Thursday, September 29, 2022

Jesus, Entelechy, and the “Form” of God (Gospels 7)


“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

 Who, being in the form (morphē/μορφή) of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form (morphē/μορφή) of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

(Philippians 2:5-8 NKJV)



Does God Have a “Form”?


If God has no “form/eidos/εἶδος” (or, at least, no one has seen His form/eidos/εἶδος, as confirmed by John 5:37), how can Paul say that that Jesus was “in the form/morphē/μορφή of God” in Philippians 2:6-7?  First, one easily notes that John and Paul use two different words for “form” (eidos/εἶδος and morphē/μορφή), which Aristotle’s "entelechy" vocabulary, at times, uses interchangeably (as synonyms).  For example, in the previous blogpost, I commented that change/kinēsis/κίνησις or entelechy/entelecheia/ἐντέλεχεια is effected by four potential causes:

(1) archē/ἀρχή or “efficient cause,”

(2) telos/τέλος or “final cause,”

(3) eidos/εἶδος (aka, morphē/μορφή) or “formal cause,” and

(4) hulē/ὕλη or “material cause.”

With respect to the use of eidos/εἶδος in John 5:37 and the use of morphē/μορφή in Philippians 2:6-7, I believe that the two terms are fundamentally interchangeable (synonyms), with only a slight differentiation by Aristotle: When Aristotle discusses the change/kinēsis/κίνησις or entelechy/entelecheia/ἐντέλεχεια of substance (i.e., usually “growth”) he makes this distinction: “substance--the one is positive form (morphê), the other privation (sterêsis)” (Physics 201a5ff.).  In other words, when a plant is changing its substance by “growing” (positive), morphê is involved; when the plant is changing its substance by “withering away” (privation), sterêsis is involved.  Another example of sterêsis (besides a plant withering) would be a body decaying; whereas, when it was alive and growing, it was in the process of positively increasing in morphê.  Since, in addition to discussing Jesus being in (“the form/morphē/μορφή of God) in Philippians 2:6-7, Paul also discusses Jesus taking on him “the form/morphē/μορφή of a servant” (susceptible to death), we begin discussing this issue in terms of Jesus’ human body, his physical/fleshly form/morphē/μορφή.


Embryology:  How Was Jesus’ Human “Form” Generated?


We, here, face a difficulty with the Athanasian Creed.  It states that Jesus (while he is “God from the essence of the Father, begotten before time”) is “human from the essence of his mother.”  R. C. Sproul, a Reformed leader who embraces this creed, states that his co-religionists are willing to allow for errors in creeds.  He writes in The Last Days According to Jesus (p. 168): “[S]trong advocates of [the Reformation principle of] sola Scriptura historically have had great respect for the historic creeds.  These advocates have not considered the creeds infallible, but . . . held in . . . high esteem.”  This may be one situation in which the Athanasian Creed was fallible.  The phrase “begotten before time” can be easily dealt with, using an entelechial perspective (since the beginning, middle, and end are all implicit in each other), but the “human” part is problematic.  No one in the first century AD, when the gospels were written (or even in the fourth century AD, when the Athanasian Creed was formed) knew anything about X and Y chromosomes and, therefore, no explanation is offered in the Bible concerning the chromosomal issue.  We now know that a Y chromosome is required in order for the child to be born a male, as Jesus was, and the female Mary could have only (due to the laws of nature/phusis) contributed an X chromosome to the embryo.  Furthermore, there is the complication that Jesus is frequently called the son of David.  Luke 1:32 says that David is Jesus’ father and Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies trace Jesus’ lineage back to David and beyond. Since Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies trace, respectively, Joseph’s and Mary’s lineage, the point at which the two genealogies diverge is at David himself.  Matthew follows the lineage of David’s son Solomon; Luke follows the lineage of David’s son Nathan.  Therefore, somehow the addition of a sperm from David himself (or, at least, a Y chromosome from David, created by the Logos) would appear to have been necessary.  Possibly countering this conclusion, it is noted that Jesus, in Matthew 22:42-45, Mark 12:35-37, and Luke 20:41-44, questions the idea of calling the Christ the “son of David” and John (7:42) is the only gospel that specifically mentions the Messiah as being of the “seed/sperm/σπέρματος” of David.  Even at that point in John’s gospel, the issue is presented as a question asked by participants in an argument, suggesting that Jesus might not qualify as Messiah, if he were not of the “seed/sperm/σπέρματος” of David.  Nevertheless, Acts 13:22-23, Romans 1:3, and 2 Timothy 2:8 all affirm that Jesus was of David’s “seed/sperm/σπέρματος.” 

Michael Pope, in a 2019 article in the Journal of Biblical Literature, explores “Luke’s Seminal Annunciation:  An Embryological Reading of Mary’s Conception.”  While not seeming to be aware that he is dealing with entelechial terminology (even though his article is, certainly, replete with entelechial terminology), Pope discusses dynamis/δύναμις (also transliterated dunamis) in connection with sperma/σπέρμα and pneuma/πνεῦμα (spirit). The two terms dynamis/δύναμις and pneuma/πνεῦμα, he points out, are “the named agents of conception in Luke 1:35” (p. 791).  I can definitely see that pneuma (spirit) is an “agent” of conception/change in Luke, and therefore, it would be classified as a dynamis/δύναμις.  I would classify it as the dunamis/δύναμις archē/ἀρχή.  In other words, the Holy Spirit (pneuma/πνεῦμα) was the “agent” or “efficient cause” of the conception.  In the previous blogpost, I identified dunamis as the entelechial term describing any one of the four causes of change: “Change/kinēsis/κίνησις, is effected by four potential (dunamis/dunamai) causes: archē/ἀρχή . . . telos/τέλος . . . eidos/εἶδος (aka, morphē/μορφή) . . . hulē/ὕλη.” While, Pope attempts to pull the term sperma/σπέρμα into the Luke account (suggesting that Jesus’ conception was, somehow, a normal human conception), he is ultimately unsuccessful.  The term sperma/σπέρμα is simply not there.  He states: “In the end, we cannot know whether Luke’s inclusion of the impregnating agents πνεῦμα and δύναμις is meant to induce his audience to consider σπέρμα as well” (p. 805).  We could, however, speculate that the Logos either specially created the material/hulē/ὕλη of a complete biological embryo (combining both Mary’s ovum and a sperm from David) or just a sperm/sperma/σπέρμα[τος] from David (or, at least, the Y chromosome to be added to Mary’s genetic makeup in the ovum).  If the Logos supplied the entire biological embryo, we have a scenario similar to what is produced in in vitro fertilization.  This problem is certainly not insurmountable from Matthew’s, Luke’s, and John the Baptist’s perspectives.  In Matthew 3:9 and Luke 3:8, the Baptist informs those (Pharisees and Sadducees) who come out to his baptism and are proud to be children of Abraham that God is able to raise up children to Abraham out of stones.  It is possible that this comment of the Baptist is a play on words in the Hebrew, since the Hebrew words for “stones” and “sons” very closely resemble each other, but the point regarding God’s ability is a valid one, nevertheless, reported by both Matthew and Luke.  Whether God used “stones” or gold coins or thin air, it is definitely within the capability of God to raise up children to Abraham long after the death of Abraham.  So, what would be the problem with the Holy Spirit/πνεῦμα raising up a Davidic sperm, if that is indeed what He did?


Metamorphosis:  When Was Jesus in the “Form” of God?


Although it is commonplace for Christian exegetes to assume that the scene in which Jesus was “in the form (morphē/μορφή) of God,” in Philippians 2:5-8, was “the (pre-creation) beginning,” before Jesus came to Earth, the possibility of that being the case seems to fly in the face of logic, if God has no form/eidos/εἶδος or morphē/μορφή.  As mentioned in the previous blogpost, the term eidos/εἶδος is missing from

Revelation—but present in Luke’s (3:22) description of the “form” of the Spirit at Jesus baptism and Luke’s (9:29) description of the transfigured Jesus’ form/eidos/εἶδος, as well as in John’s (5:37) discussion of the form/eidos/εἶδος of God.  Of those mentions of the term eidos/εἶδος, the John 5:37 mention establishes that no one has seen God’s form/eidos/εἶδος.  This is due to the fact that God cannot be limited to a form/eidos/εἶδος.  Luke’s (3:22) description of the “form” of the Spirit at Jesus baptism refers to a visible form (the form/eidos/εἶδος of a “dove”), not actually the form/eidos/εἶδος of “God,” since no one has seen God’s form/eidos/εἶδος.  In Luke’s (9:29) description of the transfiguration, Jesus’ face is called a form/eidos/εἶδος: the form/eidos/εἶδος “of his face was altered” (NKJV) and “his robe became white and glistening.”  Compare Matthew’s (17:2) and Mark’s (9:2) discussion of the transfiguration.  They both use the other term for “form” (μεταμορφόω from the root μορφή/form) when referring to Jesus’ “form” being changed.  They say his face shone like the sun (in Matthew); his clothing became exceedingly white (in Mark).  The word metamorphosis IS the noun translated “transfiguration,” corresponding to the verb metamorphoō/μεταμορφόω.  

A final mention of μορφή/form occurs in Mark 16:12 (NKJV), pertaining to the form of Christ in a post-resurrection appearance: “After that, He appeared in another form [μορφῇ] to two of them as they walked and went into the country.”  What did Mark mean by “other/ἑτέρᾳ/hetera form/μορφῇ”?  The word “other/ἑτέρᾳ/hetera”appears in the English word “hetero-sexual.” As opposed to a “homo-sexual,” who is attracted to the “same” sex, a “hetero-sexual” is attracted to the “different/other” sex.  Likewise, Jesus’ μορφή/form was not the same μορφή/form he had been in; it was a different/other/ἑτέρᾳ/hetera form/μορφῇ (but not a different sex, lest the reader become confused by my illustration of the meaning of the term other/ἑτέρᾳ/hetera).  Luke describes the post-resurrection appearance in more detail.  While not using the term μορφή/form, Luke 24:13-31 (NKJV) supplies elaboration of the very same incident, which helps to explain the resurrected “form” of Jesus:

[T]wo of them were traveling . . . to a village called Emmaus . . . And they talked together of all these things which had happened . . . while they conversed . . . Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.   And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk” . . . Cleopas answered and said to Him . . . “have You not known the things which happened . . . in these days?  . . . The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth . . . and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be . . . crucified . . . today is the third day since these things happened . . . and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us.  When they did not find His body

, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive.  And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.”  Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.  Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and . . . they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.  Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.

From Mark’s and Luke’s account of the Road to Emmaus incident, we see that Jesus’ resurrected μορφή/form was, at first, unrecognizable to his disciples (as it was when Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus after his resurrection in the garden, John 20:14-15).  Incidentally, we recognize individuals not only by “sight,” but by all five sense perceptions.  We, like the blind, recognize individuals by the sound of their voices.  Dogs recognize individuals by their smell and taste.  Isaac attempted to recognize Jacob and Esau by touch.  So it was with Jesus.  Jesus spoke to the two in Emmaus in such a way that he was recognized (as he was when he addressed Mary Magdalene by name in the garden, John 20:16).  Then Jesus disappeared completely.  Just as Jesus disappeared at Emmaus, Jesus suddenly appeared in the upper room on Easter evening, even though the door was closed (John 20:19).  At that time, he also ate food (Luke 24:41-43)—whereas, he had blessed the food for the Emmaus travelers and cooked the food for his disciples, later, at the Sea of Galilee—and, in the upper room, he had a body that was completely recognizable to his closest disciples, even down to the nail holes in his hands and the sword wound in his side.  Even Thomas, who at first doubted, could not resist this demonstrable evidence, addressing Jesus as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).  Strangely, Jesus had forbidden Mary Magdalene to touch him in the garden, because he had not yet ascended to his Father (John 20:17), even though he permitted his eleven disciples to touch him (John 20:27, Luke 24:38).  Had these individuals encountered Jesus “in the μορφή/form of God”?  The μορφή/form of Jesus following his resurrection was certainly different (other/ἑτέρᾳ/hetera) from the earthly μορφή/form into which he was born.  Nevertheless, these post-resurrection appearances cannot account for Paul’s comment about Jesus being in the μορφή/form of God in Philippians 2:6-7, because Paul says that Jesus exchanged that μορφή/form of God for the μορφή/form of a servant, and was obedient to death on the cross.  The preponderance of textual evidence favors neither a pre-creation form nor a post-resurrection form, but an understanding that the point at which Jesus was in the μορφή/form of God was at his transfiguration.  I explain on pages 75-76 of my book The Logic of Christianity: A Syllogistic Chain:

The Greek word . . . translated “form” . . . is . . . [μορφή], as in the word METAMORPHOSIS . . . translated TRANSFIGURED in Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2.  Reading the Philippians Hymn from this interpretive perspective, we are encouraged to be SELFLESS, as Jesus was when he found himself transfigured into an immortal form.  But, unlike Moses and Elijah, Jesus did not consider this immortal form something to be grasped, but returned to his earlier [μορφή] (that of a servant, a mortal), thus humbling himself and becoming obedient to death—EVEN THOUGH HE HAD PERSONALLY ACHIEVED IMMORTALITY!  Furthermore, his death was not an ordinary death . . . His death was the long, painful, excruciating death on a cross—the sentence of the very worst of criminals.  And, therefore, because Jesus had paid the death penalty of even the worst criminals known to man, since he himself was worthy of immortality, the payment was not needed for his own account.  It was applied to the account of EVERY SINGLE SINNING HUMAN FROM THE TIME OF ADAM TO THE END OF THE WORLD.  That’s why God exalted him. That’s why every knee bows.  That’s why every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!

Notice that in the passage just cited, I used the following terminology: “Jesus did not consider this immortal form (i.e., equality with God) something to be grasped,” rather than the NKJV translation cited above: “thought it not robbery.  The Greek word translated “robbery” in the NKJV is the word ἁρπαγμόν.  This is the only occurrence of this word in the New Testament.  Foerster, writing in Volume I, pages 473-474 of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament offers the translation “to grasp eagerly.”  He adds: “[W]e are not to link ἁρπαγμός with any thought of robbery or seizure by force.  Against all expectation, Jesus did not regard equality with God as a gain to be utilised.”

   As an aside, Paul, in Romans 12:2, uses the verb metamorphoō/μεταμορφόω to indicate the “transformation” that comes about by the renewing of your mind when you are not conformed to this world.  Thus, he hints at a “transfiguration”-experience-of-sorts that is available to Christians, not just Christ, but this use may be metaphorical.  More about that and our own resurrected μορφή/form next time.


  1. Wow, your blog posts are amazing and incredibly scholarly! Stan is there a way to subscribe so that every time you post a new blog I get notice of it? I clicked on the "Subscribe to Reader" and did not succeed with subscribing!

    1. Thanks for the heads-up, Steve! I think I have fixed the "Followers" link so that you can subscribe. Please, do!