Saturday, September 09, 2017

MORFH Understood as "Status" (Philippians 2:6)

I have written some on MORFH in Phil. 2:6ff. There is a reference from Tobit 1:13 which supports the denotation "status" or "condition" for the word MORFH although I prefer to define it (in this context) as external form/shape or outward appearance.

For MORFH, BDAG Greek-English Lexicon has "form, outward appearance, shape" and "gener. of bodily form 1 Cl 39:3; ApcPt 4:13 (Job 4:16; ApcEsdr 4:14 p. 28, 16 Tdf.; SJCh 78, 13)."

Additionally, MORFH is also used of the shape or form of statues (Jos., Vi.65; Iren. I, 8, 1 and Dg 2:3). The term also describes appearances in visions and Mk. 16:12 (in the longer reading of Mark's Gospel) relates that Jesus appeared in a hETERA MORFH or "different form." BDAG also states: "on MORFH QEOU cp. Orig. C. Cels. 7, 66, 21; Pla., Rep. 2, 380D; 381 bc . . ."

Louw-Nida has two definitions for MORFH ("nature" and "visual form of something"). It classifies Phil. 2:6-7 as an example of MORFH being employed to denote "the nature or character of something, with emphasis upon both the internal and external form" whereas it categorizes Mk. 16:12 as an instance of MORFH being utilized to mean "visual form, appearance."

Gerald F. Hawthorne (Word Biblical Commentary on Philippians) also points out that some scholars (such as P.M. Casey and Carolyn Osiek) have concluded MORFH can signify "status" or "condition." It would therefore be way off the mark to translate it as "nature" (if this claim is true) since the Greek term would then have reference to Christ's place/standing before God and before men. Hawthorne criticizes the last view because the extant literature does not appear to support it. However, Tobit 1:13 possibly uses MORPH to mean "status" or "condition":

"the Most High granted me favor and status with Shalmaneser, so that I became purchasing agent for all his needs."

Greek for Tobit 1:13: καὶ ἔδωκεν ὁ ὕψιστος χάριν καὶ μορφὴν ἐνώπιον ενεμεσσαρου καὶ ἤμην αὐτοῦ ἀγοραστής


Omar Meza Solano said...

hello Edgar a question on the subject, I also agree that morphe means external appearance but where I confuse it is the 7th verse where it says that "spoiled himself" the serious question of what Christ was dispossessed? and also where do I take that action in heaven or on earth?


Edgar Foster said...

Hello Omar,

English versions normally render that part, "he emptied himself." There are many suggestions for what Paul meant, and I have discussed that subject here and elsewhere. Some argue that he emptied himself of some divine properties (attributes) but others claim that Jesus emptied himself by pouring out his soul unto death. See Isa. 53. It is also an ongoing debate in scholarship about where he emptied himself, but I believe he took this action prior to becoming human.

I will post some links that might help.

Edgar Foster said...

Omar Meza Solano said...

thanks edgar for the information, look I was reading the work perspicasia and says the following under the theme jesucristo:


The Son of God willingly accepted the assignment, as is clear from Philippians 2: 5-8, where it is recorded that he "emptied himself" of his heavenly glory and nature of spirit, and "took the form of a slave" to to be transferred to the terrestrial, material and human plane. "There is something that I can not harmonize on the one hand I know that the meaning of the word moprhe in all cases always speaks of a figure, EXTERNAL APPEARANCE however it seems that the work acumen says that Christ has divested himself of his "God-form" (heavenly glory and nature of spirit) osea rather it gives him the meaning also of divine nature what do you think about this point? it has created a little confusion to me this the best I'm not understanding well

Edgar Foster said...

Omar, the word MORFH has a semantic range like other words. So it could mean external appearance in one context, but mean status in another. But some translators and interpreters say the word can mean "nature." See how the NIV translates Philippians 2:6. However, the evidence does not favor understanding MORFH to mean nature in Philippians 2:6. See

Anonymous said...

Hi Omar,

I agree with Edgar that "nature" isn't a very compelling option for MORFH. However, just for the sake of argument, let's say that we opt for that sense at Phil 2; what would that mean? I would suggest that the "nature" in question would be God's composition, which is "spirit" (John 4:24) or perhaps "glorious spirit". If we go that route, then the following paraphrase may capture the sense:

Although he exited as a glorious spirit being like God
He did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped
But he emptied himself and took the form of a slave

This would be theologically consistent with his status as one who is the "image" of God. It would also be consistent with his mission, as one who was to die as a man at the hands of Rome. You cannot kill a spirit being by nailing it to a stake, but you can kill a man that way.


Edgar Foster said...

Good points, Kas.

Omar, see also Carl Conrad's observations on Phil 2:6ff: