou hemon kai kuriou Iesou Cristou
Dr. BeDuhn argues that the similarity here requires the major translations that see a distinction of the two nouns in 2 Thessalonians and no distinction in Titus 2:13 to offer an explanation. So, why is there a distinction? Simply put, because Titus 2:13 fits the criteria of Granville Sharp's rule and 2 Thess does not. Why not? The discussion centers around the fact that the phrase "Lord Jesus Christ" functions as a "close apposition" in the New Testament (Dan Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 276, n55) and thus would violate the rule's criteria that excludes proper names. Now, this could be a debatable passage if one is willing to separate "Lord" from Jesus Christ, but it is evident that the committee for the NASB did not see a reason to do so. In other words, despite Dr. BeDuhn's assertion that there is an inconsistency in the translation (BeDuhn, 91) it is noteworthy that the committee was entirely consistent in its translation on this rule here. What is also noteworthy is that Dr. BeDuhn is evidently so unfamiliar with the issue he seeks to refute that he is unaware of the reasons why the various translation committees might not see the passage as fitting Sharp's rule.
Dr. BeDuhn then discusses 2 Peter 1:1. His comparative passage, 2 Pet 1:2, once again ignores the Granville Sharp construction and criteria and creates the impression that there is some parallel here where there is not if the rule is valid. It does not fit the Granville Sharp criteria since the second noun (Jesus) is a proper name.
From page 92 on, Dr. BeDuhn attempts to discredit Granville Sharp's rule. Dr. BeDuhn acknowledges that advocates of Granville Sharp's rule are consistent in their application of the rule to the passages he applied as comparatives; hence he acknowledges the reasons why Titus 1:4 and 2 Pet 1:2 are not applicable. However, he does not seem to understand the rule itself and very oddly presses into service as evidence against the rule one of the rule's most articulate proponents.
Dr. BeDuhn cites Dr. Daniel Wallace (BeDuhn 92-93) but very oddly frames the discussion as though Dr. Wallace were somehow in opposition to the rule. It seems evident that Dr. BeDuhn was unaware that Dr. Wallace is among the foremost proponents of the rule and, in fact, quite possibly the leading expert on Granville Sharp's rule. There was no interaction with Dr. Wallace's doctoral dissertation, for example, which was on this very rule. There is no interaction with Dr. Wallace's Greek Grammar (cited above) in his explanation of the rule. BeDuhn cites an article that was an attempt to correct misunderstandings and misapplications of the rule.
I cite Dr. BeDuhn at length:
"Sharp's Rule" does not survive close scrutiny. He [Granville Sharp] claimed that the rule did not apply to personal names, only to personal titles. That is why it is cited in connection to Titus 2:13 and not Titus 1:4, with 2 Peter 1:1 and not 1:2. Daniel Wallace has demonstrated that even that claim is too broad, since he found that "Sharp's Rule" doesn't work with plural forms of personal titles. Instead, Wallace finds that a phrase that follows the form article-noun-"and"-noun, when the nouns involved are plurals, can involve two entirely distinct groups, two overlapping groups, two groups of which one is a subset of another, or two identical groups (Wallace, page 72-78). In other words, there is no evidence that anything significant for the meaning of the words happens merely by being joined by "and" and dropping the second article. (BeDuhn, 92-93)
I had to do a double take and reread this section to make sure I was reading Dr. BeDuhn correctly for anyone even remotely familiar with the work that Dr. Wallace has done on this rule knows that the conclusion that BeDuhn infers from Wallace (starting at "In other words") is the complete opposite of any conclusion Dr. Wallace has made. BeDuhn cites from the Grace Theological Journal, 4:1 "The Semantic Range of the Article-Noun-Kai-Noun Plural Construction in the New Testament".
Looking carefully at what Dr. BeDuhn said it is evident that he either 1) did not understand the rule he was arguing against, 2) unaware of the primary purpose of Dr. Wallace's article from which he cited, or 3) was deliberately misrepresenting both the rule and the cited work to give the impression that Wallace was only on partial agreement with the rule (BeDuhn on page 95, n4 amazingly asserts that Dr. Wallace accepts Granville Sharp's rule as having "some validity".)
Dr. BeDuhn incorrectly states the rule and, more importantly, he does not show an understanding of the limitations of the rule as set down by Sharp himself! This was the primary purpose of the article from which Dr. BeDuhn cited. On Page 61 of the same article, Wallace states:
The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to investigate the semantic range (and, consequently, the exegetical significance) of the article-noun-kai-noun plural construction in the NT. I will restrict the discussion to constructions in which the plurals refer to persons and, at the same time, expand the discussion to include all substantives under the title "noun." In order to establish a proper framework for the semantics of this construction in the NT, we must first look at the work of Granville Sharp, then discuss the misunderstanding of his first rule with reference to the plural, and finally suggest a proper semantic grid for the construction.
He states clearly that his paper is intended to address misunderstandings of Granville Sharp's rule and therefore misapplications of it. He states that we must examine Sharp's work. On page 63 of the article, after citing directly from Sharp, Wallace then states:
To put this simply, in the construction article-noun-kai-noun, four requirements must be met if the two nouns refer to the same person: (1) both nouns must, of course, be personal; (2) both nouns must be common nouns, i.e., not proper names; (3) both nouns must be in the same case; and (4) both nouns must be singular in number. Although many today have argued against the validity of this rule, no one has demonstrated its invalidity in the NT (emphasis mine).
Does this sound as though Dr. Wallace has any question to the validity of the rule in the New Testament as stated by Granville Sharp. Such a mishandling of secondary sources from a man setting himself up as a neutral observer who has the qualifications to adequately judge biblical translations immediately brings suspicion to both qualifications and assertion of neutrality.
Notice, then, that Dr. BeDuhn stated Granville Sharp's rule as broadly as possible so that when he cited Dr. Wallace, who was arguing that the rule was never intended to be used with plural nouns, he could give the appearance that the rule was not valid. To reiterate: It is surprising that Dr. BeDuhn did not make use of Wallace's own Grammar to illuminate the issue (which has become a standard Greek Syntax Grammar in many seminaries and colleges), much less Dr. Wallace's doctoral dissertation.
So, where does that leave us? Well, Dr. BeDuhn has demonstrated that he was not entirely clear with the rule he wished to refute and did not seem to be clear on the secondary source he cited in defense of his assertions. Beyond that, there was something else surprisingly left out of Dr. BeDuhn's treatment of this section: A true parallel passage to 2 Peter 1:1. Remember, Dr. BeDuhn only noticed 2 Pet 1:2 as a comparable passage. But what of 2 Peter 1:11?
The NASB translates 2 Pet 1:1 this way:
Peter 2:1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:
The relevant section of the text is "our God and Savior, Jesus Christ".
The NASB translates 2 Pet 1:11 this way:
2 Peter 1:11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
The relevant section is this "our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ".
The Greek transliteration for both of these passages citing only the relevant
section is this:
1:1: tou theou hemon kai soteros Iesou Christou
1:11: tou kuriou hemon kai soteros Iesou Christou
What is the difference in these two verses? Quite literally a single word: God (theou) and Lord (kuriou). The structure is grammatically identical. A single word is different. So, why, then, did not Dr. BeDuhn address THIS passage? Would he have any difficulty believing that Jesus is both Lord and Savior? I would imagine that would not even register as a slight objection. So, why is there an objection when he is identified as God?
Let's also note 2 Pet 2:20 and 3:18 where it has the same structure as 1:11:
2:20: tou kuriou [hemon] kai soteros Iesou Christou
3:18: tou kuriou hemon kai soteros Iesou Christou
There is really no question that these three verses identify Jesus as Lord and Savior: Three verses that are in the Granville Sharp construction and are doubtless in their referent. That Dr. BeDuhn does not even mention these verses even in passing raises significant questions about how he handles the primary source material. Was he unaware of these passages? Was he aware of these passages and uncertain how to fit them into his argument? Was he aware of them and simply chose not to mention them? I would prefer to think that he was simply unaware of the passages. But, if we assume that he did not know them then the next question must be "upon what basis did he feel he was prepared to address not simply this issue, but a host of issues related to biblical translation"? But, IF he knew of these verses from his online discourses which he mentioned early in his work, and IF he had read Granville Sharp's monograph on the rules of the article (which is reasonable to assume since his book cites the monograph and cites the first rule regarding the article) then we have an example of a bias in deciding what information was important to include in his argument. That he chose a sentence that differs over one that is identical save a single term really does damage the force of his argument and to his credibility.
Dr. BeDuhn further seeks to defuse the use of Sharp's Rule by appealing to Herbert Smyth's A Greek Grammar for Colleges (section 1143). Since there was no "Sharp's Rule" found there the assumption made by BeDuhn is that it therefore does not exist. He triumphantly declares that there is no "rule" if it does not exist in all of Greek. But, BeDuhn misses the obvious, here.
Dr. Wallace explains, "Other grammarians of classical Greek, who presumably have no acquaintance with Sharp's rule, nevertheless give something of a subconscious stamp of approval on its validity." He then cites several classical Grammarians to make his point. Regarding Smyth he notes, "Smyth tells us that 'a single article, used with the first of two or more nouns connected by and, produces the effect of a single notion . . .' None of his examples involve the same referent, but neither are any of them personal and singular."
In other words, the examples that Smyth provides do not fit the rule that Sharp articulated. Further, Smyth presumably was not familiar with the rule and therefore did not set to validate or invalidate.
BeDuhn also seeks to weaken Sharp's rule by asserting that "ho theos" functions as a name in the New Testament. Dr. BeDuhn provides no argument to substantiate this in this chapter, however. But, is this assertion the case? Again, appealing to Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (p. 272, n42):
A proper name is defined as a noun which cannot be "pluralized" thus it does not include titles. A person's name, therefore, is proper and consequently does not fit the rule. But, theos is not proper because it can be pluralized ? thus when theos is in the [Granville Sharp construction] in which both nouns are singular and personal, it fits Sharp's rule.
Finally, and very interestingly, Dr. BeDuhn concludes that ultimately the language is ambiguous and can go either way and therefore cannot be dismissed. He continues to believe that he has refuted Granville Sharp's rule and therefore believes that those who see a single individual have a decidedly weakened argument. However, let me recap my findings in my review of this chapter. Dr. BeDuhn mis-cited or mischaracterized a secondary source, Dr. Daniel Wallace, on Sharp's rule. Dr. BeDuhn misrepresented or misunderstood (or misstated) the rule against which he was arguing. And, Dr. BeDuhn ignored parallel texts to 2 Peter 1:1 with a much closer construction and an obvious reference to a single individual (2 Pet 1:11, 2:20, 3:18), thus revealing lack of familiarity with the primary source materials.
Overall, Granville Sharp's Rule easily survived the "close scrutiny" provided by Dr. BeDuhn and revealed more about Dr. BeDuhn's grasp of the argument than the rule itself. It is not intended to be disrespectful to point this out but rather to demonstrate with clarity that since Dr. BeDuhn has asserted himself the credentials to be able to judge translations, assert the lack of qualifications of the scholars who work on the translations, and also assert that the New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses is among the best translations, then when grammatical issues are under discussion he must be held to the high standard. That he did not meet that standard for this issue is evident.
Incidentally, for those wishing online access to Dr. Wallace's views on Sharp's rule, go here.