Re: John 8:58

On Wed, 7 Dec 1994, Bruce Terry wrote:

> Having said that, I think the real question is not can the present tense be
> used for relative past time, but why is there an unexpected shift in tenses in
> John 8:58.  The rule would be:
> before [past tense], [relative past tense]
> It would have been normal for Jesus to have said: prin Abraam genesthai, egw
> hmhn.  hmhn would yield itself to relative past tense more easily than eimi
> would.  Further, the use of the first person would say that the speaker is
> still in existence.  So *why* the use of the unexpected present tense here?  
> Is this some kind of dramatic emphasis on the continued existence of Jesus, 
> or is it a reference to a literal non-LXX translation of Ex. 3:14?

Perhaps this could be due to the emphasis on _einai_ here as an active 
verb rather than copula, perhaps rendered better with "to exist" in English 
rather than "to be." The emphasis on his continued existence would also 
smooth over the awkwardness of a past tense, which even with the first 
person would seem to imply there was a break in Jesus's existence between 
then and the time of speaking.  This would especially be a problem if it 
might suggest Jesus was an ancient figure resurrected from the dead, as 
some rumored him to be. The present tense would underline his continuous 
existence from that time to the present, despite his apparent origin in 
his birth by Mary. We also still have Stephen Carlson's example from LXX 
Psalm 89:2 to show a similar construction and meaning.  All in all it 
sounds like "...before Abraham was born, I existed" to me.  Some of the 
subtleties seem inevitably lost in English.

Greg Jordan