Re: "Semantic Domain" and Translating Synonyms (was: entropy)

From: Edgar Foster (
Date: Wed Jun 03 1998 - 08:06:19 EDT

Dear B-Greekers,

Due to the sheer volume of this thread, there is no way I can respond
to every submission on this subject. Instead of taking this summer
off, I was crazy enough to take a full load of classes. I must
therefore study for numerous tests. At any rate . . .

---Ron Rhoades wrote:

> Edgar Foster wrote:
> >Conversely, OLAM in certain contexts could be rendered "eternity"
or "eternal." Either way, there is no translational transgression.
...the Greek words MORFE and SXHMA. The two words are synonymous, and
can be used interchangeably in certain contexts. One such context in
which they can be used as interchangeable components is Phil. 2:6ff.
While some commentators like to emphasize the distinctions between the
two words, and some would even say that they are not synonymous--there
is good evidence in the Classics that MORFE and SXHMA are indeed
synonymous. My point is that the CONCEPT of "external appearance" is
not bound by **one word** but can be expressed by two words. Thus,
Jesus outwardly appeared as God in his pre-existence; on earth he
outwardly appeared as a servant.<<

> >One could also make the same case for QEOTHTOS and THEIOTHS.
> Edgar,

>>I for one would like to know if translators are rendering two
separate words with one English word.<<

I feel the same way.

>>Even if they were perfectly synonymous (which I firmly believe is
impossible), I would like to be able to make that determination
myself. The Hebrew OLaM can certainly mean an "indefinite time" and
also "eternity" in some contexts. But who does the translator think he
is for not leaving it up to me to determine which interpretation the
context calls for?<<

I really don't think the translator can be faulted for doing his job.
Of course, there are faulty translations. There are also loose
translations and "literal" translations. With the many choices
available, I see no reason why one cannot find a translation that
allows the reader to determine the sense or meaning of a particular
Greek or Hebrew word. Would you not also agree that if we leave enough
words untranslated, then we no longer have a translation? :-)

>>As for MORFH AND SXHMA though basically they can be termed synonyms,
I think the differences in meaning in the example you cited (Phil.
2:6-8) are important to note: SXHMA denoting the demeanor, nature or
manner and
MORFH the outward look, appearance or representation.<<

Ron, I may be wrong here, but I really don't see how one can define
SXHMA as "the demeanor, nature or manner." IMHO, SXHMA is
diametrically opposed to "the demeanor, nature or manner" of a person
or thing.

Earle cites numerous authorities, I will briefly summarize these:

"The SXHMA here [in Phil. 2:6-8] signifying his whole outward
presentation" (Trench).

"SXHMA indicates "what he appeared in the eyes of men" (Lightfoot).

SXHMA is the outward fashion which appeals to the senses" (Vincent).

See _Word Meanings in The NT_ Ralph Earle (p. 337).

Admittedly, Earle doesn't view MORFH and SXHMA as synonymous. I feel
there is adequate evidence, however, to support the fact that the two
signifiers are indeed synonymous (though not fully synonymous).

>>The use of MORFH at Mark 16:12 IMO is not interchangeable with
SXHMA. Jesus had a
*different* outward appearance (MORFH) than before, but did he have a
different (SXHMA)? In other writings the MORFH always stays the same
however the SXHMA changes at will (a dog still looks like a dog
however his manners can change).<<

In his extensive commentary on Philippians, Moises Silva discusses the
similarities and differences between MORFHN, hOMOIWMATI, and SXHMATI.
His comments are as follows:

"The literature dealing with these words . . . is very extensive and
covers a wide range of problems. Whatever distinctions may be posited
are subject to contextual adjustments, including semantic
neutralization, which is most likely what we have here [in Phil. 2].
It would be difficult to prove that if these three terms were
interchanged, a substantive semantic difference would result"
(Philippians, M. Silva. P. 126 [Moody]).
>>Lightfoot, Trench and Kittel all see significant differences between
the two. Differences that I feel should be retained in translation.<<

While the aforementioned scholars may have failed to see the
similarities between MORFH and SXHMA, Greek literature does not
support their conclusions:

"If we stress the classical usage of this term
[MORFH], the technical sense of Aristotelian
philosophy suggests itself: MORFH, although
not equivalent to OUSIA ("being, essence"),
speaks of essential or characteristic attributes
and thus is to be distinguished from SXHMA
(the changeable, external fashion). In a valuable
essay on MORFH and SXHMA, [Lightfoot] argued
along these lines and remarked that even in
popular usage these respective meanings could
be ascertained. The many references where
MORFH is used of physical appearance . . .
make it difficult to maintain Lightfoot's precise
distinction, though there is an important
element of truth in his treatment" (Silva 113-

Continuing, Silva also offers the following:

"[Lightfoot's] claim that MORFH (opposite SXHMA) refers to
unchangeable essence can be sustained by some references, but too many
passages speak against it" (Silva 122).


Edgar Foster

Classics Major

Lenoir-Rhyne College

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