Friday, April 6, 2012

White Like Jesus

We are continuing on in the Gospels, where just prior to the following study's topic, Jesus explained that you need to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him if you want to be rewarded in God's Kingdom, which was to be established in less time than a human lifespan.

White Like Jesus
The Transfiguration of Jesus is a rather odd event in the Gospels when you compare it against the rest of the content. There was no teaching, no exorcism, no healing, and Jesus is working no miracle. It appears completely superfluous, as though it could be removed without harming the Gospel story one bit. Let us take a closer look at it.

Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-10, and Luke 9:28-36 all describe an event when Jesus led Simon/Peter, John, and James up on a high mountain, where Jesus' was transfigured.

What exactly was Jesus' actual Transfiguration? That depends on which Gospel you consult. Mark 9:3 simply tells us that Jesus clothes became whiter than any bleach could make them. Matthew 17:2 claims that Jesus' face was bright like the sun, and His clothes were like light. Luke 9:29 says that Jesus' face "changed" and his clothes were as bright as lightning. So in these infallible accounts, we go from Jesus just wearing clothes which made sodium hypochlorate (a.k.a. bleach) jealous, to turning Jesus, and His clothing, into a one man light show of such intensity that it would be hard to look at without being blinded.

Next, each account tells us that Elijah and Moses appeared, and spoke with Jesus, and that Peter wanted to set up three tents there; one for each of them, because (according to Mark and Luke) he did not know what he was saying (Matthew 17:3-4, Mark 9:4-6, Luke 9:30-33).

It is amazing that the Disciples recognized the two men as Elijah and Moses. It is not like they would have been wearing name badges or bearing photo identification. There is not a detailed physical description of these long-dead men in the Bible. Plus, there was (possibly) all of that blinding light emanating from Jesus, making it as difficult to see anyone else as it is to see constellations at noon. So how could they be so sure who they were? It could have been possible that they had overheard Jesus speaking these men's names, which brings us to the next quirk:

Why is it that neither Matthew (Jesus' Disciple) nor Mark (allegedly the eyewitness Peter's companion) tell us what was discussed between these men and Jesus, but Luke, allegedly the physician of Paul (who was not one of Jesus' Disciples) manages to figure out that they had been talking about Jesus' upcoming "departure" in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31)? Not only that, but Luke adds the information that the Disciples had been asleep when the two men showed up, thereby missing the traditional meet-and-greet stage of a conversation when names are most often spoken (Luke 9:32).

Continuing on, as Peter had finished suggesting the tents, a glowing (according to Matthew) cloud enveloped all of them, followed by the voice of God claiming that Jesus was His beloved Son, and they should listen to Him. When the cloud disappeared, the two mystery men were gone as well (Matthew 17:5-8, Mark 9:7-8, Luke 9:34-36).

According to Luke 9:36, the Disciples voluntarily kept this transfiguration event secret. However, According to Matthew 17:9 and Mark 9:9, Jesus told them not to tell anyone about the Transfiguration until after He was raised from the dead, thereby continuing Jesus' effort to try to hide His alleged identity.

In another oddity, after Jesus tells them not to say anything, in Mark 9:10 we find:
[The Disciples] kept the matter to themselves, discussing what "rising from the dead" meant. NIV
How could they not know what "rising from the dead" meant? From 1 Kings 17:17-24, from verses describing one of the men they thought that they had just seen, Elijah raised a boy from the dead. Also, according to Mark 5:21-43, these exact same three Disciples observed Jesus bring a dead girl back to life. Furthermore, according to Mark 8:31, Jesus had earlier explained to them that "He must be killed and after three days rise again."

I suspect that Mark's gaff here is an artifact from the progressive construction of the Jesus' story. This Transfiguration anecdote was probably included in the story first, with Jesus raising the dead girl and Jesus speaking of His impending resurrection being later additions. Wisely, both Matthew and Luke edit out from their accounts the remark about the Disciples arguing over Jesus' resurrection.

Another oddity worth mentioning is that John, the one Disciple who allegedly wrote his own Gospel and who was an eyewitness to the Transfiguration, does not mention this at all. It seems that seeing Elijah and Moses, a neon Jesus, and a talking God-cloud did not leave a memorable enough impression on him to record it.

The final thing to note is the possible origin which spawned this Transfiguration story. For that, we turn back in the Bible to Exodus 34:29-35. There we see that any time Moses spoke to God, His face would glow so much that it scared his fellow Israelites, and he would have to wear a veil to keep them from being frightened. So Jesus' Transfiguration story served as more (I would say fabricated) evidence which proved that Jesus had a divine connection.


  1. It appears completely superfluous, as though it could be removed without harming the Gospel story one bit.

    I don't entirely agree with this, since the account does serve to address Peter's prior outspoken concern that Jesus' death was something to be avoided.

    Still, if I'm not mistaken, the critics you consult are all about viewing scripture as a compilation of individual sources, rather than uninterrupted writings of the four traditional authors. To the uninitiated, it might seem that the modern view of the Gospels is that they are rather like a deck of cards shuffled together, and a reshuffle might present them in an entirely different order. Since they've bought into this notion, it's not surprising that they're willing to ignore the sequential aspect of the verse to give equal credence to other passages.

    But perhaps this subject begins to wear a little thin. It seems so to me, at this point. Still, you constantly amaze me at your ability to yank 12 comments out of me, when all I ever intended was one or two.

  2. @tom sheepandgoats
    I am sorry about yanking you around, tom! :-)

    There are many pieces to the Gospel story which need to be put in place to make sense of it all, and I think you would agree with me that it requires study to be able to do so. Critics and scholars are just people who have studied it, not necessarily people who have gotten it all right. But a blanket rejection of them just because they do not come to the same conclusion as you is not the best approach, but that is the common practice among each of the denominations, is it not?

    For example, it is interesting that your seemingly preferred account of Luke does not mention Peter's concern. If the Transfiguration was to settle Peter's nerves, you would never know it from reading only Luke. If it was just for Peter's benefit, why drag James and John along? And why is it that you would never know that the Transfiguration had even occurred from reading only John, the only Gospel-writing eyewitness to the event. These are puzzles, are they not? Do you have the answers for why this may be the case in Luke and John?

    Better yet, can you explain Mark 9:10 in a way which really makes sense, given what the Disciples knew?

    Answer these riddles convincingly, and I will happily stand corrected.

    1. These are puzzles, are they not?

      Are they? If so, they strike me as very picayune ones. Do you ask the same questions when ABC, NBC, and CBS cover the same story, each supplying details the other leaves out? The very same story? Why should that be? It is a puzzle, is it not?

      If it was just for Peter's benefit, why drag James and John along?

      Why not? Nor did I ever say it was “just for Peter's benefit.” I said it addressed concern of Peter, so that it might not be purged from the Gospel account with no loss from the narrative. Similarly, James and John serve as eyewitnesses....I can imagine your response if just one disciple claimed this vision as his own. That doesn't mean they were brought along for that reason....just that their presence serves that purpose.

      Why didn't John write of the transfiguration? Who knows? Do you read great significance into it? I don't. But what's wrong with the view that he wrote decades after the other writers, (remember, I see no reason to trash the traditional view of authorship) observed that others had covered it well, and moved on to make his account more relevant to the Christian congregation of his day, rather than that of 30-40 years ago? Lots of things change in that much time....why not make his material timely....stressing other things Jesus said and did, things not covered up to that time?

    2. First, let me say, great vocabulary! I had to look up "picayune." :-)

      Now, on to your news reference. Actually, if you are looking for bias and spin, it is good to ask those questions of ABC, NBC, and CBS, and especially of Fox. Yet there is a significant difference in a news organization, competing with other news organizations, relaying contemporary news, versus someone writing a Gospel decades after the actual events were said to take place. Memory failures and modifications take place over those kinds of time frames, to say nothing of the development of myth.

      At the level of a surface reading, you are right that at least some of these are small issues, especially the one you took exceptional note of with regard to bringing James and John along. Others , like Mark 9:10, are more significant, but if you are content with a superficial reading, I guess there is no problem there.

      Consider, for a moment, that you suggested to me that you believed that the writers of (at least) the Synoptic Gospels shared common resources. Clearly, based on Matthew and Mark, Peter's objection to Jesus' upcoming rejection and death was part of that resource. That means that Luke specifically edited out that anecdote. Why would that be? If it was just to avoid embarrassing Peter, why would he leave in Peter's later triple denial of Jesus? Was it instead the result of Luke's alleged thorough research, and he deemed that event to be fabricated, or at least unsubstantiated? The fact that Luke, writing after Mark and Matthew, removed Peter's objection should influence your beliefs of either Luke's credibility or that the Transfiguration was intended to ease Peter's concerns.

      Regarding John's lack of reference, yes, I think it is significant, at least to the extent that arguments from silence can be. That would have been a pretty remarkable and memorable event. Consider that John does cover Jesus calling Apostles, the fact that prophets have no honor in their hometowns, the feeding of the 5000, Jesus walking on water, Peter calling Jesus the Christ (sort of), the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the purging of the Temple (at a different time), Jesus' anointing with perfumed oil, etc., etc., despite the fact that the other Gospels covered this information, and despite the fact that some of those things are more mundane than the Transfiguration.

    3. From your first replY:

      But a blanket rejection of them just because they do not come to the same conclusion as you is not the best approach, but that is the common practice among each of the denominations, is it not?

      Are these critics and scholars you write of truly free of the denominations? Are they free thinkers unaffiliated with anyone? Or does their thinking define new denominations. Where do they come from?

    4. I think I have mentioned this to you before, but the main critics and scholars I consult are the "classic" Biblical commentaries from 100+ years ago at and Wikipedia. Obviously, the classical commentaries fall more in the "scholar" range than "critic." Wikipedia, at least in their better articles, covers the whole range of scholars and critics in an abbreviated fashion.

      You suggested of me in your first reply that "...the critics you consult are all about viewing scripture as a compilation of individual sources, rather than uninterrupted writings of the four traditional authors." If by "scripture" you mean the Gospels, as the rest of your sentence suggests, I am not yet familiar with that theory other than as it relates to the Gospel of John, and at this point in time I have not discerned for myself the validity of that argument in John, outside of the particularly dubious anecdote of the woman caught in adultery.

      However, the point I think you are trying to make is that the scholars, and even "freethinkers" such as myself, will have biases. You are absolutely correct. However, their biases will vary in "strength" from one section to the next. And sometimes, some of their biases actually are justified.

      You have to realize that the hardest bias to detect is your own. Not yours, specifically, tom. ;-) Rather, the ones any of us hold on our own. The best way I have found to minimize my bias is to bounce my ideas off of the scholars various interpretations and see if they still hold up. I have had to change my thoughts on many occasions due to the insight provided by those with a different perspective. That is all I am recommending for your here.

      That may be extra challenging for you because of some of the JW isolationist tendencies, but I think you can handle it, while not all JW's could. I think that there are those who recognize themselves as JW's with the thought of having a wholly solid doctrine backing them, and then there are those who are JW because of what they represent in the grander scale - such that "minor" errors discovered in JW doctrine would not threaten their identity. I picture you as the stronger, latter type. After all, you are reaching out by coming here and confronting yourself with my foolishness. :-)

    5. “Minor” errors have been discovered and adjusted innumerable times in JW doctrine, and I've no doubt that will continue to be the case. (And why do you put quotes around 'minor?') The point is, who does one trust to discover them? Those carefully building on a foundation built up over decades of service to God? Or those who may not have had such an advantage, not to mention that they've been dead over 100 years? Or are you suggesting each one of us must rediscover the wheel for oneself?

    6. Well, tom, I think you can understand how one man's "minor" error might be considered a "major" one by someone else. That is the reason for the quotes.

      Those dead guys had put in decades of service to God, and yet they erred. The Catholic Church, with it's alleged Apostolic Succession down to Peter himself, has spent more time in service to God than any other denomination, and yet they erred. It took Martin Luther to bravely take up the analysis for himself, to reinvent a wheel which had been rolling for hundreds of years, before there was a Renaissance in Biblical study and understanding, and yet he erred some too. Then there are all of the subsequent Protestant denominations with their decades, or centuries, of service to God, and yet they all err in their own ways.

      Even in the secular world, you see the same pattern. From the aspect of design, I can tell you that I have worked for companies who had been in the business for decades, and had developed their own proprietary design algorithms and specifications which they believed were the best after careful thought, collaborative design reviews, and testing. Yet when you go out into the world and see the competitor's product, you can often find that they have made far better designs in at least some of the parts and pieces, if not the whole thing.

      So in answer to your question about each of us needing to rediscover the wheel, need may be a bit strong, and not everyone even has the capacity to do so, but I would highly recommend it for those who can. I believe that you can.

      Surely there are more popular, more entertaining, and more trivial pursuits which believers undertake, but I cannot fathom how it would be considered a waste of time or effort by anyone of faith to study the Bible. Even if you think all you will find is verse after verse, and chapter after chapter, and book after book, all pointing to the JW perspective, imagine how much more confidently you can hold to your faith, and how much more influentially and completely you can help others see the right path. Of course, you will err a little too, just like all have, but at least you will have a true ownership of your faith and a deeper appreciation for God's word.

    7. I'm not sure where you've gotten the impression that I've not read the Bible throughout. Did I ever say that?

      Those dead guys had put in decades of service to God, and yet they erred. The Catholic Church, with it's alleged Apostolic Succession down to Peter himself, has spent more time in service to God than any other denomination

      On the other hand, there's any number of passages that establish God blesses those doing his will on his terms, rather than doing our own will and calling it God's. We are going back to the point made regarding Tebow here. Except with the Church, the deviation from what God commanded is a great deal more deleterious. Surely the crusades and the inquisition, for example, has to water down the value of the Church's service to God. As does the phenomenally debauched lives of many of the Popes. As does the fact that Peter is described as a married from where comes the command that Popes are to be single?

      This says nothing, necessarily, about the dead guys in question. I've no doubt they were sincere fellows. I've no doubt their personal devotion offsets, to an extent, the rotten legacy from which they came. I've not said (or have I?) that they ought to be ignored. I've said they're not the place you start. It's not as though, as with Isaac Newton, they were standing upon the shoulders of giants.

      Remember, our view of the scriptures differ from yours. We view them as “living,” to an extent. Certainly we view its author as living. He opens them up to ones doing his will, enabling them to put pieces together. And he fairly well shuts them down to those not doing his will. They flagrantly disregard what little they have learned.....why should he bless them with more to disregard?

    8. I apologize if I have erred in my assessment of your Biblical knowledge, but it seemed to me like your OT knowledge is a bit limited, so I inferred that you had not read the whole Bible.

      I also apologize for being a little loose with my terminology here, in that usually when I say "read" in regards to the Bible (like above), I mean study it in detail. I think you would agree that there are different levels of reading, or at least different levels of comprehension which come from reading, which is directly related to the effort you put into understanding the full ramifications of the text. Now, if you feel you have studied the entire Bible, and that you agree that the JW doctrine corresponds to the entire Bible, please let me know.

      Regarding the Catholics, stay focused on doctrine here, which is the intent of the argument, not behavior. The great sins of Catholicism are widely known, and I would never defend those. from where comes the command that Popes are to be single?
      There are many Catholic doctrinal issues, but you have picked a bad one to object to. The Torah clearly establishes a higher standard for priests than for commoners, and the high priest in particular, as we see in places like Leviticus 21. There, mind you, it does say that the High Priest can marry. However, Jesus came along and screwed up the OT laws, as He so often did. In Matthew 19:10-12, He establishes being single as a higher moral position. That is not to say marriage is a sin, but it is preferred if you can abstain from that. The better status of being single is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 7:38. Logically, it follows that, as the alleged highest moral authority on earth, the Pope should not marry.

      I would argue that the place to start is reading the Bible for yourself, and consulting outside resources only when your are not sure of the meaning, or are disturbed by it. And then, when other sources are consulted, I would recommend seeking several different viewpoints, including those outside of your native denomination.

      One should wonder about a God that would purposefully hide meaning from anyone. Or, given that allegedly the meaning is there in plain sight, you should wonder about a God which would actively prevent people from understanding that meaning. What was it that Jesus said? Something like "“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light." That sounds about right to me.

    9. Regarding the Catholics, stay focused on doctrine here, which is the intent of the argument, not behavior

      Do you truly believe that the two are divorced? Do not our underlying beliefs determine our behavior? Is that not the whole point of is of discover underlying principles from which behavior stems?

      To the extent I believe this is true, why should I not say regarding Catholics "no sense in spending too much time on their interpretations, since whatever they came up with didn't do much for them?"

      Moreover, since Peter was a married man, the Apostolic Succession would seem to begin the wrong guy. That was the point of my question.

    10. Do you truly believe that the two are divorced?

      We are talking about humans here, right tom? I mean, I have never met anyone who is not a hypocrite from time to time, including myself. While our underlying beliefs influence some of our behaviors, they do not really tend to rule our behaviors. If the behaviors of the overwhelming majority of Christians are not enough to prove that to you, perhaps a quick read through Romans 7 may help you understand that point.

      Indeed, we are able to conceptualize a higher morality than we are able to execute. That is why, despite the various Catholic hypocrisies, their interpretations of Biblical doctrine are at least worthy to consider in my opinion. Now their extra-Biblical doctrine, on the other hand, I would not support at all.

      Moreover, since Peter was a married man, the Apostolic Succession would seem to begin the wrong guy.

      As they say in the "Corporation," you go to war with the army you have, not the army you would want to have. (In a similar, yet completely different way, you probably remember that Hitler thought that the ideal German was blond, blue-eyed, tall, and strong... pretty much the exact opposite of himself.)

      Besides, what you are neglecting to consider is that Peter effectively left his wife to follow Jesus (Matthew 19:27, Mark 10:28). The context of the Matthew and 1 Corinthians references above spell out that the reason the non-married status would be preferred is so that you can show total devotion to God; not getting distracted by your spouse and children. Clearly, Peter did not worry about his "baggage," and so was not married for all of God's practical purposes.

    11. You don't go to a mechanic who can't keep his own car running. If he can keep it running, but works with a horrible shop, you still tend to stay away. Why isn't he someplace reputable? Furthermore (I think I've made this point several times) I've said they (the religious scholars) are not the first persons you consider, not necessarily that you stay away from them altogether.

      We all recognize the disciples were “hypocrites from time to time.” That doesn't make them violent knaves and scoundrels. NT counsel is to remove such persons from the congregation. If, instead, such persons come to dominate, it is time to remove yourself from the congregation.

      If the behaviors of the overwhelming majority of Christians are not enough to prove that to you, perhaps a quick read through Romans 7 may help you understand that point.

      The only Christians I feel able to answer for are those of one denomination. Partly, that's why I'm in that denomination. I wasn't born there. In fact, should one even extend the Christian label to groups whose organizational conduct strays so far from what it should be? What of Jesus words about how many would say to him Lord, Lord, yet he would say “I never knew you”? (Matt 7:21-23)

      No, I will hold with my prior thought, that one's beliefs ought make one a better person. If they don't, then what good are they? One ought to be among those who are moved by such counsel as Rom 7 to transform their lives, as you know is the general tone of Paul's letters. It's my prime beef with a great many religious organizations. They are essentially self-serving, selfish, focusing on how one is “saved,” imparting little spiritually other than a feeling of self-righteousness. Perhaps you came from such a background?

    12. Well tom, if we were talking about a mechanic shop where there is one guy running the whole show, then obviously your example is relevant, but what you are suggesting is akin to blaming the pilots and flight attendants for making Delta go into bankruptcy. The guys actually doing the heavy theological lifting are much lower in the ranks, like Thomas Aquinas. There are many Catholics, and people of many of the other denominations I have met, in which their faith does make a positive difference in their lives.

      But as long as we both agree we can overlook the bad behavior and give the doctrine a fair shake, then I guess we do not really have anything to argue about here. :-)

      Also, I would not recommend starting with the Catholic viewpoint either. I would recommend reading the Bible for yourself without outside input until necessary, as I have mentioned before.

      I would agree with you about many of the religious organizations are selfish. In my background, it was not extra-selfish, but kind of low- to mid-level. Spirituality is a little ambiguous, but my background had its own brand which extended beyond self-righteousness.

      I would agree that one's beliefs ought to make someone a better person, but there is clearly no guarantee of that. I think I am a better person now than I used to be now that I have lost some beliefs. ;-) Your mileage may vary.

      I am happy that you have found a home with the JW's. Based on the little bit of JW culture I know, I can see the emotional appeal there. If that works for you tom, then keep it, and cherish it with all of your heart, and continue to try and influence others in a compassionate way.

      Obviously on this blog, I am not offering advice on how to live better. I am just offering detailed analysis from a different perspective.

  3. Great story. I want to believe in a Jesus drifting up into the clouds with angels promising his return but you make it so hard for me. :-)

    You pointed out several areas I have not read in a long time and which, when I was a believer, my mind just conveniently skipped over.

    Fun read, thanx.

  4. @Sabio
    Glad you enjoyed it, and sorry about popping your myth bubble. ;-)

    It is funny how our minds work at times. Sometimes it seems that we can only see what we are prepared to see.