Re: John 8:58

James A. McGuire (
07 Aug 96 21:30:21 EDT

In a message dated 96-08-06 17:38:28 EDT, Mitchell writes through Alan Repurk's

<< First, the expression "I am" in itself does not equate to the LXX Exodus 3:14
"ego eimi ho On" (I am the Being, or "one who is"). Why, even the blind man in
the very next chapter of John (9:7) says "Ego Eimi" with respect to himself.
Was the blind man admitting that he was Jehovah? Of course not! Therefore,
the expression "Ego Eimi" does not in itself refer to another personage. >>

This is a quick conclusion based upon the supposition that the use of EGW EIMI
is identical in both passages (by the way, the blind man said that in John 9:9,
not 9:7). I believe that such conclusions need to come after a careful unbiased
look at all the historical-grammatical evidence we can observe. If we state our
conclusions so boldly and forthrightly before we give a chance to present more
of the evidence, it comes across as eisegesis where one looks for support for
his theory and reads into the text what isn't there. You can't explain away the
opposing views so quickly with a jab and a poke and then go on to what you think
it does mean.

Although I admit the reference to John 9:9 uses EGW EIMI without a predicate, I
do see several differences between the two passages. The two passages are
different incidents and should be examined in their own context. First of all,
in John 9:9 there is an implied predicate "the one." He is the one that was
born blind. No such implication is given by the context in John 8:24,28,58. In
fact EGW EIMI leaves off the predicate in a peculiar way as an answer to the
Jews' question.

Mitchell continues:

<< In John 8:58, Jesus uses the present tense of the verb "to be" with a
reference to past time; "Before Abraham came into existence". The state to
which Jesus refers ('his existence') not only 'was' in the past (before
Abraham), but continues into the present. He was alive in Abraham's day and is
still alive. Therefore, translating "EGW EIMI" with the English perfect tense,
or "I have
been" is in full harmony with scriptural context, and greek [sic] scholarship.

It is also important to recognize that there is not just one, but three
references to EGW EIMI in John 8. This should also be taken into account in our
interpretation of John 8:58. It is difficult to see the interpretation of
simply "I have existed before" (e.g., present perfective) in the two previous
references of 8:24 and 28. It would seem that He implied much more. Were they
to die in their sins because they did not believe that Jesus existed beforehand
(v. 24)? When they lifted Christ up on the cross were they to come to the
astounding conclusion that He existed before (v. 28)? A more dramatic
interpretation seems to be implied by the context.

I put forth that the interpretation of John 8:58 should be interpreted in the
light of the _previous_ two references to EGW EIMI. Jesus was building up to a
point of climax as He kept referring to Himself as EGW EIMI. He was not trying
to communicate that they needed to believe He existed beforehand in these
previous verses. He was telling them who He was.

It is significant to note the question Jesus was answering. The Jews were not
asking, "How long have you existed?" The question that Jesus was answering
arose out of verse 19 and following, and is clarified in verse 25: ELEGON OUN
AUTWi. SU TIS EI; The imperfect tense stresses that they persisted in asking
Him _who He was_. The answer to their question does not simply climax in His
existence before Abraham alone, but states who He was.

He gives the answer EGW EIMI twice. They struggle with the answer. But a
significant point comes after Jesus' clarifying statement in verse 51, the Jews
rightly conclude that Jesus was making Himself out to be _greater_ than Abraham.
Once again Jesus refers to Himself as EGW EIMI and that is enough. The Jews now
knew clearly who He was claiming to be and attempt to throw Him over the cliff.
His identity was in question here. The flow of context all the way to the
climax in verse 58 answers the question, "Who are You?" He answers for the
third time in verse 58, EGW EIMI. Notice I did not say as yet who He was
claiming to be, but it is clear from the context that the Jews were offended
because of who He claimed to be.

Therefore, I have to conclude that the use in verse 58 is not devoid of the
meaning implied by the previous two references, the question asked, and the rest
of the context. He must be referring to something similar in all three
references to EGW EIMI. Perhaps an additional element on the sort of EGW EIMI
meaning "I am, even before Abraham" is intended. I could even accept the
translation "Before Abraham was born, I have been" implying also that He
continues to be.

Given the context and the question being asked, it is striking to note the
similarity between Jesus' claim and the familiar EGW EIMI of the LXX of the Old
Testament in reference to Yahweh. The LXX in Exodus 3:14 says, KAI EIPEN hO
QEOS PROS MWUSHN EGW EIMI hO WN. But the Old Testament does not stop at this
verse. Deuteronomy 32:39 says something that is notable: IDETE IDETE hOTI EGW
EIMI. This is astoundingly similar to John 8:24,28, and 58: EAN GAR MH

Also note Isaiah 43:10 where the exact phrase EGW EIMI appears in reference to
God again without a predicate or any attachments: hINA GNWTE KAI PISTEUSHTE KAI
SUNHTE hOTI EGW EIMI. In the next part of the verse God Himself testifies
"Before Me there was no god formed, and there will be none after Me." This also
is similar to the John 8:58 in tone. All four references Deuteronomy 32:39,
Isaiah 43:10, John 8:24, and John 8:28 all say hOTI EGW EIMI.

Also, the violent response taken by the Jews in verse 59 is not explained well
if EGW EIMI simply means He existed before Abraham. It is better explained if
they understood Him as claiming to be equal with God by claiming God's nature, I
AM. Even the Messiah was not believed to have existed before Abraham by the
Jews in Jesus' day to my recollection. So Jesus is saying something more. Is
it insignificant that John continues to build upon this climax and makes a
similar claim in John 10:30-33 where Jesus says, EGW KAI hO PATHR hEN ESMEN and
the Jews took up stones to stone Him hOTI SU ANQRWPOS WN POIEIS SEAUTON QEON?

EGW EIMI appears referring to Jesus without predicate, preposition, or implied
modifiers in Matthew 14:27; 26:22, 25; Mark 6:50; 13:6; 14:62; Luke 21:8; 22:70;
24:39; John 4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 9:9; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8. Outside of these
references there is always a prepositional phrase attached or a predicate except
in the case of Acts 26:29 and John 9:9 where there are clearly implied
predicates as carryovers from the previous clauses implied in Greek.

In my opinion the above similarities to the Old Testament usage of EGW EIMI
without a predicate, referring to God are striking. Either Jesus knew what He
was doing when He said such strikingly similar phrases that referred to God in
the LXX, or He was being careless in His use of language that could be so easily
misunderstood. I choose the former because I have no hint that Jesus was doing
anything other than making bold claims in this passage that resulted in the Jews
desiring to throw Him off a cliff (John 8:59). He makes no correction in this
context to these people of any such view. In fact, they later make the
allegation that He was making Himself out to be God (John 10:33) and again there
was no correction.

Mitchell continues:

<< Attempting to identify Jesus with Jehovah, some say that ego' eimi' is the
equivalent of the Hebrew expression ani' hu, "I am he," which is used by God.
However, it is to be noted that this Hebrew expression is also used by man.
(1 Chronicles 21:17 - NWT) And David proceeded to say to the [true] God: "Was
it not I that said to make a numbering of the people, and is it not I (Lit.
"and I am [he]", or "EGW EIMI" in LXX) that have sinned and have unquestionably
done bad?" >>

The above LXX is ... KAI EGW EIMI hO hAMARTWN. There is a predicate on this
verse which throws it out of the category of EGW EIMI without a predicate. So
the above paragraph really carries no weight. There are hosts of references to
EGW EIMI with predicates or with modifying prepositions. These do not follow
the peculiarity of EGW EIMI without a predicate.

Finally, there are several scholars who agree with the above conclusions that
EGW EIMI is very likely a reference to the EGW EIMI of the Old Testament
referring to God.

A.T. Robertson comments on John 8:58 saying, "Undoubtedly here Jesus claims
eternal existence with the absolute phrase used of God" (Word Pictures in the
New Testament, Vol. V, pp. 158-9). Even in John 8:24, he says, "Jesus seems to
claim absolute divine being as in 8:58" (p. 146).

Furthermore, Kittel regards Jesus as claiming Isaiah 43:10 EGW EIMI as well. He
says, "He is equal with the Father....The point is not Jesus'
self-identification as the Messiah ("I am he") but his supratemporal being"
(Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Abridged in One Volume, ed. by
Geoffrey W. Bromiley, p. 207).

Such notable scholarship as Baur, Arndt, and Gingrich include the LXX of Exodus
3:14 in the same section as John 8:58, discussing EGW EIMI used its reference to
God (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 223).

These are the only references I have currently with me. I do know that many
scholars will recognize the above similarities.

I would like to make one simple, quick, personal observation by way of these
texts. This is a serious issue. It is vitally important that we take note of
John 8:24, "I said therefore to you that you will die in your sins, for unless
you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins." If what I and others have
said is correct about the interpretation of this passage, those who do not
accept that Jesus Christ is to be identified with the Yahweh of the Old
Testament will die in their sins and suffer an eternity without Christ.

Jim McGuire
Professor of Greek
Logos Bible Institute
13248 Roscoe Blvd.
Sun Valley, CA 91352

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