How Do Non-Catholic Christians Address The Transfiguration?


Since my conversion, I continue to be struck by how Catholic teaching has helped me to understand more fully the Transfiguration.

I’m curious though as to how those who do not believe the Catholic interpretation understand this event.

To whit:

  1. What were Moses and Elijah doing there?

  2. Where did they come from?

  3. How did they get there?

  4. Why was it not sufficient for God to simply proclaim Jesus His son, in whom He was well pleased?

And so on.

Here’s the KJV version from Matt 17:

1: And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 

2: And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
3: And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.
4: Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
5: While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
6: And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
7: And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
8: And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
9: And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.
10: And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?
11: And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.
12: But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
13: Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

What say you?


I have come across people (eg JWs) who dont believe the soul lives on after death, but when I bring up the real event of the Transfiguration I have not gotten a satisfactory response. Some say they were just visions, others say they were really angels, but that doesnt work.


Of course, that brings up the related question: how did they know they were Moses and Elijah?

If two strange men appeared to me, how would I know who they were?


Name tags.


Protestants usually fall back on, “Moses and Elijah were there to show that the law and prophets point to Christ.”

Naturally this IS correct, but does not detract that they were REALLY present, even communicating, as Peter, James, and John heard them talking about Christ’s departure in Jerusalem…future knowledge:confused: :confused: :confused: :confused: Sounds like witchcraft to me.


Could you folks help me by reversing the question? How do Catholics explain the Transfiguration?

I’ve grown up a Protestant and am only just moving into Catholicism, so I don’t know what the traditional Catholic interpretation of this event is. All that I know of it, from my Protestant background, is that Jesus was given a special grace because he is the Christ, and so saw the giver of the law and the prophet. He was the fulfillment of their deeds and they were some of the greatest heroes of Old Testament times.

My family feels that this communion of saints was a special dispensation because Jesus is God, and is not something that is experienced by Christ’s followers.

I believe that it was part of the communion of saints and is in line with Early Christian practice and with Jewish practice before that time. I don’t think it was an experience that was limited to Jesus. But if there is any special teaching about what this event means that Catholics have, and which goes beyond this, I’d very much like to hear it :).

I’m still ignorant on many things and am moving fast to improve my education about Catholic beliefs.


That’s an interesting example of how a non-scriptural interpretation is imposed on the text. We might hear such interpretations from Sola Scriptura Christians, but it’s obvious that the text does not say that this was a “special dispensation”.

The Transfiguration, like many other Gospel events, requires an authoritative interpretation – and this is why Jesus established His Church to have the authority to explain His teachings.

Catholic teaching looks at the Transfiguration literally – since it is clear evidence of the Communion of Saints as well as how the Saints can actually speak (as the apostles heard them).

We notice how St. Peter wanted to build “tents” (shrines) to honor Moses and Elijah also. This is a classic argument against the charges of “idolatry” that are thrown at Catholics who build shrines to the holy saints of the New Testament also.

I’m still ignorant on many things and am moving fast to improve my education about Catholic beliefs

I wish you much success and grace in your journey of faith. You’re asking the right questions and making progress. God bless.


That used to be the case, but my military career has been over some years, so unless the strangers happened to be automotive repairmen or Shriners at a convention, they probably don’t come fully-equipped.

My wife and I just had this very conversation. If Moses or Elijah appeared to us today, how would we know who they were?

I presume they would tell us.

But how would we know they were, in fact, who they said they were?

Wouldn’t someone else have to vouch for them?

Given the account in Matthew, Moses and Elijah had the best possible witnesses vouching for them.

Visions? Angels? Not hardly.


Peter wanting to build tabernacles for them used to mystify my, until an Orthodox Jewish friend enlightened me as to this.

Since Sukkot was designated to be a time for reading the Law by Moses, it was particularly appropriate that Peter offer to build the tabernacles. In essence, he was recognizing Moses, Elijah, and Christ as family.

Of course, this is precisely how Catholics view the saints—as family, in communion with us today as ever.


Wow, so few takers!


Jimmy Akin has a blog post about this at

which offers a few different explanations. You may have read it already; apologies if you have.


When I told my protestant housemate this proved some people were in Heaven and not in soul sleep he said ‘you obviously don’t understand …’ and said some long rubbish word and said he was obviously right because he has a theology degree (and yet didn’t even know what the Torah was, he thought it was the whole Tanakh). To be fair this is always something I’ve found hard to understand but makes sense here


I hadn’t seen it, and even if I had, I’m sure someone else would love a link anyway.



This might sound funny, but I would GUESS that you would just know. Your gut instinct would tell you, and in this case it would also be divine revelation from God.

If Jesus or Mary ever appeared to you you would know it, even if you had never seen an actual picture of them. Keep in mind paintings of Jesus look different in different parts of the world (eg some have a ‘white’ Jesus while others have darker or olive skinned), yet whomever Jesus appeared to, the person would know.

What you said is very true, there is a lot of different Truths to draw out of each event in Jesus’ life. This was also a ‘taste of Heaven’ for the 3 lucky Apostles, as well as a strengthening of their faith as well as a confirmation that Jesus was really who He claimed. There is a lot that can be said, Id imagine the Early Church Fathers had a lot to say.


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