Granville Sharpe's Unexpected Path

Dan Graves, MSL

Granville Sharpe's Unexpected Path

When Granville Sharp was born on this day, November 10, 1735 in Durham, England, his family may have expected he would follow in the steps of his father and grandfather. Both were Anglican clergymen. But Granville was destined to achieve his greatest fame in quite a different sphere.

Having turned down the church of England as a career, he became a linen draper. He made a study of law, but never completed the course, accepting work in the government's ordnance office, instead. Nonetheless, his acquaintance with the law was to prove valuable.

In 1765, while Granville Sharp was living in London, he met a black man named Jonathan Strong reeling in the street. Strong had been brought from the Barbados Islands by his master, David Lisle, who had beaten him severely and then abandoned him in the street. Sharp took him to St. Bartholomew's hospital, where the suffering slave took four months to recover. Afterward, Sharp found him a job.

Lisle hired two thugs to recapture Strong. Sharp took the slave's case to court. In 1768 the court ruled in favor of the slave. But Sharp wanted more. He took other cases to court for black men. Eventually he won a ruling that "as soon as any slave sets foot upon English territory, he becomes free."

These cases drew a good deal of attention to the cause of the abolition of slavery. Sharp and his friend Thomas Clarkson formed an association for the abolition of the slave trade. Influential figures, especially from among the Quakers, joined them. William Wilberforce became their spokesman in the House of Commons.

In 1777, the year after the United States declared its independence, Granville Sharp resigned from the ordnance office. He favored the principles on which the Americans based their struggle.

That same year, he published a book defending the Trinity. A decade later, he published another little volume which has been useful to Bible scholarship ever since: 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.

This book proposed a rule now known as "Sharp's rule." He applied this rule to eight passages which have a direct bearing on the divinity of Christ. As the title suggests, he came down solidly on the side of Christ's place in the Godhead.

Granville Sharp died on July 6, 1813. He left behind him a dual legacy as a key player in the struggle to abolish slavery and as a careful scholar of Bible Greek who demonstrated that the divinity of Christ would follow from any sound interpretation of scripture.

Bibliography:

  1. Michael, C.D. The Slave and His Champions. London: S. W. Partridge, 1900.
  2. "Sharp, Granville." Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
  3. Stuart, Charles. Memoir of Granville Sharp. New York, 1836. Source of the image.

Last updated April, 2007.

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