Word Study #166 — Appear, Appearance

I thought this was going to be an easy one – a mere footnote to the previous study. Wrong again! In fact, it may even need a footnote of its own! The concept of “appear / appearance” in the New Testament is much more complicated than it – – well, than it “appears”!

References include four nouns and six verbs.
The nouns can be rather easily sorted, and two of them are connected to study #165:
eidos, connected to eidon, and opsis to optasia.
Eidos, L/S: “that which is seen, outward pattern or beauty, class, kind, or species; a situation or state of things, “form” – as in Plato – opposed to “substance”, (Bauer adds “outward appearance”) – occurs 5x in the New Testament, with four different translations: “appearance” in I Thess.5:22, “fashion” in Lk.9:29, “sight” in II Cor.:7, and “shape” in Lk.3:22 and Jn.5:37, although all of these bear the general idea of something readily visible.

Opsis, L/S: “the aspect, face, or appearance of a person or thing, visual impression or image, anything seen,” occurs only three times, each also translated differently: Jn.7:24, “judge not according to appearance”, Jn.11:44, Lazarus’ face had been covered for burial, and Rv.1:16 describes Jesus’ countenance. Here, too, even in the case of the heavenly vision, the reference is simply to what was seen by observer(s).

Prosopon, the common word for someone’s “face” (55x) or occasionally their “presence” (7x) – see #164 – is translated “appearance” twice: II Cor.5:12 and 10:7, both in contrast to what is actually true. Its rendering as “person” (Mt.22:16, Mk.12:14, Lk.20:21, Gal.2:16) has a similar flavor.

Only epiphaneia (English cognate – “epiphany”), for which L/S includes “the manifestation of a deity to worshipers” in addition to the more mundane “appearance, aspect, coming into light or view, sudden appearance, dawn, the accession of an emperor to the throne, outward show, fame, or distinction” makes specific reference to an actual event, as opposed to something merely observed. It is used in the New Testament exclusively to the return of the Lord Jesus (I Tim.6:14, II Tim.4:1, 4:8, Tit.2:13, and II Thes.2:8 – where the traditional translators inexplicably substituted “brightness”), except for II Tim.1:10, which refers to the accomplishments of his first coming.

It is the verbs that present more of a challenge. The prefixed verbs are nearly evenly divided between natural and supernatural references.
Anaphainomai, occurring only twice, in Lk.19:11 speaks of the (mistaken) assumption that “the Kingdom should immediately appear”, but also simply of a boat having sighted Cyprus on its journey (Ac.21:3). Both forms are passive, although the translations are active. (More of this later.)
Classical uses include “to bring to light, to display, to declare, to appear plainly, to be seen or found.”

Emphanizo, “to show forth, exhibit, become or make visible, to exhibit in court, to declare or explain”, is most frequently courtroom vocabulary (Ac.23:15, 23:22,24:1,25:2,25:15) – and this is also one possible interpretation of Heb.9:24. However, it is also used of Jesus’ promise to “show himself” to his followers (Jn.14:21,22), and the appearance of other resurrected individuals after Jesus’ resurrection (Mt.27:53). All these verbs are active forms, except Mt.27 and Heb.9.

Epiphainoo, with only four occurrences, is also equally divided, using passive structures in Tit.2:11, 3:4, and active in Ac.27:20, and Lk.1:79. Its lexical information is similar, but also includes the phenomenon of dreams, visions, or divine manifestations (L/S) which, oddly, were not included in the classical information for emphanizo.

Erchomai, “to come”, is treated in #164, and was only once rendered “appear” (Ac,22:30), so we will not revisit that at this point.

Things become more complicated when we turn to the fifteen references listed for optomai. Lexicographers differ as to whether to treat this as a separate word, or in conjunction with horao, an irregular verb which we encountered in study #165 as simply “to look at, or to see.” Bauer calls it “a new present, formed from the aorist passive, ophthen, to let oneself be seen”, and notes that it is primarily used of the risen Christ. This is usually true, but not always. It is also used of heavenly messengers (Lk.1:11, 22:43), the Spirit’s fire at Pentecost (Ac.2:3), Abraham (Lk.13:28), “life” (Jn.3:36), and even fellow-believers (Heb.13:23).
L/S considers
optomai “a corruption of the middle voice opsomai, which only occurs in a future active form”, but the grammatical form is middle, not active.
ALL of the 15 New Testament occurrences, however, are identified as
aorist passive forms. Grammatically, one would have to translate such a form as “….was seen by …” (a passive structure) rather than “…..appeared to ….” (active). The accompanying dative case would allow either expression – the only difference being whether the focus was on the thing or person seen, or the viewer.

Traditional translators used “see” (37x) for the same word, when it was found in the active voice – 21x in the future active tense, and also the 5x where the form is future middle. (The rest are aorist passive). None of these, however, refer to “ordinary seeing”. Except for the aberrant “you see to that” in Mt.27:4,24 and Ac.18:15, all seem to be supernaturally enabled. This being the case, it probably matters little, if at all, whether it is the “appearance” or the “seeing” that is so enabled.

Similar anomalies occur with phaino / phainomai, where active, middle, and passive forms are also mixed. L/S lists active uses as “to bring light, to cause to appear, to show or make clear, to set forth or expound, to inform”; and passive, “to appear, to shine brightly, to become, to be manifest or revealed.” Actual New Testament instances, however, seem to interpret more active forms as “shine” (Jn.1:15, 5:35, II Pet.1:19, I Jn.2:8, etc.), and to reserve “appear” for passive and middle forms. These, however, are not all supernatural occurrences. Although they are used of “the angel/messenger of the Lord” (Mt.1:20, 2:13, 2:19), “the son of man” (Mt.24:30), or “Jesus” (Mk.16:19), they are also used of weeds in a field (Mt.13:26), sin (Rom.7:13), mere outward appearance (Mt.23:27, 6:16-18), “the ungodly” (I Pet.4:18), and “ a vapor” (Jas.4:14).

This needs to be balanced with another word, phaneroo, only 12 times translated “appear”, but 28x “manifest” or “make manifest”. L/S lists “make manifest, reveal, make clear, disclose, make or become visible, make known or famous”. Thayer adds “to reveal something that was formerly hidden, to be plainly recognized.” The difference between these last two may be that there is an element of information or explanation in phaneroo, in addition to what is “seen..” Here too there are more passive than active forms, especially in the “manifest” translations. Active forms are used only in Jn.17:6, I Cor.4:5, II Cor.2:14, 11:6; Col.4:4, Tit.1:3, often in the sense of explaining things. The passive forms frequently (but not always) refer to Jesus’ first coming (Jn.17:6, I Tim.3:, 16, Tit.1:3, I Pet.1:20, I Jn.1:2, 3:5, 3:8,4:9, Jn.1:31, 9:3) and its results presently among his people (I Cor.2:14, 4:10, 5:11, 11:6; Eph.5:13, Col.1:26, 4:4; II Tim.1-10, Heb.9:8, I Jn.2:19), as well as his return (II Tim.1:10, I Pet.5:4, I Jn.2:28, 3:2, Rv.3:18, 15:4).

If, like me, you are inclined to wonder why it has to be so complicated, try out the “view” from another perspective, and marvel at the multiplicity of ways our gracious Lord has used, in his efforts to show himself, and demonstrate his ways, to his clueless people – US!

Some of these ideas may become clearer when we turn to the more accessible concept of reveal/ revelation. For now, I’ll just repeat my request that any of you who can add insight here, please do! Just hit the “comment” button, and join in!


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