“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Matthew 17:1-8: Structure and Movement of the Text

2. Structure and Movement of the Text

The text begins with a brief description of the setting and then describes Jesus in his glory, which is all the more amazing because of the presence of Moses and Elijah. Following this, we see Peter’s reaction. The climactic moment is the Father’s declaration, after which we see another response from the disciples. The text ends with Jesus. With this loosely chiastic structure, the passage could be arranged in this manner, which is similar to the tentative approach take by W. D. Davies and Dale Allison (Davies and Allison 684):

A. Introduction and Jesus’ transfiguration (vv. 1-3)
B. Peter’s reaction (4)
C. God speaks (5)
B’. The disciples’ reaction (6)
A’. Jesus comforts the disciples (7-8)

Neither this nor any other proposed structure should be thought of as the correct analysis. The story continues in verses 9-13, so although this excerpt stands alone as a specific event, it must be understood in light of the surrounding verses, which could have some bearing on the level of completeness of an outline for only verses 1-8. Furthermore, Matthew is likely structuring this text in the pattern of other theophanies or divine appearances, such as Daniel’s vision in Daniel 10; this too complicates the issue of devising a simple outline. In any case, the voice of God himself is central to the text, with Jesus being the object of the Father’s declaration and the primary character throughout the text.

Some scholars have argued that the transfiguration is a misplaced resurrection narrative. This proposal is based on the extraordinary nature of the event. However, there is little reason to think that such an event could only happen after Jesus’ triumph over death, and not beforehand in anticipation. Some have objected that Peter would not have denied Jesus three times after such an event, but this is by no means obvious. Furthermore, the event fits well in its unique placement in Matthew. It is crucial that this passage be seen in light of its surrounding context. It follows the narration of Peter’s confession and Jesus’ announcement of his suffering and death; this topic is brought up again in the verses 9-13 as the disciples and Jesus descend the mountain. The placement of the transfiguration account in this context in each of the synoptic Gospels strongly suggests some correlation between these events...

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