Lectionary Year A
February 10, 2002
Matthew 17:1-9

Step IV: Context

A. Primitive Christianity

(JFC) Many New Testament events of significance occur at high elevations. The Gospel parallels of Matthew 17:1-9 read almost verbatim, with the exception of Luke 9:31-34 saying it happened eight days later and that Jesus' vappearance changes differently from the others' versions and his adding an emphasis on the glory with which also Moses and Elijah appeared and the disciples' getting sleepy and finally they entered the cloud. Furthermore, II Peter 1:16-18 seems to allude to this text's event on the Mount of Transfiguration. When Jesus touches the frightened disciples in verse 7 of our text at hand, it reads similarly to Revelation 1:17 where John the Seer falls down in fear at the sight of "one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire . . ." Also, Jesus touches the ill and the dead in Matthew 8:3 and 9:29. The hymn in Philippians 2:6-11 mentions Jesus' glory as pre-existent and as a result of His resurrection and/or exaltation. And, of course, the Book of Revelation is full of if not entirely of vision(s), as Jesus calls the event recorded on our lection at hand. At Jesus' baptism we read the same words from on high, Matthew 2:17. Then, too, in Matthew 16:20, Jesus "sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone He was the messiah" and, even the demons who recognize Jesus' messiahship, are commanded to keep it quiet until after His resurrection (Mark 8:30).

B. Old Testament and Judaism

(JFC) As with the New, the Old Testament reports many significant events high upon mountains. More specifically, Exodus 24:13-16 tells of Moses taking Joshua up onto Mount Sinai, which for six days was cloud-covered and on the seventh day God spoke to Moses. Also, Moses' face glows after he encountered God on Mount Sinai when and whre he got the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 34:29-35. And in Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses shares his conviction that God will raise up another leader, here called "a prophet", for the people after he dies and that they are to listen to him, as the New Testament people are to Jesus in Matthew 17:5. When the disciples fall down in fear at hearing God's voice from the cloud, they do similarly to what Habakkuk (3:2 in the Septuagint) prays in awe. When Ezekiel (1:26-2:1) sees God's glory, he falls down before its splendor and, when he hears God's voice (10:9f) he falls face down into a trance until "a hand" touches him and he can rise to his knees. God's appearance and voice has from early on, frightened seers and hearers of it.

In II Baruch 51:3 (early in the second century CE) God assures the prophet that a better world is coming for the righteous, those who prove to be obedient, intelligent and wise. They will have their countenances changed, "their splendor will then be glorified by transformations and the shape of their faces will be changed into the light of their beauty so that they may acquire and receive the undying world which is promised them." Around the turn of the millennium from BCE to CE, I Enoch 14:8 says, "And behold I saw the clouds: and they were calling me in a vision: and the fogs were calling me: and the course of the stars and the lightenings were rushing me and causing me to desire; and in the vision the winds were causing me to fly and rushing me high up into heaven." Lots of literature of many ages features scenes in the heights.

C. Hellenistic World

(JFC) This event must have interested these elitists from Greek backgrounds of thought. Surely, they would have talked about the meanings of the various parts of the acts and scenes and the entirety of the event over and over again, as was their custom in dialogues after dialogues. Surely, the mystics among them would employ the sights and sounds of that day on that mountain to stimulate some of their speculations about what is true and what might not be so. But, what about the stoics among them? Could they hear this story and remain unmoved? Very likely they all might have approved of Peter's wanting to erect booths for the holy people there, for it would have represented good hospitality, which these philosophers were want to extend. The rather objective description of the aura around the holy persons present there then surely must have arrested the attention of these privileged of the intelligential culture. What would these Greek thinkers call this account, a story, a dream, a miracle, or what? Albright and Mann note, "Both Bultmann and Dibelius suggest that the whole framework for the miracle stories is such that they exactly fit the formal pattern of Hellenistic wonder-stories, . . ." Could this text be such?

| Return to Gospel text listings | Return to Epistle text listings |
| Return to Old Testament listings | Return to Psalm listings |
| User response form |