John 8:58 (long)

Peter Wise (
Tue, 13 Aug 1996 15:19:52 -0700

There was a time when I thought that John 8:58 was at best a vague
affirmation of the deity of Christ through a linguistic connection to
Exodus 3. Through the years I have come to the position that it is a far
stronger text than I had originally thought. Aside from the grammatical
analysis, the context (not to mention the historical consideration of
Jewish thought and customs) lends considerable weight. EGO EIMI is used in
an absolute sense here-not just a emphatic attestation of identity to
settle an argument as in the case of John 9:9. When "I am" is absolutized,
as in 8:58 it has strong overtones of deity-hence the response of v. 59.
It is important to note that the context of 8:58 is ontology-not simple

A number of Greek scholars of the highest order have come down decisively
for this conclusion. The following are some examples from these Greek
scholars of the past and present: (All references are from their
respective commentaries on John)

'I am,' denotes absolute existence, and in this passage clearly involves
the pre-existence and Divinity of Christ..." (p. 202)

There can be no doubt as to the meaning of the final answer which follows
as a natural climax to what had been said before...[regarding 'I am'] The
phrase makes a timeless existence. In this connection "I was" would have
expressed simple priority. Thus there is in the phrase the contrast between
the created and the uncreated, and the temporal and the eternal...The
believer lives because Christ lives, and lives with an absolute life..."
(p. 140)

"I am" must have the fullest significance it can bear. It is, as we have
already had occasion to notice (see on vv. 24, 28) in the style of deity.
The LXX translators did so with the use of the form we have here. It is an
emphatic form of speech and one that would not normally be employed in
ordinary speech. Thus to use it was recognizably to adopt the divine style.
In passages like vv. 24, 28 this is fairly plain, but in the present
passage it is unmistakable. When Jesus is asserting His existence in the
time of Abraham there is no other way of understanding it....The Jews could
interpret this as nothing other than blasphemy... (pp. 474-75)

Peter Wise
Adjunct Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament
The Master's College
Santa Clarita, CA