Luke Chapter 9:28-36

This is the Transfiguration. Back when we read this for Mark, I floated the idea that this section had originally been the climax, or the ending of the first section of that gospel, the apotheosis of the wonder worker. That interpretation is probably not defensible; beyond that, I’m not even sure that it feels right. At least I didn’t until I keyed in the word “apotheosis”. That is, after all, what this represents. In a way, it’s the Ascension taking place before Jesus dies. There is no doubt that this story is intended to “prove”, or demonstrate that Jesus is, indeed, divine. If this is meant to stand in for the Ascension, the original story would not have had them all returning down the mountain; rather, Jesus would have left them. As such, this would be the explanation of why Jesus was no longer present on earth.

It also occurs to me that this could be the beginning of the Christ narrative. Rather than the story of Bethlehem, this is the birth of the Christ, except as a grown man. The connexion to the Baptism story can be neither avoided nor denied; the voice from the cloud connects in a very explicit manner those two events. Perhaps this is the seam between the two narratives: that of the wonder worker and that of the Christ. Perhaps the original Christ narrative started with this event. There is, rather obviously, a level of transcendence to this event that makes it hard to accept–IMO, anyway–that this is just part of the narrative. What you have in Mark is the Baptism introducing the Wonder Worker, and then the Transfiguration introducing the Christ. It’s hard not to see the parallel construction there. Which section came first? I seriously doubt that both pieces developed independently with an introduction sequence that is so similar. I would suggest that the Baptism has a much more organic feel to it; we start with John preaching repentance, the torch is passed to Jesus, and then when he hears John was arrested, Jesus picks up where John left off, preaching the coming of the kingdom of God. This stands out most starkly in Mark; Luke and Matthew blunt the effect with their birth narratives. This sequence, in contrast, is sort of a one-off; it doesn’t really fit the narrative; it’s just sort of stuck in here without any attachment to the rest of the story.

There really is no particular point to this speculation beyond that there is a curious balance to the two stories of Baptism and Transfiguration. This balance matches the way the narrative of Mark seems divided in twain. If what I’m saying about the Baptism being organic, the implication is that the story of the Wonder Worker is the original part, and the story of the Christ is the addition. This does not square with Paul, who preached the Christ and ignored, pretty much completely, the Wonder Worker. The implication of this, in turn, is that the two separate stories grew up in parallel, despite Paul’s being the older of the two. Or is it? Is the Christ narrative really older in an absolute sense? Or was it just written down first? This is a legitimate question that really has to be answered, or at least considered.

Text

28 Ἐγένετο δὲ μετὰ τοὺς λόγους τούτους ὡσεὶ ἡμέραι ὀκτὼ [καὶ] παραλαβὼν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰωάννην καὶ Ἰάκωβον ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος προσεύξασθαι.

29 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ προσεύχεσθαι αὐτὸν τὸ εἶδος τοῦ προσώπου αὐτοῦ ἕτερον καὶ ὁ ἱματισμὸς αὐτοῦ λευκὸς ἐξαστράπτων.

30 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄνδρες δύο συνελάλουν αὐτῷ, οἵτινες ἦσαν Μωϋσῆς καὶ Ἠλίας,

31 οἳ ὀφθέντες ἐν δόξῃ ἔλεγον τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ ἣν ἤμελλεν πληροῦν ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ.

It happened eight days after these sayings and taking Peter and John and James he went up the mountain to pray. (29) And it occurred in the praying of him the form of his face was different and his white clothing dazzling, (30) and look! two men were speaking with him, and these men were Moses and Elijah, (31) those being seen in glory spoke the departure of him (Jesus) which he intended to fulfill in Jerusalem.

This is novel. In neither of the other two gospels do we find anything about the topic discussed by Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, let alone that it was about Jesus’ upcoming trip to Jerusalem. I have no idea what this means. Most likely it’s meant as a confirmation that what Jesus was about to do was being given divine approval. And note the brevity of the description of Jesus. An interesting note about the Greek: the word rendered as ‘dazzling’ literally means something on the lines of “like a star”, or perhaps “like light from a star”. And note that Jesus’ clothes do not become white; they are white to start with, and the white becomes dazzling.

Hmm…While looking up something in the next couple of verses, I noticed that the standard translation for the white garments is that they became dazzling white. Looking back at the construction, the “it became” at the beginning of the sentence could still be applied to the dazzling white garments at the end, so that the garments became dazzling white. The only problem with this is that what I translated too literally as ‘it became’ probably should be rendered more like, “and it happened”. And sneaking a peak down at the Latin, the Vulgate agrees with me more than it does with the various English translations, starting with the KJV and continuing even to this very day. 

28 Factum est autem post haec verba fere dies octo, et assumpsit Petrum et Ioannem et Iacobum et ascendit in montem, ut oraret.

29 Et facta est, dum oraret, species vultus eius altera, et vestitus eius albus, refulgens.

30 Et ecce duo viri loquebantur cum illo, et erant Moyses et Elias,

31 qui visi in gloria dicebant exodum eius, quam completurus erat in Ierusalem.

32 ὁ δὲ Πέτρος καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ ἦσαν βεβαρημένοι ὕπνῳ: διαγρηγορήσαντες δὲ εἶδον τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοὺς δύο ἄνδρας τοὺς συνεστῶτας αὐτῷ.

33 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ διαχωρίζεσθαι αὐτοὺς ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ εἶπεν ὁ Πέτρος πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, Ἐπιστάτα, καλόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς ὧδε εἶναι, καὶ ποιήσωμεν σκηνὰς τρεῖς, μίαν σοὶ καὶ μίαν Μωϋσεῖ καὶ μίαν Ἠλίᾳ, μὴ εἰδὼς ὃ λέγει.

And Peter and those with him were beheavied by sleep. Starting awake, and he saw the glory of him and the two men standing with him. (33) And it became in the leaving them from him Peter said to Jesus, “Overstander, it is good for us here to be, and let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”, for he did not know what he said.

OK, got a bit overly literal. “Beheavied”, “in the leaving them from him”, and “overstander” are all way too literal. Or, actually, the latter should probably be more like “stander-on”, as in, “one who stands upon”. This latter word is unique to Luke–and not in Acts–in the NT. And so is the word “starting awake”. In fact. it’s a very uncommon word even in the Classical corpus. Such words remind us of Luke’s erudition, and this erudition gives us cause to pay attention to Luke’s nuances. A good example came in the last section when we discussed losing one’s life/soul/self.

The other thing that gets my attention is the bit about Peter suggesting the erection of tents after Moses & Elijah. It is only here that we are told he said this after/as the two of them were leaving. For the life of me, I cannot conceive of any possible reason Luke would add this. It’s to the point where I can’t even think of much more to say about the whole thing.

32 Petrus vero et qui cum illo gravati erant somno; et evigilantes viderunt gloriam eius et duos viros, qui stabant cum illo.

33 Et factum est, cum discederent ab illo, ait Petrus ad Iesum: “Praeceptor, bonum est nos hic esse; et faciamus tria tabernacula: unum tibi et unum Moysi et unum Eliae ”, nesciens quid diceret.

34 ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ λέγοντος ἐγένετο νεφέλη καὶ ἐπεσκίαζεν αὐτούς: ἐφοβήθησαν δὲ ἐν τῷ εἰσελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν νεφέλην.

35 καὶ φωνὴ ἐγένετο ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης λέγουσα, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἐκλελεγμένος, αὐτοῦ ἀκούετε.

36 καὶ ἐν τῷ γενέσθαι τὴν φωνὴν εὑρέθη Ἰησοῦς μόνος. καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐσίγησαν καὶ οὐδενὶ ἀπήγγειλαν ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις οὐδὲν ὧν ἑώρακαν.

These things he having said a cloud became and enshadowed them; they were afraid in their going into the cloud. (35) And a voice occurred from the cloud saying “This is my son, the chosen (one/son), listen to him”. (36) And in the voice occurring Jesus was found alone, and they were silent and to no one they announced in those days the things they had seen.

First about the Greek. Throughout I’ve been using “become” and “occurred”. The same word is behind both the translations. At root, the base meaning of the verb is “to become”; however, it gets used in a wide variety of methods, including “to occur”, and very frequently as a substitute for “to be”. I try to render using the base meaning since that is the true and underlying sense of the word. From there one can get all poetic about how to render into something that sounds pleasing in English, but part of the purpose of this is to provide those learning Greek to see how the syntax works. I’ve rather gotten away from that for a while; or, at least, I’m not as obnoxious about it as I used to be. Here, however, I’ve gotten back to that because the grammar is rather interesting. 

More importantly is the last verse. In Verse 33 we got some extra; here we get something removed. In the other two gospels, Jesus instructed his henchmen to say nothing. Here, that bit of instruction is missing. The three of them simply choose not to speak of the matter. Why not? We are not told. Or are we? Again, I’m seeing a situation in which Luke feels that there is no reason to repeat something a third time. Once again, we have another example of Luke making omissions to stories that are adequately covered by Mark and Matthew. I need to go through my Harmony to do some more research, but it seems that when Matthew and Mark give a full account, Luke abridges his. When Matthew shortens too much, as in the Gerasene Demonaic, Luke adds back what Matthew has omitted. When Matthew has something that Mark doesn’t, Luke reinforces Matthew,

34 Haec autem illo loquente, facta est nubes et obumbravit eos; et timuerunt intrantibus illis in nubem.

35 Et vox facta est de nube dicens: “ Hic est Filius meus electus; ipsum audite ”.

36 Et dum fieret vox, inventus est Iesus solus. Et ipsi tacuerunt et nemini dixerunt in illis diebus quidquam ex his, quae viderant.

 

 

About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on December 20, 2017, in Chapter 9, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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