Monday, April 23, 2012

Carl Conrad's Remarks on Philippians 2:6-7 (MORFH)

From Carl Conrad. Originally appeared on B-Greek forum. I now quote Carl:

Like Bob Fuller, I'm hoping we may have a fruitful discussion of the question Edgar has presented to us (where have you been, Edgar; long time, no hear from!); I hope too that we can keep the discussion focused on lexical evidence and clear indicators deriving from immediate context of passages in which the word MORFH is found, both in the GNT and in extra-biblical literature. For my part I don't see any justification whatsoever for the definition of MORFH cited above, "the outward display of the inner reality or substance."

The word is found only in two texts in the GNT, once in the questionable "late-ending" of Mark's gospel, Mk 16:12, where the word pretty clearly means "external appearance"--and we'd have to assume, I think, that hETERAi certainly indicates that this MORFH is NOT identical with the inner reality of the risen Jesus.


The other passage is the Christ-hymn of Phil 2, where the word appears in successive verses 6 (EN MORFHi QEOU hUPARCWN) and 7 (MORFHN DOULOU LABWN).


And here, of course, the real problem is that, if MORFH means "essential form" in verse 6 for MORFH QEOU, it does not SEEM to mean the same thing in verse 7 for MORFHN DOULOU. It seems to me that Louw & Nida have a clear sense of what the problem here is but they have some problem in applying their perspective to Phil 2:6-7, inasmuch as they deem MORFH to have the sense "nature or character" as opposed to discernible form. With respect to MORFHN DOULOU they understand not "guise of a servant" but rather being and doing what a servant is and does as MORFH QEOU is supposed by them to mean "being and doing what God is and does."

58.2 MORFHa, HS, f: the nature or character of something, with emphasis upon both the internal and external form - 'nature, character.' hOS EN MORFHi QEOU hUPARCWN 'he always had the very nature of God' Php 2:6; MORFHN DOULOU LABWN 'he took on the nature of a servant' Php 2:7. In view of the lack of a closely corresponding lexical item such as 'nature,' it may be necessary to restructure the form of Php 2:7 as 'he became truly a servant.'

58.15 MORFHa, HS, f: a visual form of something - 'visual form, appearance.' EFANERWQH EN hETERAi MORFHi 'he appeared in a different form' Mk 16:12.

The problem, it seems to me, as evidently it did to Edgar, that this sense of "nature" is not readily found attested elsewhere for the noun MORFH. Although Aristotle's metaphysics/ontology is sometimes called "hylomorphism" because it involves the interrelations of hULH (matter) and MORFH (form) at the various levels of the Scala Naturae, Aristotle himself doesn't use the term MORFH of "essential form" but speaks rather of OUSIA
or TO TI HN EINAI, which latter phrase (lit. something like "being what it(in fact) is") comes close to the phrase I've used above, "being and doing what X is and does."

LSJ doesn't even HINT at any sense of MORFH as "nature" or "essential form":

MORFH, HS, hH , form, shape, twice in Hom. (not in Hes.), SOI D' EPI MEN MORFH EPEWN thou hast comeliness of words, Od.11.367 (cf. Eust. ad loc.); so prob. ALLOS MEN ... EIDOS AKIDNOTEROS PELEI ANHR, ALLA QEOS MORFHN EPESI STEFEI ? God adds a crown of shapeliness to his words, Od.8.170: freq. later, MORFAS DUO ONOMAZEIN Parm.8.53 ; MORFHN ALLAXANTA Emp.137.1 ;MORFAN BRACUS Pi.I.4(3).53 ; MORFHS METRA shape and size, E.Alc.1063: periphr., MORFHS FUSIS A.Supp.496 ; MORFHS SCHMA,TUPWMA, E.Ion992, Ph.162; THN AUTHN TOU SCHMATOS MORFHN Arist.PA640b34 ; KAI GAIA, POLLWN ONOMATWN MORFH MIA A.Pr.212 ; ONEIRATWN ALIGKIOI MORFAISIN ib.449; NUKTERWN FANTASMATWN ECOUSI MORFAS Id.Fr.312 ; PROUPEMYEN ANTI FILTATHS MORPHS SPODON S.El.1159 ; of plants, Thphr.HP1.1.12 (pl.); esp. with ref. to beauty of form, hUPERFATON MORFAi Pi.O.9.65 ; hOIS POSTISTAXHi CARIS EUKLEA MORFH ib.6.76, cf. IG42 (1).121.119 (Epid., iv B. C.), LXX To.1.13, Vett.Val.1.6, etc.; SWMA MORFHS EMHS OGI383.41 (Commagene, i B. C.); MORFHS EIKONAS ib.27; CARAKTHRA MORFHS EMHS ib.60.

2. generally, form, fashion, appearance, A.Pr.78, S.Tr.699, El.199 (lyr.); outward form, opp. EIDOS, HEKATERW TW EIDEOS POLLAI MORFAI Philol.5; ALLATTONTA TO AUTOU EIDOS EIS POLLAS MORFAS Pl.R.380d ; MORFH QEWN X.Mem.4.3.13 , cf. Ep.Phil.2.6, Dam.Pr.304; hHRWWN EIDEA KAI MORFAS A.R.4.1193 ; KATA TE MORFAS KAI FWNAS gesticulations and cries, D.H.14.9; THN MORFHN MELAGCROUS, THi MORFHi MELICROAS, in complexion, Ptol.Tetr.143,

3. kind, sort, E. Ion 382, 1068 (lyr.), Pl.R.397c, etc.

The meanings cataloged in LSJ seem then to range from a more fundamental "aesthetically gratifying guise" through "outward form" to "discernible variety." The focal element seems to be "discernible framework" or "Gestalt" or "pattern."

When we turn to Fred Danker's latest revision of Bauer (BDAG), we have:

MORFH, HS, hH (Hom.+) form, outward appearance, shape gener. of bodily form 1 Cl 39:3; ApcPt 4:13 (Job 4:16; ApcEsdr 4:14 p. 28, 16 Tdf.; SJCh 78, 13). Of the shape or form of statues (Jos., Vi. 65; Iren. 1, 8, 1 [Harv. I 67, 11]) Dg 2:3. Of appearances in visions, etc., similar to persons(Callisthenes [IV BC]: 124 fgm. 13 p. 644, 32 Jac. [in Athen. 10, 75, 452b] LIMOS ECWN GUNAIKOS MORFHN; Diod. S. 3, 31, 4 EN MORFAIS ANQRWPWN; TestAbr A 16 p. 97, 11 [Stone p. 42] ARCAGGELOU MORFHN PERIKEIMENOS; Jos., Ant. 5, 213 a messenger fr. heaven NEANISKOU MORFHi): of God's assembly, the church Hv 3, 10, 2; 9; 3, 11, 1; 3, 13, 1; s 9, 1, 1; of the angel of repentance hH MORFH AUTOU HLLOIWQH his appearance had changed m 12, 4, 1. Of Christ(EN MORFHi ANQRWPOU TestBenj 10:7; Just., D. 61, 1; Tat. 2, 1; Hippol., Ref. 5, 16, 10. Cp. Did., Gen. 56, 18; of deities EN ANQRWPINHi MORFHi:Iambl., Vi. Pyth. 6, 30; cp. Philo, Abr. 118) MORFHN DOULOU LABWN he took on the form of a slave=expression of servility Phil 2:7 (w. SCHMA as Aristot., Cat. 10a, 11f, PA 640b, 30-36). This is in contrast to expression of divinity in the preëxistent Christ: EN MORFHi QEOU hUPARCWN although he was in the form of God (cp. OGI 383, 40f: Antiochus' body is the framework for his m. or essential identity as a descendant of divinities; sim. human fragility [Phil 2:7] becomes the supporting framework for Christ's servility and therefore of his KENWSIS [on the appearance one projects cp. the epitaph EpigrAnat 17, '91, 156, no. 3, 5-8]; on MORFH QEOU cp. Orig., C. Cels. 7, 66, 21; Pla., Rep. 2, 380d; 381bc; X., Mem. 4, 3, 13; Diog. L. 1, 10 the Egyptians say; Philo, Leg. ad Gai. 80; 110; Jos., C. Ap. 2, 190; Just., A I, 9, 1; PGM 7, 563; 13, 272; 584.-Rtzst., Mysterienrel.3 357f) Phil 2:6. The risen Christ EFANERWQH EN hETERAi MORFHi appeared in a different form Mk 16:12 (of the transfiguration of Jesus: EDEIXEN hHMIN THN ENDOXON MORFHN hEAUTOU Orig., C. Cels. 6, 68, 23). For lit. s. on hARPAGMA and KENOW 1b; RMartin, ET 70, '59, 183f.-DSteenberg, The Case against the Synonymity of MORFH and EIKWN: JSNT 34, '88, 77-86; GStroumsa, HTR 76, '83, 269-88 (Semitic background).-DELG. Schmidt, Syn. IV 345-60. M-M. EDNT. TW. Spicq. Sv.

The first several lines of the above accounting are consistent in pointing in the same direction as LSJ: an outward form that may change, as in the compound verb and noun METAMORFOW and METAMORFWSIS. But when it comes to
our text in Phil 2:6, I'm frankly not quite sure what is intended by what is said: is it that the pre-existent Jesus somehow "expressed" or "manifested" God? And if so, is that really quite the same thing as the "nature" that Louw & Nida seem to understand MORFH to convey?

The end of the BDAG offering points us to Spicq, _Theological Lexicon of the New Testament_ (tr. James Ernest). Spicq has a fuller, more articulate discussion of MORFH, one that is, on the one hand, thoughtful and illuminating, and on the other hand, not as conclusive as one might perhaps have hoped. In the first place he offers the following as potential senses: "stature, form, condition, feature, external appearance, reproduction"--and note that this doesn't include "nature" or "being and doing what X is and does." Here are the key pair of paragraphs:

"Although MORFH is often very close in meaning to EIKWN, 9 and later on even becomes synonymous with it in Gnosticism,10 the texts cited disallow identifying them, as does this inscription from Laodicea, which distinguishes the two terms: "I bear the (bodily) form of Docticius, but the image of his divine virtue is carried on the lips of each person."11 This should be taken into account in the translation of Phil 2:6-7 (hOS EN MORFHi QEOU ... MORFHN DOULOU LABWN), which the Bible de Jérusalem correctly renders "Lui, de condition divine . . . prenant la condition d'esclave."12 It is characteristic of MORFH to be modified, to appear to be changed, to take on new features,13 like the risen Lord appearing to the disciples at Emmaus en hETERA MORFH. 14 He had a new mode of being and a new appearance, analogous to that at the transfiguration (METAMORFOUSQAI, Matt 17:2). This is why in epiphanies of heavenly beings the MORFH is indeed said to be different, but not without affinities with earthly forms.15
"This changing of MORFH is to be compared on the one hand with the theme of "descent and ascent" because of the double MORFH in Phil 2:6-7(MORFH QEOU, MORFH DOULOU )-which owes nothing to the gnostic redeemer myth, which had not yet been concocted-and on the other hand with the consistent meaning of this term in the magical papyri. Whereas the Christian faith affirms that God is invisible and that no human has seen him or can see him (John 1:18; 6:46; 1John 4:12; Rom 1:20; 1Tim 1:17;6:16), the magicians call upon the deity as having a "form"16 and pray him
to appear in his "true form."17 This is a signal favor, for the Eight Books of Moses acknowledge that no one has been able to see this true divine form.18 The devotee of Hermes Trismegistos knows that his god appears in the East in the form of an ibis, in the West in the form of a dog's head,in the North in the form of a serpent, and in the south in the form of a wolf.19 What the mystic wishes to contemplate and be united with is "the sacred form" (Pap.Graec.Mag. 4, 216; vol. 1, p. 78; cf. XIII, 271; vol. 2, p. 101), the "gracious or joyous form,"20 and in the case of Aphrodite, her beauty made manifest: EPIKALOUMAI SE . . . DEIXASA THN KALHN SOU MORFHN.211"

Spicq cites the French Jerusalem Bible here with approval, "Lui, de condition divine . . . prenant la condition d'esclave." I don't know whether English "condition" is quite equivalent to the French "condition." Perhaps better would be "circumstances, terms of existence." Certainly he's right to call attention to the fact that the usage of MORFH in Phil 2:6-7 is closely bound up with the context of "transformation" or METAMORFWSIS. If that's the case, then MORFH in 2:6 EN MORFHi QEOU hUPARCWN and in 2:7 MORFHN DOULOU LABWN are indeed to be understood in the same sense, something like "mode of existence," the underlying assumption being that "mode of existence" is something that can undergo alteration. This is a notion that does seem consistent with other usages of MORFH, and it certainly doesn't approach the sense that Edgar cites: "the outward display of the inner reality or substance." "Outward display" is right, but if we say "outward display of the inner reality or substance," then we'd have to accept that the OUTWARD DISPLAY may mislead the one who views it regarding the "inner reality or substance" of what one beholds.

To sum up, Spicq writes, "It is clear from all of these examples that the use of MORFH in the hymn in Phil 2 is entirely to be expected in a context of metamorphosis or incarnation, but that it would be risky to give it a precise theological meaning."

And that seems like an appropriate imprecise formulation in which to end this endeavor to "divide the word."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243


Matt13weedhacker said...

Hi Edgar.

That last comment by Carl appears to be saying he's being purposefully ambiguous.

Thank you for the post, there are a lot of valuable references in those notes to check.

Once again "...Mode of existence..." seems to come out on top again.

Adding that it has degree's of changableness and tends toward the outward aspects as well.

The big question then becomes WHAT is God's mode of existence?

The first thing that springs to my mind is John 4:24.

What are your thoughts?

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Mt13:

As I understand Carl, while he does not settle upon one specific definition for MORFH, he does reject the understanding set forth by Lightfoot and one meaning posited by Louw-Nida ("the outward display of the inner reality or substance"). Now Spicq mentions Jesus' "new mode of being" but I don't believe that Carl necessarily agrees with this understanding, although he might. But it seems that this definition for MORFH faces problems since it lacks support in the relevant texts. But if I did accept this definition, I would agree that the divine mode of being is spirit, although if we're talking about God the Father, then divine mode of being probably would be more extensive in meaning.

Edgar Foster said...

BTW, the German term usually rendered "mode-of-being" is Daseinsweise. Gerald Hawthorne discusses the problems with construing MORFH to mean "mode-of-being" or Daseinsweise in his Word commentary on Philippians.