Re: John 8:58 - Answer 1 (long)

Alan Repurk (
Mon, 12 Aug 1996 09:13:01 -0700

Forwarded to the list at Mitchell's request.

-- [ From: Mitchell Andrews * EMC.Ver #2.3 ] --

Dear subscribers of b-greek:

This is an answer to Jim McGuire's response as to the meaning of EGW EIMI in
John 8:58. While I realize that a comprehensive analysis of this subject would
take hundreds of pages, I here address the issues already raised directly and
briefly. I try to avoid a doctrinal/ theological discussion. Where doctrine is
unavoidable, I use it to show the direction to which an element of grammar may
point and do so only briefly. I have to route this through a third party since
the list server cannot decode messages from my MCI Mail E-mail service.

I will set forth a summary that John's usage (and scriptural usage) of EGW
EIMI implies EMPHATIC IDENTIFICATION and not equivalency with Jehovah. In
addition, I will provide points for consideration that show that John 8:58
qualifies for translation by the English perfect tense.

I wrote on Aug-6, 1996 17:38:28 EDT:
>> 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 (9:9) 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.

Jim McGuire responded on Aug 7, 1996 21:30:21 EDT
> Although I admit the reference to John 9:9 uses EGW EIMI without a predicate, I
> 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.

I agree that the two passages are different incidents and should be examined in
the light of immediate context. However, what is at issue here is John's use of

Q: Is there an implied predicate in John 8:24, 28, and John 9:9?
In John 9:9, the formerly blind man says "EGW EIMI" in response to the question
"This is the man that used to sit and beg, is it not?" The once blind man
certainly was certainly not equating himself with Jehovah by his personal use
of EGW EIMI! Your response is that there is an implied predicate here. And
indeed there is. The NWT translates EGW EIMI here as "I am [he]." The [he] in
brackets to show the implied predicate. Most all translations give the implied
predicate here also. However, you further stated "No such implication is given
by the context in John 8:24,28,...." I will have to disagree on this point. In
fact, most Bible translators also disagree as shown by their translations. They
render an implied predicate in John 8:24, 28 exactly as in John 9:9. Note the
following chart:


King James..........I am he,.................I am he,..........I am he
New King James......I am He,.................I am He,..........I am he
American Std........I am he,.................I am he,..........I am he
New American Std....I am He,.................I am He,..........I am the one
Revised Std.........I am he,.................I am he,..........I am he
New Revised Std.....I am he,.................I am he,..........I am the man
New International...I am the one I claim to be
New International............................I am the one I claim to be
New International..............................................I am the man
New American Bible..I am He,.................I am he,..........I am the one
New World Trans.....I am [he],...............I am [he],........I am [he]

John 8:24 in The Modern Language Bible the main text reads, "I am He," but the
footnote states, "The Redeemer-Messiah." The main text of Williams New Testament, at both 8:24 and 28,
says "I am the Christ," with "I am He" in the footnote. The New Testament by
James Kleist and Joseph Lilly contains this footnote at John 8:24, "I am he:
the one for whom the Jews were waiting; the Messias."

John 18:5,6,8 have similar implied predicates from the context.

I 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 McGuire responded:
> 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.

I do not entirely disagree with you here. The context of previous instances is
noteworthy. Actually, not merely the previous two instances in the chapter, but
ALL of the instances in the Christian Greek Scriptures where EGW EIMI is used
without a predicate are noteworthy, including John 9:9. The consistent idea is
a literary device of emphatic identification. The formerly blind man says 'I am
the specific one in whom you are interested' just as Jesus says 'I am the
specific one in whom you are interested.' This meaning is clear in 8:24,28, and
perhaps is also implied in verse 58 as well. EGW EIMI is NOT used as a title.

However, as you would caution me to not disregard context (which I do not
believe I have), I say also that one must not be overly hasty to dismiss the
significance of the different temporal context surrounding verse 58, which
temporal significance does not exist in vss. 24,28.

John 8:56-58 reads "Abraham YOUR (all caps mean plural) father rejoiced greatly
in the prospect of seeing my day, and he saw it and rejoiced." 57 Therefore the
Jews said to him: "You are not yet fifty years old, and still you have seen
Abraham?" 58 Jesus said to them: "Most truly I say to YOU, Before Abraham came
into existence, EGW EIMI"

The Jews pressed Jesus for a statement of identity earlier in the chapter
during the discussion of Fatherhood. However, now the heated discussion takes a
turn with the question "You are not yet fifty years old, and still you have

Note what William Watson Goodwin's "Greek Grammar," p. 268. section 1258 says
regarding the understanding and translating the present tense with an
expression of past time:
"The present [tense] with palai [long ago] or ANY OTHER EXPRESSION OF PAST TIME
denotes an action BEGUN in the past and continued in the present, and is
translated by the perfect e.g. KEINON IXVEUW PALAI [lit. 'I am tracking him a
long time'] I have been tracking him a long time,"

Here the literal translation "I am ..." of the above would be ignoring the
function of the Greek present tense serving as a perfect when accompanied by an
adverbial expression of past time; as well as English idiom. I continue:

"The Present of Past Action still in Progress. The Present Indicative,
accompanied by an adverbial expression denoting duration and referring to past
time, is sometimes used in Greek ... to describe an action which, BEGINNING in
past time, is still in progress at the time of speaking. English idiom REQUIRES
the use of the Perfect in such cases." -Ernest DeWitt Burton, "Syntax of the
Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek," p. 10, section 17. This well
describes the syntax of John 8:58.

I will refer you to the long list of Grammars in my first post, including BDF,
that include John 8:58 in this category. Therefore, while accepting and noting
the usage of EGW EIMI in vss. 24,28 as identification, and the question "Who do
you claim to be" in v. 53, we do not ignore the obvious relevant temporal
context in vss. 57,58 itself. In addition to the hint of emphatic
identification of Jesus as 'the contextually significant one,' we also can
properly translate EGW EIMI with the perfect "I have been" since Jesus was
alive in Abraham's day and continues to be alive at the time of speaking.

Jim McGuire wrote:
> 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.

Then perhaps we are not all that far off from each other on this point. As I
stated earlier, I too do not entirely disregard the identification factor, but
I am emphatic about not ignoring the context regarding time in vss. 57,58. One
cannot simply say "Since Jesus used it in this sense twice, I will ignore all
other context regarding the expression." Also, modesty can keep us from making
statements that go beyond the bounds of what is written. The statement "He must
be referring to something similar in all three references to EGW EIMI" is not
necessarily true due to the temporal nature of the question in v.57. But I will
grant it is noteworthy that he could have included Messianic identification as
a secondary element here as in vss. 24,28, but not as a title.

In John 8:58 EGO EIMI is a clause that nicely serves in its context to
emphasize a further fact about the
Messiah's identity, namely, his prehuman existence. Surely Jesus had other
means for expressing his prehuman/ pre-Abrahamic existence. But then again . .
. why not use an expression that can serve two functions: 1) give EMPHASIS to
his identification as his being the one who would be the Messiah (the one whom
Abraham wanted to see); 2) and express the fact that the one speaking to them
would have that identity FROM BEFORE Abraham's time and right on down until the
very moment that he is addressing them (his disbelieving enemies).

> 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

> All four references Deuteronomy 32:39, Isaiah 43:10, John 8:24, and John 8:28 all say

Yes? Your point? Your conclusion is unstated. I am only left to agree that
there is a grammatical similarity. However, if you were to go beyond the
similarity factor and to state that the Son of God, Jesus, is equal to the
Father, Jehovah, then I might caution you against reading too much into the
expression EGW EIMI beyond that of a literary device of emphatic identification.

Would you have this conclusion? You stated in your closing paragraph:
> 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.

Therefore, I take your pointing out of grammatical similarities as a proof in
your mind that Jesus is Jehovah. However, to do so is to ignore the context of
John 8:54, where Jesus said "This is my Father, he who YOU (Jews) say is YOUR
God." The covenant God of the Jews was Jehovah, and as Jesus plainly stated,
one and the same as his Father. As a result, to conclude that grammatical
similarities exist in the use of EGW EIMI prove that the Son is the Father is,
I believe, not reflecting sound exegetical reasoning based on the context of
the Christian Greek Scriptures.

But let us follow this alleged application through to its conclusion using John
8:28; `When once YOU have lifted up the Son of man, then YOU will know that I
am <<Yahweh>>, and that I do nothing of my own initiative; but just as the
Father taught me I speak these things.'" Is it not obvious to the reader how
odd that conclusion sounds? Immediately after Jesus allegedly claimed to be
Jehovah he says he cannot do anything of his own initiative? Jehovah initiates
everything he does.

> 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.

Not necessarily. Jesus was tried and convicted by the Sanhedrin on the charge
of being a false Christ, not more than that.
Matt 26:63-65 By the living God I put you under oath to tell us whether you are
the Christ the Son of God!" Jesus said to him: "You yourself said [it]. ...
Then the high priest ripped his outer garments, saying: "He has blasphemed!
Note the charge for execution, that he was the Christ the Son of God, not more
than that. Therefore, the violent response of the Jews required only a claim of
Messiahship, which they considered to be false.

This leads into another point on EGW EIMI... Note the parallel accounts:
Mark 14:61,62: "Are you the Christ the Son of the Blessed One?" Then Jesus said:
"EGW EIMI," and YOU persons will see the Son of man sitting...."
Luke 23;70 "Are you, therefore, the Son of God?" He said to them: "YOU
yourselves are saying hOTI EGW EIMI."
Here the usage of EGW EIMI shows the meaning as one of emphatic identification
and NOT the equating to the person of Jehovah. Luke recorded the words as "YOU
yourselves are saying hOTI EGW EIMI." What were the judges saying? The judges
were not saying that they themselves were "I AM" as if it were a divine title.
I repeat, the judges were not saying that they were "I AM." This is therefore
not a title as used here, but rather a VERB and applies to Jesus. As applied to
Jesus, neither were they saying that Jesus was Jehovah. They were saying in all
three parallel accounts that he was 'the Christ, the Son." Therefore, it is
reasonable to conclude that Jesus' usage of EGW EIMI here is an emphatic
statement of identification that he was the Christ. As Matthew put it in the
Hebraic idiom "You yourself said it," or "yes," to the question of being God's
Son. [Also note the obvious implied predicate of "Christ, the Son" with EGW
EIMI in the above two accounts].

Therefore, the Jews lifting up stones to stone Jesus did not require anything
more than a claim of Messiahship, of having a pre-Abraham existence, especially
with their tensions being so heated.

> 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.

Perhaps Micah 5:2 will assist your recollection. I am sure the Jews knew quite
well the Messianic prophecy "And you, O Bethlehem Eph'rathah, . . . from you
there will come out to me the one who is to become ruler in Israel, whose
origin is from early times, from the days of time indefinite." Jesus did not
have to be more than the Messiah to have a prehuman existence, to "have been"

> 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.

You may wish to remove the reference to John 9:9 lest you imply that the blind
man was Christ. Also, Matt. 26:22 was spoken by the apostles and applies
neither to Jehovah nor to Jesus. Matt. 26:25 applies to Judas, not Jesus and
not Jehovah. There are a few here that may have no implied predicates, but I
would say that the majority have an implied predicate. Here is the text of all
the scriptures you cited so that all can see the implied predicate in most of
the verses. If you wish to take issue with this, we can examine the implied
predicates in detail. Note that in almost all instances, emphatic
identification is the intended impact.

Matthew 14:27 "Take courage, it is I; have no fear." (emphatic identification)
Matthew 26:22 "Lord, it is not I, is it?"
Matthew 26:25 "It is not I, is it, Rabbi?"
Mark 6:50 "Take courage, it is I; have no fear."
Mark 13:6 Many will come on the basis of my name, saying, 'I am he,' (they
would come claiming to be the Christ, not Jehovah nor I AM).
Mark 14:61, 62 Are you the Christ the Son of the Blessed One?"Then Jesus said: "I am;
Luke 21:8 for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, 'I am he,'
Luke 22:70 "Are you, therefore, the Son of God?" He said to them: "YOU
yourselves are saying that I am." (they were not claiming they themselves were
I AM, rather, that Jesus was identified as the Son of God."
Luke 24:39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself;
John 4:25,26 "I know that Messiah is coming, who is called Christ. . . . Jesus
said to her: "I who am speaking to you am he." (emphatic identification with
implied predicate "Christ")
John 6:20 But he said to them: "It is I; have no fear!"
John 8:24 For if YOU do not believe that I am [he], . . .
John 8:28 "When once YOU have lifted up the Son of man, then YOU will know that I am [he],
John 8:58 Before Abraham came into existence, I have been." (after expression
of past time)
John 9:9 The man would say: "I am [he]." (the formerly blind man was not
claiming to be Jehovah).
John 13:19 in order that when it does occur YOU may believe that I am [he].
John 18:4,5 "Whom are YOU looking for?" They answered him: "Jesus the
Nazarene." He said to them: "I am [he]." (emphatic identification as to the one
they sought with implied predicate "Jesus")
John 18:6 However, when he said to them: "I am [he]," (quoting previous verse)
John 18:8 "I told YOU I am [he]. If, therefore, it is I YOU are looking for,
let these go";
Acts 26:29 . . . all those who hear me today would become men such as I also am,
(they would not become men such as Jehovah is)

> 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.

There is little or no grammatical difference between these two verses and all
of the ones spoken by Jesus.

>> 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.

Then we can also throw out Exodus 3:14 "EGW EIMI HW WN" on the same basis as
carrying no weight since it has a predicate. The LXX does have a predicate at 1
Chron. 21:17. However, the above point of ani' hi was to show that it is not
solely a title that applies only to Jehovah, as some assert.

> 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).

I invite you to consider more closely the reference you cited in BAGD, p. 223
since it does not support your claim. Rather than claiming EGW EIMI as a title
and referencing Ex. 3:14, it shows EGW EIMI to have a verbal emphasis and does
not mention Ex. 3:14 at all in connection with John 8:58. It says under "EIMI,
I. as predicate to be - 1. be, exist of God . . . . Of Christ PRIN ABRAAM
GENESQAI EGW EIMI before Abraham was born, I am [small letters] John 8:58."
Although BAGD does not mention the perfect here, neither does it link the John
8:58 EGW EIMI with anything more than a verb, under the definition "be, exist",
which is precisely an aspect of my point. The reference to confer Ex 3.14 under
1) was in reference to the Rev. 1:8; 4:8 hW WN as applied to God, and has
nothing to do with Christ's use of EGW EIMI, under 2).

> 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.

Although I believe individual judgments belong to God, certainly this might be
true for those who do not accept Jesus as 'the one he claimed to be' (EGW EIMI -
New International Version), the Christ, the Son of God. This would apply not
only to those who believe less than what he claimed but also more than what he
claimed to be.

Centennial Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses
Greenwood Village, CO
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