Saturday, February 19, 2022

Glistering Jesus

Below is a rough translation and some very, very preliminary remarks about Luke 9:28-36, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for Transfiguration Sunday of Year C. The given text offers a few more verses as an option, but I’m stopping with v.36 for now. Your comments and especially your corrections are welcomed. 

28 Ἐγένετο δὲ μετὰ τοὺς λόγους τούτους ὡσεὶ ἡμέραι ὀκτὼ [καὶ] παραλαβὼν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰωάννην καὶ Ἰάκωβον ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος προσεύξασθαι
Yet it happened about eight days after the saying of these things [and] having taken Peter and John and James he went up into the mountain to pray. 
Ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι,1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be
παραλαβὼν: AAPart nsm, παραλαμβάνω,1) to take to, to take with one's self,
ἀνέβη: AAI 3s, ἀναβαίνω,1) ascend  1a) to go up  
προσεύξασθαι: AMInf, προσεύχομαι,1) to offer prayers, to pray 
1. I never quite know what to do with ἐγένετο. It is the term that the KJV quaintly translates as “It came to pass.” To me, that’s as a good of an option as anything else. I could see ἐγένετο working as something like a ‘helping verb’ in some cases. In the next verse, it seems that “became” works better. It seems like a judgment call each time. In any case, Luke uses is seven times in this pericope. 
2. Speaking of ἐγένετο: This pericope begins with reference to eight days after something. The last pericope might be judged to begin with v.18, another verse that starts with ἐγένετο. It is a conversation, while Jesus is praying in private with his disciples, over who Jesus is and a disclosure that Jesus will suffer and die. It ends with a call to take up the cross and follow, and the enigmatic words, “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God” (v.27). We’re eight days after that. 
3. Well, we're "about eight days after" all that. Luke's use of ὡσεὶ, sometimes translated "as if" or "as though" before such a precise term as "eight days" seems unusual to me. But, as it turns out, he uses it occasionally when speaking of temporal or spatial things. Mary stayed with Elizabeth "about three months" (1:56); Jesus was "about thirty yeas of age" when he began his ministry (3:23); It was "about the sixth hour" during the crucifixion (23:44); for example. 
4. Jesus went up into the mountain to pray. I wonder what the significance of going up onto the mountain for prayer is. For 2022, the Lenten series at my congregation is "Scaling the Seven Summits," where we are looking at mountain stories of both the OT and NT, including Matthew's version of the transfiguration. It seems that the mountains provide solitude and perspective, which would lend themselves to prayer, but I wonder also if there's an ancient mindset that physical elevation itself is part of elevating one's spirit in prayer. I'm not aware of any studies that make this case, but even among the pagan communities surrounding Israel, there were notorious "high places" where various religious acts took place. 

29 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ προσεύχεσθαι αὐτὸν τὸ εἶδος τοῦ προσώπου αὐτοῦ ἕτερον καὶ ὁ ἱματισμὸς αὐτοῦ λευκὸς ἐξαστράπτων
And it became in his praying the appearance of his face became other and his clothing flashing white. 
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι,1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be
προσεύχεσθαι: PMInf, προσεύχομαι,1) to offer prayers, to pray 
ἐξαστράπτων: PAPart nsm, ἐξαστράπτω,1) to send forth lightning, to lighten 2) to flash out like lightning, to shine, be radiant 2a) of garments
1. The phrase that I have as “in his praying” is probably not quite right. “Praying” (προσεύχεσθαι) is an infinitive, and “his” (αὐτὸν) is in the accusative case, which typically denotes the object of the verb, not the genitive which is usually how possessive pronouns appear. 
2. I have Jesus’ appearance as “became other” taking ἕτερον (heteron) as literally as possible. But, I am also carrying over the ἐγένετο from the earlier part of the verse, since there is no verb preceding "other." Various translation make ἕτερον read "altered" or "changed," which, I think, capture the meaning quite well. 
3. The verb ἐξαστράπτων describes lightning, so I’m going with “flashing white.” The KJV has “glistening.” YLT has “sparkling” and ESV “dazzling white.” Great, great words all, but I've grown attached to "glistering."  Please do not entitle your sermon "The Flash." Stop it.
4. A challenge for me is to lean into the glistering and not simply to stop at the oddness and fantastic nature of it. Yes, it is fantastic and is meant to (I suppose) evoke a sense of awe in us. But, for what reason and to what end? Is this Luke's way of depicting the Reign of God, since Jesus had said that some of his disciples would see the Reign of God before tasting death? If so, what does that say about the Reign of God? Is it "glorious" in the sense of evoking wonder; or is it glorious in the sense of being beyond what we can imagine? Is this transformative exposure of the Reign of God something that can happen when Jesus prays, or it is something that can happen when anyone prays? I say "can happen" because it does not seem to happen every time Jesus prays. 
5. By placing this story on the last Sunday of Epiphany, the RCL invites us to see it primarily as an epiphanic story, perhaps the apex of epiphanic stories. Revealing ... what, exactly? If we answer, "revealing Jesus' glory," then is that the final answer or might we continue to ask, "for what reason and to what end?" 

30 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄνδρες δύο συνελάλουν αὐτῷ, οἵτινες ἦσαν Μωϋσῆς καὶ Ἠλίας, 
And behold two men were talking to him, who were Moses and Elias, 
Ἰδοὺ: AMImpv εἶδον, a particle serving to call attention.
συνελάλουν: IAI 3p, συλλαλέω,1) to talk with 
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί,1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. If one is doing a verse-by-verse comparison of translations, one might be surprised by the NIV’s translation of this verse. “Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.” It appears that they are borrowing that description from the next verse. 

31 οἳ ὀφθέντες ἐν δόξῃ ἔλεγον τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ ἣν ἤμελλεν πληροῦν ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ.
Who having appeared in glory were speaking of his exodus which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. 
ὀφθέντες: APPart npm, ὁράω,1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
ἔλεγον: IAI 3p, λέγω,1) to say, to speak
ἤμελλεν: IAI 3s, μέλλω,1) to be about  1a) to be on the point of doing or suffering something  1b) to intend, have in mind, think to  
πληροῦν: PAInf, πληρόω,1) to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full 
1. Jesus had just disclosed his forthcoming death in the previous pericope (v.22). Here, the narrator describes it as his “exodus,” a transliteration of ἔξοδον, or journey out. 
2. Luke’s story differs from Mark and Matthew in two ways. In Luke, when Jesus discloses that he must suffer and die, he does not specify that it will take place in Jerusalem, but does in Mark and Matthew. Also, Mark and Matthew do not say what the substance of Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah is, only that they were talking together. So, it is here that Luke makes it clear that Jesus destiny was to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. 

32 ὁ δὲ Πέτρος καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ ἦσαν βεβαρημένοι ὕπνῳ: διαγρηγορήσαντες δὲ εἶδον τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοὺς δύο ἄνδρας τοὺς συνεστῶτας αὐτῷ. 
Yet Peter and the ones with him were being weighed down with sleep; yet having remained awake they saw his glory and the two men who were standing with him. 
ἦσαν: εἰμί,1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
βεβαρημένοι: PerfPPart npm, βαρέω,1) to burden, weigh down, depress 
διαγρηγορήσαντες: AAPart npm, διαγρηγορέω,1) to watch through 2) to remain awake 3) to be fully awake
εἶδον: AAI 3p, ὁράω,1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know 
συνεστῶτας: PerfAPart apm, συνίστημι (a) transitive to place or set together; (b) intransitive to stand with or together, to put together, compose, constitute.
1. The participle διαγρηγορήσαντες can indicate either remaining awake or being fully awake. I don’t know if Luke wants us to know that the three disciples managed to stay awake or if they drifted off and then woke up to this startling sight. Most translations opt for the second option, which seems to work quite well. 
2. Again, unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke has Jesus praying and the three disciples falling asleep. 
3. Speaking of disciples sleeping while Jesus is praying, the parallel of Luke’s account here with Jesus’ prayer in the garden just before his arrest is interesting. As Matthew and Mark tell that story (Mt. 26 and Mk.14) the three disciples fall asleep and Jesus reams them a good one for doing so. Luke’s account (22:39ff) says that they were sleeping “because of grief” and Jesus’ response is less harsh. 
4. It seems that the phrase, "in his praying" or "as he was praying" from v.29 comes quickly in the narrative, but must have been a much longer process in the story, because the three disciples are battling sleep, perhaps even having already fallen asleep before awakening to this marvel. 

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 it happened in their departing from him Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here, and let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elia, not having known what he says. 
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι,1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be
διαχωρίζεσθαι: PPInf, διαχωρίζομαι,1) to separate thoroughly or wholly  2) to separate one's self, depart
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω,1) to say, to speak 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί,1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
εἶναι: PAInf, εἰμί,1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ποιήσωμεν: AASubj 1p, ποιέω,1) to make  
εἰδὼς: PerfAPart nsm, ὁράω,1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω,1) to say, to speak 
1. We ran across the word Ἐπιστάτα a few weeks ago, so I’ll repeat a comment that I made there: “Master” – Only Luke uses this term and he uses it 7 times, always with reference to Jesus by the disciples. It means something more like “boss” or “superintendent” than a slave-owning master.” 
2. σκηνὰς is a covering, so it gets translated in various ways here. I wonder if this is the origin of the English word “skein” or even “skin.” does not seem to think so. 
3. So, here's another significant different between Luke's account and the other synoptics: Luke as Moses and Elijah departing before Peter raises the idea of building tents. In Matthew and Mark, it seems that part of the consequence of Peter blurting out in ignorance is that after the voice sends the three falling to the ground, when they look up Moses and Elijah are gone. Those accounts always have a "Shoemaker and the Elves" kind of disappearing feel, but here Moses and Elijah just leave because, apparently, their conversation with Jesus is over. Still, Luke makes it clear that Peter was blurting out in ignorance. 

34 ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ λέγοντος ἐγένετο νεφέλη καὶ ἐπεσκίαζεν αὐτούς: ἐφοβήθησανδὲ ἐν τῷ εἰσελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν νεφέλην. 
Yet as he was saying these things it happened that a cloud appeared and shrouded them; Yet they were afeared in the entering of them into the cloud. 
λέγοντος: PAPart gsm, λέγω,1) to say, to speak 
ἐγένετο : AMI 3s, γίνομαι,1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be
ἐπεσκίαζεν: IAI 3s, ἐπισκιάζω,1) to throw a shadow upon, to envelop in a shadow, to overshadow 
ἐφοβήθησαν: API 3p, φοβέω, to terrify, frighten, to put to flight by terrifying (to scare away). Pass. 1. to be put to flight, to flee, 2. to fear, be afraid.
εἰσελθεῖν: AAInf, εἰσέρχομαι,1) to go out or come in: to enter 
1. As I have written before regarding “afeared”: My North Carolina-bred grandfather would use terms like “a-whistling, a-going, a-talking,” quite often, to my brother’s and my giggling delight. I am not intending to pick up on his linguistic pattern by using “afeared.” I am trying to use a term in the passive voice to reflect ἐφοβήθησαν, while retaining the kinship between ἐφοβήθησαν and φόβον. High five, Grandpa Davis. The words “affrighted ” would work, too, although unlike in Greek all of these English alternatives are more or less adjectives, not verbs. Young's Literal Translation as "feared" but the verb is passive, so that's not quite the same either.

35 καὶ φωνὴ ἐγένετο ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης λέγουσα, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἐκλελεγμένος, αὐτοῦ ἀκούετε
And a voice happened out of the cloud saying, “This is my son whom I have chosen, listen to him.
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι,1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be
λέγουσα: PAPart nsf, λέγω,1) to say, to speak 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί,1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἐκλελεγμένος: PerfPPart nsm, ἐκλέγομαι,1) to pick out, choose, to pick or choose out for one's self
ἀκούετε: PAImpv 2p, ἀκούω,1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf 
1. From the looks of the older translations (KJV,YLT), it appears that there is a textual variant of “my son the beloved” instead of “my son whom I have chosen” in some texts. Maybe some scribe along the way tried to synchronize Luke with Matthew and Mark. 
2. If this is indeed an epiphany text, is the epiphanic moment the glistering glory of Jesus or this declaration, or both? 

36 καὶ ἐν τῷ γενέσθαι τὴν φωνὴν εὑρέθη Ἰησοῦς μόνος. καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐσίγησαν καὶ οὐδενὶ ἀπήγγειλαν ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις οὐδὲν ὧν ἑώρακαν
And in the happening of the voice Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent announced nothing to anyone those days what they had seen. 
γενέσθαι: AMInf, γίνομαι,1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be
εὑρέθη: API 3s, εὑρίσκω,1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with 
ἐσίγησαν: AAI 3p, σιγάω,1) to keep silence, hold one's peace 
ἀπήγγειλαν: AAI 3p, ἀπαγγέλλω,1) to bring tidings (from a person or a thing), bring word, report  2) to proclaim, to make known openly, declare 
ἑώρακαν: PerfAI 3p, ὁράω,1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
1. If one thinks this is a very awkward way of dealing with the γενέσθαι of this verse, I plead guilty. I’m leaving it awkward because it appears as an infinitive here, unlike elsewhere in the pericope. 
2. Another difference in Luke's account from Matthew and Mark is that the three kept silence "in those days" about it. In Matthew and Mark Jesus orders them to say nothing until after the Son of Man is raised from the dead. 

Either Luke’s source for this story is unique or he is up to something theologically that is somewhat different from Matthew and Mark. The hermeneutical quest for me, leading to homiletical possibilities, is to get a sense of what that is. 


  1. Jesus often departed by himself to pray, this time we have witnesses. So did this (brightness)happen often? Was a visit from home? Moses and Elijah came perhaps to buck up Jesus for what was to come?

    1. Hi Ken,
      I have no idea if this were a unique moment or whether the fact that there were witnesses was the uniqueness about it. As a story, I move toward that latter, since the narrators of the gospels assume to know what Jesus says on occasion even when he is alone (that's how narrators of stories work).
      As far as your last question, again it goes beyond the text a bit, but I think of the moment in John 12, when a voice from the heavens speaks to Jesus and the crowd is wondering whether it was thunder or something else, and Jesus tells them that the voice was for their benefit more than his. I suspect that the primary point of this story is to demonstrate who Jesus is.


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