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§ 185. The Transfiguration of Christ. (Luke, ix., 29-36.)

Six days502502   Luke says eight days; Matthew six; involving no discrepancy, however, for it is easy to show that they employed different modes of computation. Statements of time thus agreeing in fact but differing in form, are among the surest signs of veracity in historical narratives. after the conversation in which Christ first unfolded to the Apostles the sufferings and the fate that awaited him, he took Peter, James, and John up into a mountain apart, and was transfigured before them.

The Transfiguration may be considered either (1) as an objective fact, a real communication with the world of spirits; or (2) as a subjective psychological phenomenon. The account of Luke bears indubitable marks of originality and historical truth; the attempts that have been made to resolve it into a mythical narrative are absurd But it certainly appears to favour the second view above stated rather than the first.

If we adopt the first view, and assume that the narrative is intended to relate an objective fact, it affords us a partial exhibition of the intercourse of Christ. himself with the world of spirits. It could not have been intended merely for the Apostles to witness; for, during its 282progress, they were “heavy with sleep,” and, therefore, unfit to apprehend it, or to transmit an account of it as matter of fact. We cannot, however, deny the possibility of such an occurrence, and of some unknown object for it, in the connexion of a history which is entirely out of the ordinary course of events. Once admitting the event as such, all that we should have to do would be to confess our ignorance, instead of losing ourselves in arbitrary hypotheses and speculative dreams.

But, on the other hand, by following the indications given in Luke, we may arrive at the following view of the narrative: Jesus retired in the evening with three of his dearest disciples, apart, into a mountain,503503   We do not know whether this was Mount Hermon, or the mountain from which Cesarea Philippi took the name Paneas. The old tradition, which makes Mount Tabor the site of the transfiguration, cannot be relied on. to pray in their presence. We may readily imagine that his prayer referred to the subjects on which he had spoken so largely with the disciples on the preceding days, viz., the coming developement of his kingdom, and the conflicts he was to enter into at Jerusalem in its behalf. They were deeply impressed by his prayer; his countenance beamed with radiance, and he appeared to them glorified and transfigured with celestial light. At last, worn out with fatigue, they fell asleep; and the impressions of the Saviour’s prayer and of their conversation with him were reflected in a vision504504   Cf. Matt., xvii., 9. thus: Beside Him, who was the end of the Law and the Prophets, appeared Moses and Elias in celestial splendour; for the glory that streamed forth from Him was reflected back upon the Law, and the Prophets foretold the fate that awaited him at Jerusalem. In the mean time they awoke, and, in a half-waking condition,505505   Cf. Luke, ix., 33, last clause. saw and heard what followed. Viewed in this light, the most striking feature of the event is the deep impression which Christ’s words had made upon them, and the conflict between the new views thus received and their old ideas, showing itself thus while they were in a state of unconsciousness.

Still the difficulty remains, that the phenomena, if simply psychological, should have appeared to all the three Apostles precisely in the same form. It is, perhaps, not improbable, that the account came from the lips of Peter, who is the prominent figure in the narrative.506506   We have several times remarked that too much importance is not to be attached to the omission of any event by John that is recorded by the other Evangelists. Still his silence in regard to the transfiguration is remarkable, seeing that he himself was an eye-witness, and that the event itself, if an objective reality, was calculated to display the grandeur of Christ in a very high degree. Two reasons may be supposed for this: (1.) That he did not deem himself prepared, from the circumstances of the event, to give a distinct representation of it; or, (2.) That he did not view it as an objective reality, and, therefore, did not attach so much importance to it. Dr. Schneckenburger (Beiträgen zur Einleitung in das Neue Testament) thinks that John omitted the transfiguration because of the Gnostics and Docetics, who night have used it to support their views of the person of Christ; but to us it appears that this would have been, on the contrary, a reason why he should mention it, to guard, by a full and clear statement, against misinterpretation on that side.


The disciples did not, at first, dwell upon this phenomenon. The turn of Christ’s conversations with them, and the pressure of events, withdrew their attention from it until after the resurrection, when, as the several traits of their later intercourse with Christ were brought to mind, this transfiguration was vividly recalled, and assigned to its proper connexion in the epoch which preceded and prepared the way for the sufferings of the Saviour.507507   Luke, ix., 36, is most simple: they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen. The statement in Matthew and Mark, that Christ forbade it, gives a reason for this silence, in accordance more with the view that the event was purely objective.

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