Saturday, November 12, 2022

The Gospel Coalition's Steve Bateman

THE ABOLUTIONIST HERO YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF November 10, 2022 | Steve Bateman, 

Please note: If you can get through the first scholarly paragraphs and down to the abolutionist part, this is a fascinating read.

 IN 1798, GRANVILLE SHARP published a real page-turner titled Remarks on the Use of the Definitive Article in the Greek New Testament. One of those remarks came to be known as the Granville Sharp Rule: when two singular common nouns of the same case are used to describe a person and are connected by the copulative kai (“and”), and if the definite article ho (“the”) precedes the first noun but not the second, then both nouns refer to the same person.  It may sound irrelevant to all but seminary students cramming for their Greek exam, but Granville Sharp was an orthodox Christian defending the historic faith. In the 18th century, Enlightenment theologians denied that Scripture taught the deity of Christ and thus the Trinity. But in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1, for example, the Granville Sharp Rule shows Jesus Christ isn’t only our “Savior” but also our “God.” The rule has been the subject of much scholarly debate, but it remains a useful principle of Greek translation. Remarks went through four editions in the next ten years, garnered the praise of renowned Greek scholars, and has sparked considerable theological discussion for over two centuries. More than a Scholar 


But there’s more to Sharp than the finer points of Greek grammar. For good reason, New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace considers him a “model of evangelical scholarship and social action.”

Long before he published remarks on the Greek article, Sharp proposed another rule. It’s embedded in a 1774 treatise in which Sharp affirmed and advanced the argument being made by American colonists protesting taxation without representation. Benjamin Franklin distributed 250 copies of Sharp’s tract in America and publishers reprinted thousands of copies. But Sharp’s support of the American cause included a crucial qualification: The toleration of domestic slavery in the Colonies greatly weakens the claim or natural right of our American brethren to liberty. Let them put away the accursed thing, that horrid oppression! from among them, before they presume to implore the interposition of divine justice; for whilst they retain their brethren of the world in the most shameful involuntary servitude, it is profane in them to look up to the merciful Lord of all, and call him Father! 


I’d say the other Granville Sharp Rule is this: when asking God for protection from the injustice that comes to you, repent of all the injustice that comes from you. 

 The transatlantic slave trade was one of the great injustices, in scope and consequence, in all human history. Sadly, slavery flourished during the conception and birth of the United States largely because many professing Christians defended this injustice by distorting Scripture. But we are not without heroes. Before John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace,” before William Wilberforce petitioned the English Parliament, and before Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, Granville Sharp was fighting slavery. Advocacy for Abolition 

Granville Sharp was born 287 years ago—November 10, 1735—in Durham, England. By the age of 30, Sharp found his calling as Britain’s “first abolitionist.” In 1769, he published the first of several tracts arguing against slavery, describing its horrors and showing its inconsistency with the Christian faith and English common law. In 1772, Sharp recruited and advised lawyers for James Somerset, a runaway slave. In Somerset v. Stewart, the court ruled that a slave brought from America to England couldn’t be forced to return, and Somerset was freed. It didn’t end slavery in England, but the abolitionist movement took a strategic step forward. Before John Newton wrote ‘Amazing Grace,’ before William Wilberforce petitioned the English Parliament, and before Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, Granville Sharp was fighting slavery. 

Sharp’s influence grew with Americans, including founders John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. In 1773, Benjamin Rush—a Philadelphia physician who would later sign the Declaration of Independence—initiated correspondence with Granville Sharp that would last for 36 years. That same year, Rush wrote a tract to his fellow Americans denouncing slavery. Rush appealed to magistrates and legislators and took aim at American pastors: “In vain will you command your flocks to offer up the incence of Faith and Charity, while they continue to mingle the Sweat and blood of Negro slaves with their sacrifices.” Three years before the birth of the United States, the nation’s founders and their pastors had been duly warned. In early 1776, Sharp also pushed back on pastors who used Scripture to defend the buying and selling of human beings. In the last tract he wrote before the birth of the United States, Sharp concludes, essentially, “We cannot be said to love our neighbors as ourselves or to do to others as we would they should do unto us whilst we retain them against their will, in a despicable servitude as slaves, and private property, or mere chattels!” 

Complicated History In today’s partisan environment, American history is often used, and misused, to support political ideology. The impulse on the left is to focus largely on our national sins and the injustices we’ve tolerated. The impulse on the right is to focus largely on our national achievements and the force for good the United States has been in the world. Our history is more complicated than either narrative. 

 Three years before the birth of the United States, the nation’s founders and their pastors had been duly warned. Our love for country may lead us to react to unjust criticism with unjust praise. But the life of Granville Sharp corrects our sentimental notions that the United States “birthed abolition movements” as if no effort had been made prior to July 4, 1776. The abolition movement didn’t originate with the Declaration of Independence, and it only gained traction when Granville Sharp combined biblical scholarship, legal acumen, and skillful tract writing an ocean away and a decade before America was born. Sharp’s “other rule” reminds us that the founders were duly warned but missed an opportunity to redress “a long train of abuses” they’d brought on others. 

By tolerating slavery, early Americans did in fact weaken their “claim or natural right . . . to liberty.” John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Rush eventually applied Granville Sharp’s other rule in their opposition to slavery. But there are precious few founders (if any) who never owned slaves and applied both of Sharp’s rules by boldly defending Christ’s deity and vigorously opposing American slavery. Let that reality always grieve our hearts but never slip our minds, sparking us to ask the Lord to make us orthodox pursuers of justice for all.

No comments: