Did the Transfiguration Really Happen?
How do we know that instances such as the Transfiguration actually occured if those who were present didn't write books of the Bible?
Well, let’s take a look at a brief portion of the Transfiguration account to see who was there, first of, and, secondly, if they could have written about it.
“After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them…” - Mark 9:2ff
Okay, so we see, right from the onset, that Jesus took three folks with Him – (Simon) Peter (the Rock), and James and John (the sons of Zebedee). So they were literally there.
We know that James is the older brother of John. John is commonly referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23; 20:2; 21:7). John is the one whom Jesus entrusted the care of His Blessed Mother to at the foot of His cross, and John is responsible for the Gospel of John as well as the Book of Revelation and three Catholic epistles – kind of like pastoral letters.
So, right there we see that one of the three actually did write and contribute to the New Testament (which answers part of the question). One might wonder why John doesn’t describe the Transfiguration in his own Gospel account, though, and that answer is actually pretty simple.
John, when writing his gospel some 10-20 years later (at least) of Matthew, Mark and Luke, was very aware of the other gospel accounts that were out there and being copied and distributed. He didn’t necessarily feel the need to “copy” all of the same stories, but to fill in some gaps and clarify some teachings and practices (which is one reason that John is the only gospel that has the washing of the feet at the Last Supper – John 13).
On a separate note, although John’s brother James was not a NT writer, the other apostle present, Peter, might have had more of an influence than we know. You see Peter took with him as a traveling companion – John Mark, or St. Mark (writer of the gospel) as he is better known. John is his Jewish name, Mark is his Roman name
St. Mark was known well by both Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and Paul (Col. 4:10, Philemon 1:24). For more insight, Check out:
Acts 12;12, 25
2 Tim 4:11
Since he knew and traveled so closely with Peter, many over the centuries have come to believe that the Gospel of Mark is, in some ways, the gospel of Peter. There is extraordinary detail in some of the episodes of Mark that give great validity to “eyewitness” accounts, of which Mark probably was not present. On another note, if you take St. Peter’s speech from Acts and outline against the Gospel of Mark for major details, points and flow – the similarities are remarkable.
So, in that sense, it is possible that 2 of the 3 apostles (Peter and John) present, actually did have significant outlets to share and pass on testimony of the things that they witnessed, firsthand. As for “other instances” beyond the Transfiguration specifically, each and every instance is different and unique, so it is difficult to give one “general” answer as to which episodes and occurrences in the Scriptures are eyewitness accounts, and how accurate in detail they are.
While many events that are transcribed in Scripture don’t need to be taken literally, some others absolutely do. Gospel accounts like the Transfiguration which you mentioned above is a great example of one of those “difficult to believe” events (or at least “difficult to imagine”) that some theologians or scholars try to argue “didn’t really happen”. That is unfortunate. Our society today can often times struggle with the miraculous and the mysterious. I have even heard so-called “enlightened” folks try to “explain away” the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and the fish. That, too, is unfortunate. That kind of theory is not “enlightened critical analysis” as some try to say – it is closer to heresy, to be honest. Pray for those who have lost or hidden their gift of AWE at the majesty, love and glory of God. Sincerely, pray for them.
God, the Trinity, is a mystery, the highest Mystery…one to be pondered, not necessarily explained.
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