Saturday, June 27, 2015

Morphe in the Christian-Greek Scriptures (NT): Synchronism and Diachronism

I pull this quote from Christology and the Trinity to make a point about what words can mean synchonically versus what their meaning potential is diachronically.

To discern how Paul uses morphe, please note the words of Moises Silva below:

If we stress the classical usage of this term [morphe], the technical sense of Aristotelian philosophy suggests itself: morphe, although not equivalent to ousia ("being, essence"), speaks of essential or characteristic attributes and thus is to be distinguished from schema (the changeable, external fashion). In a valuable essay on morphe and schema, [Lightfoot] argued along these lines and remarked that even in popular usage these respective meanings could be ascertained. The many references where morphe is used of physical appearance . . . make it difficult to maintain Lightfoot's precise distinction, though there is an important element of truth in his treatment. (Silva 113-114)

Upon closer examination, it becomes manifestly obvious that Phil 2:6-7 (by its use of morphe) does not unequivocally establish the essential deity of Christ. The employment of morphe in Philippians does not necessarily substantiate the teaching that Christ is God incarnate. To derive this conclusion from Phil 2:6 demonstrates a mistaken over-reliance on a single Greek term. Moises Silva offers further valuable comments along these lines as follows: "[Lightfoot's] claim that morphe (opposite schema) refers to unchangeable essence can be sustained by some references, but too many passages speak against it" (122). To verify this contention, Silva quotes Plato (Republic 380d) who inquires about God's ability to alter His "shape" (to autou eidos eis pollas morphas). The New Testament professor subsequently references Xenophon, Philo, Lucian and the fourth century writer, Libanius, who wrote: ouch ho tois theos tes morphen eoichos (123). All of these classical references indicate that morphe [in Phil 2:6] refers to an entity's outward appearance (not to a thing's intrinsic essence).

At this juncture, we must inform our readers that all of the foregoing information does not mean Silva denounces Trinitarianism; he surely does not concede that Phil 2:6 is dissonant with Trinitarian claims. His comments do help us to see, however, that one cannot base his or her belief in Christ's Deity on the mere occurrence of morphe vis-à-vis the preexistent Christ.


Edgar Foster said...

Here's the NET Bible footnote for morphe: "The Greek term translated form indicates a correspondence with reality. Thus the meaning of this phrase is that Christ was truly God."

Duncan said...

Morphs could just as easily been translated as appearance in Plato.

Edgar Foster said...

I would not disagree, but I'm just pointing out that there has been serious debate about what the word possibly means in Phil 2:6 and elsewhere. Furthermore, we can't base our understanding of the Pauline use/usage on how classical Greek writers employed the word.

Matt13weedhacker said...

If Gk., ( MORPHE ) meant inward essence, then at the Transfiguration, the Gospel writers would have used a different word, like Gk., ( METASCHEMATIZO ), rather than Gk., ( METEMORPHOO ) at Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2.

Gk., ( METEMORPHOO ) would necessarily have to mean an change of "inward essential being" if we follow the Tri{3}nitarian definition of Gk., ( MORPHE ) at Phil. 2:6.

Note Gk., ( MORPHE ) in Gk., ( METEMORPHOO ).
Note Gk., ( SCHEMA ) in Gk., ( METASCHEMATIZO ).

Tri{3}nitarian insist that Gk., ( MORPHE ) = in-ward "essence/being"
Tri{3}nitarian insist that Gk., ( SCHEMA ) = out-ward "form/appearance"

Tri{3}nitarian's say Jesus only changed his OUT-WARD appearance at the "Transfiguration", in order to show what he already was. Thus the god-inside-the-man had no inward change.

But the Bible writers say Jesus changed Gk., ( META ) his Gk., ( MORPHE ).

Jesus σὰρξ ἐγένετο "became flesh" John 1:14; Galatians 4:4.

He μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι [= qualified by Romans 8:3 ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας] ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος.

He "emptied" one form, "took" another form, and became "flesh", but not ἁμαρτίας "sinful" flesh, but perfect flesh, as the second Adam.

Thus the parallel between Jesus and Adam. And the corresponding ransom.

He did not remain a spirit, (compare John 4:24), who "added" flesh, which is also confirmed at his death. 1st Peter 3:18 and 1st Corinthians 15:45.

Compare also Psalm 8:5[6]; Hebrews 2:7; Hebrews 2:9 "made inferior/lower-than" Hebrews 2:17 "made in all respects like" etc.

Duncan said...

Though he had the appearance of might and authority....

Edgar Foster said...

For the record, I do not define MORFH as Lightfoot or NET Bible does. It means "external appearance, form" or that which strikes the eye from Homer down, and in the Christian-Greek Scriptures (NT). This point was argued in my book "Christology and the Trinity," so I won't repeat it here.

Most Trinitarians probably now concede the meaning of MORFH in Phil 2:6, but there are still some diehards. It's true that Aristotle uses MORFH with a similar meaning as OUSIA and there might be other places we can find to support Lightfoot's argument to an extent. But Phil 2:6 certainly does not use the word to reference the inner essence of Christ, just as you've pointed out. Again, however, I'm illustrating the difficulty of acquiring unanimous views about the definitions of words among the scholarly community. What appears to be an open and shut case may not be so for the scholars.

fdier said...

A good way to decipher the meaning of μορφή is componential analysis. It helps you to point out the nuances of the term as compared to its synonyms. By the way the Christ hymn is full of lexical variety. So this first approach can give results, but it has to be compared with other contexts where Paul says the same thing (e.g. 2Co 8.9 ; see also Heb 1.3).

You have also to know if ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων has the same meaning of τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ. Some scholars think this is the case, only by the alledged anaphoric use of the article. But here syntax can helps too : the double accusative with the articular infinitive shows that the article is not anaphoric, but has a syntactical force (and incidentally, that there is no "idiom").

A very good study (PhD diss.) on μορφή is the one by D. Fabricatore, Form of God, Form of a Servant : lexical and exegetical examination of the term in ALL the Greek literature....

For a linguistic approach (componential analysis, syntax, and contexts), see my D. Fontaine, L'égalité avec Dieu en Philippiens 2.6.

Sean Killackey said...

Hi Matt13weedhacker,

I enjoyed your points. I am writing about the Trinity (primarily for my own self and for friends) and as I was reading about how Augustine explained Jesus two natures I was wondering where to start a refutation thereof. I saw a flaw in his asserting that John 1:10 proved that Jesus is God because he was in the world (in omnipresent) before his being sent (the flaw is that John 1:10 and John 1:11 are parallel and both refer to his time on earth).

But those points concerning his being lower than the angels in ALL respects and that he was made alive in spirit, rather than always being alive in spirit struck me as more powerful. So thanks. (though I suppose that they'd assert that he was lower in all respects than angels in his form as a servant, but that is to be expected with such a preunderstanding.