Volume 28 - Issue 2
The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ (Part 2)—Approaching SonshipBy Stephen N. Williams
How are we to interpret the declaration of the sonship of Jesus Christ on the mount of transfiguration?1 As a declaration of deity?
The fact that this question is put will appear to many as a sign of being considerably behind the times as far as NT scholarship goes. It suggests not only a flattening out of the language of sonship in the NT, but its flattening out on a scheme not derived from the Synoptic Gospels. Discussions of NT christology over the last two decades, including the theology of sonship, have often taken as their starting-point James Dunn’s volume on Christology in the Making.2 Dunn concluded that the only clear NT affirmation of belief in Jesus Christ as the incarnate second person of the deity was found in John. The language of sonship deployed elsewhere, and certainly in the Synoptics, predicated of Jesus high things that made him unique and unsurpassable, the redeemer and the revealer. But it did not constitute a theology of incarnation.
Quite apart from exegetical challenges which this interpretation naturally faced, it was flawed at the level of method.3 Dunn regularly asked the question of how NT language would sound in first century ears, in a Jewish or a Graeco-Roman context. The outcome of his investigation, however, should never have been dependent on the preponderant use of that criterion. This is because the language of the NT is also one that is grounded in ecclesial use, presupposing community, worship and theology, potentially modifying, if not transforming, background theology. Dunn’s thesis could not be delivered as long as it did not take this into proper account, although its renewed statement in the second edition was not formulated in response to such an objection.
Methodological problems persist even when there is heightened sensitivity to the interweaving of historical and theological questions in interpretation. N.T. Wright’s two volumes on The New Testament and the People of God and Jesus and the Victory of God have received well-deserved recognition for their achievement in charting and tackling fundamental issues in NT theology.4 In the latter volume the author wrote as follows towards its conclusion (he had touched on transfiguration just before that):
I suggest, in short, that the return of YHWH to Zion, and the Temple-theology which it brings to focus, are the deepest keys and clues to gospel christology. Forget the ‘titles’ of Jesus, at least for a moment; forget the second person of the Trinity; forget the arid reductionism that is the mirror-image of that unthinking would-be orthodoxy.5
Tom Wright goes on to summarise what he has been positively arguing for, and when he enjoins us to forget, he is rehearsing what he has been arguing against, as well as what he has been arguing for, over the course of the whole volume. But, for all the considerable and impressive achievement of this work, there is a logical difficulty in its method.
It is certainly the case that recapturing the Jewishness of Jesus, and deep and informed sensitivity to the structures of Jewish life and thought, has considerably enhanced our reading of the gospels in the course of the twentieth century. It is also the case that the imposition of the theological categories of Nicea or Chalcedon on the NT data as a kind of unconscious, semi-conscious, unthinking or dogmatic a priori can produce distortion. Yet our reading of gospel christology cannot bracket the ontological question of divine sonship, as it was classically treated. Suppose that for whatever reason, I conclude that the historical Jesus was, in fact, God incarnate. (Suppose too, that I read Nicea and Chalcedon as aiming at no more than the statement of this, albeit in a distinctive conceptuality, or, at least, distinctive language.) If I so conclude about Jesus, I ought to read the Synoptic Gospels in that light. If, years after a student had left a college, it turned out that he was the Crown Prince of an Arab state, something that was not known at the time, it would be perverse not to read the record of his student days in the light of this fact. It might not, and should not, be the only way to read it. Indeed, it might be read in that light but read distortedly. However, the logical point is this: the actual historical identity of the student is that of the Crown Prince. We then have to ask whether that fact contributes anything to our understanding of the Prince’s self-awareness, and what light is thrown on his whole student career by the fact and its implications.
If Jesus was God incarnate, we are dealing with a datum,—a fact as far as faith is concerned—that cannot be marginalised in the interpretation of the gospel records, whether or not Nicea and Chalcedon in particular impose on them unhelpful categories of interpretation. Tom Wright’s methodical omission leads him to conclusions that go far beyond what is warranted.
Jesus did not … ‘know that he was God’ in the same way that one knows one is male or female, hungry or thirsty, or that one ate an orange an hour ago. His knowledge was of a more risky, but perhaps more significant sort: like knowing one is loved. One cannot ‘prove’ it except by living by it.6
We cannot ask here how it is that we know that we are male or female, or ate an orange etc. Yet the attempt to derive this sort of conclusion by an examination of the synoptic accounts, against their historical background, in the way the author has done is doomed to fail. The evidence considerably underdetermines the conclusion. If for any reason we believe Jesus to have been and to be God incarnate, we must ask what, if anything, follows from this for our interpretation of the gospel accounts. That is not an alien imposition on them. The point is a logical one in relation to methodology. Actually, in his Preface, Tom Wright undermines the force of his own conclusions. Explaining that he is omitting consideration of the Gospel of John, he says: ‘Even if, in the long term, this is judged a weakness, it sets a limit for which readers of an already long book may perhaps be grateful.’7 But consideration of John’s Gospel has at least the potential to upset his conclusions about Jesus’ self-knowledge, unless it is decided that the way John should be read cannot give us any guidance about the way the Synoptic Gospels should be read. That is the sort of decision that needs a theological defence, especially in light of the issues surrounding canonical and theological readings of Scriptural books.
Hermeneutical questions easily spiral off into a world of their own, yet they cannot pass unmentioned in the present context. Nevertheless my choice to refer to them means that I am failing to afford space in what follows so as to give balanced attention to the synoptic witness to the transfiguration. To ask what is the significance of the divine declaration of sonship is not to ask a simple question. Reference to ‘glory’ and ‘exodus’ in the first part of this article must be fed into the themes of theophany and apocalyptic, messianic hope and enthronment on Zion of God’s appointed king, which constitute a cluster of themes that direct us in an interpretation of the transfiguration.8 However there remain different levels: there is a significance for Jesus; for his disciples at the time; for disciples in retrospect; for the individual synoptists; for author and readers of 2 Peter (see 1:16–18). Whether or not it is apt to think of concentric circles of interpretation, a plenitude of significance and a plenitude of meaning attaching to the outermost circle, it is both legitimate and important to read accounts of the glory of transfigured sonship both in terms that do not presuppose incarnation and in terms that do.9
There is no contradiction here. Reading the story of transfiguration in terms, for example, of the manifestation of the messianic king does not require reference to incarnation. However it permits it, and if such a reference is justified, the reading is enhanced. Again, to read the story in terms of a revelation of the glory of deity does not exclude attending to it in terms of the strict messianic context of the synoptic accounts.10 It permits it; indeed, requires it, I believe, so I can sympathise with a great deal in Tom Wright’s approach and analysis. It is also possible to judge as inappropriate some questions that are asked on the basis of a traditional conviction of deity, such as whether Jesus shone with the light of his essential deity or of his earthly humanity, infused but not confused with the principle of deity.11 Here, however, we must leave questions of this sort, leaving with them a host of questions which may or may not be appropriate and which might be mentioned, for example: did Jesus shine with the light of his own future glory? Did he shine with the light of the future glory of the saints? It is time to return to the narrative.
In the company of Elijah
According to Matthew and Mark, the voice heard on the mount of transfiguration referred to ‘the Son whom I love’ (Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7). In Luke, it is ‘my Son, whom I have chosen’ (9:35). In all these cases, we are directed back to the baptism of Jesus Christ, and the words heard when Jesus was baptised are commonly taken to echo the words of Isaiah 42:1: ‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight’ and Psalm 2:7: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’.12 There is a wealth of allusion here, without even going into the rich possibilities of Genesis 22:2. I just note that the Lucan account of the transfiguration points us back with particular deliberation to the Isaianic passage. It is one of the ‘servant songs’ of Isaiah, where suffering and servanthood are brought together. Suffering is the theme of Jesus’ teaching prior to transfiguration, but it is Luke’s account that indicates most distinctly the salvation-historical context of filial, servant suffering.
The interpretation of NT theology in terms of salvation history was given its most sustained and prominent exposition in the twentieth century, by Oscar Cullmann.13 Cullmann’s work came in for considerable criticism and has long been out of fashion in many quarters.14 Yet even his critics accepted that what he attributed to the NT (wrongly, they said) could be attributed to Luke or Luke-Acts in particular. A mighty movement in the history of salvation, and not just a declaration of what Christ is like, is the current that bears along the transfiguration accounts here. Cullmann certainly brought out well the way NT christology highlighted the principle of vicarious suffering, the one for the many, in the historical movement from the whole (the cosmos) to the nation (Israel) to the one (Jesus) whose lordship through the church (the many, like Israel) would extend to the whole (the cosmos in the eschaton).15 The backward and forward ‘reach’ of the transfiguration narratives emerge not just in the vocabulary of sonship and servanthood and the connection with the coming of the kingdom in Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27. It is apparent too in the figures of Jesus’ two companions and this is brought out particularly by Luke.
A version like the NIV, for example, renders Luke 9:30: ‘Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared’. The omission of a Greek word from the translation risks our missing a connection which Luke apparently wants us to make. Translations like the AV and RSV rightly include a preparatory word: ‘Behold, two men appeared’.16 There is a connection with Luke 24:4 where, on the third day after the crucifixion, at the tomb, while the women were puzzling about the disappearance of Jesus’ body, ‘behold, two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them’. In Acts, when Jesus had ascended, to the bewilderment of the onlooking disciples, ‘they were looking intently up into the sky … when behold two men dressed in white stood beside them’ (1:10). What is dramatically enacted in earthly history is dramatically accompanied by heavenly witnesses. There are two of them. Transfiguration, resurrection and ascension are joined as holy history. What, however, are we to make in particular of Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration? We touched on Moses in the first part of this article. Now it is the turn of Elijah.
If any OT figure attracted the attention of Jews in the period before Christ, it was Elijah.17 He enjoyed plenty of roles in the literature of the inter-testamental period and was one of the biblical characters who had a book written about him under the title of ‘Apocalypse’, a book which spoke of things ‘which the eye has not seen nor the ear heard’.18 Although we cannot confidently date the Apocalypse of Elijah, if anyone in first century Jewish lore was a potential recipient of such seeing and hearing, it was Elijah. No one was more likely than he to turn up on a mountain, unannounced. His very entry into the OT narrative is intriguing enough, announcing drought and defying monarchs (1 Kings 17:1). His confrontation with the priests of Baal, in the name of Yahweh, is one of the most dramatic tales in the historical books of the OT. His departure from the world was as startling as his arrival on the narrative scene for, according to 2 Kings 2, he did not die but was taken up into heaven. Jesus spoke of those who would not taste death: Elijah was an example of this par excellence, and it is interesting to speculate on a possible link between Jesus’ words and Elijah’s story.
Where does the connection between Moses and Elijah lie? The difficulty with a definite answer is that there are several candidates, and the nature of biblical typology is such that we might integrate a number of them without doing violence to the synoptic reports.19 Both received privileged revelations of God on Sinai. Both were great contenders against idolatry. White Moses died and Elijah did not, it was speculated in some quarters that Moses had not died either, and the mode of Moses’ departure from the earth was certainly mysterious (Deut. 34:6). Moses can stand for the law, Elijah for the prophets. Moses was the lawgiver and Jesus was accused of transgressing the law; Elijah was the great opponent of idolatry and Jesus’ enemies were troubled by the excessively close proximity to God in which he placed himself. Then we can read of Moses as informator (teacher) and Elijah as reformator (reformer); of one opening the (Red) sea, the other the (barren) heavens. Two witnesses appear in Revelation 11:16, often identified with Moses and Elijah.20Both were great men of prayer and Jesus, Luke tells us, was praying when he was transfigured.
These suggestions move between the poles of identifying explicit connections in Scripture and proposing edifying associations. My view is that those suggestions that show how Moses and Elijah signified Jesus and which emphasise revelation on Mount Sinai deserve to be accorded special weight.21 However as we explore the theme, one decisive fact must be placed in the foreground: the expectation that Elijah would return. The relationship of this to the appearance of the Messiah was variously conceived at the time of Christ, but that there was some connection between the reappearance of the one and the coming of the other was widely believed. While other figures could sometimes be expected to return in the messianic age, particular speculation was attached to Elijah.
This was not just because he had not tasted death. It was on account of the prophecy which brought to its conclusion the prophetic literature of the OT, before the voice of prophecy was stilled, a stillness, as it is often put, shattered by the cry of John the Baptist in the Judaean wilderness. So we read in Malachi 4:5: ‘I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes’. ‘Who can boast of such deeds’ as those of Elijah?, we are asked in the intertestamental book of Ecclesiasticus. ‘It is written that you are to come at the appointed time with warnings, to allay the divine wrath before its final fury, to reconcile father and son, and to restore the tribes of Jacob’ (see 48:1–14). In literature known as the Sibylline Oracles, not precisely datable, Elijah is pictured returning ‘driving a heavenly chariot at full stretch from heaven’ (II.187–89).22 Elijah was no slave of the commonplace.
In the gospels, John the Baptist and Elijah are identified, and Jesus’ ministry provoked speculation about his relationship to both figures. Both prior and subsequent to the transfiguration, Gospel writers record Jesus’ sayings that John the Baptist is to be identified with Elijah (e.g. Matt. 11:14). This was in one respect unsurprising, since John’s clothing resembled that of Elijah, as described in the OT narrative. John’s Gospel records the denial by John the Baptist that he should be so identified (1:21), but the most natural explanation of this is that in the context and in that geographical region, there was a danger that the significance of identification should be misunderstood or that it might be taken as a case of reincarnation. Luke made explicit in the first chapter of his gospel that the identification was functional; John is not actually Elijah, but fulfils the role of Elijah, possessed of his spirit and power (Luke 1:17). Of course John himself wondered at times about his own role, as he did about that of Jesus and his relationship to it (Matt. 11:3). At all events, the appearance of Elijah on the mount of transfiguration in conjunction with the ministry of John the Baptist cleared the way for believing in Jesus as Messiah, for the early church could now forestall any objection to the claim that Jesus was Messiah made on the grounds that Elijah had not yet come.
Just as the God-fearing life of Moses resembled, in its way, that of Jesus, so did the God-fearing life of Elijah, and they both, whether during or subsequent to their life on earth, were signifying the one who is to come, the Messiah. Yet, just as a contrast is drawn between Moses and Jesus in passages cited in the first part of this article, so a contrast emerges between Elijah and Jesus as we read the transfiguration stories in context. The vocabulary of Luke 9:51 which speaks of Christ’s departure echoes that of 2 Kings 1–11, where it describes Elijah’s departure and of course the ascension furnishes us with a further connection.23 But in the case of Jesus death precedes ascension. No one can be sure why Peter suggested that three shelters or booths should be built for Jesus, Moses and Elijah but given the transfigured appearance, it would not be surprising if he thought that Jesus was about to be assumed into heaven in the company of Elijah and that he was trying to detain the heavenly company for a little longer. As it was, Jesus would die, unlike Elijah, and die in agony, unlike Moses.
There is however another contrast. Just prior to his assumption into heaven, Elijah called down fire from heaven on the messengers of Ahaziah, king of Samaria (2 Kgs 1). It consumed a number of men. In language clearly resonant of this, the disciples asked Jesus whether they should do the same when Samaritan villagers failed to welcome his messengers (Luke 9:54). This occurred shortly after the transfiguration. The suggestion came from James and John, two of the three disciples who had witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus and they received a rebuke, just as did the third, Peter, a few days before the transfiguration. Peter tried to thwart a plan that involved a cross; James and John tried to perpetuate Elijah’s strong-arm approach. Jesus will have neither. Suffering cannot be avoided, but vengeance must be. This is not necessarily to condemn what Elijah said and did in a different space and time, It is to declare that it is not the way of God for Jesus and his disciples in this day and hour.
Contrast, as well as continuity marks the relationship of Jesus to Moses and Elijah, something highlighted by the transfiguration of him who alone was transfigured. Contrast, as well as continuity, also marked the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. Both preached the kingdom of God and Jesus does not eliminate the element of judgement involved in that. But where John baptises with water, Jesus will baptise with the Spirit. Jesus’ time is especially the time of grace. ‘There has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist’ Jesus declares, ‘yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he’ (Matt. 11:11; cf. Luke 7:28). Something here transcends both Moses and Elijah. The fact that Paul can speak of Moses’ ministry of ‘death’ (2 Cor. 3:7) and that Jesus can refuse fire from heaven both suggest that with the coming of Christ there is fulness of grace. Moses, as Allison Trites put it, could not remove the hardness of people’s heart, nor was it Elijah’s part to combat vindictiveness.24 Transfiguration ultimately discloses and signifies grace and a special era of grace. This comes to light the more when we consider the function of Elijah according the prophet Malachi.
Jesus, John, Elijah
According to Jesus, in a declaration immediately following the transfiguration, it is the work of Elijah to ‘restore all things’, a function fulfilled by John the Baptist (Matt. 17:11; Mark 9:12). What exactly does that mean? The book of Malachi, while rich in suggestion, does not yield answers on its surface. Quite apart from addressing the question of how to interpret the ending of that book, the relationship of Lord and messenger in Malachi 3:1ff needs to be sorted out. If we ask what might be involved in restoration, by starting from the ministry of John, rather than from Malachi, we still have puzzles. What does Luke mean when, in language clearly echoing that of Malachi, he speaks of John in his Elijah role turning ‘the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous’ (1:17)?
It is widely supposed that when all these passages, from Old and New Testaments, are taken in conjunction, the restoration of family relationships is at the heart of the restorative ministry of John/Elijah. However while the language seems to lend immediate support to that interpretation the gospel accounts of John’s ministry do not bring out that fact. Is an alternative explanation possible? It seems that there is. The verb used for ‘restore’, in both Matthew and Mark, though used in different Greek tenses by the two evangelists, echoes the language of the Septuagint version of Malachi. This contrasts interestingly with the Hebrew text on certain points. In the Septuagint, we read not of the restoration of the hearts of the fathers to the children and then, parallel to that, of the hearts of the children to the fathers, but as parallel, the hearts of fathers and children towards their neighbours. This actually fits what we know of John’s ministry better than the more narrowly familial emphasis. John is promoting neighbourliness in general within Israel, rather than concentrating on more specifically family disunity.25 Luke does not refer to restoration in his account of transfiguration, but there is a case for saying that Luke’s actual wording in 1:17, is a rather free paraphrase of the Septuagintal Greek.26 One should at least note, in this connection, that in some pre-Christian interpretation of the role of Elijah, he would be beyond solving intra-familial disputes when he returned. He would take on the task of expounding law and ritual—certainly a wider role.
Our line of interpretation is strengthened by broadening our understanding of what is said about families in the prophecy of Malachi. Fundamental to that writing is the concept of covenant: the one who is to come is ‘the messenger of the covenant’ (3:1); the notion of God as a great and covenant king is stamped distinctively on this book. The relationship of fathers to children is set squarely within the covenant. Family relationships have gone awry, but the context is the more general breakdown of relationships within the covenanted community. Long after the death of the great patriarchs of the book of Genesis, Isaiah laments the state of the nation of Israel in these terms: ‘Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us’ (63:16).27 The hearts of a disobedient posterity (children) are sundered from those of their faithful progenitors (fathers). The covenant has been trans-generationally ruptured.28 On this note in Malachi, the OT prophets sign off. So the role of Elijah is restoration of social or community order within the context of restoration of covenant relationships, with its trans-generational significance. One problem after the return from the exile, during the epoch in which Malachi was prophesying, was that intermarriage with non-Israelites was destructive of the religious unity and faithfulness of the nation. And, of course, idolatry was Elijah’s bugbear.
How does this take us to John the Baptist and the transfigured Christ? Elijah’s function is centrally covenantal, as is that of John the Baptist. If we could be sure of the exact social context and possessed of more sociological detail in relation to John’s ministry (though strides have been made over the last decades), we should be able to highlight its features more precisely than we can. Certainly, a desert fraternity at Qumran held covenant renewal ceremonies, assiduously studied the law29 and sought to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’. A summons to repentance and forgiveness would in this, and wider Israelite context, have overtones of national and covenant renewal, not just of individual responsibility and blessing. John offered a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, preparatory to the fullness of salvation that Messiah would bring. He summoned the people to rectitude within the covenant at the time when God would act to deliver his covenanted people. His ministry is the passage from the old to the new. Its desert location recalled the passage of Israel from Egypt to Canaan. Of the many possible associations of the cloud at the mount of transfiguration, we should at least keep in mind the notion that the cloud would make an eschatological reappearance (Is. 4:5). Covenant grace is not only near in Jesus. It is at the heart of what the transfiguration discloses.30
It was Paul’s office to develop the notion that gentiles were included in the covenant. Once Christ has come, his ministry and work become the measure of what God requires and Moses and Elijah, law and covenant, are all to be interpreted from this centre. At transfiguration Christ is revealed in his authoritative role. ‘Listen to him.’ We have embarked on a preliminary interpretation of transfiguration, but these words are written large on the entrance to the port of embarkation. While the enlightened mind is to play on the truth that was revealed to the enlightened eyes, the biblical account bends the mind as much in the direction of obedience to the object of divine witness as to the contemplation of theological truth. Before we interpret Moses and Elijah; whatever our theology of sonship and servanthood; listen to him. Israel was trained to obey as a basis for comprehension. In the opening chapters of Joshua, for example, with its thematic wealth—conquest after Exodus; Jordan after the Red Sea; the produce of Canaan after the manna; above all, God, the great deliverer—there is a remarkable focus on the person of Joshua.31 ‘Listen to him; God has exalted him’—Joshua, as well as Jesus. The contemplation of truth, however glorious, is placed in the context of the summons to humble and obedient listening, the acknowledgment of the lordship of Jesus is prior to grasping all that the lordship is about.32
We have done no more than make a beginning and have omitted more than we have included. The transfiguration is at least this: the sign and revelation of decisive action within salvation history. The content of the sign is at least this: the new dispensation of grace under the messianic lordship of Jesus Christ. It inaugurates a crucial phase within the story of divine action, as the disciples are instructed about a path from suffering to glory, through cross to ascension. In the context of the NT, it constitutes the fullest revelation, under earthly conditions, of the glory, and not just the destiny, of the person of the Son of God.33 It is pregnant with apocalyptic future.34 At the mount of transfiguration, we are at the heart of the gospel. Michael Ramsey concluded that the transfiguration
… stands as a gateway to the saving events of the gospel, and is a mirror in which the Christian mystery is seen in its unity. Here we perceive that the living and the dead are one in Christ, that the old covenant and the new are inseparable, that the Cross and the glory are of one, that the age to come is already here, that our human nature has a destiny of glory, that in Christ the final word is uttered and in him alone the Father is well pleased. Here the diverse elements in the theology of the New Testament meet.35
Joseph Hall said: ‘Nearer to heaven you cannot come while ye are upon earth, that you may see him glorious upon earth, the region of his shame and abasement, who is now glorious in heaven, the throne of his majesty.’36
I have emphasised that far more has been omitted in my account than has been included, but it may be especially noted that I have not even mentioned the significance of the transfiguration for Jesus himself. The reason is that I believe that it is, on the whole, safest to approach the account as does 2 Peter, namely as a visual manifestation and verbal revelation for the benefit of others.37 We can certainly make tentative suggestions and considered judgements about its significance for Jesus, but I question a statement such as that of Braithwaite: ‘In studying his life it is necessary at every step to penetrate to this spiritual experience’.38 The inner reality of the suffering and obedience of the Son, his self-consciousness, the depths and heights of his glory are hidden from us at our first approach and only maturity discloses how much or how little we may know and surmise in these matters. For now we are spectators with Peter, James and John, but not disinterested more than they were; participants in Christ with the company of saints, but not privy to the whole truth; beneficiaries of nothing less than salvation, but strangers to the comprehension of its utter cost. Yet if we understand little, it is in hope founded on a promise that we shall comprehend more when the glory of the transfigured Christ is publicly revealed in a transfigured cosmos.39 And what we do understand is but the beginning of a life of discipleship which is the deep concern of the evangelists’ account of the transfiguration. But an account of which is impossible within the constraints of the present exercise.
1 The first part of this article appeared in Themelios 28.1 (2002). In its first footnote, I indicated the severe limits to my treatment. What I said there doubly holds for this part.
2 The first edition of Christology in the Making (London: SCM, 1980) was followed by a second in 1989, whose ‘Foreword’, along with other methodological essays, appears in J. Dunn, The Christ and the Spirit Volume 1: Christology (Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1998).
3 See the different approach taken and conclusions reached in, for instance, Frank J. Matera, New Testament Christology (Louisville: John Knox, 1999). I mention this for contrast, not as a judgement on the merits or otherwise of Matera’s work.
4 Respectively London: SPCK, 1992 and London: SPCK, 1996
5 N.T. Wright, Jesus and Victory of God, 653.
6 Wright, Jesus and Victory of God.
7 Wright, Jesus and Victory of God, p. xvi.
8 Footnote 1 of the first part of this article gives swift bibliographical guidance. Of course, see throughout commentaries ad loc.
9 On the assumption, of course, that the Church has rightly confessed Jesus Christ to be the incarnate Son of God.
10 This is to put it generally; we must attend, of course, to the individual Gospels.
11 ‘Undoubtedly, the major tenet of the Patristic exegesis of the Transfiguration is the interpretation of the ephiphany as a manifestation by Jesus to his disciples of his own divine status’, J.A. McGuckin, The Transfiguration of Christ in Scripture and Tradition (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1986) 110. Questions concerning the relation of the divine essence to the divine economy were regularly discussed in this connection.
12 This can be rendered in more ways than one. I am, again, treating the Synoptic witness as a unity.
13 See Christ and Time (London: SCM, 1962) and Salvation In History (London; SCM, 1967).
14 Though Jurgen Moltmann could recently say that Cullmann’s ‘salvation-historical eschatology is probably the Christian eschatology most widely held’, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (London: SCM, 1996) 12. For some renewed discussion, see Richard Bauckham, ‘Time and Eternity’ in Richard Bauckham ed., God Will Be All In All: The Eschatology of Jurgen Moltmann (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999) 174–83.
15 See O.Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament (London: SCM, 1963) passim but including chapter 3. Our present reference to Cullmann can be justified even if Tom Wright’s critical judgement on this work is accepted, in Jesus and Victory of God, 614.
16 NEB renders it: ‘Suddenly …’ The same word is found in Matt. 17:3.
17 A quick way in to this is via Jeremias’ article on Elijah in G. Kittel and G. Friedrich eds, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, II, (Eerdmans, 1964) though there has been ongoing research since then.
18 Origen thought that this phrase lay behind Paul’s similar wording in 1 Cor. 2:9. See J.H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, I (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1983) 728. But we cannot date the Apocalypse of Elijah with confidence.
19 It is possible to combine the demands of exegetical rigour with a conviction that biblical writings can contain intra-textual resonances that are surprisingly rich and wide. Even if there is room for demurral on some particulars, the work of Dale Allison, The New Moses: a Matthean Typology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1993) is very suggestive on this point.
20 Aside from reading standard commentaries on the Synoptic Gospels and 2 Peter, it is well worth following up some of the Patristic sources, if possible, mentioned in McGuckin, The Transfiguration of Christ in Scripture and Tradition, and A.M. Ramsey, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ (London: Longmans, 1949). Amongst examples which are either instructive or interesting or both, I may mention Leo’s ‘Sermon’ (51) and Chrysostom’s ‘Homily’ (56). Among older works which repay reading are Joseph Hall, Contemplation on the Historical Passages of the Old and New Testaments (London, n.d.) and Archbishop R.C. Trench, Studies in the Gospels (London: Kegan Paul, 1896).
21 I am thinking of Moses’ prophetic signification of Jesus, not Moses as representative of law: see Deut. 18:17ff; 34:10.
22 Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 349.
23 Even if analempsis contains a reference to the death of Jesus, it is surely impossible that it contain no reference to the ascension.
24 A.A. Trites, The Transfiguration of Christ: a Hinge of Holy History (Nova Scotia: Lancelot, 1994) 38.
25 It is a fundamentally intra-Jewish matter on the assumption that the soldiers (Luke 3:14) are a Jewish, not a Roman, company.
26 Howard Marshall apparently does not dismiss this possibility: The Gospel of Luke (Exeter: Paternoster, 1978) 59.
27 I am substantially following Pieter A. Verhoef, The Books of Haggai and Malachi (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) in the relevant line of interpretation of Malachi.
28 Covenant is obviously an Isaianic theme: see, e.g., 61:8.
29 The Septuagint reverses the order of the verses at the end of Malachi, so that we are left with the injunction to remember Moses not the threat connected with Elijah.
30 These statements really need to be made by detailed steps; spatial constraints mean that I am taking great strides.
31 Josh. 1–3. As an aside, it is worth noting that attention has been drawn to some sort of connection between a subsequent story in Joshua and the Transfiguration: see Richard Hess, Joshua (Leicester: IVP, 1996) 127.
32 Note John 14:21: revelation happens along the path of obedience.
33 Prior to the resurrection, that is. I am thinking of revelation in the sense of what is immediately manifested to the eye.
34 Just how much I have omitted is indicated by the careful study by A.D.A. Moses, Matthew’s Transfiguration Story and Jewish-Christian Controversy (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996)—and that is just Matthew!
35 Ramsey, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ, 144.
36 Hall, Contemplation on the Historical Passages of the Old and New Testaments, 512.
37 See 2 Pet. 1:16–18 and the commentary by Samuel Benetrau, Le Deuxieme Epitre de Pierre; L’Epitre de Jude (Vaux-sur-Seine: Faculte Libre de Theologie Evangelique, 1994) ad loc.
38 See W.C. Braithwaite, ‘The Teaching of the Transfiguration’, Expository Times 17 (1905–1906) 372–75.
39 I mean no theological commitment here to the form of the future cosmos. The phrase, however, captures a characteristic emphasis of Eastern Orthodox theologians in the theology of the transfiguration.
Stephen N. Williams
Stephen Williams is professor of systematic theology at Union Theological College in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and served as general editor of Themelios from 1995 to 1999.