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The Transfiguration in Mk 9:2-10 (A)

(by Claudio Bottini, ofm - translated by Lionel Goh ofm)

Much studies have been devoted to the story of the Transfiguration in Mark's Gospel.[1] It can be noted that the Transfiguration story is found in all 3 Synoptic Gospels (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-10; Lk 9:28-36) and at significant moments in the narration of Jesus' earthly life.[2] The author of the 2nd Letter of Peter (2Pet 1:16-18), perhaps dependent on a particular tradition, recalled this episode which served to rekindle in christians the hope of the Parousia. The Transfiguration is a theme also well-known in the apocryphal writings,[3] even among the Gnostics.[4] In both eastern and western patristic (and medieval) writings, the Transfiguration is highlighted as theological, christological, spiritual, iconographic and liturgical themes.[5]

Some of these meanings are beautifully summarized in the Preface of the 2nd Sunday of Lent. In the official italian version of the Roman Missal it says: "He [Jesus Christ]. After having announced his death to his disciples, manifested on the mountain his glory; and by calling upon the testimony of the Law and the Prophets, he indicated to his disciples that only through the Passion are we able to reach the triumph of the Resurrection".[6]

In modern and contemporary exegesis, almost all approaches and methods have been applied in the study of the Gospels regarding the Transfiguration.[7]

In this article, we will read the account of Mark; trying to gather the message which the evangelist wanted to transmit to the christian community. Firstly I will present the wider as well as the immediate contexts of the verses. Then I will illustrate briefly the themes present in the account of the Transfiguration according to Mark.

I. The Context and its meaning

Even though no general structure of Mark's Gospel has to date been accepted by consensus among academics, the delimitation of the unit 8:27-10:52 is almost totally agreed by whichever criteria is used to study it.

The literary unit clearly comprises 3 predictions of the Passion and the Resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34), followed by as many times the incomprehension of the disciples (8:32-33; 9:32-34; 10:35-37) and the successive teaching by Jesus (8:34-38; 9:35-50; 10:38-45). The formula "along the way (in greek en te hodo) " which occurs at the beginning of the pericope of Peter's confession (8:27) and at the end of the healing of the blind man in Jericho (10:52), functions as an inclusion which delimits the section; suggesting, as many commentators would have it, a narrative and theological theme of "following Jesus".

Another significant element in the context is the parallel function of the two healings of blind men which Mark recounts in 8:22-26 (the blind man of Bethsaida) to indicate symbolically the healing of the disciples' incapacity to understand the messianic identity of Jesus; and in 10:46-52 (the blind man of Jericho) to indicate symbolically the healing of the disciples' incapacity to understand the mystery of the suffering mission of Jesus which they themselves are called to follow by way of the cross.[8] Indeed the way which Jesus the Son of Man undertook and which the disciples must follow (8:34; 9:38; 10:32.52) is that which leads to Jerusalem where Jesus must suffer the Passion (10:32.52; 11:1 and 9:33-34; 10:17.46). It is likewise unanimously agreed that Mk 8:27-33 constitutes the end of the 1st part of the Gospel and the beginning of the 2nd. This corresponds with the theme of Jesus' identity and that of discipleship.[9]

The above observations lead us to conclude that the account of the Transfiguration belongs to a part of the central literary unit in Mark's Gospel, 8:27-10:52. Within this unit the account is inserted in the subsection 8:22-9:29 which comprises the following minor units: 8:22-26 (the blind man of Bethsaida), 8:27-30 (the opinions of men, the faith of Peter in Christ), 8:31-32a (the Son of Man must suffer, the 1st announcement of the Passion and Resurrection), 8:32b-33 (incomprehension of the disciples), 8:34-9:1 (teaching on discipleship), 9:2-13 (the Transfiguration), 9:14-29 (healing of the epileptic possessed by a deaf-mute spirit). Without doubt this context offers the 1st orientation in which the meaning of the Transfiguration is understood within the narrative and theological thought of Mark's Gospel. It is found between a dialectic of Jesus' identity and of the conditions of discipleship.

The literary and thematic structure of 8:22-9:29 highlights the position occupied by the Transfiguration account.[10] The scheme comprises a threefold movement: (1) prediction of the Passion, (2) incomprehension of the disciples, (3) teaching by Jesus. The Transfiguration account rests outside of this scheme and serves as a "catechetical complement" or an "illustrative story" which complements Jesus' teaching.[11] But perhaps it could be more precise. The teaching of Jesus culminates in 9:1 with a saying that certainly contains a literary and thematic connection with the Transfiguration account in 9:9. Mk 9:1 says "In truth I say to you: there are some of you present who will not die without having seen (an idosin) the Kingdom of God come with power" and 9:9 "While coming down from the mountain, he ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen (ha eidon), except when the Son of Man might be risen from the dead". Here lies the correspondence between what some will see (9:1) and what the 3 disciples had seen on the mount of Transfiguration (9:9).

On a thematic level this connection is reinforced when one considers the blind man whom Jesus restores his eyesight (8:22-26) is probably a symbol of Peter who sees and confesses the messianic identity of Jesus (8:27-30) and the 3 disciples who see the divine identity/glory of Christ transfigured (9:2-10). Still on the thematic level, one may deduce from the Transfiguration story the divine voice of the Father, which says "This is my beloved son; Listen to him!" (9:7), constitutes a confirmation of the messianic identity of Jesus already confessed by Peter, of the revelation of the suffering mission of the Son (8:31-33) and the instruction on the necessity of suffering by the disciple (8:34-38). On this final point, an ultimate confirmation could be derived from the symbolic meaning of the healing of the deaf-mute epileptic boy (9:14-29).

These observations on the immediate context conclude that the account of the Transfiguration was inserted into a train of thought which centers on the interwoven themes of the messianic and divine identity of Jesus and the necessity for the disciples to suffer. Furthermore it can be added that the Transfiguration was promised by Jesus himself at the end of the teaching (9:1) as an event given to the disciples to strengthen and encourage their journey to follow Jesus in his suffering. This served to assure them that such a journey of suffering and death will lead to life and the glory of the Kingdom of God. "Jesus promised that some of the disciples - for the good of the community - will see in Jesus the Kingdom of God come in power; they will see his glory which is the fruit of his death; the glory which he will receive in the Resurrection as the 1st act of the Parousia."[12]


[1] In the bibliography compiled by F. Neyrinck and collaborators (The Gospel of Mark. A Cumulative Bibliography:1950-1999 [BETL 102], Leuven 1992) are listed 95 authors who have studied Mk 9:2-1. This excludes the list of those who have examined individual verses of this pericope. 15 authors deal with this topic in specific monographs or noteworthy contributions.

[2] X. Leon-Dufour, "The Transfiguration of Jesus", in Studi sul Vangelo (La Parola di Dio 2), 3rd ed., Cinisello Balsamo 1974, 105-157, maintains that it is possible to see a transposition of events leading from the existence of the Incarnate Word to its "crystallization" in Jn 12:20-32 (p.149).

[3] The Apocalypse of Peter 15-17; The Acts of Peter 20; The Acts of John 90; The Acts of Thomas 143.

[4] Pistis Sophia I, 2-6.

[5] Cf. E. Nardoni, La Transfiguracion de Jesus y el dialogo sobre Elias segun el Evangelio de San Marcos (Teologia: Estudios y Documentos 2), Buenos Aires 1976, 25 and notes 3-7.

[6] Similar meanings are also expressed in the Preface of the Feast of the Transfiguration in the Roman Missal.

[7] Cf. C. Clivaz, "La Transfiguration au risque de la comprehension du disciple: Mc 9/2-10". Etudes Theologiques et Religieuses 70 (1995) 493-508.

[8] Cf. J. Dupont, "Il cieco di Gerico riacquista la vista e segue Gesu (Mc 10:46-52)", Parola Spirito e Vita 2 (1980) 105-123.

[9] Cf. I. De la Potterie, "La confessione messianica di Pietro in Marco 8,27-33", in San Pietro. Atti della XIX Settimana Biblica, Brescia 1967, 59-77; V. Fusco, Parola e Regno. La sezione delle parabole / Marco 4,1-34 / nella prospettiva marciana (Aloisiana 13), Brescia 1980, 129 and 115-132; K. Stock, "Vangelo e discepolato in Marco", Rassegna di Teologia 19 (1978) 1-7.

[10] Some authors claim that between 8:22-9:29 it is possible to find a chiastic structure according to the scheme: A (8:22-26); B (8:27.28); C(8:29.30); D(8:31-33); E (8:34-9:1); D' (9:2-6); C' (9:7-8.9-10); B' (9:11-13); A' (9:14-29). Cf. Nardoni, La Transfiguracion, 40-41 and authors cited.

[11] Cf I. De la Potterie, "La confessione messianica di Pietro in Marco 8,27-33", in San Pietro. Atti della XIX Settimana Biblica, Brescia 1967, 59-77; V. Fusco, Parola e Regno. La sezione delle parabole / Marco 4, 1-34 / nella prospettiva marciana (Aloisiana 13), Brescia 1980, 129 e 115-132; K. Stock, "Vangelo e discepolato in Marco", Rassegna di Teologia 19 (1978) 1-7.

[12] Nardoni, La Transfiguracion, 67.

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