Re: John 8:58
Thu, 08 Aug 96 09:39:13 MST

Mitchell originally wrote:

<< 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 scholarship. >>

Jim responded:
< 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. A more dramatic interpretation
seems to be implied by the context.>

Regardless of my personal beliefs on this matter doctrinally, the
contextual uses of the non-predicate "EGO EIMI" in v.24 and v.58 are
different although they are the same expression syntactically. This is
reflected in the following bible translations.

KJV John 8:24 for if ye believe not that I am he,
ASV John 8:24 for except ye believe that I am he,
NIV John 8:24 if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be,
NAS John 8:24 for unless you believe that I am He,
NAB John 8:24 for unless you believe that I am He,
RSV John 8:24 unless you believe that I am he."
NRS John 8:24 unless you believe that I am he."
NKJ John 8:24 for if you do not believe that I am He,
RWB John 8:24 for if ye believe not that I am {he},
BBE John 8:24 for if you have not faith that I am he,
YLT John 8:24 for if ye may not believe that I am {he},

Why do not these translators leave it simply as "I AM" as some do in
v.58? This context here is one of identity. The "he" or "the one" is
understood. It makes good English to insert the "he" as we see above.
Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, or Christ, or v.36 the Son, and they
needed to believe that he was such.

However, in v.58, the issue shifts to one of time, not of identity, as
revealed by the immediate context. "You are not yet fifty years old,
and yet you have seen Abraham? Most truly I say to you, before [prin]
Abraham came into existence, ...." [prin Abraam genesthai]

Regarding the contextual reference to time, Scholar K.L.McKay, in his
new book (1995) "A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek : An
Aspectual Approach (Studies in Biblical Greek, Vol 5)", says that this
construction (v. 58, "egw eimi") is the present perfective and should
be translated "I have been." He views the verbal aspect different than
in the verbal aspect in v.24.

I also looked this up in BDF's Grammar under "TENSE - PRESENT" (I do
not have the page number with me). BDF also places John 8:58 in the
category of the perfective (although John 8:58 is misspelled as 5:58
and therefore does not appear in the index under John 8:58). But of
course, they do not at John 8:24 due likely to the different immediate
non-temporal context.

Thus, it seems reasonable to conclude that due to the differing
contexts of v.24 and v.58, the grammatical understanding of the
non-predicate "egw eimi" (including John 9:9) should be evaluated in
those respective immediate contexts [similar in form but not aspect].
As a result, I do not have difficulty with the perfective here and
think it is as far as we can reasonably go with the text.