corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Lexicons

Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament


Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

morphe (Strong's #3444) Form

schema (Strong's #4976) Fashion

idea (Strong's #2397) Appearance, Countenance

Morphe, schema, and idea are not used frequently in the New Testament. Morphe occurs only twice ( Mark 16:12; Philippians 2:6), as does schema ( 1 Corinthians 7:31; Philippians 2:8), and idea appears only once ( Matthew 28:3). Morphe means "form," schema means "fashion," and idea means "appearance." The first two words frequently are used together and are objective. The "form" and the "fashion" of something would exist even if it were alone in the universe, whether anyone were there to behold it or not. Idea is subjective, in that the "appearance" of a thing implies someone to whom this appearance is made; there must be a "seer" before there can be a "seen."

The best way to study the distinction between morphe and schema and to estimate its importance is to study the use of these words in Philippians 2:6-8. In this great doctrinal passage Paul says that the eternal Word sisted "in the form of God" before his incarnation, assumed "the form of a servant" at his incarnation, and was "found in appearance as a man" after his incarnation and during his walk on earth. The fathers were inclined to use the first phrase (en morphe theou hyparchon) against the Arians, as did the Lutherans against the Socinians. The fathers understood this phrase as a statement that proved the absolute divinity of the Son of God, because they understood morphe as equivalent to ousia (Strong's #3776) or to physis (Strong's #5449). But it is now generally acknowledged that this cannot be maintained. Doubtless Paul's words in Philippians 2:6-8 contain a proof of the divinity of Christ, though this is present implicitly, not explicitly. Although morphe is not equivalent to ousia, no one who is not God could be en morphe theou. Thus Bengel correctly noted: "The form of God is not his divine nature, although he who exists in the form of God is God." This is true because morphe signifies the form as it expresses the inner lifenot "being" but "mode of being," or better "mode of existence," and only God could have the mode of existence of God. But Jesus, who had thus been from eternity en morphe theou ( John 17:5), took at his incarnation morphen doulou. The veracity of his incarnation is implied here; there was nothing docetic or fantastic about it. His manner of existence was now that of a doulos, that is, of a doulos tou theo, for in the midst of all our Lord's humiliations he was never a doulos anthropon. From time to time he was man's diakonos; this was part of his tapeinosis (Strong's #5014), which is mentioned in the next verse. But he was never man's doulos. On the contrary, they were his. With respect to God, he emptied himself of his glory, so that from that manner of existence in which he thought it not robbery to be equal with God, he became God's servant.

The next clause, "and being found in appearance (schemati) as a man," helps us distinguish schema and morphe. The truth of the Son's incarnation was expressed by morphen doulou labon. The words that follow declare the outward facts that were known by his fellow men, with an emphasis on heuretheis. By men, Christ was found in fashion as a manthe schema signifying his whole outward presentation. Bengel correctly stated: "schema is his character, manner of life, dress, food, posture, speech, and actions." In these there was no difference between Jesus and other men. The superficial character of schema appears in its association with words such as chroma and hypographs.Plutarch defined schema this way: "It is an appearance and outline and boundary of a body."

The distinction between schema and morphe is clearly expressed in the compound verbs metaschematizein (Strong's #3345) and metamorphoun (Strong's #3339). If a Dutch garden were changed into an Italian one, this would be metaschematismos; but if I were to transform a garden into something wholly different, such as a city, this would be metamorphosis. It is possible for Satan metaschematizein himself into an angel of light ( 2 Corinthians 11:14); he can assume this outer appearance. But it would be impossible to apply the metamorphousthai to any of his changes, for this would imply not an external but an internal changea change of essence that is quite beyond his power. The variation of words in Romans 12:2 is fine and subtle, though "conformed" and "transformed" inadequately represent it. "Do not fall in," says the apostle, "with the fleeting fashions of this world, nor be yourselves fashioned to them (me syschematizesthe [Strong's #4964]), but undergo a deep abiding change (alla metamorphousthe) by the renewing of your mind, such as the Spirit of God alone can work in you" (cf2Corinthians3:18). In commenting on this verse, Theodoret called particular attention to this variation of the worda variation that would take the highest skill of the English scholar to reproduce in his own language. "He was teaching how much present circumstances differ from virtue, for the former he was calling schema but virtue he terms morphe;morphe is indicative of genuinely important values, while schema is a thing easy to undo." Meyer perversely rejected this and noted: "Both words are contrasted only by the prepositions without any difference in the root words." One can understand a commentator overlooking but not denying the significance of this change of roots.

At the resurrection of the dead, Christ will transfigure (metaschematisei) the bodies of his saints ( Philippians 3:21; cf1Corinthians15:53). On this Calov remarked:

That transformation [metaschematismos] brings about not a change of substance but a change of accidence, not in regard to the essence of our body but in respect to its qualities, with its essence being preserved.

The changes of heathen deities into wholly different shapes were metamorphoseis. Metaschematismos refers to a transition but not to an absolute disruption of continuity. The butterfly, a prophetic type of man's resurrection, is immeasurably more beautiful than the grub from which it unfolds. But when Proteus successively transformed himself first into a flame, then into a wild beast, and finally into a running stream, this was not merely a change of schema but of morphe. When Mark recorded that after his resurrection Christ appeared to the disciples en hetera (Strong's #2087) morphe ( Mark 16:12), the words indicate the vast mysterious change that his body had undergone. The transformation on the mount was a prophetic anticipation of this change.

Morphe refers to something's essence. An object cannot be conceived of apart from its "formality," using this word in its old logical sense. Schema refers to something's accidental propertiesnot to its essence but to its qualities and whatever changes it may undergo. Schema leaves the essence untouched and the thing itself essentially or "formally" the same as it was before. Thus we may speak of "an essence [morphe] of nature" and of "a quality [schema] of habit." Thus the schema basilikon is the whole outward adornment of a monarchdiadem, tiara, scepter, and robeall of which he might lay aside and still remain king. It does not belong to the man as a part of himself. Thus Menander wrote: "An evil man assuming a meek posture [schema] lies as a concealed trap for his neighbors." The schema tou kosmou (Strong's #2889) passes away ( 1 Corinthians 7:31); here the image is probably drawn from the shifting scenes of a theater. The kosmos itself abides; there is no telos tou kosmou (Strong's #5056) but only tou aionos (Strong's #165) or ton aionon.

The use of forma and figura in Latin corresponds respectively with morphe and schema. Although figura formae occurs frequently, forma figurae never occurs. The contrast in English between "deformed" and "disfigured" functions in a similar manner. A hunchback is "deformed," but a man that has been beaten on the face may be "disfigured"; the deformity is bound up in the very existence of the one; the disfigurement of the other may disappear in a few days. "Transformed" and "transfigured" display the same distinction.

The only New Testament use of idea ( Matthew 28:3) is poorly translated as "countenance." "Appearance" would be better. Idea refers to "a sight occurring to the eyes"not to the thing itself but to the thing as it is seen. Plato wrote: platte idean theriou poikilou (fashion to thyself the image of a manifold beast); idea tou prosopou (the look of the countenance); idea kalos (fair to look on); chionos idea (the appearance of snow). In the last clause of his definition, Plutarch said: "Idea is a property without a bodynot that it subsists by itself, but it molds shapeless matter into a form and is the cause of its display." This is consistently the meaning of idea. The following quotation from Philo concerning his doctrine of the Logos (which was fundamentally different from John's and which actually was a denial of the most important element of John's doctrine) shows that this clearly is the case: "The divine Logos above the cherubims has not come into visible appearance [idean]."

Copyright Statement
Public Domain

Bibliography Information
Trench, Richard C. Entry for 'Form'. Synonyms of the New Testament. 1854.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, April 4th, 2020
the Fifth Week of Lent
There are 8 days til Easter!
Search for…
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  L  M 
N  O  P  R  S  T  U  V  W  Z 

Prev Entry
Next Entry
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology