We were studying 2 Timothy ch. 3 yesterday. In order to prepare for healthy discussion, I decided to read the chapter through in the Greek (thanks to my Readers Greek New Testament to help me with all of the extremely rare vocabulary). I came across this verse (3:5) which comes across in most English translations like so:
…holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these.
The first clause come from the Greek ἔχοντες μόρφωσιν εὐσεβείας. The opponents, whom Paul is trying to warn his delegate Timothy to avoid, are currently holding to a form of godliness/piety. It is the noun μόρφωσιν which stuck out to me. This noun is closely related to μορφὴ, the debated noun in Phil. 2:6-7. One of the more popular readings of the Philippian hymn argues that Christ formerly had the form of God but later emptied himself and took the form of a servant (and by this, they mean ‘God became a human being’). The implied change, in that interpretation, is that morphe involves one’s very being, so that Jesus was ‘God’ and emptied himself into being a servant human being. I’m sure some nuance of the popular, high christology view which I am attempting to articulate, is certainly needed.
What makes the supposed parallel in 2 Tim. 3:5 so interesting is that an almost identical word morphosis is the form [of godliness] which Timothy’s opponents are holding to. This appearance of piety is, however, a charade. The opponents are not really godly. It is s fake (like professional wrestling and Te’o’s girlfriend). Yet the change which took place with the opponents was not from some divine being into a godly/religious person. Rather, they are human beings characterized by the vices in 2 Tim. 3:2-4, but they put on the charade of having a form of godliness. In other words, the word morphosis does not suggest the change from one being into another (divine or human), but instead one’s disposition (in this case, from evil to good). This would suggest, as I have argued in previous posts on Phil 2:6-7, that morphe is better understood as one’s outward disposition. In the case of Christ, he existed in the form of God (‘image of God’ language denoting kingly prerogatives reminiscent of the original role given to Adam). In a demonstration of humility, he repeatedly took the form of a servant. However, Jesus was still a human being during both of these phases. Christians are called to emulate this sort of humility (Phil. 2:5).
Perhaps morphosis in 2 Tim. 3:5 can spark some further discussion into the meaning of the Christ hymn in Phil. 2:5-11.