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This is a transcript of a conversation I had with Bishop Michael Ramsey whilst a student in Durham

in 1982.

We discussed The Transfiguration of Jesus and it was captured on an old tape.

Here is a transcript of

Michael Ramsey on the Transfiguration.

RM: The Feast of the Transfiguration is not given the prominence it deserves in the Church of
England is it?

MR: It is not in our Church of England but the Eastern Orthodox Church makes a great deal of it. It is
one of their three or four top feasts. And the Church of Rome makes more of it by keeping it in Lent
on one of the Sundays in Lent as does our new ASB. It is a good place for the Transfiguration on the
way towards the Passion.

RM: What about the theories of Bultmann and Boobyer and Riesenfeld?

MR: Bultmann’s idea that the Transfiguration is a misplaced resurrection account can, I think, be
discounted altogether.

Boobyer’s idea that the Transfiguration is a prefiguration of the Parousia is true. In a sense, any
visible manifestation of glory would be a forecast of the Parousia.

Riesenfeld’s view is too definitive and speculative to be convincing.

RM: What about your book, Bishop?

MR: Thinking on it now I am struck by the difference between Mark’s presentation and Luke’s
presentation. I do not think that Mark’s Gospel gives us a kind a biographical narrative of the Lord’s
mission. Mark’s Gospel is a set of episodes or pericopes but sometimes there are links and Mark’s
narrative is linked with what has gone before by those words ‘after six days’.

That links the narrative with the prediction of the passion and links them in such a way that I think
the Transfiguration narrative says ‘Yes in spite of the forthcoming passion Jesus is in glory’. Jesus is
in glory with perhaps the thought that this is a prefiguring of the glory which he predicted after the
Passion.

RM: What about the divine voice and the cloud:

MR: Here I think the presence of Moses and Elijah is a sign according to traditions of the time and
the reappearance of these figures means that the Day of the Lord is here on the earth.

The cloud I read as a sign of the divine presence: it is the cloud of the presence and it’s just that the
disciples are overwhelmed with the sense of God’s presence. God is here. God is here. God is here.
Stop talking God is here. Especially as St Peter has been making some rather unprofitable remarks.
The cloud says to him ‘Stop talking God is here’.
The voice proclaims the sonship. I think that the point is that at the baptism the voice has
proclaimed the sonship to Jesus himself according to Mark. Now the voice the sonship through the
disciples. It tells them God’ son has unique authority and they have to listen to him.
RM: Where in the OT do you think the words of the voice come from?

MR: Well I don’t know that the words need to come from anywhere. The point is that Jesus is
proclaimed to be Son. It’s the Son language that we get in Psalm 2 but I don’t think that it need
come from anywhere. It’s just a testimony to the sonship in its own right.

There is no need for everything to come from anywhere. These parallels merely indicate that it’s
rather meaningful language

RM: What about other references to sonship in Mark?

MR: I agree. I think the stories of the baptism and the transfiguration have a kind of structural
place. I don’t think that the narrative is consecutive. But there is a string of pericope and there are
certain pericope which come with a certain kind of bang.

Baptism – Son. Transfiguration – Son. Crucifixion – Son.

The novelty being that it is in his death that the sonship is supremely revealed. I don’t think that
Mark’s Transfiguration story specifically links it with the death apart from simply the note ‘after six
days’. It is the Jesus who is going to die that is proclaimed the son.

In the artistry of Mark there is a son theme in which the Baptism, Transfiguration and Calvary are all
kind of stages.

RM: What elements do Matthew and Luke add?

MR: In Matthew I see, first of all, just a little making explicit of the Old Testament imagery. For
instance, Matthew says his face shone as the sun. That’s a contrast between the brief reflected
glory of the face of Moses and the sort of authentic glory in the face of Jesus. I think that the
contrast is there. Another point in Matthew is the shining cloud. That identifies it more explicitly
with the cloud of the presence. Then there is just this difference. In Matthew it’s the voice that
makes them afraid and Jesus bids them not to fear. I don’t know that there is very much significance
in this but it’s just a way of bringing out the luminous character of the event a bit.

In Luke, the word Transfiguration is avoided and the word Glory is explicitly brought in.

‘Transfiguration’ is avoided maybe simply because Luke thinks he can say it as well by bringing in the
word ‘doxa’. Some commentators have said that Luke was avoiding what might sound like a pagan
kind of word. That is possible. I think the point is that Luke makes the same point as the others. He
does not have ‘transfigured’ he has doxa’ and that links it with a doxa theme which we have in Luke.

In Luke the key point is that they spoke of the ‘exodus’. This means not just the death but all that
follows. The going forth to glory. And I link it with Luke in the post resurrection episode. Jesus says
“Behold did not the Chris suffer these things and enter into his glory”. I think that with the exodus.
Luke sees the Transfiguration in terms of a theme of Jesus is moving from suffering to glory. The
glory being already anticipated. In a kind of way, Mark links it with the theme of his Gospel by direct
link with ‘after six days’ and by the term ‘son’ which as we have seen comes at these very significant
terms. Luke links it with his story rather more with his theme of the movement of Jesus through
death to glory.
Luke brings this out dramatically. He sets his face towards Jerusalem. He is aware of his movement
towards Jerusalem.

Mark is rather ‘Here is Jesus’ manifested as the Son and particularly manifested in the Son in his
death. Luke is rather the movement of a story in which the Transfiguration is an episode in the
movement.

RM: What about the relationship between the Kingdom and the Transfiguration?

MR: The reference to ‘here’ is more explicit in Matthew than in the other two. Mark 9.1 says there
are some standing ‘here’.

RM: What about Boobyer?

MR: I think the point in my mind is simply that a theme of Mark is that after the Passion the Son of
Man will be seen in glory. No more and no less than that. I don’t think that it is necessary to find a
specific explanation for the story because I think that the motifs of the story – of Jesus in glory and
of Jesus the Son are sufficient. It doesn’t require any particular imagery to explain it. In a sort of
way Booyber is making rather a fuss of it.

Boobyer treats it all as Parousia picture. I am saying that it is not only a foretaste. I am saying that
the glory will be here. I would say that. It’s a bit difficult to be absolutely precise. I am just assumed
that law and prophecy are witnessing to fulfillment.
Have I just been sermonising nicely.

I have noticed that the order is reversed in some Gospels. Elijah is given priority in Mark but I am
not sure about it.

RM: What about Peter?

MR: Well Peter was the spokesman and Peter often is the spokesman in Mark’s Gospel and
elsewhere. It depends on what one’s outlook is. We can say that from the beginning a strong
tradition that Peter used to always make comments or you can say that there was an ideology about
Peter in the early Church that produced these stories.

There was in the Church a tradition of dialogue between Peter and Jesus and we have specimens of
dialogue between the two.

RM: What about historicity?

MR: if this Transfiguration notion were known to be a prominent notion in the Early Church then it’s
something that you might expect to get written up in the Gospel tradition. But it does not seem to
have been a dominant theme. There is only 2 Peter to go on and that’s very late.

If Jesus is Son there is something unique in the tradition. The content of Peter’s confession is
something unique. The claim of Jesus to be inaugurating the Kingdom of God is unique. The claim of
Jesus that through his death the kingdom of God is unique. It’s something unique, not isolation, but
it is amongst a series of unique concepts. Are these concepts derived from the mission of Jesus or
are they imported into the mission of Jesus either by oral tradition or by editing?

RM: What about the concentration of motifs?


MR: The fact that there is such a concentration of motifs can make it a little suspicious.

The Transfiguration is not a parable, it’s not a miracle, and it’s a bit of both in a funny kind of way.
It’s supernatural and literal. The motifs on offer are simple motifs. Prophecy is being fulfilled. Jesus
is Son. Jesus is in glory – a glimpse of the glory that is going to be. Meanwhile there is going to be
the suffering.

In Mark the important context is the Baptism, Peter’s Confession and the Passion.
Luke gives it much more of a context as editor and biographer.

The turning point in all of the Gospels is Peter’s confession. The transfiguration just gives it more of
a dramatic headline.

In all the traditions from Caesarea Philippi, it’s known that the Passion is coming, it is predicted and
the Transfiguration is a bit more an interpretation of the Passion. I think that the turning point has
already happened. Jesus has already begun the journey towards his death.

RM: And the Exodus imagery of the OT?

MR: I think that it’s possible that there may be an exodus motif there already in the tradition. Luke
is not inventing it, it was probably there already. The motif was there already in Matthew in the
tradition. Matthew makes it explicit.

Whether we would have realised that if we had only Mark’s story I am not sure.

RM: What is the message of the Transfiguration?

MR: Well the message of the Transfiguration is this. That Jesus, on his way to death, is in glory. And
what is in glory is the mission of Jesus to die. And the message for us is that glory, now and in the
future, is not apart from the vocation to suffer and die. And that is something that the disciples did
not realise at the time but came to be realised in the concept of the Transfiguration of suffering
which we do find in Christianity and in the New Testament in so many ways. John’s account of the
Passion is one instance. The treatment of suffering by Peter in I Peter is another instance; in St Paul
there is a good deal about suffering transfigured. I think that the transfiguring of suffering is a great
Christian theme that appears on a number of ways in the New Testament.

I don’t think that it consciously related to the Transfiguration story but I think for us Christians, the
Transfiguration is a great focusing of the theme of suffering aglow in the mission of Jesus and
suffering and glory in the Christian life.

We rightly use the Transfiguration as the sort of Festival of a great Christian theme without
necessarily saying that there is a plausible connection.

I think there is a good deal of Transfiguration theme in the New Testament which makes it more
significant.

I think it’s a theme in its own right. It’s linked with the passion. It has very little relation to the
resurrection as such. That’s why it’s very unlikely to be misplaced resurrection story.
The book was published in 1949 – over thirty years ago. My recollect on that the story appealed to
me as a piece of biblical study that had been rather neglected and also that the theme appealed to
me very strongly as an aspect of the Christian life.

I [preach about it very often but I use it more often than not. I use it on clergy retreats which I do
from time to time. I go on using it. It has become a spiritual theme.

Rob Marshall London 2010