You probably know that most liberal New Testament scholars don’t have time for miracles. All those miracles stories and supernatural events?
They’re all pious fiction. Somebody made it up. It’s “mythical.” They say the early Christians added that fairy tale stuff to make Jesus more special. They added that stuff to make it seem like he was fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. They cooked up those stories to make him into the Son of God.
“Pshaw!” they sneer, “It never happened! How gullible are you? C’mon. Get real. He was just an ordinary country preacher who had a run of bad luck.”
They might continue the debunking: “What could be more supernatural than the experience of the Transfiguration? Jesus takes his friends up a mountain and hey! He starts to float off the ground and goes all radiant, and guess what — he conveniently fulfills the prophecy of Daniel who saw a radiant man in the sky who was the Son of God. Then Moses and Elijah appeared — but how did they know they were Moses and Elijah — did they wear labels?”
Okay. Let’s get down to earth a little and look closely at the story. There are five reasons why this story must have happened as it was written.
Let’s look at the story from the Gospel of Mark:
Jesus took Peter, James and his brother John,
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.
As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.
The first reason this must have happened as reported is something New Testament scholars call the “criterion of embarrassment.” Basically, if part of a story puts Jesus or the disciples in a bad light it is not likely to have been either invented or airbrushed. Let’s face it — Peter looks like a dunce in this story. He doesn’t really get what is going on, and puts his foot in his mouth with his comment about building tents for everyone.
Furthermore, this is from Mark’s gospel and the tradition says that Mark’s gospel was based on Peter’s memoirs and sermons. Therefore the homely detail about Peter not knowing which end was up was likely to come from Peter himself. The same goes for the detail at the end that they didn’t have a clue what Jesus was talking about concerning rising from the dead.
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