I just came from a NT dissertation defense by Dan Fabricatore. His dissertation was titled, “A Lexical, Exegetical, and Theological Examination of the Greek Noun μορφή In Philippians.” It will be available later this summer via ILL from our library, and eventually from UMI/ProQuest.
During the defense Dan shared this wisdom:
Lessons Learned from Writing a Dissertation
• You will never feel dumber than while trying to earn a Ph.D.
• Writing a Ph.D. dissertation is a lot like remodeling a kitchen in a 100 year old house: It will take you where you did not want to go, keep you there longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you were willing to pay.
• Keep a family picture near by so you can remember what they look like.
• Your advisor is not Attila the Hun; it just seems that way.
• When you think you are done; you’re not even close.
• Don’t type when you’re tired.
I suspect that list could be supplemented! 🙂 (If you have suggestions, use the Comments section below.) And yes, I’m “Attila.” 🙂
For those who might be interested, here’s a preliminary summary of the dissertation which Dan wrote for his introductory statement at the defense.
Dissertation Defense 4/18/08
The purpose of this dissertation is to determine the meaning of μορφή in Philippians 2:6-7. The dissertation adopts a synchronic approach to lexical semantics, and examines a cross section of Greek writers who use μορφή from the classical period up through the first century A.D. The dissertation also looks how the μορφή has been interpreted throughout the church age, before exegetically examining the passage and interpreting the term in its context.
The conclusion reached in this dissertation is that μορφή denotes the visible appearance of the Son as God prior to his incarnation. This visible manifestation of Christ as God is associated with his glory (δόξα). When Christ became a man, he took on the visible appearance of a slave, an interpretation made against the social backdrop of slavery in the Greco-Roman world. When Christ became man, the visible manifestation of his divine glory was veiled. This understanding of μορφή is in contrast to a popular connotation that μορφή refers to the essence or nature of God (2:6) and the essence or nature of a
This interpretation of μορφή is based primarily in the lexical data regarding μορφή, as well as contextual indicators in Philippians 2:6-8. Lexically, a thorough sampling of μορφή among classical and hellenistic Greek writers demonstrates that the overwhelming uses of μορφή denote the visible form or shape of someone or something. This fact is also true of Aristotle and others who are sometimes cited by commentators (such as J. B. Lightfoot) as being the source for Paul’s understanding of μορφή in the philosophical manner of essence or nature. On some occasions μορφή refers to the physical stature or beauty of a person. On rare occasions it denotes the essence or nature of an object. Contextually, the uses of ὁμοίωμα, σχῆμα, and ἄνθρωπος all serve in verse 7 to stress the visible reality of the humanity of Christ.
This interpretation does not diminish the essence or nature of Christ as God or a slave, since both θέος and δοῦλος carry such a semantic understanding. It is just that μορφή does not mean that here.
Determining the meaning of μορφή in Philippians 2:6-7 in light of the lexical data suffers from one inescapable reality. Of the some 650 known uses of μορφή from Homer up to Josephus, only 2 are in the New Testament and both are in Philippians 2.
The dissertation examines over 100 separate uses of μορφή in classical and hellenistic Greek writings, papyri, inscriptions, and the early church fathers. Since Aristotle is cited as the one whose use of μορφή Paul draws upon in Philippians 2:6-7, his uses were examined extensively.
The term μορφή possessed a semantic range that remained stable for 800 years. From the earliest uses, it predominantly denoted the visible form or shape of an object.
For example, an early use of μορφή is in Aeschylus’ work, Eumenides. In the scene, Apollo enters from the inner sanctuary and responds to the chorus of the Furies, stating,
ἆρ’ ἀκούετε οἵας ἑορτῆς ἔστ’ ἀπόπτυστοι θεοῖς στέργηθρ’ ἔχουσαι; πᾶς δ’ ὑφηγεῖται τρόπος μορφῆς· λέοντος ἄντρον αἱματορρόφου οἰκεῖν τοιαύτας εἰκός, οὐ χρηστηρίοις ἐν τοῖσδε πλησίοισι τρίβεσθαι μύσος.
D’ye hear what sort of feast ye love that makes you detestible to the gods? The whole fashion of your form doth set it forth. Creatures such as ye should inhabit the den of some blood-lapping lion, and not inflict pollution on all near you in this oracular shrine. Begone, ye herd without a shepherd!
In the drama, Apollo casts out those who are reproached by the gods. The sense here is “the whole ‘makeup’or ‘guise’ of your form.” Aeschylus uses a construction (τρόπος μορφῆς) that contains two words that are sometimes used as synonyms. However in this construction they apparently are not used that way, since one is modifying the other. This type of construction also occurs among Greek writers on occasion with the terms μορφή and φύσις.
As a matter of fact, one is hard pressed to find uses that denote “pure” essence or nature. Such rare uses are found in the philosophers, where one would expect. An example would be from Aristotle in his work, The Physics. In it he writes, ἡ ἄρα μορφή φύσις (It is, then, the form that is nature). Such a use even by Aristotle is rare. In addition, it is possible even in this context to argue that μορφή and φύσις are different given the additional context. Yet even with Aristotle, the vast majority of his uses of μορφή denote something visible.
Writers of history such as Josephus use the term exclusively to refer to a visible object. Even in the rare uses where a writer is speaking of the nature of someone or something, it is often in reference to that which lies “behind” the visible entity. The overwhelming uses of μορφή to denote the visible appearance of an object puts great pressure on the interpreter to validate why he would dismiss such evidence. I believe that the context would need to be crystal clear that the normal use of μορφή could not be possible before attempting to defend a rare use of μορφή. The only good reason that I found to dismiss such lexical support was theological expediency.
I don’t think I should spend much time on this area since it is not critical to the interpretation of μορφή. I will say that the majority of scholars and preachers that I examined did seem to adopt the view that the “form of God” spoke of the essence or nature of God in contrast to the visible appearance view. However many of them would also hold that God’s glory was in play as well. Both views, the essence/nature view and the visible appearance/glory view hold to the deity of Christ prior to his incarnation. There is some “cross pollination” at work. Fortunately, the Bible has much built-in redundancy.
In addition, there would be reluctance to challenge such an interpretation of μορφή in Philippians 2 since the view is theologically robust. In other words, Why dabble with any view that magnifies the deity of Christ?
I believed going into the dissertation (and after as well) that the key to properly interpreting μορφή would ultimately reside in the text itself. I am a minimalist in many ways, and do not think that individual words in and of themselves can be asked to carry the bulk of semantic freight in a particular passage.
I do not believe that μορφή adds much to the passage in terms of essence or nature. If it had been left out altogether, the passage is not weakened in that regard: “who, though existing (as) God … took on servant(hood). If μορφή were absent, one could argue just as strongly that Paul was speaking of Christ as existing as “true” God (possessing his nature) and then took on the essence of a slave. This observation then begs the question: why μορφή? I believe Paul chose it to let his readers know that Christ possessed the very “form” of God that was often manifested in glory but that in an act of humility, he took another form (a slave) whereby his glory was veiled. In addition, the context in 2:7 argues for reference to Christ taking on a physical, visible form.
I hold that the visible appearance view regarding μορφή has theological implications in the passage that are theologically defendable. The view:
• Supports Christ as existent prior to his birth
• Supports Christ to be very God
• Supports Christ to be fully human
In a supporting manner, the term is used in conjunction with other theological truths:
• Christ is an obedient Son
• Christ is a humble God
Philippians 2:6-7 are at the heart of a great NT Christological passage, a passage that sets an example for believers to emulate. Christ had a great position of prominence, but he did not use that power for his own advantage, but for ours. Though he existed in the form of God, he humbled himself and took on another form, the form of a man, and a servant at that. He obediently died on a cruel Roman cross that sinners might be right with God.