Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ!

Sam Shamoun

In the following verses, both the blessed Apostles and Servants of Christ, Paul and Peter, lavish the highest accolades upon their risen Lord by describing him in language that can only be applied to the one true God, namely, Jehovah:

“looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (tou megalou Theou kai Soteros hemon Christou ‘Iesou), who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Titus 2:13-14 New King James Version (NKJV)

“Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (tou Theou hemon kai Soteros ‘Iesou Christou):” 2 Peter 1:1 NKJV

Here, the inspired emissaries of Christ employ a Greek grammatical construction known as Sharp’s (first) rule to identify Jesus as both God (in fact, the great God!) and Savior.

According to this rule, when singular nouns that are not proper names are connected together by the conjunction kai (“and”), with the definite article (“the”) only appearing before the first noun, then both nouns refer to a single person. In fact, this same exact construction is used four other times in 2 Peter in relation to Christ: 

“for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (tou Kyriou hemon kai Soteros ‘Iesou Christou).” 2 Peter 1:11 NKJV

“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (tou Kyriou kai Soteros ‘Iesou Christou), they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.” 2 Peter 2:20 NKJV

“that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior (tou Kyriou kai Soteros),” 2 Peter 3:2 NKJV

“but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (tou Kyriou hemon kai Soteros ‘Iesou Christou). To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18 NKJV

Now who would deny that in these passages Jesus is being described as both Lord and Savior? And yet this same construction appears in both Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1!

In light of this, there is simply no way around the fact that Christ is clearly being identified as our (great) God and Savior.

To provide further substantiation for this point, we have decided to reproduce the following (somewhat lengthy) excerpt from Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, by William D. Mounce, Volume 46, pp. 426-429, and 431. In our estimation, Mounce’s exegesis happens to be one of the best explanations and defenses of Titus 2:13 (as well as 2 Peter 1:1) being another explicit witness(es) to the absolute Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. All bold and capital emphasis ours:

The arguments for Paul’s identification of tou megalou theou hemon, “our great God,” and ‘Iesou, “Jesus,” ARE IMPRESSIVE…

(1) theou, “God,” and soteros, “savior,” are both governed by the same article, and according to Granville Sharp’s rule they therefore refer to the same person (Robertson, Grammar, 785-89; Zerwick, Biblical Greek, 59-60; Harris, “Titus 2:13,” 267-69; Wallace, Greek Grammar, 270-90). For example, 2 Cor 1:2 speaks of ho theos kai pater, “the God and Father,” both terms referring to the same person. As Wallace clarifies Sharp’s own qualifiers, the rule applies “only with personal, singular, and non-proper nouns” (Greek Grammar, 272) and indicates some degree of unity between the two words, possibly equality or identity (270). When understood as Sharp intended, THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS IN THE NT TO THE RULE (although on theological grounds, NOT GRAMMATICAL, the rule has been questioned here and in 2 Pet 1:1; cf. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 273 n. 50, and further bibliography at 273 n. 50 and 276 n. 55). If soteros referred to a second person, it would have been preceded by the article. However, this is not to make the mistake of modalism, which sees only one God appearing in different modes (cf. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 242). God the Father and God the Son are not identical in orthodox theology; the Son is God, but he is not the Father. Wallace and Robertson (Exp 21 [1921] 185-87) both describe the force of G. B. Winer’s refusal (A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament [Andover, MA: Draper, 1869] 130) to accept Sharp’s rule FOR THEOLOGICAL AND NOT GRAMMATICAL REASONS. Speaking of the same construction in 2 Pet 1:1, 11, Robertson is direct in his critique: “The simple truth is that Winer’s anti-Trinitarian prejudice overruled his grammatical rectitude in his remarks about 2 Peter i. 1” (Exp 21 [1921] 185); and the influence that Winer exerted as a grammarian has influenced other grammarians and several generations of scholars.  

The grammatical counterargument is that soter, “savior,” like other technical terms and proper names, tends to be anarthrous; but “God” (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 272, n. 42), and soter (Harris, “Titus 2:13,” 268) are not proper names. theos is not a personal proper name because it can be made plural (theoi, “gods”; cf. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 272, n. 42). Proper nouns are usually anarthrous since they are inherently definite, but theos is almost always articular unless other grammatical rules require the article to be dropped in specific contexts. theos occurs frequently in the TSKS (article-substantive-kai-substantive) construction to which Sharp’s rule applies (Luke 20:37; John 20:27; Rom 15:6; 1 Cor 15:24; 2 Cor 1:3; 11:31; Gal 1:4; Eph 1:3; Phil 4:20; 1 Thess 1:3; 3:11, 13; Jas 1:27; 1 Pet 1:3; Rev 1:6), always in reference to one person (cf. Wallace, “Sharp Redivivus?” 46-47). In the PE soter occurs in eight other passages, seven of which are articular (1 Tim 2:3; 2 Tim 1:10; Titus 1:3, 4; 2:10; 3:4, 6). The only other anarthrous use of soter in the PE is in 1 Tim 1:1, where it is anarthrous in accordance with Apollonius’s Canon (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 250). In other words, in the PE the articular construction is the rule, suggesting that there is a specific reason for its anarthrous state here. If the question is the grammatical meaning of this text, Sharp’s rule is decisive. If Paul was speaking of two persons, it would have been easy to say so unambiguously (e.g., tou megalou theou kai ‘Iesou Christou tou soteros hemon, “the great God and Jesus Christ our savior,” or tou megalou theou hemon kai tou soteros ‘Iesou Christou, “our great God and the savior Jesus Christ” [Harris, 269]). Instead he chose a form that most naturally reads as one person, ‘Iesou Christou, “Jesus Christ,” which is in apposition to tou megalou theou kai soteros hemon, “our great God and savior.” To say it another way, if Paul did not believe that Jesus was God, it seems highly unlikely that he would have been so sloppy in making such a significant theological statement. If Paul did believe that Jesus was God, it is not a surprise to read this

(2) The flow of the discussion argues that theou kai soteros, “God and savior,” refers to one person and that the one person is Jesus Christ. (a) Paul begins by saying, “for the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation,” associating God with salvation. Two verses later, without a change of subject, he speaks of theou kai soteros hemon, “our God and savior.” The most natural reading is to continue the association between theou, “God,” and soteros, “savior.” However, since ‘Iesou Christou “Jesus Christ,” most likely stands in apposition to soteros, “savior,” because of their close proximity, Jesus is the God and Savior. (b) Since elpis, “hope,” is personified in the PE as Jesus (see above), Paul begins the verse speaking of Jesus not God the Father (“waiting for the blessed hope, which is the appearing of God, who is Jesus Christ”). (c) The following verse speaks of Jesus’ saving activity. This does not mean that v 13 must be speaking of one person; Paul often changes subjects by adding a relative clause (e.g. Eph 1:7). However, since v 14 does discuss salvation, it strongly suggests that Paul is thinking of Jesus as savior. (This argues against Hort’s position [below] that ‘Iesou Christou, “Jesus Christ,” refers back to tes doxes toutheou, “the glory of God.”) If God and savior refer to one person (below), and if savior refers to Jesus Christ, then so must God. Lock (145) also points out that the idea of hina lytrosetai, “in order that he might redeem,” which occurs in v 14, is used in the OT of God but here of Christ, implying an equation between the two.    

(3) The phrase theos kai soter, “God and savior,” was a set phrase in Hellenistic language… AND ALWAYS REFERRED TO ONE PERSON, such as Ptolemy I (tou megalou theou euergetou kai soteros [epiphanous] eucharistou, “the great god, benefactor, and savior [manifest one,] beneficent one”…; soter kai theos, “savior and god”…), Antiochus Epiphanes (theos epiphanes, “god manifest”…), and Julius Caesar (theos kai soter, “god and savior”…). Moulton comments, “Familiarity with the everlasting apotheosis that flaunts itself in the papyri and inscriptions of Ptolemaic and Imperial times, lends strong support to Wendland’s contention that Christians, from the latter part of i/A.D. onward, deliberately annexed for their Divine Master the phraseology that was impiously arrogated to themselves by some of the worst men” (Grammar 1:84). It was also used by Hellenistic and Palestinian Judaism in reference to God (Dibelius-Conzelmann, 143-46). Since in Hellenism it was a set phrase referring to one Person and Paul is using language that places his gospel in direct confrontation with emperor worship and Ephesian religion…, the phrase most likely refers to one person in this context, not two. This is how it would have been understood in Cretan society. Wallace points out how rare this expression is in the LXX (Esth 5:1; Ps 61:1, 5, without the article; cf. 2 Macc 6:32; Philo Leg. All. 2.56; Praem. 163.5); the MT rarely has an analogous construction (singular-article-noun-waw-noun), and when it does, the LXX uses a different construction in translation (“Sharp Redivivus?” 43). He cites O. Cullmann (The Christology of the New Testament, rev. ed. [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963] 241) in concluding that “Hellenism accounts for the form, Judaism for the context of the expression” (“Sharp Redivivus?” 44).

(4) When Paul speaks of the “appearing of the glory of our great God,” he ties “appearing” and “God” together. Yet epiphaneia, “appearing,” in Paul always refers to Jesus’ second coming and never to God. The appearance of God is therefore the appearance of Jesus (2 Thess 2:8; 1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 1:9-10; 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13). In fact 1 Tim 6:14 and 2 Tim 1:10 have much the same meaning as our passage and confirm this argument. Although God the Father is involved in the Son’s return, he is not as involved as this would indicate if it refers to two people (Lock 145; Fee, 196). There are two related arguments. (a) If kai, “and,” is epexegtical, epiphaneian, “appearing,” is a restatement of elpida, “hope,” and hope is a personification of Jesus, showing that the appearance is the appearance of Jesus. (b) epiphaneian, “appearing” (v 13), parallels epephane, “appearance,” in v 11, and since in v 11 Paul is speaking of Jesus’ appearance, it is most likely here that he is speaking of Jesus’ second appearance. The counterargument is that the cognate epiphaneian, “to appear,” occurs in Titus 2:11 and 3:4 as part of the description of God the Father; however, these verses speak of God sending Jesus the first time.

(5) Marshall (SNTU-A 13 [1988] 174-75) adds the following arguments: (a) Jesus, as Lord, is the judge, which is the sole prerogative of God (2 Tim 4:8); (b) Jesus and God are placed side by side (1 Tim 1:1-2; 5:21; 6:13; 2 Tim 4:1; Titus 1:1; 2:13); (c) both are given the title “savior” (1 Tim 1:15; 2 Tim 1:9; 4:18); (d) spiritual blessings come from both (2 Tim 1:3, 6, 18; 1 Tim 1:12, 14); and (e) both are “objects of the writer’s service” (God: 2 Tim 1:3; 2:15; Titus 1:7; Jesus: 2 Tim 2:3, 24). If Jesus has the position and function of God, then he can “probably” be called God.

There are other arguments that are of questionable validity. (1) The early Greek church fathers are nearly unanimous in seeing “God and savior” as referring to Jesus, and it can be assumed that they would know the Greek idiom (not Justin Martyr [1 Apol. 61] and Ambrosiaster; cf. Lock, 145; Harris, “Titus 2:13,” 271). The counterargument is that the early versions are nearly unanimous in seeing two persons in this passage (Latin, Syriac, Egyptian, Armenian, but not Ethiopic) and that the Greek church fathers tended to be controlled more by their theology than by the text itself. Bernard asserts, “The Fathers were far better theologians than critics. Their judgement on a point of doctrine may be trusted with much readier confidence than the arguments by which they support their judgement” (172). Moulton (Grammar 1:84) points out that this appears to be the interpretation of the seventh-century Christians as evidenced by the papyri (cf. en onomati tou kyriou kai despotou ‘Iesou Christou tou theou kai soteros hemon…, “in the name of the Lord and master, Jesus Christ, our God and savior etc.” [BGU 2:366, 367, 368, 371, 395]), but this is quite late. (2) The NT nowhere describes God as megas, “great,” and it is argued that it would be tautological to call God great (Ellicott, 188; Guthrie, 200). But the use of megas, “great,” distinguishes God from the pagan deities, and great is no more than a summary of what Paul says about him in 1 Tim 6:15-16. Harris lists other arguments that he feels are debatable (“Titus 2:13,” 270-71)…

Fortunately the doctrine of Christ’s divinity does not rest on this verse. But the question of what Paul is saying here is still important, and it seems that he is making a christological pronouncement on the divinity of Christ. This is the most natural reading of the text, is required by the grammar, concurs with Paul’s use of epiphaneia, “appearing,” accounts for the singular use of the phrase “God and savior” in secular thought, and fits the context well.