Re: John 8:58

From: Alan Repurk (
Date: Tue Aug 06 1996 - 17:22:59 EDT

This gentlemen was kind enough to post some information relative to
a translation of John 8:58 related to a post. It unfortunately
made it to the lists uuencoded. Being a unix geek, well I offered
to uncode it and post it and he agreed. So here it is ....


> I think John 8:58 was put in the wrong tense... (trusting my memory here)

Dear Sir:

I am new to this forum and b-greek and thought I would share further
information on this subject, being one of Jehovah's Witnesses familiar with
this grammatical issue.

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 (9:7) 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.

So what did Jesus mean when he said "Ego Eimi" in reference to "Before Abraham
came into existence?" Many references show this simply to be the greek grammar
of the present perfective. In other words, an action that started in the past
AND CONTINUES TO THE PRESENT. This is the reason for the present tense. There
are several scriptures in the N.T. that have this same type of grammar.

Here are some citations from scholarly sources showing some of these examples:
 I hope it's not overkill. I will be glad to explore the context with you a
little later.

The action expressed in John 8:58 started "before Abraham came into existence"
and is still in progress. In such situation (eimi), which is the first-person
singular present indicative, is properly translated by the perfect indicative
(have ...).
Examples of the same syntax are found in Lu 2:48; 13:7; 15:29; Joh 5:6; 14:9;
15:27; Ac 15:21; 2Co 12:19; 1Jo 3:8.

(Luke 2:48 NAS) Your father and I have been (present tense) anxiously looking
for You."
(Luke 13:7) 'Here it is three years that I have come (present tense) looking
for fruit on this fig tree, but have found (present tense) none. Cut it down!'
(Luke 15:29) 'Here it is so many years I have slaved (present tense) for you...
(John 5:6) and being aware that he had already been (present tense) [sick] a
long time,
(John 14:9) Jesus said to him: "Have I been (present tense) so long a time ..."
(John 15:27) because YOU have been (present tense) with me from when I began.
(Acts 15:21) For from ancient times Moses has had (present tense) in city after
city those who preach him..."
(2 Cor 12:19) Have YOU been thinking (present tense) all this while that we
have been making (present tense) our defense to YOU?"
(1 John 3:8) because the Devil has been sinning (present tense) from [the]
(John 8:58) Before Abraham came into existence, I have been (present tense)."

Concerning this construction, A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament, by
G. B. Winer, seventh edition, Andover, 1897, p. 267, says: "Sometimes the
Present includes also a past tense (Mdv. 108), viz. when the verb expresses a
state which commenced at an earlier period but still continues,-a state in its
duration; as, John 15:27 [ap arkhes' met emou' este'], John 8:58 [prin
Abraam' gene'sthai ego' eimi]." (note Winer's reference to John 8:58)

Likewise, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, by J. H. Moulton, Vol. III, by
Nigel Turner, Edinburgh, 1963, p. 62, says: "The Present which indicates the
continuance of an action during the past and up to the moment of speaking is
virtually the same as Perfective, the only difference being that the action is
conceived as still in progress . . . It is frequent in the N[ew] T[estament]:
Lk 2:48 13:7 . . . 15:29 . . . Jn 5:6, 8:58 . . . " (note Moulton's reference
to John 8:58).

Further, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, by Dana and Mantey,
MacMillan, 1927, p. 183, says: "Sometimes the progressive present is
retroactive in its application, denoting that which has begun in the past and
continues into the present. For the want of a better name, we may call it the
present of *duration.* This use is generally associated with an adverb of time,
and may best be rendered by the English perfect. "Ye have been (present tense)
with me from the beginning" John 15:27.

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 "ego eimi" with the English perfect tense, or "I have
been" is in full harmony with scriptural context, and greek scholarship.

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 "ego eimi" in LXX) that have sinned and have unquestionably
done bad?"

Further attempting to identify Jesus with Jehovah, some use Ex 3:14 (LXX) which
reads: Ego eimi ho on, which means "I am The Being," or, "I am The Existing
One." This attempt cannot be sustained because the expression in Ex 3:14 is
different from the expression in Joh 8:58.

Here are some versions which offer alternate renderings:

"before Abraham was, I have been"
Syriac-Edition: A Translation of the Four Gospels from the Syriac of the
Sinaitic Palimpsest

"before ever Abraham came to be, I was"
Curetonian Syriac-Edition: The Curetonian Version of the Four Gospels

"before Abraham existed, I was"
Syriac Peshitta-Edition: The Syriac New Testament

"before Abraham came to be, I was"
Georgian-Edition: "The Old Georgian Version of the Gospel of John,"

"before Abraham was born, I was"
Ethiopic-Edition: Novum Testamentum . . . thiopice (The New Testament . . .
in Ethiopic)

Centennial Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses
Greenwood Village, Colorado

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