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The Gospel Truth About John 8:58
 
 
                                                                   
 

New Testament Text: John 8:58
"Jesus said to them, Most assuredly I am saying to you, Before Abraham came into existence I AM." 
(Kenneth Wuest's Expanded Translaton, Eerdmans, 1961).

by Arthur Daniels, Jr., Th.B.,B.S., M.Div.(in process)



Preliminary Considerations

The above passage has been variously translated and is a source of contention between those who hold that Jesus is in unique relationship with God the Father as the one God and those who deny this union.

Jehovah's Witnesses and others dispute that Jesus in John 8:58 was claiming to be the Yahweh/Jehovah who existed in eternity before Abraham.  Elaborate arguments, some even using Hebrew and Greek, have been created in an effort to disprove "trinitarian" views of this passage.  But are such arguments valid and do  they prove what they attempt to prove?  We will take a closer and more thorough look into these claims here.

But even before doing this, it must be understood that people have a way of denying even the most obvious teachings of Scripture.  For example, there are those who dispute that Jesus was miraculously born of a virgin, despite the fact that such a thing is not impossible for an omnipotent (all powerful) God, and despite the fact that both Matthew and Luke clearly and unambigously teach that Jesus was indeed virgin born (Matthew 1:18-23; Luke 1:26-38).


Furthermore, Jesus also claimed He was THE Messiah that was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures (John 4:25,26). Moreover, others clearly called Him the Messiah throughout His ministry (Luke 2:11; Matt. 16:16; Mark 1:1; John 1:41).Yet then and now people still reject Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel.   So those who would stand up for the truth of Scripture must realize that no matter how clearly something is taught in Scripture, people who either have an agenda or a theological perspective to protect will never be able to “see” that truth without special help from the Spirit of God.  Only those who are honestly seeking to know and believe the truth will be able to search out and acknowledge the truth of what is said about Jesus in Scripture.  So with that in mind, let us now attend to the details of what this verse means in context and as it relates to the rest of the Bible.


I.
The Immediate Context

It is important to realize that no verse of Scripture should be isolated from its context.  Jesus did not say, “Before Abraham came to be, I am” in a vacuum.  He made that statement within a certain historical and literary context in response to those He was talking to.  We must ask ourselves what prompted Jesus to make such a climactic statement and what does that statement mean in that context?

Jesus was speaking to some religious Jews who questioned His authority and the greatness of who He was claiming to be.  In response to Jesus saying that whoever keeps His words will never see death, the Jews retort in verse 52, “Now we know that you have a demon.  Abraham is dead, and the prophets…”  In verse 53 we have those same Jews asking Jesus these very important questions, “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead?  And the prophets are dead.  Whom do you make Yourself out to be?”(NKJV).

Notice very carefully that the immediate context of this discourse centers on who Jesus is claiming to be in comparison to Abraham and the prophets regarding the power of His words to sustain life.  In answer to this question, we read the climactic statement in verse 58, “Before Abraham came into existence, I am.” 

So in comparison to other people of great import in Israel’s history, who was this Jesus?  Jesus answers by saying that He existed before Abraham.  It is almost universally accepted that Jesus was claiming pre-existence to Abraham.  But what may not be so clear to most is the
kind of pre-existence Jesus was speaking of.  Angels pre-existed Abraham.  Even God pre-existed Abraham.  So what does the text teach about the kind of existence Jesus was speaking of?  Let’s have a look at the distinction made in the Greek of the text.


II.
The Greek Word Contrast: Genesthai v. Ego eimi

As the above translation indicates, Abraham was a created being and “came into existence.”  Jesus applied the Greek word “genesthai” to Abraham but not to Himself.  The Greek word “genesthai” is derived from “ginomai”and primarily means, according to
The Complete Word Study Dictionary, “To begin to be, to come into existence as implying origin…”(Zodhiates, p. 368, World Publ.,1992).  Although some translators like to translate “genesthai’ as “was born,” this is simply inaccurate since the Greek word “gennao” more specifically speaks of birth and begetting (see Matt. 2:1,4 Mark 14:21; John 3:4; 9:2).

Had Jesus wanted us to have the understanding, as some teach,  that His pre-existence involved being created like Abraham, He could have been very clear by saying “Before Abraham came into existence, I came into existence,” thus applying “genesthai” to both Abraham and Himself.  However, we know that this is not the case.

Instead of saying that He “came into existence” before Abraham, which would have taught a created pre-existence, Jesus simply claims to have existed before Abraham without being created. Jesus did not use one of the four past tense forms in Greek known as aorist, perfect, imperfect and pluperfect to express the nature of His existence.  Jesus used the present tense of the Greek verb “to be” known as “eimi.”

Within Christian and Jewish and Muslim theology, only God can claim to have never been created.  Thus we read that “then” those who heard Him picked up stones to cast at Him in vs. 59.  Why?  Because even they recognized the kind of existence that Jesus was claiming with the Greek word contrast that He used in the text. Many people who don’t know New Testament Greek or who have not studied beyond the English of most translations miss this vital point.  It was not so much that He echoed almost verbatim what Yahveh/Jehovah God said in Exodus 3:14 (I am that I am), but it was the Greek word contrast in this context (Exodus 3:14 will be dealt with later).

Therefore, as we return to the immediate context of the conversation, we must remember that the Jews asked Jesus two important questions in 8:53 (Are you greater than Abraham and the prophets and Whom do you make yourself out to be?).   In answer to these questions about who He was in comparison to others like Abraham in Hebrew history concerning the power of His words to sustain life, Jesus simply said before Abraham was created, He existed (or exists in present time) without ever being created.  Thus the kind of pre-existence Jesus asserted here was that of eternal, self-existence with the Father “in the beginning”  (John 1:1).

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible points out that, “His answer is the most absolute and categorical claim of his true person made in this gospel: Before Abraham was, I am.  For in the OT ‘I am’ is the name of God (cf. Exod. 3:14).  So they pick up stones to slay the blasphemer” (edited by Charles M. Laymon, p. 718, Abingdon Press, 1971).

 
 
  III) Accurate Translation Considerations: John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14


Some want to take away the strength of this powerful Scripture by proposing that “I am” in John 8:58 is really not an accurate translation or rending into English.  Since most Christians would point back to the Old Testament text in Exodus 3:14 and make the connection that Yahveh and Jesus were both claiming to be the “I am,” many have attempted to argue that “I am that I am” or “I am who I am” in Exodus is also not an accurate translation.
 
 
  By doing so they attempt to dissolve any hopes of anyone ever seeing the profound truth of the God who took on humanity to pay for our sins in time so that we who trust in Him don’t have to pay for them in eternity.  But a more careful exegesis of the texts and the words in question will reveal that there is a theological agenda behind many alternate renderings, not an attempt to translate the passages as accurately and literally as possible to understand the author’s original intent.  
 
  For example, let’s say you receive a letter from a loved one and it needed to be translated to you.  Now your loved one literally wrote “I do love you” but the translator rendered it “I did love you.”  Notice here how the simple change from the present tense “do” to the past tense “did” made perhaps all the difference in the world.  Accurate translation is, therefore, very important and should not be taken lightly or dismissed simply because other “versions” choose not to translate as literally and accurately as possible. This is not about what other versions render since we know that anyone can claim to “translate” anything.  Our task, especially as believers in the Jesus who is the God-man, or as anyone seeking to know the truth, is to find out what the original Greek or Hebrew says.  So let’s now turn to the original languages behind John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14 to determine how the key words in question in each passage are to be accurately translated into English.  
 
  A) John 8:58: Key words “ego eimi”

It is important to understand that in Greek, as in other languages, the verb “to be” (transliterated into English letters as  “eimi”) can be used in various tenses to indicate the time element you want to convey.  There is a present tense, a future tense, and a past tense.  However, Greek is a very “specific” and technical language and actually has four ways to indicate past time or tense.  These are the aorist, perfect, imperfect, and pluperfect.
 
 
  The aorist usually means simple, past time action that is not continuous or habitual (p. 107, Grammar).  An example of this tense would be something like “I wrote.”  The perfect tense, however, refers to “an action which took place in the past and is perfected in the sense that its effects still remain at the time of speaking” (p. 161, Grammar). An example of this tense would read “I have been” (the Grammar referred to above is A Basic Grammar of New Testament Greek by native Greek George Aristotle Hadjiantoniou, AMG Publ., 1985).   
 
  The imperfect tense usually “refers to continuous or linear action in past time” (Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, p. 1570 grammatical notations, AMG publ. 1984.[henceforth referred to as HGKSB]).   An example of this tense is in Mark 6:41, where the verb translated “gave” is better translated “was giving” or “kept on giving.”  We can also see an example of the imperfect tense of the verb “to be” found in John 1:1 usually translated “was.”  
 
  And finally, the pluperfect indicates a past time element like the perfect but  “…pushed backward, so that the existing result of the action was in past time.  Usually the English auxilary ‘had’ is used to translate the pluperfect” (HGKSB, p. 1570, grammatical notations).  An example of how this tense would read in English is “I had been.”  
 
  It is an undeniable fact that neither of these past tenses was used in John 8:58 to render the verb “to be,” and therefore any “translations” which have the present tense verb “eimi” changed to a past tense are simply inaccurate. No CREDIBLE Greek grammarian or grammar book will ever argue that “eimi” can be literally translated as “have been” or “was.”  So any appeals to various “translations” on this point are really of no value here.  What we should be concerned with is not translation style or interpretation, but with translation accuracy.  And it is clear that the present tense “eimi” is not in one of the four past tense forms and should not be translated that way.  
 
  A good thing to remember about most translations of the Bible is that they don’t just have a committee of Hebrew and Greek scholars working on any given version.  They also have people that can be called “stylists” who take what the translators give them and “smooth” it out so that it is more pleasing to the English ear.  This explains why most English translations translate the present tense verb “eimi” in John 14:9 as “…Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip?”(New King James Version, or NKJV).  
 
  But once again it must be emphasized that such a rendering is not a literal translation of what the Greek actually reads. The words rendered “have I been” here are supposed to translate the present tense verb “eimi,” which in the Greek text stands alone without the emphatic personal pronoun “ego.” In this text all you have is “eimi,” which apparently can be translated by itself as “I am” at times (John 13:13, 33). We can easily confirm what the most accurate and literal translation of “eimi” is by consulting true literal translations of the Greek of John 14:9: 

“…Am I so long a time with you, and you have not known Me, Philip?”
(The Interlinear Bible, p 834, A Literal Translation of the Bible, Jay P. Green, Sr.,  Hendrickson, 1985).
 
 
  Notice here that the Greek present tense verb “eimi” was literally translated as “Am I.”  We find the same kind of thing with Kenneth Wuest’s Expanded Translation: 

“Such a long time I am with you, yet you have not come to have an experiential knowledge of me, Philip?” (p. 249, Eerdmans, 1961).

So hopefully the point should be clear that there is a difference between accurate and literal translation and renderings in English which attempt to style the original into “proper” or “smooth” English.  But to blindly depend on English stylists is to possibly miss a crucial point that the original Author or speaker wanted to convey by his or her choice of words, tenses, or even number.
 
 
  For example, notice how the author of Galatians 3:16 noted the difference between “seed” (singular in number) and seeds (plural). Also note how Jesus used the future tense of the verb “to be” (estai) in John 14:17 when He said that the Spirit “will be” in the disciples.  Jesus also used the imperfect tense of the verb “to be” (en) in John 8:44 when He said that the devil “was a murderer from the beginning.”  Therefore, from these few examples it should be clear that it is important that we are able to discern the difference between what is an accurate and literal translation and what is not.  Whether the reason is stylistic or theological bias or a combination of both, we must understand that if the words  “ego eimi” are not translated “I am” or something indicative of the present tense verb, then that cannot be a true translation from the Greek text  
 
 
              i) Arguments from the so-called PPA (Present of Past Action still in progress)

Some arguments that seek to justify translating “ego eimi” as “I was” or “I have been” try to point out that Greek has a PPA or Present of Past Action still in progress.  Although this is generally true, there are at least three main problems with using this fact to justify rendering the present tense of the verb of existence in a perfect tense English form at John 8:58.  First, the fact remains that Greek does have a perfect tense and at least two other past tenses (imperfect and pluperfect) that can convey a perfective sense.  So if the original author or Speaker wanted us to understand that a perfective sense was meant, then the original author or Speaker certainly could have used one of those tenses.

 
 
  Second, usually the grammatical works referred to on the PPA do not appear to be dealing with the verb “to be” specifically but with the present tense generally.  The ones that do deal with the verb “to be,” such as Moulton and Winer, either are not speaking in regard to the combination of “ego eimi” found at John 8:58,  or they represent questionable and inconsistent grammatical scholarship, or they represent the anti-trinitarian biases of the authors, or  they have been taken out of context in some way (for Winer’s inconsistency, see Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus by Murray J. Harris, pp. 109note 15, 185n54, 217n51, 230n3, 234n12, Baker Books, 1992).  
 
  Thus we must always be cautious of “scholars” or grammarians who tend to agree with Watchtower theology, since an investigation of people like K.L. McKay, Jason BeDuhn, Rolf Furuli, and others will invariably reveal that such persons are usually either liberal Christians or other heretical teachers who also deny the trinity and the deity of Jesus as defined by historic Christianity.  Rarely will you ever find a completely neutral or objective scholar who will agree with Watchtower theology or translation principles.

Yet it is interesting to note that even liberals like bishop John Shelby Spong, who denies that Jesus is “God,” admits that Jesus in John claimed to be God, although he goes on to argue that the “Jesus of history” never really used the “I am” affirmations (see
Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p. 206, HarperCollins, 1991).

This is not to say that the arguments posed by such people are to be dismissed out of hand simply because of their personal views.  True scholarship should not be dismissed just because the scholar is either trinitarian or anti-trinitarian.  We can all agree with an atheist or anti-trinitarian that 2+2=4, but when they begin to argue that the equation should equal 5 and the overall facts don’t support that assertion, then we must depart from agreement and argue otherwise with facts and reason that should convince any honest seeker of truth.
 
 
  The third problem with references to the PPA is that it appears that there is no overall consensus in Greek grammatical scholarship that the present tense verb in John 8:58 is a clear example of a PPA.  At the website http://jude3.net/extending_from_past_present.htm, you will find many Greek grammars referred to regarding the PPA, but not one of them lists John 8:58 as a PPA.  This is not to say that truth is determined by numbers or lack of mention, but the fact remains that if John 8:58 were truly a clear and unambiguous example of a present of past action, it would seem strange that centuries of Greek scholarship didn’t realize that until Winer, McKay, BeDuhn, and Furuli came along.  We must also beware of the logical fallacy of appealing to “lone wolves” in academia who may know classical or other forms of Greek but not New Testament Greek.  There are important grammatical differences in the different forms of the Greek language.

Regarding the alleged PPA in John 8:58, comparative arguments have been raised over the translation of certain passages like John 15:27. It reads: “And you also will bear witness, because you HAVE BEEN with me from the beginning” (NKJV). In the Greek of this text we have the present tense, second person plural (este) “you (all) are” translated as “you (all) have been.”  But does this justify translating the present tense words of Jesus in John 8:58 into the English perfect?  Not at all.  What needs to be shown to validate this argument is that credible, New Testament Greek grammatical scholarship has translated the combination of the emphatic personal pronoun (“ego”) and the present tense of the verb of existence (“eimi”) into the English perfect of “I have been” elsewhere in the New Testament. To my knowledge, this has yet to be done and never will be done according to credible scholarship.

Moreover, we cannot ignore the fact that placing the present tense, second person plural verb “to be” in the perfect tense is not a literal translation from the original Greek but a rendering styled to convey an interpreted meaning.  That is why you will find that all literal translations will have the verb “este” in John 15:27 translated properly in the present tense without causing problems in understanding the text as literally translated.  And finally, since the time frame referred to by the use of the word “before” in John 8:58 speaks of unspecified time in the distant past prior to Abraham, this fact seems to disqualify the present tense verb Jesus used as a true PPA (the informative article on this can be found here:
http://answering-islam.org/Responses/Menj/tam_r1.htm).
 
 
 
             ii) Fallacious Grammatical Arguments

Some have tried to argue that,  “John 8:58 contains an unusual idiom within Greek grammar, containing two separate tenses.  First, is the adverb PRIN, meaning before.  This is followed by the present active indicative EIMI, meaning to be”(taken from the now inactive Jehovah's Witness website
http://scripturaltruth.tripod.com/).  But this comment is inaccurate since we see examples of two separate “tenses” being used in a number of passages, including Matthew 26:34, where the adverb “prin” is followed by the future tense “will deny.”  Tense changes, even within the same sentence, are not unusual in any language and are not difficult to translate; they are, however,  at times difficult to interpret in terms of how they should be translated from one language to another.

One argument for translating the present tense “ego eimi” at John 8:58 as “I was” or “I have been” goes as follows: 

“How then, can we understand this idiom.  Well the construction renders as follows: PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI EGW EIMI.  The past tense adverb PRIN is continually active throughout the remainder of the sentence.  Because of this, we must consider that anything that is said is dealing with the time prior.  So ‘Before Abraham was born…’  So, Before Abraham was what?  This is what we must answer.  Well we then arrive at the present tense EGW EIMI.  We must put this into the past tense construction.  The two renderings we arrive from this are either ‘I was’ or ‘I have been.’” (taken from the now inactive Jehovah's Witness website
http://scripturaltruth.tripod.com/).

There are several problems with the above statement, some minor and some major.  First, the Greek adverb “prin” (translated “before”)  is not a “past tense” adverb but an adverb of time which can refer to the past.  Second, if we use this writer’s same “grammatical” argument with other passages such as Matthew 26:34, then we will immediately see how fallacious the argument is.  For instance, notice what happens if we apply this to the similar, two tense construction in Matthew 26:34 in this manner:  “Truly I tell you that tonight, BEFORE a cock crows, three times you WAS DENYING me”  or  “Truly I tell you that tonight, BEFORE a cock crows, three times you HAVE BEEN DENYING me.”   Notice the problem created here.  Not only does this reasoning limit what an author or Speaker might want to express (in this case a prophecy in the future about one thing that will precede another in that future), but it also changes the whole meaning of the text.  Obviously such a “grammatical” argument makes little or no sense and should be abandoned as a bad understanding of Greek or English grammar.

Although this example makes the fallacy of this kind of argumentation all the more clear, it must not be completely denied that John 8:58 is somewhat different.  In John 8:58 you do have a unique construction which indicates that the present tense verb Jesus used is also referring to past time.  This is because Jesus said that “before” Abraham came into existence, He simply “exists” in present tense and time.  With the construction Jesus actually used, we can see that He wanted to emphasize the kind of existence He had “before” Abraham.   And in that context, this kind of existence was related to the question of His greatness in comparison to Abraham and others regarding the power of His words to sustain life (John 8:51-53).  His present tense existence stretches across the past and into the present, without Jesus ever coming “into existence” like Abraham did as a creature created by God.  Thus the question of Jesus’ greatness brings us to the inescapable conclusion that He was claiming to be the self-existent One who gives and sustains all life (John 1:1-3).

Remember, it is important to keep in mind that Jesus did not say, “Before Abraham came into existence, I came into existence,” which would have fit perfectly into Watchtower theology and would have unequivocally meant that Jesus claimed to be a created being before Abraham.  Jesus simply claimed to exist prior to Abraham without coming “into existence,” and that, theologically, can only mean you are claiming to be God, since only God never came “into existence.”
 
 
  Although many flawed attempts have been made to justify claims that the Greek words “ego eimi” in John 8:58  should be translated “I was” or “I have been,” the most fatal flaw in such attempts is the overlooked fact that even if we grant the rendering “I have been,” it still does not change the fact that Jesus claimed to be the eternally self-existent God before Abraham came into being.  How so?  Because even if Jesus had used a past tense in Greek so that the text literally translated, “Before Abraham came into existence, I have been,” it would have only meant that Jesus existed prior to Abraham without coming “into existence” like Abraham did.

In other words, Jesus
still would be claiming eternal, self-existence, even with the English perfect tense translation!  This is because saying “I have been” does not equal saying “I came into existence,” which is what Jesus needed to say in order to claim created existence before Abraham.  But we know that Jesus did not apply the same words to Himself (ego eimi) that He applied to Abraham (genesthai), and thus Jesus’ claim to be the eternal, self-existent God remains even with the mistranslation “I have been” or “I was.”

Apparently those who seek to deny Jesus’ unique union with the Father missed this important point while attempting to mistranslate the deity of Jesus out of John 8:58 with a perfect tense that does not appear in the original Greek text.  Now of course these mistranslations do not
clearly aide the superficial reader of English to see the connection between John 8:58 (I am) and Exodus 3:14 (I am that I am).  Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Greek word contrast between the “came into existence” (genesthai) applied to Abraham and the simple, present tense existence (ego eimi) Jesus applied to Himself makes the connection abundantly clear.  Thus there is no “magic” being ascribed to the words “I am” alone but a recognition of the contrast revealed in the Greek text and what it means theologically. Many scholars have recognized this and have made these interesting observations:

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown,
Complete Commentary:

John 8:58. Before Abraham was, I am --The words rendered "was" and "am" are quite different. The one clause means, "Abraham was brought into being"; the other, "I exist." The statement therefore is not that Christ came into existence before Abraham did (as Arians affirm is the meaning), but that He never came into being at all, but existed before Abraham had a being; in other words, existed before creation, or eternally (as # Joh 1:1). In that sense the Jews plainly understood Him, since "then took they up stones to cast at Him," just as they had before done when they saw that He made Himself equal with God (# Joh 5:18).

Kittel,
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (1 vol. Abridgement), p. 207:

ego eimi as a self-designation of Jesus in Jn 8:58 (cf. 8:24; 13:19) stands in contrast to the genesthai applied to Abraham. Jesus thus claims eternity. As he is equal to the Father (5:18ff.), what is ascribed to the Father is attributed to him too (cf. Is. 43:10 LXX). The context and the ego formulation are both Jewish. The point is not Jesus' self-identification as the Messiah ("I am he") but his supratemporal being.
 
 
  Wuest, The Deity of Jesus in the Greek Texts of John and Paul, Bibliotheca Sacra, Jul 62, pp. 220-221:

The AV reports our Lord as saying to the Jews, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58 AV). "Was" is
ginomai, the verb of "becoming," not eimi, the verb of being. It is ingressive aorist, signifying entrance into a new condition. Our Lord said, "Before Abraham came into existence, I am." He does not contrast Abraham's previous existence with His eternity of existence, but Abraham's coming into existence with His eternal being. There is a contrast between Abraham as a created being and our Lord as uncreated, the self-existent, eternal God.

Robertson's Word Pictures on John 8:58:

{Before Abraham was} (
prin abraam genesqai). Usual idiom with prin in positive sentence with infinitive (second aorist middle of ginomai) and the accusative of general reference, "before coming as to Abraham," "before Abraham came into existence or was born." {I am} (egw eimi). Undoubtedly here Jesus claims eternal existence with the absolute phrase used of God. The contrast between genesqai (entrance into existence of Abraham) and eimi (timeless being) is complete. See the same contrast between en in#1:1 and egeneto in#1:14. See the contrast also in # Ps 90:2 between God (ei, art) and the mountains (genhqhnai). See the same use of eimi in # Joh 6:20; 9:9; 8:24,28; 18:6.

Summary on John 8:58

Jesus claimed to be the existing One in present time before Abraham came into being in the past.  Jesus claimed uncreated, continuous existence in contrast to the coming into being of Abraham.  Thus Jesus answered the question of the Jews about His greatness in comparison to Abraham and how His words are able to sustain life.  Jesus said He was the self-existent, eternal One who alone can surpass all in greatness and is thus the giver and sustainer of all life.  Whether the key words of Jesus in John 8:58 are literally translated “I am” or “I have been,” the contextual and grammatical facts unambiguously show that Jesus did call Himself the uncreated, Yahveh/Jehovah of Israel. Truly
this Jesus is worthy to be praised for His incredible sacrifice, as God became flesh to lift a sinful world out of darkness into His marvelous saving light (John 1:1,4, 14, 18, 29; 12:46; 1 Peter 2:9).

B) Exodus 3:14: Key words “hayah"  and “eimi ho on”

Since we have seen that Jesus indeed did claim to be God in John 8:58, despite attempts to translate away His divine affirmation, we now turn to another text that has been manipulated to disguise the facts that connect what Jesus said and what Yahveh/Jehovah God said in Exodus 3:14.  In most English translations, Exodus 3:14 reads as follows:  “And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’   And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”  The use or nonuse of capitals is irrelevant because the key issue is what the verbs are and what they mean in context, not whether or not God is giving Himself a new title.

But some would have us believe that the Hebrew verb of existence used there (known as “hayah”) should best be translated in the future tense to read either “I will be what I will be” or “I shall prove to be what I shall prove to be.”  However, there are several problems with this future tense translation that we must carefully consider in order to better understand why this kind of translation is inaccurate at best, and theologically bankrupt at worst.  These problems are contextual, grammatical, grammatical-historical, and historical.  Each of these will be explained in turn.
 
 
 
             i) The contextual problem

In order to more precisely understand the meaning of Exodus 3:14 in its context and how it relates to Jesus’ claim to eternal self-existence using the more precisely translated present tense “I am,” we must now consider the immediate context in the Exodus passage.   We know that the children of Israel were in bondage in Egypt.  We also know that the Egyptians were polytheistic for the most part and served false, nonexistent gods, although it is not inconceivable that many followed the God of Joseph and his descendants (Genesis 41; Exodus 1:8). Thus Israel, whose God was true and living, was surrounded by false gods who did not truly exist but were manufactured idols (Numbers 33:4; Isaiah 19:1).

When Moses is commissioned to go and set Israel free from bondage to these polytheists, he reasons with God that when he goes to Israel they will ask him a question.  That question is key in this context. Moses did not think Israel would ask “What
will be his name?”  Such an absurd question makes little sense in Hebrew, Greek, or English.  Moses figures that Israel will ask him “What is His name?” in the present tense when he has already reached the Israelites (vs. 13).

Although the present tense verb is absent from the Hebrew and Greek versions of Exodus 3:13, it is clearly implied in the context since the verb “to be” is regularly implied in both Hebrew and Greek.  Since context indicates the “tense” of an implied or actual Hebrew verb, it is clear from the context of verse 13 that the question Moses comes up with only makes sense in the present tense, “What
is His name?”  So here we have Moses figuring he will be asked a present tense question.  How, then, does such a question require a future tense answer such as a hypothetical “I will be what I will be”?

The question is present tense and therefore the answer from God must also reflect the present.  If the question were future tense, then and only then would a translated answer of “I will be what I will be” make sense.  When God answers the present time question Moses asks, He answers with “ehyeh asher ehyeh,” which is transliterated Hebrew for “I am that I am.”  This present tense answer best fits the context of the question in verse 13.  It also best fits the historical context, as Yahveh/Jehovah answers in a way that contrasts His eternal existence with the nonexistent, false gods surrounding Israel in Egypt.  This is further verified by verse 15 in Hebrew, when God uses the full name Yahveh and goes on to literally say, “…this is my
eternal name” (mou estin onoma aionion, in the Septuagint).  But we will see later how this is even more relevant in Hebrew when we look at the grammatical problem with future tense translations of the Hebrew verb of existence in verse 14 (“hayah”).


        ii) The grammatical problem

Hebrew grammar is quite different from that of Greek or English.  While English and Greek will readily use forms of the verb “to be” like “is” or “are” or “am” in sentences, Hebrew does not always do this.  According to
Biblical Hebrew Step by Step, Vol. 1, 2nd edition, “Hebrew has no special words for the English verbs am, are, or is.  They are understood from the context.  Thus, the present tense of to be is not expressed in Hebrew” (p. 61,  by Menahem Mansoor, Baker Books, 1980).  So it is important to realize that grammatical “tense” for the Hebrew verb “to be” (hayah) must be understood from the context of the passages and not special words as we find in Greek and English.
 
 
  With this in mind, we can now begin to reason that since the question Moses figures Israel will ask him refers to present time (or tense), then it stands to reason that the answer God gives Moses must also refer to the same time frame.  This alone excludes any hypothetical “I will be” translation of the Hebrew verb of existence used by God in His answer to the present time question.

Now it is true that the overall conversation is referring to the future when Moses is supposed to go to Israel, but the fact remains that within that future context is a present time question “What is His Name?” and thus the answer must correlate to the question as “My name is…” so to speak, not “My name will be…”  This should be clear enough.

Another important point that is overlooked by many is the fact that it is almost universally accepted that the Hebrew verb of existence (ha
YAH) is closely related to the name of God (YAHveh).  According to The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 1,

“The name Yahweh (YHWH) ostensibly derives from some form of the verb
to be (haya) so that God is the power for life, the power of being, the power of newness” (p, 714, Abingdon Press, 1994).  

The Nelson Study Bible reference footnote also affirms regarding the use of the divine name in the Hebrew of verse 15: “3:15 the LORD: This represents the Hebrew name Yahweh.  The Hebrew word meaning ‘I Am’ used in v. 14 is very similar.  Translations into English often use LORD in small capitals to represent God’s name, Yahweh” (p. 104, 1997).

So it appears that while on the English surface “I am” doesn’t seem to make much sense as an answer to the question of “What is His name?” the fact remains that the underlying Hebrew reveals something more powerful in this context.  The God of Israel, who truly exists (hayah) in contrast to the idols of Egypt who did not truly exist, has a name that is closely related to the verb of existence. This name is Yahveh, the self-existing and eternal One (vs. 15).  Thus in Hebrew we find that God’s answer, properly rendered in the present tense like the question, was more than appropriate for the Israelites who were surrounded by nonexistent, false gods.  The message to Israel was simply: The eternal One was indeed sending Moses.
 
 
  The translators of the Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, apparently recognized that the Hebrew verb of existence (hayah) was equivalent to the Greek verb of existence (eimi).  But what is important to recognize is the fact that they did not translate “ehyeh asher ehyeh” into the future tense so that it reads “I will be what I will be.”  The Septuagint translators, who were Jews who lived hundreds of years before the New Testament era,  took those words and translated them into the present tense of “ego eimi ho on,” which can be translated “I am the Being” or “I am He who exists” or “I am the existing [one].”  If the Hebrew of Exodus 3:14 can only be translated “I will be what I will be,” then what explains why the Septuagint translators used the present tense instead of the future?

Some people try to make a big deal out of the “ho on” while ignoring the “ego eimi” in the text in an effort to lessen the impact of Jesus using the same words in John 8:58.  But when you investigate a little further into the grammar of what “ho on” is and what it means, you will find that such arguments are nothing more than uninformed attempts to ignore the clear connection between John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14.

What exactly is “ho on,” and what does it mean?  The Greek word “ho” is the definite article “the,” while “on” is what’s called a present participle.  A present participle in Greek expresses continuous or repeated action or state (HGKSB, p. 1571, 1984). According to
The Complete Word Study Dictionary:New Testament, “(2) With the art. ho on…it implies real and true existence”  (Zodhiates, p. 514, Word Publ., 1992).   It is significant to note that “on” is the present participle of “eimi.”  In other words, it is another form of “eimi” and has essentially the same meaning except that, being in the participle mood, it acts to extend the meaning of the verb.

A good English example would be something like “I write” (present tense), in contrast to “I am writing” (present participle).  You could combine the two and come up with something like “I write and am writing books.”  Both uses of the present tense have essentially the same meaning, except that the use of the present participle extends the meaning of the verb to indicate present and continuous state or action.

A good Greek example of the use of the present participle mood would be found in Mark 14:22, where the verb “to eat” is best translated “while they were eating.” Also, in Matthew 4:18 we have two examples of the present participle, where Jesus is said to be walk-ing by the Sea of Galilee, and the two brothers are said to be cast-ing a net into the sea.  The verbs “to walk” (peripateo) and “to cast” (ballo) are both in the present participle mood and are best rendered “walking” and “casting.”

So the basic point to remember is that “ego eimi” and “ho on” in the Septuagint are not in any way mutually exclusive terms, for they basically have synonymous meaning, i.e., it’s like saying “I am the I am-ing” or “I am that I am.”  Like the NIV translators sometimes do, the Septuagint translators were simply explaining in their translation the
meaning of what they saw in the Hebrew.  That probably best explains why they didn’t just literally translate the Hebrew into something like “ego eimi hoti ego eimi,” which can also mean “I am that I am.”
 
 
  What this simply means is that arguments about God being “The Being” instead of “I am” are meaningless in the original Greek, since both “eimi” and “on” are present tense and mean essentially the same thing.  The Septuagint translators, who could not have had a “Christian” bias to motivate their translation,  knew that God was claiming He was the eternally exist-ing One whose Hebrew name is connected with the Hebrew verb of existence.  So in translating from Hebrew to Greek, the Septuagint Jews were just doing a commentary-translation of what the Hebrew meant: that God was the eternal One who truly exists as no other and is always existing (see “eternal name” in vs. 15).  This, of course, was in contrast to the nonexistent gods of Egypt that the children of Israel were exposed to.


         iii) The grammatical-historical problem

At this point it may be important to understand more about the grammar of Biblical Hebrew.  This is because the argument has been made on a Jehovah’s Witness website that, “Such a translation [in English] as ‘I am what I am’ appears to be ruled out completely by the fact that the [Hebrew] verbs here are imperfects. "I am" is the normal translation of the Hebrew perfect, not an imperfect...”

This is supposed to be a quote from a J. Washington Watts, who is said to have been a professor of Old Testament at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Even if this were so, it would appear that either this man was somehow taken out of context, or he was deficient in his knowledge of Hebrew because Hebrew grammars seem to disagree with the quote.  Disregarding the fact that the Septuagint Jews long ago translated the words of God into the present tense from the Hebrew, we read this regarding the use of the perfect and imperfect “tenses” in Hebrew: 

“With all verbs, regardless of their meanings, the Hebrew perfect may be translated as the English simple past (I wrote) or the present perfect (I have written)…the perfect may be translated by the general present tense…the perfect may be translated by the English present of the verb “to be” + an adjective: zaqanti  I am old” (
Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, by Thomas O. Lambdin, pp. 38, 39, Macmillan, 1971).

“Although the imperfect tense is used quite often in Biblical Hebrew to convey the idea of future action; the most basic idea underlining its use is one of
incompleted action.  Hence, it is inaccurate to refer to it simply as a future tense, since it can express, for example, continuous action in the present” (Biblical Hebrew Step by Step Vol. 1, 2nd ed., by Menahem Mansoor, p. 131, emphasis added, Baker Books, 1980).

From this we can see that the Hebrew perfect and imperfect are translated in a number of ways.  But what is key to this discussion is the fact that the Hebrew imperfect
does not exclusively translate into the future tense as some would have us believe. Apparently the Septuagint Jews knew this, and according to the context of the present time question of verse 13 they translated the Hebrew answer of God “ehyeh asher ehyeh” into the present tense, NOT the future tense.  Once again we refer to the Introduction to Biblical Hebrew for further confirmation: “The Meaning of the Imperfect…(a) future…(b) Habitual or customary action…he writes…he used to write…or he will write. In this usage tense is not explicit and must be gained from the context in which the verb appears” (p. 100).
 
 
  So no matter what is quoted from Watchtower or other sources (which usually do not reference Hebrew grammars), the fact remains that grammar alone does not dictate that “ehyeh asher ehyeh” is more accurately translated into the future tense.  If that were the case, then one would expect that the Septuagint Jews would have done so, especially when we consider the fact that they were closer in time to the original Hebrew writings and did not have centuries of modern theological bias and debate over Exodus 3:14 to influence their translation.

Now there is another argument out there which tries to make much out of the fact that most Bibles translate the Hebrew verb “hayah” as “I am” at Exodus 3:14 but translate the same verb as “I will be” in verse 12.  Does this prove some kind of “trinitarian” bias because the same words are translated in different tenses in each verse?  This can hardly be the case, since it appears that the Septuagint Jews knew Hebrew grammatical structure better than those who make such arguments.  In the Septuagint of verse 12 they chose to translate “hayah” in the future tense “esomai,” which is the future form of the Greek verb of existence, “eimi.”  Even though my knowledge of Hebrew is not as extensive as it is in Greek, even I can look at the Hebrew text and see:  (1) that the structure of “hayah” is slightly different between vs. 12 and 14, and (2) that the contexts are somewhat different, as mentioned above.

To further confirm that the Septuagint Jews knew what they were doing with their use of the Greek verb of existence (eimi), we can look at the Greek of other passages. When God says there “shall be” a great cry throughout the land of Egypt in Exodus 11:6, the Hebrew verb of existence (hayah) is used.  The Septuagint translates this verb with the Greek verb of existence (eimi) but uses the future tense form known as “estai.” The context of what God was saying was regarding the future, and thus the Septuagint translators properly rendered “hayah” there into the Greek future form of “eimi.”  Even more interesting is the fact that when the verb “to be”  is only implied in the Hebrew (as in Exodus 3:6 “I
am the God of your father…”), the Septuagint translators used “ego eimi” to translate the implied verb of existence. Other examples of the Hebrew verb (hayah) being translated by the Greek verb (eimi) can be found at Exodus 18:19 and Leviticus 26:12, where again we have the future of “eimi” being used.

So what does this all mean?  First, it means that the Septuagint Jews did know Hebrew well enough to distinguish “tense” from context and translate into Greek accordingly.  Second, it means that the Hebrew verb of existence (hayah) and the Greek verb of existence (eimi) may be viewed correctly as equivalents, despite arguments to the contrary by authors like Rolf Furuli, author of
The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation: With a special look at the New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Mr. Furuli tried to argue that:  “One of the premises on which he builds when he parallels Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58 is that haya (to be/exist) in Hebrew is equivalent to eimi ("to be") in Greek, and herein lies a problem, for this is not necessarily true.  The linking verb (copula) "to be" is usually implied in Hebrew, not written.  Therefore, the Greek eimi does not have a written equivalent in Hebrew, and it does not correspond to haya” (p. 215, online chapter 6).

We can readily see from just the few examples noted above that Mr. Furuli’s comments are simply untrue and do not reflect a careful study of how the Greek verb is used to substitute the Hebrew verb in the Septuagint.  Mr. Furuli also makes the logical error of assuming that because the Hebrew copula is “usually” implied and not written in Hebrew, that this somehow means that “eimi” doesn’t have a written equivalent in Hebrew.  The problem is, the Septuagint Jews, who probably knew ancient, Biblical Hebrew better than Mr. Furuli, seemed to think otherwise, as we have seen.  So what were the Septuagint Jews doing when they translated the words of God in verse 14 in the present tense of “ego eimi ho on”?  They were explaining the meaning of the Hebrew in context; that the eternally existent One, whose personal name is Yahveh (vs. 15), exists and continues existing eternally in contrast to the nonexistent idols of Egypt.  He doesn’t just exist in the future or the past but is ever-present and eternally with His people.
 
 
 
            iv) The historical problem

Now we come to the historical problem with translations which put the Hebrew words of God in Exodus 3:14 “ehyeh asher ehyeh” in the future tense, as if to argue that only the future tense accurately represents the true meaning of the Hebrew.  Again, it cannot be emphasized enough that the Septuagint predates all other Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible and does not translate Exodus 3:14 into the future tense.  Historically speaking, the Septuagint was produced at least 100 years (a conservative figure) before Jesus was even born.  Interestingly enough, however, is the fact that after Jesus and the apostolic age (AD 30-100), Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible appeared and were changed to counteract how the Jewish-Christian community was using the Septuagint to convert Jews.

For example, Matthew quoted the Septuagint version of Isaiah 7:14 and saw this as a prophetic reference to Jesus as being born of a virgin (1:22, 23).  The Greek word used in the Septuagint is “parthenos,” which has a wide range of meaning but clearly speaks of sexual virginity.  However, since the Judeo-Christian community successfully used this to show people that Jesus was virgin born and to convert Jews, later translations after the apostolic age change “parthenos” to “neanis,” a word which apparently doesn’t carry a strong connotation of virginity.

Greek scholar Dr. Spiros Zodhiates explains: “Later Greek translators of the O.T.  – Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion – all rendered Isa. 7:14 with
neanis.  Since they were post-N.T., they all had a conscious purpose in doing so, namely to avoid further use of parthenos which favored the virgin birth of Jesus.  The Septuagint had no ulterior motive to translate Isa. 7:14 with any other Gr. word” (HGKSB, Lexical Aids to the Old Testament, p. 1623, AMG publ., 1984).

So when we get to Exodus 3:14, it comes as no surprise that only after the second century AD do we find this passage reading in the future tense of “I will be what I will be.”  These future tense versions were produced long
after the New Testament canon had been completed and after Christians had been proclaiming Jesus as the eternal “I am” (ego eimi) of John 8:58.  Even today you will find that Jewish literature, including the works of Reformed and Liberal Jewish Rabbis,  will follow the post Septuagint/New Testament work of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion and render Exodus 3:14 either as “I will be what I will be,” or will simply transliterate the Hebrew into the main text and put as a footnote “Others, ‘I am who I am.’”

But we cannot blindly accept this post Septuagint/New Testament future tense rendering of Exodus 3:14 as the most correct or accurate because there is obviously a counter-missionary agenda involved in the translation.  It is not an effort to translate the literal meaning of the Hebrew text.   This historical problem has not been given the attention that it deserves, but we must realize that it cannot be ignored or easily dismissed.
 
 
  Now if the Septuagint translators had also translated using the future tense at Exodus 3:14, then those who would argue that Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58 have no connection would have a more solid argument.  But since we know that the Septuagint and John both use the present tense, there can be no real weight to any arguments that try to sever the connection between the two passages.  They are forever connected by the historical fact that the Septuagint has “ehyeh asher ehyeh” translated in the same present tense (ego eimi ho on) as the words of Jesus in John (ego eimi).

And as we return to the contexts of both passages, we must conclude that both Jesus and Yahveh were expressing identical claims from different perspectives: eternal existence as the one true God – Jesus contrasting His uncreated, eternal existence with Abraham’s created existence – Yahveh contrasting His uncreated, eternal existence with the man-made idols of Egypt.


Summary on Exodus 3:14


The God of the Hebrew people answered the hypothetical question posed by Moses “What is His name?” by saying first that He was the eternally existing One (I am that I am, vs. 14), and then by using the full name Yahveh (vs. 15).  This was His “eternal name” from generation to generation.  The Hebrew verb of existence, “hayah,” speaks something of the nature of God as the ever existing Yahveh.  The eternal Yahveh, who truly exists from eternity, was indeed sending Moses, not any nonexistent idol god of Egypt.

Ironically enough, from the sands of Egypt the Septuagint translators used the present participle form of the Greek verb of existence, “ho on,” to show the active and continuous nature of Yahveh’s eternal existence.  He is ever existing and cannot be bound by time.  His very Hebrew name suggests His eternality.  Although “I will be what I will be” is an
allowable translation solely from a grammatical perspective, it does little to explain, in the immediate context of Exodus 3, what God was saying to Israel as He was answering the question about what His name is.  In fact, future tense renderings only cloud the answer of God and create ambiguity in the receptor language of English. 

Therefore, since the use of the present tense “I am that I am” directly relates to the present time question Moses figures Israel will ask, and also speaks of ever-present existence through all time, it would seem that this is the better and more accurate translation of the words of God in Exodus 3:14.  Israel’s God truly is the eternal and only existing God who will rescue all who are in any bondage and call on Him, whether it is bondage to Egyptian tyranny or the more deceptive chains of sin.
 
 
 
IV.
Some Objections Answered

Since we have now established that the words of Jesus in John 8:58 are best translated “I am,” and that the words of Yahveh in Exodus are more accurately translated “I am that I am” or “I am the existing One,” we will now consider a few additional objections to these translations and what they mean.  For the most part we will see that the vast majority of these objections stem from some kind of theological or ideological bias against “trinitarian” views.  When this is not the case (apparently), we will find that either logical or grammatical errors are to blame for such objections.  And finally, if these errors are not at fault, we will find, as we so often do, that people tend to take passages out of context and thereby create objections which really have no merit.

A) Rolf Furuli’s Grammatical Objection Exposed

Rolf Furuli is the author of a recent book called
The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation: With a special look at the New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Ehihu Books: 1999).  In it he has made some inaccurate comments regarding Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58 that need to be addressed.  Furuli’s chapter 6 is where I read the arguments below from an Internet source. 

The first point that needs to be addressed comes from the following statement regarding the proper translation of “ego eimi” in John 8:58: 

“Any English equivalent of eimi (to be), regardless of its tense, is a literal translation.  Thus ‘I have been’ is just as literal as ‘I am.’”  (taken from p. 205, Internet source chap. 6)

But is it true that “any English equivalent of eimi,” regardless of its tense, is a literal translation?  Is “I have been” just as literal as “I am”?  You don’t need to be a “Greek scholar” to discover the truth or falsity of this statement by Furuli.  All you need is a Greek-English interlinear (like the
www.apostolicbible.com or www.blueletterbible.org), a New Testament Greek grammar or two,  and some common sense.  Mr. Furuli’s  first statement is simply linguistic nonsense because it blurs the lines of distinction between the tenses so that they appear meaningless.  It also disregards the fact that different tenses of “eimi” are used in the Gospels and are not interchangeable in specific contexts.  Thus when Jesus uses a future tense of “eimi” in Greek, especially when speaking prophetically, it cannot be “literal” to render this as a past or present tense in English as an “equivalent.”  That would be absolute nonsense.

Moreover, we can easily see the fallacy in Mr. Furuli’s second statement by using his own argument in the New Testament.  If “I have been” is “just as literal” as “I am,” then perhaps we can literally translate the words of Jesus in John 6:35 as “I
have been the bread of life…”  And how about the words of Jesus in John 8:12?  Can they literally be made to have Jesus saying “I have been the light of the world”?  Or perhaps we can derive clear and correct meaning from Jesus telling Martha “I have been the resurrection and the life…” (John 11:25).  So hopefully with just these few examples it is abundantly clear that whatever the reason for Mr. Furuli’s comments, they simply don’t make sense grammatically or theologically and should not be blindly accepted as accurate knowledge of Greek translation principles.

B)  Furuli’s Septuagint Sidestep

In order to “disprove” the link between the Septuagint version of Exodus 3:14 and the words of Jesus in John 8:58,  Mr. Furuli went on to argue in his book:

“If Jesus, by help of the Septuagint translation, had claimed identity with YHWH, he could have either said, ‘I am YHWH; or ‘I am God’ (as shown in Chapter 5, the Septuagint contained God's name in Jesus' day), or he could have said ‘I am The Being [ho on].’  The word eimi in Exodus 3:14 is merely a linking verb, and cannot be claimed to represent a point of reference, even an important one.  So here there is no link to John 8:58.” (taken from p. 217 Internet source chap. 6).
 
 
  Furuli’s first argument here is fallacious on several counts, because it makes the foundational assumption that the only way Jesus could have claimed identity with Yahveh (YHWH) is for Him to have overtly used the specific words “I am YHWH” or “I am God.”  This is an invalid assumption and is called a “non sequitur” in logic, i.e., his conclusion does not follow from his premise.  In most languages there is more than one way to say the same thing.  For example, if I were to say, “I created the heavens and the earth but I myself am uncreated,” what would I be saying?  If you know any basic theology, you would understand that to mean I am saying “I am God” or “I am YHWH.”  Sure Jesus could have said, “I am YHWH” or “I am God,” but common sense reason shows us that He didn’t have to use those specific words alone in order to claim identity with Yahveh.  Even Yahveh Himself in Exodus didn’t just come out and literally say “I am YHWH” or “I am God” in verse 14 but simply said “I am the existing One” or “I am that I am.”

Another argument akin to Furuli’s assumption says that Jesus somehow quoted only part of Exodus 3:14 and said “ego eimi” but not “ho on.”  Thus it is reasoned from this that Jesus was not claiming to be the “ho on,” or “The Being.”  But we have already seen how the present participle “on” and the present tense “eimi” are essentially the same grammatically.  So there is no real difference between “on” and “eimi,” except, perhaps, in the minds of those who may have an ideological bias against the implication of this fact; the implication being that Jesus and Yahveh were making identical claims.

His apparent omission of the “ho on” does not prove He was not claiming to be the same Being who said “ego eimi ho on” in the Septuagint version.  This we may see by looking at the foundational fallacy in such reasoning.  The basic fallacy in this reasoning assumes that if you don’t quote the whole of a text exactly as written, then you are not quoting the text at all.  But what happens when we apply this same reasoning to other passages of Scripture?  By this reasoning we must also assume that because Jesus didn’t quote all of Deuteronomy 8:3 when He said “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” that this means He wasn’t really quoting it at all (Matthew 4:4).  And are we to believe that when Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1, 2 in Luke 4:18, 19 but
failed to finish the last half of verse 2 (“and the day of vengeance of our God…”) that He really wasn’t quoting from Isaiah 61:2 at all?  Nonsense.

Needless to say, a quick survey of the New Testament will instantly reveal the fallacy of assuming that because Jesus didn’t fully quote the Septuagint by saying “ego eimi” instead of “ego eimi ho on” that this must mean He wasn’t quoting it at all.  In light of the facts revealed above, that kind of argument can hold no weight whatsoever.  If anything, it actually provides stronger evidence that Jesus was referencing the Septuagint version of Exodus 3:14 because He and others often quoted only parts of Scripture for whatever purpose they had in mind.  So this fallacious objection has no validity and falls completely apart when put to the test using other passages.  But if some people must insist that only the Father is called “ho on” (the being), perhaps they should take a look at the Greek of John 1:18 where Jesus is indeed called “ho on” (the being) in the bosom of the Father.  Fascinating, wouldn’t you say?

Furuli’s second argument, that “eimi” in Exodus 3:14 is “merely” a linking verb, also holds little or no validity in this discussion.  There are two reasons for this assessment.  First, he readily ignores the fact that “on” and “eimi” are both present tense and have essentially the same meaning.  And second, he also ignores the fact that there is a second occurrence of the present participle form of “eimi” in verse 14 (“on”) that does not have a “linking verb” like the first occurrence.

God said “
I am the existing” (or “the being”) in the first part of verse 14, but then went on to say, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, the existing (or the being) has sent me to you.”  So even if we grant that in the first half of the verse “eimi” is “merely” a linking verb, this cannot apply to the second occurrence of “ho on” which has no such linking verb.  So apparently the present tense of “eimi,” whether in participle form or not, declares in context the eternality of the God to Israel, just as Jesus affirmed His eternality to the Jews using the same present tense verb in His historical context as well.  So when Mr. Furuli argues that the Septuagint’s version of Exodus 3:14 “cannot be claimed to represent a point of reference, even an important one,” and that “there is no link to John 8:58,” we can more fully understand that such words represent his personal ideological views rather than careful and honest grammatical scholarship.
 
 
  The Septuagint translators could have just as easily translated Exodus 3:14 using “ego eimi” three times in the verse instead of one, and it would have conveyed the same essential meaning.  This we can see by the fact that most English translations actually have the words “I am” three times in verse 14, which correctly follows the use of “ehyeh” three times in the original Hebrew.  So there can be no valid argument trying to disconnect Exodus 3:14 and  John 8:58 from a grammatical point of view.  Mr. Furuli’s arguments do not hold up under closer scrutiny, as they ultimately have no theological significance and also ignore the powerful gospel truth behind this Scriptural connection between Yahveh and Jesus.

God Himself made that connection for a reason, and no human being can truly separate what God has put together.  The glorious and life-changing message of the orthodox, Christian Gospel is that God
Himself became a little babe in time and space and was born in a manger.  It is a wondrous and beautiful thing to look upon the frailty, helplessness, and innocence of a baby and realize that God did such a thing for us.  It is almost incomprehensible!  But this great condescension did not stop there, for it culminated in God Himself making the ultimate, loving sacrifice to save humanity from bondage to sin and death.  No wonder it can truly be said of Jesus that He is Immanuel, the God with us (in Greek: meth emon ho theos).

C) The Attempt to Stone Jesus

After Jesus claimed to be the eternal God in John 8:58, in verse 59 we read, “Then they took up stones to throw at Him…”  Now the word “then” is significant because it marks the reason why they took up the stones.  Apparently the Jews recognized what He said in verse 58 and, because they could not fathom God taking on humanity in Jesus, decided that Jesus should be stoned for some undisclosed offence.  Orthodox Christian teaching says that this undisclosed offense was the same as the other charges leveled at Jesus for “blasphemy” and claiming to be “equal with God” while apparently only being a man (see Mark 2:7-10; John 5:17, 18; 10:31,33).

So in the context of the other passages of Scripture where Jesus is accused and threatened to be killed or stoned to death, it is quite reasonable to view the attempted stoning by the Jews in John 8:59 as another accusation of blasphemy for somehow claiming equality with God (notice in John 10:31 “Then the Jews took up stones
again…”). In fact, as we have discussed above, the context requires that this is why they attempted to stone Him.  This is because although He had said many aggravating and truthful things about them in chapter 8, they did not attempt to stone Him for them.  But after claiming to be the eternal God in verse 58 by saying He never came into existence prior to Abraham’s created existence, we read then they took up stones to stone Him.
 
 
  Even though it has been argued that this is not a “required understanding,” the fact remains that the context says otherwise, and it cannot be logically or theologically denied that IF (for the sake of argument) Jesus was claiming to be God but wasn’t, then that surely would have been grounds for stoning Him for blasphemy. (the “required understanding” argument was posted on the now inactive JW website http://scripturaltruth.tripod.com/trinity/john858.html).

In order to lessen the impact of this text, it has been argued that to commit blasphemy a person can simply claim to be “a god” or have an attribute of God.  But such reasoning is fallacious on two counts.  First, blasphemy was a specific “crime” or sin against almighty God, whether it was claiming to be God or claiming to assert abilities that only God can assert.  Therefore, it is impossible for anyone to blaspheme by claiming to be “a god,” since blasphemy is a sin only against the true and living God.  Second, since all humans share in some sense in the “image and likeness” of God, it is evident that just claiming to have an attribute of God is not the issue with blasphemy.  The issue with blasphemy is claiming an attribute of God that
exclusively belongs to Him, such as the ability to forgive the sins that people commit against Him.

Jesus, for example, claimed to be almighty God by forgiving the sins of another man who had sinned against God (Mark 2:5-10).  This, under normal circumstances, was grounds for blasphemy because only God can forgive those who sin against Him (Psalms 51:2-4; Isaiah 43:25).  By using faulty biblical hermeneutics (the art and science of interpreting Scripture), some have attempted to argue that Mark 2:7 and John 20:23 are speaking of the same kind of ability to forgive sin.  But these passages are speaking of forgiving sin in different contexts and therefore cannot be seen as identical.

Jesus in Mark was forgiving a sin that the man had committed against God.  In  John 20:23, however,  Jesus was granting special ability by the Holy Spirit (vs. 22) to forgive AND “retain” sin that was mainly committed against them personally.  If John 20:23 is taken to mean that the apostles can forgive sins and not forgive sins that people commit against God alone, then it is turned into the theological nightmare of giving mere human beings the power to essentially override God by not forgiving their sins, even if they ask God for forgiveness.

But stop and think for a moment.  Does it make sense that if someone sins against God that a mere human being can stop God from forgiving the person? There is simply nothing in the entirety of Scripture to support such an outlandish idea, and thus Mark 2:7 and John 20:23 cannot be speaking of forgiving sin in the same manner.  More than likely, what John 20:23 is referring to is the example we see in Acts 7:60, where Stephen asks God to forgive people who are sinning
against him and God by stoning him without just cause (also see 2 Timothy 4:16).   So, only God can forgive sin that is committed against Him only, and if someone claims that ability then it is grounds for blasphemy.

The other instance where Jesus is accused of committing blasphemy, John 10:33,  makes it all too clear that if a man claims to be God, it is grounds for stoning.  It must be made perfectly clear that you cannot blaspheme against “a god” because blasphemy is a sin against Yahveh only.  Even though it is true that in the Greek text of 10:33 the word God (theos) doesn’t have the Greek definite article (ho) in front of it, this cannot mean the text can be translated “a god.”  Anyone who has the most elementary and accurate knowledge of Greek grammar will understand that definite nouns in Greek
do not need the Greek definite article in order for them to be translated in a definite form.  Definite nouns often do not have a definite article in the Greek New Testament.  This we may see by looking at the following passages in Greek: John 1:6, 12, 13, 18; 17:3; 20:17; Matthew 4:10 “a satan”?).  So any arguments saying  “theos” can be translated “a god” in John 10:33 because of the lack of the Greek definite article simply represent a faulty understanding of how definite nouns are used in the Greek New Testament.
 
 
  When Jesus claimed that He and the Father had the equal power to keep believers (sheep) from being snatched from the one Hand of the apparent two Persons (or beings), the Jews viewed that as blasphemy (John 10:27-31).  Jesus’ reply in verses 34-36 has been misinterpreted to mean He was not claiming equality with God, but this cannot be true in light of the context of verses 28-30 which clearly show special equality and power with the Father.

This is especially significant because Jesus said in verse 29 that the Father is “greater than all.”  But if that statement
includes Jesus, as some like to reason, then it cannot be true what Jesus said in verse 28, “…neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”  This is because in order to have the same power to hold the sheep so that they cannot be snatched out of His hand, Jesus has to have equal holding power with the Father as “greater than all.”  If this is not the case, then the Father can hold the sheep as “greater than all” but not the Son, and Jesus’ words in verse 28 are rendered either a lie or meaningless.   Thus equality with the Father is expressed and manifested by Jesus plainly saying, “I and my Father are one.”

To this the Jews responded by picking up stones to stone Jesus for what they thought was blasphemy.  Jesus then responded by quoting the Old Testament passage in Psalm 82:6 where human judges or rulers were called “gods” because they received word from God and then delivered it to the people.  They were called “gods” only in the sense that they represented God by delivering the word of God.  But they were fallible and sinful human beings, as the rest of Psalm 82 indicates.  However, Jesus was claiming in verses 27-30 to be far greater than those in the Psalm.  Jesus was not saying He was somehow lesser than those He referred to in the Psalm.  He was saying He was greater and that they shouldn’t have had a problem with His equating Himself with the Father because lesser people have been called “gods” and they accepted that with no problem.

We must remember that Jesus often used the technique of arguing from the lesser degree to the greater, and that He was apparently doing the same thing in John 10:34-36.  For example, Jesus said in Matthew 7: 11, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”  Notice here how He argued from the lesser (the sinful humans), to the greater (the sinless Father).  The same thing can be seen in Matthew 6:30.

So apparently in John 10:34-36 Jesus is doing the same thing, arguing from the lesser degree (mere human judges who only received the word) to the greater degree (Himself as “one” with the Father who came directly from the Father).  Thus the reference to Jesus being “the Son of God” in verse 36 must be understood to mean in this context that, as the only unique (monogenes, in Greek) Son of God, He is uniquely equal with God the Father and can claim this without being blasphemous (John 1:18; 3:16).  Therefore, with regards to Jesus the term “Son of God” cannot be misconstrued in that context to mean He cannot be equally God with the Father.

If Jesus is both the Son of man and the Son of God, this must mean He has two natures, a human nature and a
unique divine nature (John 5:25-27; Philippians 2:6-8).  Jesus was both God and man while on earth in order to effectively accomplish redemption because only God could bridge the gap of sin that separated humanity from Himself.  Since this sacrifice also had to be “perfect,” and only God is sinlessly perfect, only the sinless God-man, Jesus, could accomplish salvation from sin with power and lasting effectiveness (Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16; 9:11-14; 10:4).  If Jesus had not been truly God and truly man and made the claims that He made, it is obvious that He should have been stoned for blasphemy.  But since His claims were true, the charge of blasphemy in His case was indeed false and unwarranted, being placed upon Him by those who simply refused to see the glorious power of God for salvation that was being revealed to them.  They denied who Jesus truly was and claimed to be because, as Jesus once put it so eloquently, they were in error, not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God.
 
 
 
D) “I am” Used by others in Scripture

It is sometimes argued that others have used the Greek words “ego eimi” or “I am,” but that this doesn’t mean they are claiming to be God.  But in context, the blind man in John 9:9 was answering a question as to whether or not he was the one who was blind but had been healed.  To this it is said that the blind man said, “I am” (ego eimi).  Nevertheless, this is clearly a totally different contextual situation from the “I am” used by Jesus, or the “I am that I am” used by Yahveh in Exodus.  The same applies to all the other instances where people may have used the words “I am” in different contexts.  The use of those words by Jesus and Yahveh mark them as distinct and different, and it is a fallacy to compare what They said with what others said in contexts that are not even similar, let alone identical.  Therefore, this argument fails because it ignores vital differences and assumes that all uses of the words “I am” must be identical.  There is simply no weight to any arguments of this nature.


V.
The Power of the Gospel Revealed

Yahveh in Exodus claimed in that context to be the eternally existing God who was sending Moses to Israel.  In contrast to the man-made idols of Egypt surrounding Israel, Yahveh was the only true and ever-present God of eternity.  The Hebrew verb of existence, which can correctly be translated “I am that I am,” was used to express this.  Similarly, the Greek verb of existence in the present tense, which was translated “I am” with the present participle phrase “the existing” (being) One, was also used to show the eternal present existence of God.  To have Yahveh expressing His “name” in an exclusively future sense (I will be) tends to limit God to the future, when God is beyond time by reason of His eternal nature.  This is why such a rendering is ultimately theologically bankrupt and cannot adequately express the true meaning of the Hebrew verb of existence in Exodus 3:14 in context with the question asked in verse 13.   Yahveh, whose very name speaks of His eternal existence,  is indeed the ever-present, eternally existing God.

When we come to the New Testament we find Jesus used the phrase “I am” to indicate His eternal existence before Abraham’s time in contrast to the coming “into existence” of Abraham.  Had Jesus wanted us to get the idea that the
kind of existence He had before Abraham came to be was the created kind, He could have said,  “Before Abraham came into existence, I came into existence.”  This would have made it quite clear that He was claiming created existence prior to Abraham’s time.  But Jesus simply said  “I am” or “I exist” prior to Abraham, and by using the same verb of existence in a contrasting context just as Yahveh did in Exodus, the inescapable conclusion one must draw is that Jesus was claiming to be the ever-present existing One.  He was telling the Jews that He was Yahveh in the flesh.

The words “I am” themselves do not carry special significance.  There is no “magic” or mystical power in them.  It is who used them and in what context that gives them special theological significance, along with what they
mean moreso than how they are to be translated.  In both contexts,  Yahveh and Jesus claimed to be the Existing One, the only eternal God of Israel.  There can be no rational denial of this.  As we have seen, even if the words “ego eimi” Jesus used are mistranslated “I have been,” this still cannot defeat the fact that Jesus was claiming an existence before Abraham that never came “into existence.”

But although the words “I have been” are ineffective in truly disproving the Deity of Jesus, they are still inadequate because they force an interpretation on the text that confines His existence to the past only up to possibly the present.  It does not accurately convey the ever-present existence that the actual Greek present tense indicates.

In final reflection on the text of John 8:58 and how it has been translated and interpreted, I find it interesting that people have gone to great lengths to “prove” that Yahveh and Jesus were not making similar or identical claims in Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58.  From weak grammatical arguments to logical fallacies to Scriptures taken out of context, all of these and more have been done in a fruitless effort to disconnect what God has apparently connected.  The more people try to come up with sophistic arguments and assertions to disprove that Jesus was claiming to be the Yahveh of Exodus, the more it would seem to me that the texts are connected.  Why try to separate what is not truly connected?
 
 
  I am sure that an effort will be made to “disprove” all that has been explained in this essay.  How much validity such an effort will have remains to be seen, since I try to be quite accurate, careful,  and thorough in how I arrive at my views of Scripture.  Appropriate rebuttals (if needed) will be posted here in link or text form as the need arises. Those reading this essay are encouraged to send the author any information they may feel is pertinent to this discussion at the email address link below.

The main thing that must be understood from this essay is that the power of God unto salvation is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And if we are to be forgiven of our sins through repentance to God, then it is important to understand that in Jesus, God truly became a man, yet remained God and man on earth (Philippians 2:6-8), and sacrificed Himself so that our sins can be forgiven. 

God condescended to our level in a marvelous and almost incomprehensible way to demonstrate His great love.  Thus Jesus, as the God-man, not only loves us greatly and was willing to show that love in this powerful way, but He can also relate to us and our daily struggles and weaknesses because He also became a human being.  As both God and sinless man, only He could effectively carry out the plan of saving us from the power of sin and death.  May God grant repentance and understanding to those who are in opposition to this glorious truth, so that they may acknowledge the truth and that the truth might make them free (John 8:32).  As Yahveh freed Israel from bondage to Pharaoh, let the true Jesus free you from bondage to sin and death. Amen.
 
 
  This essay is complete but an addendum can be found here.  Others on John 20:28, Colossians 1:15, 16, Hebrews 1:8, Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1 and others passages are on the way. If you want a particular subject addressed, please email me by clicking on the link below with your subject.  
 
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