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The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke narrate the Transfiguration to which three apostles namely, Peter, James and John were the privileged witnesses. But it is quite intriguing why neither the Gospel according to John, nor the Epistles written by him, give an account of the Transfiguration to which he himself was a witness. What explanation do the scholars offer for it?

Inputs from any denomination are welcome.

5 Answers 5

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Why does John the Evangelist not mention the Transfiguration?

St. John’s Gospel was the last one written. He might not wanted repeat what was already written by the other Evangelists.

Although Matthew 17 lists the disciple John as being present during the transfiguration, the Gospel of John has no account of it. This has resulted in debate among scholars, some suggesting doubts about the authorship of the Gospel of John, others providing explanations for it. One explanation (that goes back to Eusebius of Caesarea in the fourth century) is that John wrote his gospel not to overlap with the synoptic gospels, but to supplement them, and hence did not include all of their narrative. Others believe that the Gospel of John does in fact allude to the transfiguration, in John 1:14. This is not the only incident not present in the fourth gospel, and the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper is another key example, indicating that the author either was not aware of these narrative traditions, did not accept their veracity, or decided to omit them. The general explanation is thus the Gospel of John was written thematically, to suit the author's theological purposes, and has a less narrative style than the synoptics. - Transfiguration of Jesus

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  • Imagine thinking John was not aware of the narrative tradition of the Last Supper or that he rejected them...
    – jaredad7
    Aug 6, 2023 at 16:32
  • Obviously John would’ve been aware of the Last Supper, as he includes it in John 6 😉
    – Luke Hill
    Aug 6, 2023 at 16:37
  • @KenGraham. If as you say "The general explanation is thus the Gospel of John was written thematically, to suit the author's theological purposes," what is John's theological purpose? Aug 6, 2023 at 21:30
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    @AlexBalilo that's a perfectly mainstream view that you'll find in just about any commentary on John. If you're interested in this topic then I'd suggest you'd be best to go pick up a commentary and find out, it's not novel to Ken in any way.
    – Steve can help
    Aug 6, 2023 at 21:49
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    @AlexBalilo - actually, Ken did not "mention that in his answer", it's part of a quotation in his answer, which then links back to three different commentaries to support it. If you're interested in learning how those commentaries derive that viewpoint, go read them. This is a perfectly mainstream viewpoint on John's Gospel, if you haven't encountered it before then it sounds like a fantastic opportunity for some research, it's not something that can be done justice in the Comments section of SE. :)
    – Steve can help
    Aug 7, 2023 at 12:55
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John wrote his gospel after the synoptics and repeats very little of what is in the Synoptics. It appears that he expected his readers to be familiar with the Synoptics. Jesus' baptism is mentioned as an afterthought. No mention of the temptations. No parables in the Gospel of John. John gives details left out of the Synoptics when we repeats. For example, only John mentions that it is Peter who cut off the high priest's servant's ear. John repeats Jesus feeding the 5000 because it leads into the following discourse in ch6. Even there, John names Phillip, Andrew, and the boy with the fishes and loaves.

So, why did John leave out the Transfiguration? He apparently felt he had nothing to add to the Synoptic accounts.

P.S. Some evidence that the Gospel of John was written after he Synoptics:

 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:23, ESV)

The author was probably the apostle John, writing about A.D. 85. -- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (John). (2016). Crossway Bibles.

Matthew probably wrote his Gospel in the 50s or 60s A.D. -- Ibid. (Matt.)

He [John Mark] may have based his Gospel on Peter’s preaching, writing sometime in the 50s or 60s A.D. -- Ibid. (Mark)

Luke, a physician and a colleague of Paul, probably wrote this account in the early 60s A.D. -- Ibid. (Luke)

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    What evidence do you have that John wrote his gospel after the synoptics? That makes no sense to me.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 6, 2023 at 22:59
  • @Perry Webb You say "when we repeats". I guess you mean when he repeats what others have said".
    – C. Stroud
    Aug 7, 2023 at 10:39
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    @Ruminator John being written after the synoptics is essentially one of the most common and core assumptions by all secular and Christian scholars of the gospels alike, to the point of what I would describe as extremely wide consensus, in a domain where consensus is hard to find! The burden of proof is on you to investigate and give an evidential account for diverging from that consensus, not on Perry or anybody else to defend it.
    – Steve can help
    Aug 7, 2023 at 12:48
  • @Stroud I thought my first sentence made that clear.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 7, 2023 at 22:27
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Baptism and Transfiguration
In contrast with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John omits both the baptism and transfiguration:

16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3 NKJV. Also Mark 1:10-11, Luke 3:21-22)

1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matthew 17. Also Mark 9:2-7, Luke 9:28-35)

At both a voice from heaven announces This is My beloved Son.... The voice is never explicitly identified as God or the Father, but that is a reasonable conclusion.

Psalm 2:7
After His death and resurrection, Jesus is preached as the Son of God, sometimes using Psalm 2:7:

“I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. (Psalm 2:7)

God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’ (Acts 13:33)
For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”? And again: “I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son”? (Hebrews 1:5)
So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” (Hebrews 5:5)

When Matthew, Mark, and Luke are read with the the phrase today I have begotten you in mind, there may be a logical question - Does "today" refer to the baptism or the transfiguration? In other words, since the voice from heaven at the transfiguration and baptism said, This is my beloved Son... one might attempt to connect either event with "the day" Psalm 2:7 speaks of.

Conclusion
John begins the Gospel with the Prologue which proclaims the pre-existence and the unique monogenesis Son. Then throughout the Gospel, it is Jesus who proclaims His unique relationship with the Father. It is Jesus who states plainly He is the beloved Son. For example:

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
(John 3)

In place of the voice from heaven at the baptism, the Fourth Gospel gives the Baptist's words (which he had received from above):

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)

In place of the voice from heaven at the transfiguration, John gives the voice from heaven near the time of glorification:

27 “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” 29 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” 30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” 33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die. (John 12)

By omitting the transfiguration the Fourth Gospel gives greater focus on Jesus as the pre-existent Son, and His future radiance, His glory, which is His death and resurrection.

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The Gospel of John did have a thematic background that John told explicitly in John 20:31

But these are written that you may believe (or continue to believe) that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31 NIV)

Personally I would doubt if it is necessary for John to omit duplication with synoptic gospel intentionally because what if some accounts in the synoptic gospel are strong evidence in his theme? Instead I see that the synoptic gospel are laying out more like a fact telling according to records or witnesses, but the Gospel of John was like a commentary after his years long of spiritual enlightenment.

Now it is a good observation that why John, as one of witness present in Jesus Transfiguration, didn't have this account in his gospel, instead, it exists in the synoptic gospel that all three authors were not present.

When read carefully the parallel account in the synoptic gospel, the Luke's account contains additional details not found in Matthew and Mark;

31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.

32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. (Luke 9:31-32 NIV)

Both Matthew and Mark did not say the apostles (Peter, James and John) were sleepy, nor telling the content of the conversation. Therefore according to the Luke's account, Peter was certainly sleepy, so either James or John might still awake to hear what they were talking. Guess who!

Although there is no reference Luke and John had met each other, according to Christian tradition, after Jesus death, John was either in Jerusalem or Ephesus, where Paul and Luke were also spend some time there. In the introduction of Luke's Gospel and Acts, Luke mentioned a person 'Theophilus' and emphasized to him that

1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,

2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.

3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,

4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4 NIV)

Some suspect that Theophilus was the lawyer of Paul, while Paul was imprisoned in Rome around 60-62AD. If we believe Luke was honest, then we should believe that he did have carefully investigated (vv1:3) and have talked to the eyewitnesses and servants of the words (vv1:2). Therefore I believe that Luke's account is a witness from John.

There remains a question, why didn't John also put Jesus Transfiguration in his gospel?

My best answer is, even though John overheard the conversation, he couldn't comprehend its meaning. It remained an enigma to him preventing him from offering an explanation or commentary in his gospel.

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I differ from mainstream commentators in that:

  • I think that the authors of the gospels all wanted their gospel to be THE gospel, not a supplement or variant. We see that a lot in John, where he claims vehemently that Jesus' boyfriend (probably Lazarus) has the true testimony, and his version is the absolute truth:

[Jhn 21:21-24 NKJV] [21] Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, "But Lord, what [about] this man?" [22] Jesus said to him, "If I will that he remain till I come, what [is that] to you? You follow Me." [23] Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, "If I will that he remain till I come, what [is that] to you?" [24] This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

So also Luke:

[Luke 1:1-4 NKJV] [1] Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, [2] just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, [3] it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, [4] that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

  • the gospels contradict one another. Not only does John write several chapters of speeches at Jesus' last meal, which is not the Passover, he has Jesus die ON Passover, so he could not have possibly had the experience that the synoptics describe.

  • nor does he even know about the eucharist or Luke-Acts Pentecost, so he writes a rebuke of the idea of eating Christ's physical flesh as a remedy for sin, and creates his own mini-Pentecost, which became the inspiration for Luke's more exciting Pentecost:

[Jhn 6:63 NKJV] [63] "It is the Spirit [IE: "breath" that] who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and [they] are life.

  • I consider John to be the first gospel written. I say that specifically because John knows nothing about "the Eucharist," Luke-Acts' Pentecost, the synoptics' "eucharist," the "Transfiguration," and so on. They were all invented decades later, long after Jesus died

  • I consider that the teachings of the NT are designed to destroy all rituals, and replace them with an ethic of faith, hope and love. The "eucharist" is, in my Always Humbler Than Thou opinion, a perversion of the whole teaching of the NT, because it establishes a fake priesthood, with fake sacrifices, and fake promises.

I could go on, but the point is, the gospels are, to my mind, a bit of a joke, and full of contradictions and corruptions. Or rather, they are all altogether works of mythology.

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    Ruminator, your write-up looks not like an answer to the question, but rather a summary of your take on the Gospels. Aug 7, 2023 at 2:41
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    (-1) This is a very low quality answer by the standards you've set for yourself over the years, Ruminator. From a secular standpoint I can see where most of the answer is coming from, but then claiming that John was the first gospel with zero external evidence is bizarre. If the gospels are a bit of a joke to you, don't then use their words to ground your theory - find evidence you can stand on and believe in.
    – Steve can help
    Aug 7, 2023 at 12:39
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Biblical Hermeneutics Meta, or in Biblical Hermeneutics Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Steve can help
    Aug 7, 2023 at 21:43

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