The Transfiguration of Jesus

One of the most enigmatic stories in the Synoptic Gospels is the ‘transfiguration’ of Jesus, originally found in Mark 9, and expanded in Matt 17 and Luke 9. In this episode, Jesus leads three of his disciples up a mountain, where they witness Jesus suddenly transform.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my beloved son. Listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.

The story is preceded by Peter correctly identifying Jesus as the messiah (8.29), Jesus predicting his death (8.31), and the imminent arrival the son of man (8.38) and God’s kingdom (9.1). It is then followed by a discussion about the tradition that Elijah must arrive before the end times may begin (9.11–13).

Some of the basic features of this story are widely known and repeated from one commentary to the next pulpit. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets, thus the embodiment of the Law and the Prophets testify in favor of Jesus. The story is found immediately after Jesus’ prediction that ‘some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power’; therefore, the disciples witnessing the transfiguration is the fulfillment of that prophecy. The importance of the transfiguration as the foundation of Peter’s faith is brought up in Peter’s second letter (2 Pet 1.16–18).

Yet, none of these three details is widely accepted among scholars. Instead, something very different is going on in this story.

Elijah With Moses

It is a misconception that Moses and Elijah were popularly invoked in the first century as representations for the Law and Prophets.1 Rather, this idea emerged as an attempt to explain their dual presence here, since the two biblical figures have so little in common.

The detail that this story occurred ‘six days later’ is unusual, in that the Gospel of Mark almost never provides such specificity on the passage of time. Exo 24.16 also mentions a period of ‘six days’. In both the Exodus story and the transfiguration story, a period of six days pass before the central characters — Moses and Jesus, respectively — ascends a mountain. With this anchor-point connecting to the two stories, many scholars recognize several more allusions to Exo 24, showing Mark’s dependence on that book in how he shaped the transfiguration story.

These parallels include: the presence of Moses; a passage of six days; ascending a mountain; three named followers; a cloud overshadowing the mountain; God speaking. Additional parallels include God instructing Moses to build a tent (Exo 25.8), and Moses appearing in a radiant form (Exo 34.29).2 The density of these allusions indicates their non-historical basis here, such that the transfiguration story resists a flatly literal interpretation. Mark is intentionally shaping the story to house these references to the Exodus, casting the transfiguration as a Sinai-like experience for the three disciples who witness it.3

Yet, a detail often overlooked is that when transfiguration occurs, Mark names Elijah before Moses rather than after as might be expected. (Matthew and Luke ‘correct’ this.) The reason for Elijah’s primacy over Moses is found in the discussion which follows the transfiguration; the disciples recall the tradition which says Elijah must come before the end times may begin, derived from the prophecy in Mal 4.5–6:

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

Throughout the Synoptics, Jesus repeatedly proclaims how imminent the eschaton was, and Elijah’s appearance here further substantiates that proclamation. The time of the end is near, and Elijah has come. Though Jesus’ response to the disciples strongly suggest he identified John the baptizer as the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (an identification also implied by Mark 1.6, spiritualized in Luke 1.17, explicit in Matt 17.13, and denied in John 1.21), the appearance of the actual Elijah in the transfiguration event also functions to fulfill the prophecy.

Why have Moses appear, then, and why secondary to Elijah? As mentioned, the claim that the two figures represented the Law and the Prophets in the first century is dubious. The more likely explanation is that — despite Moses’ death being narrated in Deut 34 — there was belief he actually hadn’t died, but had been taken into heaven just as had happened to Elijah (2 Kings 2.11).4 In his retelling in Judean Antiquities 4.8.48, Josephus claims that Deut 34 is deliberately misleading about Moses’ death (though for a noble reason):

as he was going to embrace Eleazar and Joshua, and was still discoursing with them, a cloud stood over him on the sudden, and he disappeared in a certain valley, although he wrote in the holy books that he died, which was done out of fear, lest they should venture to say that, because of his extraordinary virtue, he went to God.

The tradition that Moses had been taken into heaven are also mentioned in b. Soṭa 13b,5 explained through tortuous midrash:

And some say: Moses did not actually die, as it is written here: “And Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there,” and it is written: “And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights.” Just as there, where it says: “And he was there with the Lord,” it means that he was standing and serving before God; so too, here, when it says: “And Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there,” it means that he was standing and serving before God.

Because Moses had not died, instead taken into heaven in the same way as Elijah, it was therefore believed by some that when Elijah returned to the earth in fulfillment of Mal 4.5–6, he would be accompanied by Moses.6 This was not simply because Moses was important for Israel’s story in his own right. Some believed Moses would appear alongside Elijah when ‘the prophet’ had finally arrived, another figure who would appear before the eschaton, an idea which ancient interpreters read into Deut 18.15–22.7 Early Christians believed Jesus was this prophet-like-Moses (e.g. Acts 3.19–23).

The primacy of Elijah, and the secondary presence of Moses, firmly situates the transfiguration scene as eschatological. In simple terms, Mark provides it as ‘a sign of the end times’.

Eschatological Fulfillment

The transfiguration is commonly interpreted as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction in the previous verse, Mark 9.1:

some standing here will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power

This prediction comes immediately after Jesus’ statement that this eschatological would entail the son of man’s arrival in God’s glory to execute judgment, accompanied by the angels (Mark 8.38). In the Synoptics, Jesus repeatedly emphasizes the imminence of the eschaton: the son of man would come with the angels before that generation had passed away (Mark 13.26–27,30), the son of man would come to execute judgment before the Gospel had reached every town in Israel (Matt 10.23), it was connected to the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple, which would happen during that generation (Matt 23.32–39), and the son of man’s judgment would involve all nations (Matt 25.31–46). This is in addition to other general warnings of the eschaton’s temporal proximity (Mark 1.15; Matt 3.7–10,12).

Mark 9.1 adds one more brick onto the pile, showing that Jesus fully believed the eschaton would take place in the near future. Yet, certain hermeneutics seek to interpret these passages in isolation from one another, consequently diluting the force of their cumulative insistence that the end of the world was so close. In this case, Mark 9.1 is most often interpreted in defiance of this prevailing theme of an imminent eschaton by identifying its fulfillment in the transfiguration.

There is a degree of truth behind this interpretation. It is, in fact, the interpretation the author of the Gospel of Mark intends to impress upon his readers.8 Why, then, is this interpretation so problematic? The key reason is that it is theologically-motivated, driven by a desire to protect Jesus from the possibility that he erred. If that verse is part of a larger prophetic paradigm which Jesus insisted would be fulfilled in a matter of decades, then his prediction in Mark 9.1 is simply wrong.

Many of the contorted explanations which exegetes have managed to twist out of these words have been based on the conviction that Jesus could not have been mistaken.9

In other words, the reader begins with their conclusion already decided (Jesus cannot be wrong about when the eschaton would happen), then works backwards to find an interpretation to accommodate (Jesus wasn’t even predicting the eschaton). Criticizing this interpretation is not to lay blame on any modern theologian or pastor, since it is what Mark intends readers to walk away thinking.

Still, it can be seen that even Mark’s attempt to imply the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in 9.1 with the transfiguration in 9.2–8 is undermined by the discussion of the Elijah prophecy (Mal 4.5–6) which immediately follows in 9.9–13. The Elijah prophecy is explicitly about an eschatological judgment that will come upon the land of Israel. In the Gospel of Mark, the climax of Jesus’ career is his denunciation of Jerusalem, its temple, and its religious elite (most of chapters 11–12) and his prophecy that the temple would be destroyed, following by the arrival of the son of man in glory, accompanied by the angels (chapter 13).

Mark 8.38–9.1 is a brief prophecy summarizing Jesus’ whole eschatology. Jesus’ appearance is briefly transformed before just three of his disciples, and he quickly requires them not to tell anyone what they saw. The son of man does not arrive amid the heavenly angels and execute judgment upon the nations. Dropping the transfiguration story into the book’s narrative between Jesus’ prediction on the one hand, and his discussion of the Elijah prophecy on the other, doesn’t validate an interpretation where the transfiguration actually fulfills either item.

Jesus’ Appearance

When Jesus is transfigured before his three disciples, Luke 9.29 vaguely mentions that ‘the appearance of his face changed’, while Matt 17.2 directly says that ‘his face shone like the sun’. This stresses the connection to Moses’ facing shining brilliantly in Exo 34.29. However, the detail that Jesus’ face changed in appearance is absent from Mark 9; the earlier version of the story only says that Jesus’ clothing became ‘dazzling white’ (9.3). Mark’s allusions to Exodus were strong enough the two authors added the detail about Jesus’ face shining, apparently independently of one another, given their verbal disagreement.10

So, although many commentators connect Jesus’ shining clothes to Moses’ shining face, there may be another explanation for this detail.

Bright white or shining clothes are associated with angels or angelic figures (Matt 28.3; Luke 24.4; John 20.12; Acts 1.10).11 The word used in Mark 9.3 to describe Jesus’ clothes, στίλβω, is most often used for the shine of stars and metals;12 stars are regularly associated with, or identified as, divine or angelic beings.13 If this is the connection the text intends to make, how does the transfiguration affect our understanding of Jesus’ identity in the Gospel of Mark. Does the story reveal Jesus is actually a divine being? I find this doubtful, due to Elijah’s presence (with Moses). The transfiguration is not an ontological revelation, but an eschatological one.

The whole atmosphere, then, is numinous, even dreamlike. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah seem to exist on a place of their own, separate from that of the three mortals who look on as though from afar, thunderstruck.14

The author of the Gospel of Matthew even calls the transfiguration a ‘vision’ (17.9), perhaps suggesting he interpreted that what the disciples had witnessed was a revelation of something yet-to-be. While religiously conservative scholars are prone to taking the former interpretation, that this was a revelation of Jesus as the divine son of God (or even as God himself), some critical scholars see the transfiguration instead as an unveiling something about the future eschaton.

Hence the sudden appearance of “Elijah with Moses” in the Markan narrative suggests that the transfiguration is an anticipation of the wave of divine glory that is about the flood the earth.15

Since it is only Jesus’ clothes which change appearance in the earliest version of the story — not Jesus himself, as we might expect if this was a revelation he is really a divinity walking upon the earth as a man — there are a few ways this might be explained by an eschatological interpretation, compatible with one another. One is that Jesus’ bright clothing come from a particular tradition of the time.

Adam’s “garments of glory” […] were the subject of immense interest among Jews and Christians in this period; among those speculations was that the Messiah would recover the glorious Adamic raiment at the eschaton. Jesus’ “flashy” clothing is also reminiscent of the dress of kings on important occasions, including enthronements […] Jesus’ dazzling apparel, then, is pictorial code suggesting his status as the new Adam and King Messiah on the way to enthronement.16

That Mark specifies Jesus’ clothes, not his face, as changing in appearance may have been allusion to ideas about the messiah as restoring something which Adam lost. The belief was that Adam had a ‘beauteous glory’ (Sir 49.16) unknown to the rest of humanity, born after Adam’s sin. Identifying Jesus’ brilliant clothing as rooted in this tradition is not mutually exclusive to Mark’s other allusions to Moses, as the rabbis believed Moses’ glowing appearance was an echo of Adam’s own glory.17

Transfiguration as Resurrection

While we’ve seen the transfiguration certainly contains several eschatological layers, there is still the problem that it lacks narrative cohesion with Jesus’ prophecy about the eschaton in Mark 9.1, and its dependence on traditions about Elijah’s return in the end-times is muddled by the ensuing discussion where Jesus identifies fulfillment of Mal 4.5–6 in John the baptizer. These two items might explain why Mark placed the transfiguration story where he did, but in musing over that authorial deliberation we recognize the transfiguration did not originate with Mark 9.1 and 9.11–13. (This is supported by the redactional character of Mark 9.9–10, where Jesus predicts his own death and invests theological value in it before it has happened.)

Some scholars see a bigger ripple effect caused later in Mark’s narrative. According to Mark 9, Peter witnessed firsthand an event where Jesus was enveloped in divine glory, where Elijah and Moses manifested to converse with Jesus, and where God himself thundered ‘this is my beloved son’. How, then, could Peter possibly deny his association with Jesus in Mark 14.66–72? Shouldn’t that have been more than enough to give Peter a faith strong enough to endure Jesus’ crucifixion and wait for him to be raised from the dead, especially after being told exactly what would happen before it happened (8.21–37; 9.9)? Might it make more sense if the transfiguration was interpreted as a scene of Jesus’ resurrection, inserted (whether by accident or by design) into the wrong place?

Instead, the problem is swept up by the bare explanation that Peter was simply unable to understand something he’d been told twice now (9.10).

fewer facts in the subsequent history of the disciples are more certain than Peter’s denial and the “cowardice” of all three disciples at the crucifixion; yet it seems a priori unlikely that such conduct would allow an experience of this kind, and it is a posteriori evident that doubt and fear were banished for these disciples by the Resurrection, not the Transfiguration18

While this criticism is justified in response to the broader collection of all four canonical Gospels, the objection falls flat when we regard the Gospel of Mark on its own. The book abruptly ends with 16.8. Although the author of Mark was almost certainly aware of Peter’s importance as a witness to the risen Jesus (as Paul mentions a few times), this Gospel does not feature a scene where Peter repents after his denial. Because the author fails to address Peter’s restoration as one of the chief apostles after Jesus’ resurrection, the apparent contradiction is absent from the book’s narrative.

That ‘plothole’ aside, several scholars over the past century have found reason to suggest the transfiguration is, in actuality, one tradition about Jesus appearing to his disciples after his resurrection. According to these commentators, Mark took this resurrection-appearance story and adapted it into its current location in chapter 9. This possibility becomes more plausible when we read the transfiguration apart from its unnatural position between 9.1 and 9.11–13.

In ancient Near Eastern cosmology, the heavens — the abode of the gods — was literally up in the sky, and some mountains reached high enough to the borders of that domain. This is seen most clearly in Exo 24.9–11, when Moses and the leaders of Israel ascend Mount Sinai, ‘saw the God of Israel’, and dined with him. In some versions of this belief, the gods dwelled at the top of one particular mountain called Zaphon. See, for example, Isa 14.13–14, where God is said to dwell on Mount Zaphon. Hence, here in the transfiguration story, the disciples are taken to the top of a mountain where ‘contact with heaven’ could occur most naturally.19

Several scholars argue the first generation of Christians understood Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension into heaven as a singular event.

Many Jews believed that those who had been killed innocently for the sake of God’s laws were vindicated by God through an exaltation into heaven. Accordingly, Jesus’ followers believed that God had raised Jesus into heaven directly after his death to vindicate him over against those who had killed him.20

The tradition that he physically woke up and walked out of the tomb he was buried in, and did not ascend to heaven until sometime later, is a later development. In the first place, his ascension was his rising from the dead.

At one end of the spectrum, at the earliest recoverable stage of nascent Christianity, it became evident that Christ’s exaltation to heaven or his session at the right hand of God coincided with the event of the resurrection; at the other end, from the late first and early second century AD onwards, the exaltation had been detached from the resurrection and transferred to a final act of ascension at the end of a series of appearances (Mk 16:9-20) or it was interpreted as an event which stretched out over a longer period of time to cover the Easter events in toto (Fourth Gospel).21

Hence, an earlier ‘resurrection appearance’ version of the transfiguration would have had Peter, James, and John ascending a mountain to draw near to heaven, and Jesus appearing to them, possibly in a vision. Under this interpretation, the presence of Elijah and Moses takes on additional meaning. They are present not only in fulfillment of popular eschatological expectations, but because they are also the most natural companions for someone in Jesus’ position. All three of these holy men were taken into heaven by God.22

Because of the eschatological themes deeply embedded into Mark 9.2–8 — the appearance of Elijah before the Day of Yahweh; casting Jesus as the prophet-like-Moses; the reclaiming of Adam’s lost ‘garments of glory’ — it has become common to identify the transfiguration as a sort ‘preview’ of Jesus’ resurrection, since the resurrection of the dead was itself the key event of the eschaton: the world had ended and a new one would begin, starting with the dead being restored to life. The commonality of Elijah, Moses, and Jesus as each having been taken into heaven again pushes for reading the story as originally being a resurrection appearance.

Against the Resurrection Interpretation

Despite these strengths, scholars are generally resistant to this position. The contextual disunity with Mark 9.1 and 9.11–13 is broadly accepted, but they nevertheless insist the transfiguration story is not a ‘misplaced’ resurrection appearance.23 This is despite the acknowledgement that ‘the depiction of Jesus in this account is similar to the appearance of human beings who have been glorified after death’.24 Instead of a misplaced resurrection appearance, these scholars argue the transfiguration has more in common with Greco-Roman theophanies — stories where a divine being is revealed to earthly witnesses — filtered by our author through language and pictures from the Sinai theophany in the Book of Exodus.25

It is argued that Mark 9.2–8 is not a story where the disciples witness the risen Jesus after he died, but a story where the disciples witness the risen Jesus before he died.

the transfiguration is a proleptic resurrection appearance […] What the three chosen disciples are experiencing, therefore, is a foretaste of Jesus’ resurrection glory26

The recurring objection I find among scholars for why the transfiguration story cannot have originally been a resurrection-appearance story is because it doesn’t share the same features as the resurrection appearances found in other early texts.

There are very marked differences, however, between this story and the resurrection narratives found in the other gospels: normally it is Jesus (not Elijah and Moses) who is unexpectedly seen by the disciples, and his appearance, though altered, is not a dazzling one; here Jesus says and does nothing, and it is the voice from heaven which announces his identity, whereas in resurrection narratives it is the risen Lord who announces himself. The narrative therefore cannot be convincingly interpreted as a misplaced resurrection story.27

I find this rationale unconvincing.

The latest resurrection story in the canonical Gospels is Mark 16.9–20, from an author dissatisfied with Mark ending at 16.8. The dense parallels with Matthew, Luke-Acts, and John show the author was directly dependent on all those books.28 Although John does not incorporate the text from any of the Synoptics — i.e. not in the way, for example, Matt 17.1–13 is a direct redaction of Mark 9.2–8 — it has been argued in many ways that John’s author had firsthand knowledge of the contents of the Synoptics, though there is still disagreement on how he went about using them.29 Matthew and Luke-Acts were directly dependent on Mark, yet their resurrection narratives differ immensely. Matt 28 picks up on loose threads in Mark, while Luke-Acts cuts those threads entirely and completely invents an ending deeply contradictory to Matthew’s.

Every New Testament text that provides a pre-ascension resurrection narrative is dependent on the Gospel of Mark in some manner. Because Mark did not have a resurrection story for them to build from, they were left to write their own. They achieved his by attempting to expand an earlier text (Matthew), altogether inventing resurrection appearances (Luke-Acts), or both (John and Mark 16.9–20). Because of this chain of dependence, it can hardly be said Mark’s transfiguration story cannot be a misplaced resurrection story on the basis that it doesn’t match ‘standard’ resurrection stories; no such standard existed until it was developed by authors who were dependent on Mark. The objection is circular.

Take, for example, the criticism that no other resurrection tradition depicts Jesus appearing to the trio of Peter, James, and John.30 In Matt 28, the risen Jesus is first met by Mary Magdalene and another Mary, then all eleven surviving disciples, ‘some’ of whom doubt. Luke 24 has Jesus first appear to two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus, incorrectly reports that Jesus appeared to Simon Peter, then appears to all the disciples at once. In John 20, Jesus first greets only Mary Magdalene, then all the disciples except Thomas, then all of them including Thomas. John 21, containing another resurrection appearance incompatible with the one in the previous chapter, has Jesus appear for the first time to some (not all) of the twelve disciples at the same time.

This is all muddied even further if we include sources outside the four canonical Gospels. Paul claims Jesus first appeared to Peter, then ‘the twelve’, then several hundred disciples, then his brother James, then ‘all the apostles’.31 The Gospel of Peter, thought by many to have been written in the early second century, cuts off just after getting Peter, Andrew, and Levi in position to witness the risen Jesus.

That no other resurrection tradition has Jesus meet Peter, James, and John apart from all other disciples is hardly noteworthy, because none of the other resurrection traditions agree regarding who Jesus first appeared to, or when.

Conclusion

The author of Mark wrote his Gospel based on traditions he received, though this is not as often discussed as Matthew and Luke’s used of sources, or John’s. While the discontinuity between the transfiguration and the surrounding context is not totally jarring, its lack of cohesion can be explained by Mark bringing together unrelated traditions, which he has redacted into a rough unity.

It cannot, of course, be stated with any certainty that the transfiguration must be a ‘misplaced’ resurrection account. Nevertheless, I find the arguments in favor of this reading compelling enough to take seriously as a possibility.

Mark 9.2–8 originated as a quasi-apocalyptic story, in which Jesus’ glory as the messiah is revealed to his closest disciples. It may have originated as a very early tradition about Jesus’ resurrection, in which he had been raised from the dead straight into heaven, and then appeared before his disciples when they sought him out, thus confirming to them he was the messiah. When the author of Mark received this story — whether or not it was originally a resurrection appearance — he saw loose parallels with the content which became Mark 8.27–9.1 and 9.11–13, and edited it to sit between them.

The process overrode most of the story’s symbolism, its intricate web of Judean eschatological traditions buried due to its unfamiliar new context. Now, the flow of the Gospel of Mark leads readers to make the errant interpretation that the passage functions as the ‘fulfillment’ of a prediction Jesus made regarding the end of the world.


Footnotes

1 Charles Carlston, ‘Transfiguration and Resurrection’, Journal of Biblical Literature 80.3, 233–240.

2 Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: A Commentary, 417; Craig Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20, 34.

3 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, 348.

4 Collins, 422–423.

5 Evans, 36.

6 Ibid.; Joel Marcus, Mark 8:22–16:8: A Translation, 632–633.

7 Evans, 36. See, for example, John 1.19-21, which identifies three eschatological figures: the messiah, Elijah, and the prophet-like-Moses.

8 France, 346.

9 Marna Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, 211.

10 Marcus, 631.

11 France, 351.

12 Ibid.; Collins, 421–422.

13 E.g., Deut 4.19; Job 38.7; Psa 148.2–3; Dan 8.10; Wis 13.2; Bar 3.34; Jude 13; Rev 9.1.

14 Marcus, 636–637.

15 Marcus, 637.

16 Marcus, 636.

17 A.D.A. Moses, Matthew’s Transfiguration Story and Jewish-Christian Controversy, 79.

18 Carlston, 233.

19 Evans, 35.

20 Joost Holleman, Resurrection and Parousia: A Tradition-historical Study of Paul’s Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15, 139.

21 Arie Zwiep, The Ascension of the Messiah in Lukan Christology, 145.

22 Collins, 422–423; Marcus, 637.

23 Collins, 415.

24 Ibid.

25 Collins, 418–419. This compares Peter’s desire to build three tents for each Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to Greco-Roman theophanies, where witnesses frequently build altars or temples for the revealed gods.

26 Marcus, 633 and 637.

27 Hooker, 213–214; cf. Collins, 416 and 422; Evans, 34.

28 Collins, 807.

29 E.g., Mark Goodacre, ‘Johannine Thunderbolt or Synoptic Seed? Matt. 11:27 // Luke 10:22 in Christological Context’; Stanley Porter, John, His Gospel, and Jesus: In Pursuit of the Johannine Voice, 63–88; Ismo Dunderberg, ‘Johannine Anomalies and the Synoptics’, New Readings in John: Literary and Theological Perspectives (ed. Johannes Nissen, Sigfred Pedersen), 108–125.

30 Robert Gundry, Mark, 473.

31 First Cor 15.5–7. Even Paul’s tradition contains its own confusing ambiguities when he lists ‘the twelve’ and ‘all the apostles’ separately. Are they mutually exclusive categories, or do they overlap, or are they identical?