What kind of genitive is «μορφῇ θεοῦ» in Phil. 2:6?

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What kind of genitive is «μορφῇ θεοῦ» in Phil. 2:6?

Postby Mike Baber » November 28th, 2012, 6:56 pm

Maybe there is a better sub-forum for this question, so if there is, please feel free to move it.

One on another forum asked, "Does God have a form?"
My first thought was "no," but then I thought about Philippians 2:6.

Now, I don't think God has a physical, visible form, but is that the only form that an existing being could have? I don't necessarily think so.

Anyway, Philippians 2:6 refers to Jesus as «ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων», that is, "being in the form of God."

How would you understand the phrase «μορφῇ θεοῦ»?

Is it a possessive genitive, i.e. "God's form"?

Or is it a genitive of apposition, i.e. "in the form, that is, God." Thus, μορφή is a general category of sorts ("form"), under which θεός is categorized. So, θεός is a μορφή, and δοῦλος could also be a μορφή (cp. Phil. 2:7).

Your thoughts, please.
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Re: What kind of genitive is «μορφῇ θεοῦ» in Phil. 2:6?

Postby George F Somsel » November 29th, 2012, 11:35 am

It helps to quote the text
6 ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων
οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο
τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ,


I think you already know what kind of genitive this is, but you find it hard to accept the implication of that. We often create problems for ourselves when we begin with a doctrinal presupposition and then attempt to read the text to conform with that doctrine. Consider another passage from the LXX [Jdg 8.18]
καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς Ζεβεε καὶ Σαλμανα Ποῦ οἱ ἄνδρες, οὓς ἀπεκτείνατε ἐν Θαβωρ; καὶ εἶπαν Ὡσεὶ σύ, ὅμοιος σοί, ὅμοιος αὐτῶν, ὡς εἶδος μορφὴ υἱῶν βασιλέων.


Here we are dealing with a purely human example which no one would be likely to deny indicates that they had the likeness of royal sons. Go and read likewise.
george
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Re: What kind of genitive is «μορφῇ θεοῦ» in Phil. 2:6?

Postby Mike Baber » November 29th, 2012, 12:34 pm

No offense Mr. Somsel, but if I knew the type of genitive, I would not have asked the question.
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Re: What kind of genitive is «μορφῇ θεοῦ» in Phil. 2:6?

Postby Stephen Carlson » November 29th, 2012, 1:06 pm

I know it's not good of me to say this, but, when asked what kind of genitive something is, my first thought is "aporetic" without even looking at the text.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke, New Testament)
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Re: What kind of genitive is «μορφῇ θεοῦ» in Phil. 2:6?

Postby cwconrad » November 29th, 2012, 2:00 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:I know it's not good of me to say this, but, when asked what kind of genitive something is, my first thought is "aporetic" without even looking at the text.


But in fact most of those distinctions that the grammar books like to multiply have more to do with how the construction translates than with the meaning indicated by the construction. If someone asks about any genitive qualifying a noun, it is indeed "aporetic" -- or the person wouldn't ask! But I'd call it "adnominal" and be done with it.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
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Re: What kind of genitive is «μορφῇ θεοῦ» in Phil. 2:6?

Postby cwconrad » November 30th, 2012, 6:48 am

Mike Baber wrote:No offense Mr. Somsel, but if I knew the type of genitive, I would not have asked the question.


Mike, we have been having a bit of fun at your expense, but the fact is that it really was, for all your bewilderment in raising the initial question, a "dumb question." We've been going back and forth in this forum and on its predecessor, the old B-Greek mailing list, on the matter of adnominal genitives and the tendency of some grammarians to divide and subdivide them into umpteen categories and subcategories, to the ultimate self-disparaging invention of the term, "Aporetic Genitive" -- meaning, "It doesn't fit into any of these gazillion subcategories of adnominal genitive we have 'discerned', and we still don't know what-the-hell sort of genitive it is" ("aporetic" means something like "stumped, at an impasse").

The categories and subcategories of the adnominal genitive are, by and large, devised in terms of how people think they should translate the construction. The only one of those categories that can really be discerned with any clarity is the genitive used with a verbal noun; there we distinguish between an "objective" genitive, e.g. ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀγάπη, where we understand the ἀγάπη as directed toward God, and a "subjective" genitive, where we understand God as the one who loves.

But the fact is that every adnominal genitive -- every genitive noun that qualifies another noun -- is a structure without any distinct semantic value. The noun in the genitive case is linked to the other noun in the same way that one noun is linked together with another in English by a possessive-case form, by the preposition "of" or by compounding (with or without a hyphen). Thus ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀγάπη can be Englished as "God's love" or as "love of God" or as "God-love." I think the reason why students get stumped by instances of an adnominal genitive encountered in their reading is that they can't see immediately what the linkage between the two nouns is. The fact, however, is that one can get no clues about what that linkage might be apart from the context of the construction in the text under consideration. There's nothing special or magic about the construction μορφὴ θεοῦ. One might play around with how we understand the noun μορφὴ here: is it used in an Aristotelian sense as 'the identifying formal quality that characterizes God and only God" or is it used in the sense of "outward appearance that may be deceptive"? But the phrase itself may be Englished as "God's form", as "form of God" or "God-form" -- or, if you prefer, with some word other than "form" for μορφή.

That is to say: there's nothing distinct about the phrase μορφὴ θεοῦ; its meaning is as obscure or clear as the corresponding English equivalents "form of God" or "God's form" or God-form.

Categorizing this geniive construction, determining "what kind" it is, is a waste of time. If you can't figure out what the meaning of μορφὴ θεοῦ from the Greek text and its larger context, grammatical lore is not going to help you. The more important question is probably, "What exactly does the writer mean by using the word μορφή?"

That may not be the kind of answer you're looking for, but I hope it will explain why you've gotten the kinds of answers you've gotten hitherto and why we've treated it as a "dumb question."
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
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Re: What kind of genitive is «μορφῇ θεοῦ» in Phil. 2:6?

Postby Mike Baber » November 30th, 2012, 1:32 pm

Your answer does help, Professor. Thank you for taking the time to answer constructively.
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Re: What kind of genitive is «μορφῇ θεοῦ» in Phil. 2:6?

Postby RickBrannan » November 30th, 2012, 2:30 pm

On an interesting side note — P.Oxy 210 uses this same phrase, μορφη θεου, on verso line 19, [...]ο̣ς εν μορφη θ(εο)υ [...]

The fragment is dated to the 3rd century, typically, and is unique for mixing sayings of Jesus (regarding a good tree bearing good fruit, probably) in with this distinctly Pauline phrase, "in the form of God" and also "in the image of him" (which is found on line 20). Many think this fragment could be an early commentary or homily (cf. Ehrman, Apocryphal Gospels, p. 259).
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Re: What kind of genitive is «μορφῇ θεοῦ» in Phil. 2:6?

Postby George F Somsel » November 30th, 2012, 11:17 pm

Mike Baber wrote
One on another forum asked, "Does God have a form?"
My first thought was "no," but then I thought about Philippians 2:6.


Apparently you thought you had some understanding of the genitive when you wrote that or you wouldn't have considered that it might be related to the question of whether God has a form. It would seem that you therefore do understand the use of the genitive in this passage.
george
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defend the truth till death.



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