Was the Transfiguration six or eight days after Jesus’ teaching on discipleship?

Posted on Oct.28, 2008. Filed in Matthew, Mark, Luke. Average rating: 1.0 / 10 (Rate It).

All three synoptic gospels record the Transfiguration. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray, is transformed before them with his face shining and his clothes becoming dazzling white, and then Moses and Elijah appear talking to him. In all three gospels, this appears after Jesus teaches on the conditions of discipleship, but how long after depends on which gospel you’re reading.

Matthew and Mark and both have the Transfiguration occurring six days after these teachings:

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. [Matthew 17:1-2 (NRSV)]

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. [Mark 9:2-3 (NRSV)]

Luke, however, places the Transfiguration eight days later:

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. [Luke 9:28-29 (NRSV)]

So was the Transfiguration six days after Jesus taught on the conditions of discipleship, or more like eight?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    It’s probably not even necessary to say that 6 is about the same as 8. The teachings that preceded the transfiguration occurred in the wilderness. During these teachings Christ performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. This teaching may have occurred over a two day period. Matthew and Mark may be counting from the end of the teaching. Luke may be counting from the beginning of the teaching. Luke might have said “about” just because the actual time difference was eight and a half days (or some such).

  2. 2

    At first glance, it may appear to some that Luke’s time line contradicts Matthew and Mark’s account of the amount of time that elapsed between Christ’s prophecy and His transfiguration. However, a closer examination reveals that Luke never intended for his readers to understand that exactly 192 hours (eight 24-hour days) elapsed from the moment Jesus finished His prophecy to the time that He and the others began their ascent to the mount of transfiguration. Luke recorded that it was “about eight days,” not exactly eight days. Although Luke was a physician (Colossians 4:14), he did not use “scientific precision” in this case. He merely approximated the time between the two events.

    Furthermore, it seems clear that whereas Matthew and Mark excluded the days of the two terminal events (the prophecy and the transfiguration), Luke included both days, as well as the six intermediate days, and thus mentioned that the two events were eight days apart. Even today, when people rehearse something they witnessed a few days earlier, they may refer to the events as happening on “different” days. For example, if a store was robbed on a Monday afternoon, and the following Monday morning a witness told friends what he had seen, he could say truthfully that he recalled the events six days or eight days after they occurred. If one were counting only full days, then six would be correct (i.e., Tuesday through Sunday). However, it also would be correct to speak of the events as occurring eight days earlier—if one were including both full and partial days (Monday through Monday). Whether one uses “six” or “eight” does not discredit his story. Likewise, the time difference between Matthew, Mark, and Luke in no way represents a legitimate Bible contradiction. Luke simply used the inclusive method of reckoning time, whereas Matthew and Mark counted only complete days (Coffman, 1971, p. 261).

    Coffman, James Burton (1971), Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).

  3. 3

    In Hebrew usage, part of a day was a day, so 8×24=192 is not necessarily the length of time spoken of here. What may be more informative is if this had anything to do with Succoth/Tabernacles or not. The booths, the “eight” days point somewhat in this direction. More study along those lines is needed.

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