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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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lxx. μορφή, σχῆμα, ἰδέα.

These words are none of them of frequent recurrence in the N. T., μορφή occurring there only twice (Mark 16:12; Phil. 2:6); but compare μόρφωσις (Rom. 2:20; 2 Tim. 3:5); σχῆμα not oftener (1 Cor. 7:31; Phil. 2:8); and ἰδέα only once (Matt. 28:3). Μορφή is ‘form,’ ‘forma,’ ‘gestalt’; σχῆμα is ‘fashion,’ ‘habitus,’ ‘figur’; ἰδεα, ‘appearance,’ ‘species,’ ‘erscheinung.’ The first two, which occur not unfrequently together (Plutarch, Symp. viii. 2. 3), are objective; for the ‘form” and the ‘fashion’ of a thing would exist, were it alone in the universe, and whether there were any to behold it or no. The other (ἰδέα==εἶδος, John 5:37) is subjective, the appearance of a thing implying some to whom this appearance is made; there must needs be a seer before there can be a seen.

We may best study the distinction between μορφή and σχῆμα, and at the same time estimate its importance, by aid of that great doctrinal passage (Phil. 2:6-8), in which St. Paul speaks of the Eternal Word before his Incarnation as subsisting “in the form of God” (ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ ὑπάρχων), as assuming at his Incarnation “the form of a servant” (μορφὴν δούλου λαβών), and after his Incarnation and during his walk upon earth as “being found in fashion as a man” (σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος). The Fathers were wont to urge the first phrase, ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ ὑπάρχων, against the Arians (thus Hilary, De Trin. viii. 45; Ambrose, Ep. 46; Gregory of Nyssa, Con. Eunom. 4); and the Lutherans did the same against the Socinians, as a ‘dictum probans’ of the absolute divinity of the Son of God; that is, μορφή for them was here equivalent to οὐσία or φύσις. This cannot, however, as is now generally acknowledged, be maintained. Doubtless there does lie in the words a proof of the divinity of Christ, but this implicitly and not explicitly. Μορφή is not==οὐσία: at the same time none could be ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ who was not God; as is well put by Bengel: ‘Forma Dei non est natura divina, sed tamen is qui in formâ Dei extabat, Deus est;’ and this because μορφή, like the Latin ‘forma,’ the German ‘gestalt’, signifies the form as it is the utterance of the inner life; not ‘being,’ but ‘mode of being,’ or better, ‘mode of existence’; and only God could have the mode of existence of God. But He who had thus been from eternity ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ (John 17:5), took at his Incarnation μορφὴν δούλου. The verity of his Incarnation is herein implied; there was nothing docetic, nothing phantastic about it. His manner of existence was now that of a δοῦλος, that is, of a δοῦλος τοῦ Θεοῦ: for in the midst of all our Lord’s humiliations He was never a δοῦλος ἀνθρώπων. Their διάκονος He may have been, and from time to time eminently was (John 13:4, 5; Matt. 20:28); this was part of his ταπείνωσις mentioned in the next verse; but their δοῦλος never; they, on the contrary, his. It was with respect of God He so emptied Himself of his glory, that, from that manner of existence in which He thought it not robbery to be equal with God, He became his servant.

The next clause, “and being found in fashion (σχήματι) as a man,” is very instructive for the distinguishing of σχῆμα from μορφή. The verity of the Son’s Incarnation was expressed, as we have seen, in the μορφὴν δούλου λαβών. These words which follow do but declare the outward facts which came under the knowledge of his fellow-men, with therefore an emphasis on εὑρεθείς: He was by men found in fashion as a man, the σχῆμα here signifying his whole outward presentation, as Bengel puts it well: ‘σχῆμα, habitus, cultus, vestitus, victus, gestus, sermones et actiones.’ In none of these did there appear any difference between Him and the other children of men. This superficial character of σχῆμα appears in its association with such words as χρῶμα (Plato, Gorg. 20; Theoetet. 163 b) and ὑπογραφή (Legg. v. 737 d); as in the definition of it which Plutarch gives (De Plac. Phil. 14): ἐστὶν ἐπιφάνεια καὶ περιγραφὴ καὶ πέρας σώματος. The two words are used in an instructive antithesis by Justin Martyr (1 Apol. 9).

The distinction between them comes out very clearly in the compound verbs μετασχηματίζειν and μεταμορφοῦν. Thus if I were to change a Dutch garden into an Italian, this would be μετασχηματισμός: but if I were to transform a garden into something wholly different, as into a city, this would be μεταμόρφωσις. It is possible for Satan μετασχηματίζειν himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) he can take the whole outward semblance of such. But to any such change of his it would be impossible to apply the μεταμορφοῦσθαι: for this would imply a change not external but internal, not of accidents but of essence, which lies quite beyond his power. How fine and subtle is the variation of words at Rom. 12:2; though ‘conformed’ and ‘transformed1 in our Translation have failed adequately to represent it. ‘Do not fall in,’ says the Apostle, ‘with the fleeting fashions of this world, nor be yourselves fashioned to them (μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε), but undergo a deep abiding change (ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε) by the renewing of your mind, such as the Spirit of God alone can work in you’ (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18). Theodoret, commenting on this verse, calls particular attention to this variation of the word used, a variation which it would task the highest skill of the English scholar adequately to reproduce in his own language. Among much else which is interesting, he says: ἐδίδασκεν ὅσον πρὸς τὰ παρόντα τῆς ἀρετῆς τὸ διάφορον· ταῦτα γὰρ ἐκάλεσε σχῆμα, τὴν ἀρετὴν δὲ μορφήν· ἡ μορφὴ δὲ ἀληθῶν πραγμάτων σημαντική, τὸ δὲ σχῆμα εὐδιάλυτον χρῆμα. Meyer perversely enough rejects all this, and has this note: ‘Beide Worte stehen im Gegensatze nur durch die Präpositionen, ohne Differenz des Stamm-Verba;’ with whom Fritzsche agrees (in loc.). One can understand a commentator overlooking, but scarcely one denying, the significance of this change. For the very different uses of one word and the other, see Plutarch, Quom. Adul. ab Amic. 7, where both occur.

At the resurrection Christ shall transfigure (μετασχηματίσει) the bodies of his saints (Phil. 3:21; cf. 1 Cor. 15:53); on which statement Calov remarks, ‘Ille μετασχηματισμός non substantialem mutationem, sed accidentalem, non ratione quidditatis corporis nostri, sed ratione qualitatum, salvâ quidditate, importat:’ but the changes of heathen deities into wholly other shapes were μεταμορφώσεις. In the μετασχηματισμός there is transition, but no absolute solution of continuity. The butterfly, prophetic type of man’s resurrection, is immeasurably more beautiful than the grub, yet has been duly unfolded from it; but when Proteus transforms himself into a flame, a wild beast, a running stream (Virgil, Georg. iv. 442), each of these disconnected with all that went before, there is here a change not of the σχῆμα merely, but of the μορφή (cf. Euripides, Hec. 1266; Plato, Locr. 104 e). When the Evangelist records that after the resurrection Christ appeared to his disciples ἐν ἑτέρᾳ μορφῇ (Mark 16:12), the words intimate to us how vast the mysterious change to which his body had been submitted, even as they are in keeping with the μετεμορφώθη of Matt. 18:2; Mark 9:2; the transformation upon the Mount being a prophetic anticipation of that which hereafter should be; compare Dan. 4:33, where Nebuchadnezzar says of himself, ἡ μορφή μου ἐπέστρεψεν εἰς ἐμέ.

The μορφή then, it may be assumed, is of the essence of a thing.1 We cannot conceive the thing as apart from this its formality, to use ‘formality’ in the old logical sense; the σχῆμα is its accident, having to do, not with the ‘quidditas,’ but the ‘qualitas,’ and, whatever changes it may undergo, leaving the ‘quidditas’ untouched, the thing itself essentially, or formally, the same as it was before; as one has said, μορφὴ φύσεως σχῆμα ἕξεως. Thus σχῆμα βασιλικόν (Lucian, Pisc. 35; cf. Sophocles, Antig. 1148) is the whole outward arry and adornment of a monarch— diadem, tiara, sceptre, robe (cf. Lucian, Hermot. 86)—all which he might lay aside, and remain king notwithstanding. It in no sort belongs or adheres to the man as a part of himself. Thus Menander (Meineke, Fragm. Com. p. 985):

πρᾶον κακοῦργός σχῆμ᾽ ὑπεισελθὼν ἀνὴρ
κεκρυμμένη κεῖται παγὶς τοῖς πλησίον
.

Thus, too, the σχῆμα τοῦ κοσμοῦ passes away (1 Cor. 7:31), the image being here probably drawn front the shifting scenes of a theatre, but the κόσμος itself abides; there is no τέλος τοῦ κοσμοῦ, but only τοῦ αἰώνος, or τῶν αἰώνων. For some valuable remarks on the distinction between μορφή and σχῆμα see The Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology, No. 7, pp. 113, 116, 121; and the same drawn out more fully by Bishop Lightfoot, their author, in his Commentary on the Philippians, pp. 125–131.

The use in Latin of ‘forma’ and ‘figura’ so far corresponds with those severally of μορφή and σχῆμα, that while ‘figura formae’ occurs not rarely (‘veterem formoe servare figuram’; cf. Cicero, Nat. Deor. i. 32), ‘forma figurae’ never (see Döderlein, Latein. Syn. vol. iii. p. 87). Contrast too in English “deformed” and ‘disfigured.’ A hunchback is ‘deformed,’ a man that has been beaten about the face may be ‘disfigured’; the deformity is bound up in the very existence of the one; the disfigurement of the other may in a few days have quite passed away. In ‘transformed’ and ‘transfigured’ it is easy to recognize the same distinction.

Ἰδέα on the one occasion of its use in the N. T. (Matt. 28:3) is rendered ‘countenance,’ as at 2 Macc. 3:16 ‘face.’ It is not a happy translation; ‘appearance’ would be better; ‘species sub oculos cadens,’ not the thing itself, but the thing as beholden; thus Plato (Rep. ix. 588 c), πλάττε ἰδέαν θηρίου ποικίλου, ‘Fashion to thyself the image of a manifold beast’; so ἰδέα τοῦ προσώπου, the look of the countenance (Plutarch, Pyrr. 3, and often); ἰδέᾳ καλός, fair to look on (Pindar, Olymp. xi. 122); χιόνος ἰδέα, the appearance of snow (Philo, Quod Det. Pot. Ins. 48). Plutarch defines it, the last clause of his definition alone concerning us here (De Plac. Phil. i. 9): ἰδέα ἐστὶν οὐσία ἀσώματος, αὐτὴ μὲν μὴ ὑφεστῶσα καθ᾽ αὑτήν, εἰκονίζουσα δὲ τὰς ἀμόρφους ὕλας, καὶ αἰτία γινομένη τῆς τούτων δείξεως. The word is constant to this definition, and to the ἰδεῖν lying at its own base; oftentimes it is manifestly so, as in the following quotation from Philo, which is further instructive as showing how fundamentally his doctrine of the Logos differed from St. John’s, was in fact a denial of it in its most important element: ὁ δὲ ὑπεράνω τούτων [τῶν χερουβίμ] Λόγος θεῖος εἰς ὁρατὴν οὐκ ἦλθεν ἰδέαν (De Prof. 19).— On the distinction between εἶδος and ἰδέα, and how far the Platonic philosophy admits a distinction between them at all, see Stallbaum’s note on Plato’s Republic, x. 596 b; Donaldson’s Cratylus, 3rd ed. p. 105; and Thompson’s note on Archer Butler’s Lectures, vol. ii. p. 127.


1 The Authorized Version is the first which uses ‘transformed’ here; Wiclif and the Rheims, both following closely the Vulgate, ‘transfigured,’ and the intermediate Reformed Versions, ‘changed into the fashion of.’ If the distinctions here drawn are correct, and if they stand good in English as well as Greek, ‘transformed’ is not the word.

2La forme est nécessairement en rapport avec la matière ou avec le fond. La figure au contraire est plus indépendante des objets; se conçoit à part’ (Lafaye, Syn. Fran. p. 617).

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G2397,G3444,G4976.]

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