N.T. Wright on the Transfiguration

A few weeks ago, I preached on 2 Pet 1:16-21 where Peter teaches sola scriptura in his description of the transfiguration of Jesus. In preparing for the sermon, I read some of N.T. Wright’s typically insightful comments from his book Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. (See here for my previous post about this book.)

Suppose that, after all, the ancient Jewish story of a God making the world, calling a people, meeting with them on a mountain – suppose this story were true. And suppose this God had a purpose for his world and his people that had now reached the moment of fulfillment. Suppose, moreover, that this purpose had taken human form and that the person concerned was going about doing the things that spoke of God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven, of God’s space and human space coming together at last, of God’s time and human time meeting and merging for a short, intense period, and of God’s new creation and the present creation somehow knocking unexpected sparks off one another. The earth shall be filled, said the prophet, with the  knowledge of the glory of YHWH as the waters cover the sea. It is within some such set of suppositions that we might make sense of the strangest moment of all, at the heart of the narrative, when the glory of God comes down not to the Temple in Jerusalem, not to the top of Mount Sinai, but onto and into Jesus himself, shining in splendor, talking with Moses and Elijah, drawing the Law and the Prophets together into the time of fulfillment. The transfiguration, as we call it, is the central moment. This is when what happens to space in the Temple and to time on the sabbath happens, within the life of Jesus, to the material world itself or rather, more specifically, to Jesus’s physical body itself.

Simply Jesus, pgs. 142-143.

Wright goes on to note that the  main point of the transfiguration of Jesus is not to prove Jesus divinity – although it’s hard to imagine it not doing that at least indirectly. Instead an eschatological intrusion is occurring in this remarkable event:

What the story of Jesus on the mountain demonstrates, for those with eyes to see or ears to hear, is that, just as Jesus seems to be the place where God’s world and ours meet, where God’s time and ours meet, so he is also the place where, so to speak, God’s matter – God’s new creation – intersects with ours. As with everything else in the gospel narrative, the moment is extraordinary, but soon over. It forms part of a new set of signposts, Jesus-shaped signposts, indicating what is to come: a whole new creation, starting with Jesus himself as the seed that is sown in the earth and then rises to become the beginning of that new world.

Simply Jesus, pg. 144.

The transfiguration was yet another harbinger of the coming storm – the rogue wave from the storm that is yet over the horizon. The new creation breaks in yet again, peeling back the clouds, and giving a brief glimpse of the coming new creation! Far from a smoke and laser show, this a sign of a fast approaching reality, even if scoffers are saying “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Pet 3:4).

______________________
Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church
Anaheim, CA

6 thoughts on “N.T. Wright on the Transfiguration”

  1. Wonderful comments! What amazes me is that Wright can get the meaning of the NT text so, so right, but then turn coat on issues like women’s ordination and homosexuality. I get exalted and disgusted at the same time.

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  2. I completely agree, Monty. I find myself struggling sometimes on account of this. On the one hand, I want to share these great insights, but on the other hand, I feel I need to qualify them (hence the link to my old post).

    This book has really opened my eyes to Wright’s great contribution to gospels scholarship. I feel like those of us who are conservative and confessionally Reformed do well to utilize his insights. And yet it’s frustrating that he is so vocal, and so carefully listened to, on matters with which we must disagree.

    But I guess that’s the key with our learning – read everyone with a critical eye, one that gleans the good and filters out the bad.

    Thanks for the comment!

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  3. Hi Monty,
    I’m a little puzzled by your statement about Wright’s view of homosexuality. While I know that he is an advocate for women’s ordination, I was under the strong impression that he has consistently maintained the standard traditional view in regard to the question of homosexuality. See, e.g., his comments on Romans 1:24-27 in vol. 10 of the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary, pp. 433-434. There he says things like “Either way, his [Paul’s] point is that homosexual behavior is a distortion of the creator’s design and that such practices are evidence, not of the intention of any specific individual to indulge in such practice for its own sake, but of the tendency within an entire society for humanness to fracture when gods other than the true one are being worshiped” (p. 434). He also references Richard Hays book on the moral vision of the NT. (Hays, of course, is a well known advocate for a traditional view of human sexuality.)

    Frankly, I’m not entirely sure how one could construe all that as “turn coat.” Feel free to correct me, but I have this feeling that Wright’s alleged heterodoxy on this point is one of those things “we heard somewhere from someone,” rather than a substantiated critique.

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    1. You raise some interesting points, Nevada. Perhaps my own comment should have been nuanced. I had been reading some critiques of N.T. Wright on women’s ordination and was thinking primarily of that. I was also, as it typical for me, thinking of his approach to Paul. As for his view of homosexuality, I actually know nothing of that and wasn’t referring to that. (Although, some non-thorough google “research” I did seems to match what you’re saying.) Anyway, just wanted to chime back in …

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  4. Thanks, men, for the clarification. I only read him in a brief interview somewhere when he refused to take the baited question, so I jumped to conclusions. I stand corrected. Maybe he isn’t as wishy-washy an Anglican as I thought. (Just wishy).

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