An Interview With Hywel Jones On Transfiguration And Transformation

Until I read Transfiguration and Transformation by Hywel Jones, just out from the Banner of Truth, I did not realize that our English translations translate the same word as transfigure when applied to our Lord and as transform when it is applied to us. Hywel asks an interesting question: Why is that so? What is the connection between the transfiguration of Christ and our transformation? As the Banner of Truth website says, Hywel’s new book “shows how the divine can penetrate the human without destroying it as in the Person of Christ, and how the human can become conformed to the divine without its ceasing to be human as in the case of the Christian. That kind of metamorphosis accords and exalts the Christian gospel over against the humanism of our culture, whether secularised or spiritualised.”

If you have read this site or Recovering the Reformed Confession, then you know how important to Reformed theology the categorical distinction is, i.e., the distinction between the Creator and the creature. Hywel argues that distinction can never be obliterated not in the Christian and not even in the Christ (who is true God and true man). Nevertheless, the “communion between the God-Man and  his believing people will result in each Christian being fully conformed to the perfect humanity of Christ while retaining his or her own individuality. It will not result in a faceless absorption into the divine but face to face communion with the triune God for ever” (Banner website). Hywel writes: ” ‘The transfiguration of Christ shows how the divine can penetrate the human without destroying it. The transformation of the believer shows how the human can become conformed to the divine without its ceasing to be human. This is the ultimate metamorphosis that is compatible with Christian truth.”

It was a pleasure to read this book because it is well-written and because Hywel not only taught me things but he fed me. You should read it and let him feed you too. Indeed, I intend to re-read this book and I rarely do that. It is available in hardcover for $16.00. It is available in North America  from the Reformation Heritage Books. If you have not read or heard Hywel, I encourage you strongly to take a look at the resources below.

1. What attracted your attention to Christ’s transfiguration?
I had been invited to address a Conference in Wales in August 1989 and needed to choose a portion of Scripture and a subject for the four sessions involved. In the course of devotional reading I came to one of the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s Transfiguration—I cannot now remember which one it was—but it was as if I had never read the passage before. I knew that it was what I was to deal with. It was a case of the Holy Spirit doing his wonderful work of speaking through the Word in answer to prayer.

2. What was The Transfiguration?
It was a change in Jesus’ body, temporary but actual. It affected his “face” and not only his clothes with “glory.” He did not effect the change himself as he had in the bodies of other human beings. It happened as he was praying to his Father. He had just spoken of being the Messiah (the “Son of Man”) who would die, rise and come again and the Transfiguration was his Father’s confirmation of that to him and to his disciples. His earthly human-ness became suffused by the splendour of Deity in advance of his horrific disfigurement on the Cross. It was between his birth and death which is why its place is in the Gospels.

3. The transfiguration of Christ (e.g., Matt 17:1–8; Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36) occurs in the Synoptic gospels and it is a major episode in the life of our Lord and in the life of the disciples but it does not seem to attract as much attention as other episodes. Why is that?
There can be no doubt that the episode has not been given due attention even by those who acknowledge its historicity. I found that it is passed over lightly in commentaries where I expected to find some help and the fact that more was made of it by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic scholars was disconcerting. But to avoid censuring others I will acknowledge that it was nowhere near as manageable as I thought it would be. It did not fit easily in the human life of Jesus, exceeded all other identifications of Jesus’ messiahship in the first three Gospels, and it seemed to clash with his lowly servanthood in his state of humiliation. It was like a jig-saw piece whose shape did not fit the hole in which I wanted it to go. It was a challenge to a tidy mind that likes to have things condensed and categorised. It was so multi-dimensional that it could only be understood as “the great mystery of godliness” of “God manifest in the flesh.”

4. How did you come to link the transfiguration to the Christian’s transformation?
In the addresses which I gave I did not make this link. But subsequently I became aware that Thomas Manton, an English Puritan, had preached a series of sermons on the Lord’s Transfiguration. In reading them I came across the following exhortation “Be transformed that you may be transfigured.” That opened a side-window on the matter which was confirmed by the fact that both are described by the same verb in the New Testament which gives us our word metamorphosis.

5. What does the transfiguration teach us about the nature of the Christians sanctification in this life and after?
The human nature with which the Son of God united himself in his incarnation was just like ours, sin apart. It was sinless and becoming more and more righteous as his obedience was increasing in his frail and finite body. It was that which was transfigured and it is that which will be transformed in the Christian, increasingly in life in earth and perfectly beyond death by the resurrection.

6. What did you learn during this project that you did not know before you started?
Thirty years is a long time to be mulling over a subject and many things have been learned in the process which are in the book. Reflecting on the whole project now leads me to realise that I have learned much more about what I thought I knew and also that there is much more still to learn when looking through a glass darkly is past. But what stands out for me now is that everything I regard as true, sure and precious is endorsed and enhanced by the light of the Transfiguration.

RESOURCES

7 comments

  1. I certainly don’t understand “Jesus was becoming more and more righteous as his obedience was increasing” in the answer to question 5. Is there scriptural warrant for Jesus becoming more and more righteous?

    • Hywel writes,

      Dear Friend

      Thank you for the question about “more and more righteous” in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. Looking at the sentence in which it occurs, I can see that it would have been clearer had I used “but” instead of “and”. I hope that resolves the problem – but gladly offer this further clarification.

      As the Son of God, Jesus was as incapable of sinning when on earth as when he was in heaven. His sinlessness was a constant. He was “holy, harmless and undefiled” (Heb. 7:26).

      But as human, he could become more righteous because “righteousness” means complying fully and continuously with a standard which in his case (as in ours) means God’s law or revealed will. This entailed obeying his Father’s will or law as he grew from childhood to manhood and as he encountered sinners in a fallen world. Each day more was required of him – and he “always” did what pleased the Father (Jn. 8:29), becoming obedient “unto death, death on a cross” (Phil.2:8). The teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews is critical here with its emphasis on Jesus’ “becoming perfect” that is all that a would-be Saviour of sinners needed to be. He learned experimentally what obeying entailed in “the days of his flesh” “through the things that he suffered”. (Heb.5:7-9) and Gethsemane is the awe-ful proof of that. His “active obedience” was not an easily learned lesson.

      His “It is finished” meant among other glorious things that he had satisfied the law’s precepts as he bore its penalty as the representative and substitute for his sinful people. It is that righteousness which is imputed to sinners who believe in him – so that there is nothing left for them to do as a condition of acceptance with God and nothing left for them to fear either on account of their sins.

      You may come back with any comments.

      Hywel

  2. Simply awesome I love the way R Scott Clark writes with such sufficiency and clarity. Thank you !!!

    • Kevin,

      Thanks for this. To be clear, this is an interview with Hywel Jones and the comment posted yesterday is his. All the good stuff here is Hywel’s.

      You might enjoy his book. I recommend it.

Comments are closed.