In Matt 17:4, how did Peter recognize Moses and Elijah?

  • 2
    Ancient Synagogues feature many paintings and art depicting biblical figures, presumably going back to some kind of primitive tradition about what they looked like (consider the striking consistency of the ancient depictions of Sts. Peter and Paul, for example). Like how we would recognize Jesus based on ancient Christian art, if He were to come in that form. Mar 16, 2020 at 20:38
  • You don’t genuinely believe @SolaGratia paintings of Holy Ones from the past are accurate, do you? And even if they were (big IF) Jesus transfigured and it implies that the other two also had their transfigured glorified faces. So on two points I’d have a problem and third unless the paintings are photo quality and labeled with the name of the person there is no way to know based on a painting these were the two prophets. History tells us that no two famous artist depicted the same Holy Ones identically the same. That’s such a bizarre idea but it seems you are not tongue in cheek. Mar 20, 2020 at 14:44

2 Answers 2


There are at least two means by which Peter knew what he otherwise knew not moments prior, that I feel have a great degree of credibility and are less speculative than other suggestions which can be offered in response to your question.

By divine revelation

Peter knew the identities of the two, the same way he knew to answer and say

“Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭16:16

And Jesus tells him that in no way was the flesh involved in revealing this to Peter but this was spiritually discerned.

“And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭16:17‬

This is done by the very Spirit who knows all things and teaches us on the spot if necessary

“for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭12:12‬ ‭

And the Spirit gives revelations.

“For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭14:2-3‬ ‭

Peter was made aware of who was who on the mountain, not in any carnal or fleshly way but by the Father into his soul (mind/psyche)

What needs to be emphasized is that the revelation is not at the demand of the human to know but at the Spirit to give, if and when He chooses.

By deduction

It is possible that Peter deduced from their conversation who was who, especially if their names were mentioned

“And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:3‬ ‭

  • Thank you. That was a satisfactory answer.
    – Lenin John
    Mar 22, 2020 at 9:05

It is hard not to be speculative about how the apostles recognized these men. But there are only a few ways they could have known. 1. They introduced themselves. 2. The Spirit told them. 3. Maybe as Sola mentioned, paints of them.

Some may take this to be hard, but not every second of Jesus's life is recorded in the Bible. It is not a play by play.

I am sure much more happened at this meeting then what is recorded.

I think they simply introduced themselves, just like we do when we meet someone new.

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