Arminian Theologian Roger Olson Responds to My Question: In What Type of Body Did Moses Appear on the Mount of Transfiguration?

Biography - Roger E. Olson
Arminian Theologian Roger E. Olson

Gary: What type of bodies did Moses and Elijah possess when they appeared to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration?

Roger Olson, Arminian theologian and blogger: Any answer to this question would be sheer guesswork. Who knows? I don’t. But somehow they were recognized by the disciples.

Gary: I’m curious how this appearance was different if any to the appearances of Jesus. If Moses and Elijah had resurrected bodies, then Jesus was not the first fruits of the resurrection, they were. Paul was wrong. If Moses and Elijah had resuscitated bodies, then why don’t we hear about their resumption of life and second deaths in the Jewish homeland? Surely that would have made for big news. If Moses and Elijah appeared as ghosts, Peter seemed to have mistaken them for living people as he wanted to build housing for them. And if Peter and the other disciples could see ghosts and believe them to be real, what does that say about their sightings of a “resurrected” Jesus? Maybe these appearances too involved ghost sightings??

Roger Olson: This is a rabbit trail I don’t care to go down as anything said would be pure speculation. I will just mention that some biblical scholars regard the transfiguration story as a “misplaced resurrection narrative.” I honestly don’t know what to say about it. It’s a mystery.


Gary: Maybe it is a purely fictional account told for theological purposes, never meant to be understood as an historical fact. But what the story does tell us is that first century people believed that one could see a ghost and believe it was a real body. That is a death blow to the apologist’s claim that the resurrection appearances could not have been due to ghost sightings. If Peter could see a ghost and believe it to be a real body on the Mount of Transfiguration, then after the psychological trauma of the crucifixion he could see a ghost he believed to be Jesus and believe it was a real body. Tens of thousands of people have claimed to have received appearances of their dead loved one . We don’t believe them, so why should we believe the disciples?

Roger Olson: You are forgetting that the tomb was empty. I don’t expect that response to convince you to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus unless you believe in the infallibility of the Bible. But I could add the argument made by many apologists that IF the tomb was not empty, the Roman and Jewish authorities would have dragged Jesus’s body out of it to squelch the early disciples’ preaching about the resurrection. Now, end of this discussion. I get the last word. 🙂

Gary: Only 75% of historians (according to evangelical historian Gary Habermas) believe in the historicity of an empty rock tomb of Jesus. How many other alleged events in history has 25% of historians rejecting its historicity? None. Such an event would not be listed in history books as an historical fact but only as a contested historical possibility. Bottom line: The best evidence Christians have, the discovery of an empty rock tomb of Jesus, is not found in one single public university history text book as an historical fact. It may be listed as a disputed claim, but never as an historical fact. So the evidence for the best claim Christians have, the historicity of an empty tomb, is poor.

Every time I discuss the Resurrection Belief with apologists, the first line of evidence they trot out is the empty tomb. Yet, it is odd that the greatest Christian apologist of all time, Paul of Tarsus, says not one word about an empty rock tomb. Yes, that is an argument from silence, but it is still evidence that there probably was no empty rock tomb. It was the fictional invention of the author of Mark.

But even if we accept that there was an empty rock tomb, what does that prove? It proves somebody’s grave was found empty. That’s it. Thousands upon thousands of graves have been found empty due to any number of natural causes (grave robbing, someone moved the body, animals, etc.).

I personally believe there probably was an empty tomb. That would explain why Jesus is the only messiah pretender (and there have been many) whose followers did not give up their messianic dreams upon his death. The empty tomb along with ghost sightings gave despondent Jesus followers just enough hope to engage in cognitive dissonance, a process which eventually resulted in the Resurrection Belief.

“IF the tomb was not empty, the Roman and Jewish authorities would have dragged Jesus’s body out of it to squelch the early disciples’ preaching about the resurrection.”

This is another common apologetic argument, but it is filled with assumptions and flaws. One assumption is that Jesus was the big deal the Gospels make him out to be. But since not one contemporary of Jesus (such as Philo) mentions him, it is entirely possible that during his lifetime Jesus was a nobody. He only became famous after the author of Mark wrote an historical fiction about him (a Greco-Roman biography) four decades later. So if that is the case, why would the Jewish authorities care if a handful of Galilean peasants were claiming that their leader had been seen back from the dead?

But even if the Jews did care and wanted to do as you suggest, even the Bible says that the Christians did not start publicly preaching about the Resurrection until approximately 50 days after Jesus’ death. Who would have recognized the decomposed body? No one! It would have been in a disgusting state of decay. So even if the Jews knew where the grave of Jesus was and dug up his body to parade down main street in Jerusalem, do you think the disciples would have believed them?

“That’s not Jesus! Jesus is risen! You must have put someone else’s body in Jesus’ empty tomb! You evil, deceitful pharisees and sadducees!”

The evidence for your core belief, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, is poor, Roger. The Story of the Transfiguration demonstrates that the superstitious, illiterate disciples of Jesus could see ghosts and believe it to be someone returned from the dead. This is evidence that the alleged resurrection appearances were exactly what skeptics have been saying for 2,000 years: ghost sightings!

Mountain of Transfiguration Location






End of post.

6 thoughts on “Arminian Theologian Roger Olson Responds to My Question: In What Type of Body Did Moses Appear on the Mount of Transfiguration?

  1. If Peter could see a ghost on the Mount of Transfiguration and believe he had seen Moses back from the dead, why couldn’t he see a ghost after the crucifixion of Jesus and believe he had seen Jesus back from the dead?


    1. We’ve ‘known’ each for quite some time so I presume you accept that I am firmly in your camp when it comes to the garbage of the bible.
      With this in mind I hope you won’t get upset me mentioning that when you do these type of conversations where you ask bible related questions of theologians like this bloke you have a habit of asking and then providing (your) answers in your comments, often before you have received a reply.
      Your opening paragraph was short , direct and right on point.
      Your second paragraph includes the question and then provides an answer (of sorts).
      Olsen’s opening sentence in his second reply illustrates this point: “This is a rabbit trail etc etc ..” effectively cutting further dialogue to the quick.
      As Neil noted, any opportunity to steer dialogue away from the point at hand will be gleefully seized upon.
      In a sense you offered him an escape route and the conversation quickly goes awry
      I appreciate we all have our own style when it comes to posing questions to these indoctrinated unfortunates so my view may be completely out of line.
      Just a thought.
      Use it or lose it as the saying goes .

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are absolutely correct, Ark, but in this case I had no choice. He had cut me off. You will see I used the approach you are recommending in the coming post.


  2. Absolutely right, Gary. You won’t get far with Olson though. He operates on the basis that he is right about everything – just read his blog – and when he encounters difficulties like the ghosts of Moses and Elijah attempts to sidetrack the discussion onto ground that suits him better (empty tombs, the absence of a returned corpse, etc). Then he unilaterally closes down the discussion. You literally cannot argue with him!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gary, you have done yeoman’s work re. engaging Christians with a tough line of questions re. Christian lore. The sort of responses you are getting doesn’t surprise me. I wouldn’t expect such people to publicly question their core beliefs after they have invested so much time and effort being part of “Team God”.

    The issue that I believe poses the biggest hurdle re. believing in the God of the Bible is the problem of natural evil (i.e. pain and suffering from pestilence, disease, genetic defects, carnivory and predation etc.) Fundamentalists may try to sweep this away by claiming that none of this existed before the “Fall of Man”. Well, that explanation doesn’t exactly stand up to scientific scrutiny, as those facets of life existed before humans arrived on the scene. So, “clever” apologists quickly retreat behind the veil of mystery by claiming God must have morally sufficient reasons to allow it. It is a cop out on a grand scale (imo). It is a “get out of jail free card” for theologians. Frankly, I don’t know why anyone should take such a response seriously.


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