My Greek isn't great, but when I read PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI, EGW EIMI, I hit the
end of the sentence waiting for the rest. I am WHAT? An antecedent would be
fine, as in John 9:
john-09-09 ALLOI ELEGON hOTI hOUTOS ESTIN ALLOI ELEGON, OUXI,
ALLA hOMOIOS AUTW ESTIN. EKEINOS ELEGEN hOTI EGW EIMI.
Here it seems to mean "I am he". Or context could help. Consider John 6:20:
john-06-20 hO DE LEGEI AUTOIS, EGW EIMI, MH FOBEISQE.
Jesus is walking on the water, the disciples see him and are terrified, and
Jesus says, "It is I, don't be afraid". And in John 8:28, it is also clear:
john-08-28 EIPEN OUN [AUTOIS] hO IHSOUS, hOTAN hUYWSHTE TON hUION TOU
ANQRWPOU, TOTE GNWSESQE hOTI EGW EIMI, KAI AP' EMAUTOU POIW
OUDEN, ALLA KAQWS EDIDACEN ME hO PATHR TAUTA LALW.
"When you have lifted up the son of man, then you will know that I am he". Here,
he refers to the son of man.
But in John 8:58, I hit the end of the sentence without knowing what EGW EIMI
refers to, and there is no antecedent or context to help. In this sense, it is
similar to John 8:24:
john-08-24 EIPON OUN hUMIN hOTI APOQANEISQE EN TAIS hAMARTIAIS hUMWN
EAN GAR MH PISTEUSHTE hOTI EGW EIMI, APOQANEISQE EN TAIS
The NIV apparently had the same feeling, because they felt to insert an
explanation: "if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be]". NRSV
interprets this as "that I am he", but the context does not tell us who "he" is.
NAB takes this as a fixed expression: "if you do not believe that I AM".
There is a second puzzle here. Why is EIMI in the present tense? Robertson
mentions a similar use of the tenses in Psalm 90:2 -- before the mountains came
into being, (GENHQHNAI), thou art (EI) God. Here I know what he is when I get to
the end of the sentence (God), but the use of tenses is similar.
I remember looking at a similar case earlier, and reading in a grammar that
fixed expressions are sometimes not declined in Greek. Perhaps this is why the
present tense is being used for EGW EIMI. If it *is* a fixed expression, and the
kind that would normally get people to throw stones at you if you say it in a
religious setting, then that would help explain another verse that has always
john-18-06 hWS OUN EIPEN AUTOIS, EGW EIMI, APHLQON EIS TA OPISW KAI
Judas came with the soldiers looking for Jesus, who sees them and asks who they
are looking for, and they reply that they are looking for Jesus. When Jesus
replies EGW EIMI, they fall to the ground. Why? If you leave out the part about
the soldiers hitting the dirt, it is a perfectly natural sentence: they are
looking for Jesus, and Jesus says, "I am he". B seems to interpret it this way
when it adds IHSOUS: "EGW EIMI IHSOUS". If EGW EIMI is also a fixed expression,
and the kind that sets stones flying, then it is easier to understand this
To me, EGW EIMI seems to be a fixed expression in John 8:58, and perhaps also in
John 18:6. Given my level of Greek, this could well be wrong, or it could be so
obvious that nobody thinks it needs saying. If it is a fixed expression, we
already have a few candidate meanings for it!