We read in Matthew, Mark and Luke how Jesus took Peter, James and John (last two being brothers) to witness the Transfiguration atop Mount Tabore. Peter would later be named the Rock on which Jesus' Church was to be built. John was the only apostle who stood by the Cross and was 'the disciples whom Jesus loved' according to himself. As for James,he does not find a special mention - favourable or otherwise- in the Gospels. Given that the nine Apostles left out would be prone to human envy, the Lord would have selected the three with utmost care, and with certain yardsticks.

My question, therefore is: Are there any apocryphal writings which mention the yardsticks, if any, adopted by Jesus in selecting the three apostles who would witness the Transfiguration?

Inputs from scholars of any denomination are welcome.

  • Peter would become the first Pope, John was the beloved disciple and the holiest of the crew, and James would become the Bishop of Jerusalem, quite possibly the most important See in the first century Church. This could explain Christ's reason for selecting these three men and not any others.
    – jaredad7
    Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 16:24
  • Happy feast of the transfiguration!
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 16:35
  • "Questions that can be answered from multiple Christian viewpoints are not allowed. They must be edited to ask for one perspective, or to explicitly ask for an overview of all Christian positions." Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 4:49

3 Answers 3


How did Jesus select the Apostles to witness the Transfiguration?

We may never know the answer to this question. Peter, James and John seem to have a privileged status amongst the Apostles. But why does not have a clear reason.

Peter, James, and John were among the earliest of Jesus’ disciples who had been with Him the longest (Luke 5:4–11). But the Bible does not say why Jesus chose Peter, James, and John as His inner circle. These three men were present with Jesus during special events, being eyewitnesses of Jesus’ transfiguration (Mark 9:2–3), witnessing Jesus raise Jairus’s daughter from the dead (Luke 8:49–56), and accompanying Him while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36–38). Thus, these three witnessed Jesus’ greatest moments of glory and His darkest trials. They were His closest friends.

Perhaps the reason why Peter, James, and John were chosen to be Jesus’ inner circle was that He was making a special effort to prepare these three for the leadership roles they would later occupy in the fledgling church. Peter, whose nickname meant “the rock,” was the first of the disciples to express faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (Matthew 16:16). After his failure and denial of Jesus, the Lord restored him, and Peter went on to be a leader in the early church (John 21:15–19). Significantly, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter boldly preached to the crowd, and the Holy Spirit worked in the hearts of the listeners, so that 3,000 people put their faith in Jesus that day (Acts 2:41).

James and John, who were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” because of their boldness (Mark 3:17; Luke 9:54), also became prominent leaders in the early church. They both expressed a willingness to be martyred because of their faith in Jesus (Matthew 20:22), and they both suffered for Christ. James was the first of the disciples to be slain for Christ (Acts 12:1–2), and John was the last of the Twelve to die, after being exiled for his faith (Revelation 1:9).

Jesus deliberately chose His twelve disciples and purposefully chose His inner circle, as well. At the ascension of Christ, the eleven remaining apostles were given the same mission, to spread gospel and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–20). Peter, James, and John, Jesus’ “inner circle,” were instrumental in fulling that mission. Having been eyewitnesses to several amazing events in Jesus’ ministry, the three were well-prepared for their future service.

The special attention Jesus gave to Peter, James, and John was, according to author Michael Hyatt, part of Jesus’ leadership strategy. Rather than try to build a broad reach for His ministry, Jesus shunned popularity and “focused on true depth and long-term impact” (“The Leadership Strategy of Jesus,” michaelhyatt.com/the-leadership-strategy-of-jesus, accessed 5/27/20). Jesus’ teaching was rooted deeply in these three men, and each one made a lasting impact in the church for the glory of God. These three fishermen were truly made into “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). - Why did Jesus choose Peter, James, and John to be His inner circle?

Apocryphal writings have no weight here as they are clearly Apocrypha for a reason.

The following may be of interest:


In the Wikipedia article on the Apostles, the twelve are said to always be listed in each of the Synoptic Gospels in the same groups of four. It seems likely that there was a hierarchy of disciples, with the group leaders being Peter, Philip, and James son of Alphaeus. That means that Peter and his brother Andrew, John and his brother, James son of Zebedee were part of one of Jesus’ three cells.

The raises the question, “Why was Andrew not included?”

The inclusion of Peter is obvious. He was selected as leader by Jesus.

John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. He lived longest and was the only gospel writer among the four. It was important to have an eyewitness account of the Transfiguration in the Bible.

James was the first apostle to be martyred. Perhaps this was an anticipatory reward for his sacrifice?

  • 1
    Why not Andrew? All the apostles were necessary, but Peter, James and John, had specific qualifications and necessities and roles.
    – SLM
    Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 2:20

The transfiguration was to "change into a different form". In the gospel accounts, it was from a human/divine into a divine/human. They witnessed the transformation, the point of the incarnation.

Tertullian points out that by the mouths of three witnesses something is established, referring to Deut 19:15. See here. Hence, three apostles. And hence the naming of the bookends of the New Testament. Eyewitnesses to His glory.

Justin Martyr explains the renaming as a right of God being God, similar to renamings in the Old Testament.

And when it is said that He [Jesus Christ] changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in the memoirs of Him that this so happened, as well as that He changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder; this was an announcement of the fact that it was He by whom Jacob was called Israel, and Oshea called Jesus (Joshua), under whose name the people who survived of those that came from Egypt were conducted into the land promised to the patriarchs. And that He should arise like a star from the seed of Abraham, Moses showed beforehand when he thus said, ‘A star shall arise from Jacob, and a leader from Israel;’ and another Scripture says, ‘Behold a man; the East is His name.’ Accordingly, when a star rose in heaven at the time of His birth, as is recorded in the memoirs of His apostles, the Magi from Arabia, recognising the sign by this, came and worshipped Him. Dialogue with Trypho

Hence, the mission of Peter to open the doors to Jew and Gentile. Done and done.

So, given three witnesses, given the preexistence of Christ and proofs, who were Peter, James and John?

Peter was renamed "rock" and more importantly given the keys of the kingdom.

Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’),[fn] and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell[fn] will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid[fn] on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit[fn] on earth will be permitted in heaven.” Mt. 16:18-19

Peter opened the kingdom to Jew and Gentile.

Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. Acts 2:14

To Jew, and then to Gentile.

He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.” Acts 10:43

As to James and John, they were the first and last apostles to die. They were renamed sons of thunder, as in the voice of God.

The voice of thy [God] thunder was in the heaven: the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook. Psalm 77:18

Between those bookends, the New Testament was written (and some believe fully compiled).

And therefore it [Hermas] ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among the Prophets, whose number is complete, or among the Apostles, for it is after [their] time. Muratorian Fragment

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