Real Bible Studies: Matthew and Mark, Transfiguration

Matthew 17, Mark 9

One improvement Matthew makes over Mark is in how Matthew edits the episodes in his Gospel versus how Mark does. For instance, Mark 9 begins with what appears to be the wrap up of the previous episode where Yeshua predicts what’s going to happen in Jerusalem.

And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Mark 9:1

Including it here makes it seem like a spontaneous utterance to an unidentified group of followers. Matthew includes it at the end of the previous encounter, where it makes more sense.

Matthew starts chapter 17 with the Transfiguration, where Yeshua leads his three closest followers, Peter, James, and John up a mountain to witness a miraculous occurrence. Mark makes this the second episode of the chapter after the spontaneous utterance. There aren’t many details of what’s going on beyond saying that Yeshua is bathed in light, then Moses and Elijah show up and frighten the three Disciples.

The details sound more like a vision rather than an actual physical manifestation. It’s doubtful any of them, including Yeshua would know what Moses and Elijah looked like, but they must surmise that’s who they’re seeing, since both writers state outright that it’s Moses and Elijah, not that Yeshua or God identifies them or that they introduce themselves. Peter offers to create booths for the trio but suddenly, a voice from the sky, presumably God, identifies Yeshua as his beloved son, and the others are gone. Matthew has the Disciples fall on the ground and hide their faces first, whereas Mark just says they’re gone without explaining where they went.

As they’re heading back down the mountain, Yeshua cautions them not to reveal what they’ve seen. They ask him why people say Elijah has to return and he says Elijah has already returned and no one listened to him. Though they’re relating the same information, Matthew’s chapter 17 is much more concise than Mark 9, mainly because Matthew does not go into the level of detail in describing the incidents that Mark does. Also, Mark tends to relate the incident without really explaining it while Matthew usually sums up what it means. In this instance, Mark simply relates what Yeshua says, without bringing up John the Baptist, whereas Matthew explains that Peter, James, and John realize Yeshua is talking about John the Baptist. This seems to be where John’s association with Elijah is established, which makes sense, given that Matthew is largely presenting Yeshua as the Messiah, not as a dying and resurrected savior.

The Boy with a Demon

Next, Mark once again goes into great detail about a boy with a dumb spirit, which Matthew summarizes. In this instance, the Disciples have tried to cast out the demon and failed. In both versions, Yeshua expresses frustration with the faithless generation among which he lives. Mark has them return to the Disciples, who are arguing with scribes over the incident.

A bit of a discussion ensues where the boy’s father explains how long he’s endured this and asking Yeshua to help, if he can. Yeshua takes offense, causing the father to proclaim his belief, after which, Yeshua drives out the demon. Once they’re away from the crowd, the Disciples ask why they were unsuccessful to which Yeshua explains that this type of demon must be driven out with prayer.

Matthew skips the argument with the scribes and the discussion with the father and gets straight to driving out the demon and explaining why the Disciples couldn’t do it. Matthew blames it on the Disciples’s lack of faith, then repeats his adage that if they have faith as a grain of mustard seed, they can move mountains.

Death and Resurrection

Yeshua once again predicts the death and resurrection of The Son of Man, greatly distressing the Disciples. Mark gives the added details that they were secretly passing through Galilee at the time and that the Disciples didn’t understand what Yeshua was talking about and were afraid to ask. Since Mark seems to be designed more as a cautionary tale, in his Gospel, the level of apprehension grows once Yeshua sets his sights on Jerusalem.

Temple Tax

Matthew concludes Chapter 17 by having the Scribes confront Peter about whether Yeshua pays the Temple tax of a half-shekel. Peter says he does. Yeshua asks him about it, then instructs Peter to catch a fish and he’ll find the required tax in the fish’s mouth. Uncharacteristically for Matthew, he does not use the incident to bash the Temple authorities. Mark does not mention the Temple tax in his parallel account. Again, Matthew proves to be more concise by concluding the chapter here, while Mark continues by relating more incidents that Matthew includes in his next chapter.

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