John 8:58 - The Issues For B-Greek to Resolve

Date: Thu Aug 15 1996 - 16:50:55 EDT

Prin Abraam genesthai ego eimi - John 8:58
I see a lack of understanding of the issue involved in John 8:58. Some are
arguing abstractly and not directly hitting the issue. If the poster does not
clearly see the issue, what about the readers who are new to the Greek of John
8:28? Actually, there are several issues and there are several views surrounding
the grammar. It is my hope that a clarification of the basic positions will aid
in future contributions of a scholarly nature from B-Greek towards a resolution
of this issue or at least a better understanding of it. It is much simpler once
the issues are clarified.
     Here is the basic outline of this post:
     - The Various Positions on John 8:58
     - Positions taken Thus Far on B-Greek
     - The Grammatical Issues Expressed So Far
     - Positions of Various Grammars/ Lexicons
     - A.T. Robertson's Position
     - Kenneth L. McKay's Position
     - What Can Future B-Greek Posts Do?
The Various Positions
1) Identification - Ehyeh/Jehovah/YHWH of Exodus 3:14,15
2) Identification - Jehovah/YHWH of Isa 43:10
3) Identification - Jesus from scriptural context and other verses. Also
emphatic identification.
4) A Verb - Absolute Existence
5) A Verb - Existence
Positions Taken Thus Far on B-Greek
Person A has said that Jesus meant (1) and (2).
Person B has said that Jesus meant (3) and (5).
Person C has said that Jesus meant (1).
Points of agreement:
1) All parties agree that Jesus implied identification in verses 24,28.
2) All parties agree that prehuman existence is implied in v.58.
Points of disagreement:
1) Is the Ego eimi of v.58 a verb, an identification, or both?
2) If v.58 eimi has verbal properties, do we translate it into the perfect?
3) Who is to be identified in vss.24,28? Jehovah/YHWH or the Christ?
4) Is there an implied predicate in vss.24,28?
4) Did Jesus mean something different by "Ego eimi" in vss.24,28 than he
did in his other non-predicate uses of "ego eimi?"
The Grammatical Issues Expressed So Far
Here is a HIGH LEVEL summary of the positions taken thus far, as I follow them,
and the basic reasonings. The see the reasonings in further detail, refer to the
(A) To identify the expression "ego eimi" with (1) or (2), it is maintained that
there cannot be a predicate of eimi, expressed or implied. If there is a
predicate, (1) or (2) cannot be sustained.
(B) The reasoning behind (1) is that the LXX translates the Hebrew "Ehyeh Asher
Ehyeh" as "Ego eimi ho On." The problem, Person B maintains, is that it has a
predicate and is not a parallel. Person C maintains that the Jews understood
this as merely "Ego eimi." Person B said that an alternate LXX uses "ESOMAI."
(C) The reasoning behind (2) is that the Hebrew Expression "ani hu" is used by
God and translates as "Ego eimi." The problem, Person B maintains, is that it is
also used by man and therefore does not apply absolutely to Jehovah/YHWH.
(D) The reasoning behind (3) is that there is an implied predicate from context
and other N.T. parallels that show that Jesus' use of the term is one of
Messianic identification as well as emphatic identification. Persons A and C
maintain there is no implied predicate. Person B points to human use of "ego
eimi" in John 9 as emphatic identification. Person A disputes this as not
implying identification as in ch. 8. Person B cites many translations that
imply a predicate in "ego eimi" translation of vss.24,28.
(E) The reasonings behind those who would give "eimi" verbal emphasis is the
basic meaning of "eimi" and the time context of vss.57,58. It is held that
"prin Abraam genesthai" implies a subsequent verb. This position is held by
both positions (4) and (5).
(F) The reasoning behind (4) is similar to (A) in that there cannot be a
predicate. But instead of referring to identification as in (1) or (2), it
refers to existence, e.g. Jesus 'is'. Neither Persons A, B, or C have
espoused position (4) on b-greek.
(F) The reasoning behind (5) is that the "prin" is an expression of past time
and signals that "eimi" should then be translated into the English perfect tense
implying that Jesus was before Abraham and continues to the present. Person A
agreed with this conditionally. Person C disputes that the present eimi should
be translated into the perfect and that "prin" does not affect eimi.
Positions of Various Grammars/ Lexicons
Merely citing commentaries does little to resolve this issue. Commentaries
support all of the above positions. Grammars are more helpful because they tend
to give reasons for their positions. It does little good to say "This grammarian
says this" and by implication the rest of us should follow. Citing the position
of a grammarian may be helpful to show it has basis for support, but what is
better is to examine the REASON why a grammar or a commentator takes a
particular stand. Showing the REASON why a grammar takes a position can be
placed on B-Greek for constructive criticism. When criticism is given, it should
be stated clearly WHY the reasoning is faulty. Not simply theological
disagreement or "this other grammarian says this." And when criticism is given,
it should be specific as to which position it allegedly supports or does not
I repeat the positions to introduce the next section
1) Identification - Jehovah of Exodus 3:14
2) Identification - Jehovah of Isa 43:10
3) Identification - Jesus from scriptural context
and other verses. Also emphatic identification.
4) A Verb - Absolute Existence
5) A Verb - Existence
A.T. Robertson's Position
Much has been said about A.T.Robertson's understanding but no one has
articulated it accurately. Once again, Robertson had his beliefs so we look at
his substantiated reasons but not necessarily accept his opinions or
unsubstantiated reasons (as we would with any grammarian having strong views).
Robertson says in Word Pictures on 8:24 that "ego eimi" could be (2) or (3). He
offers support for both positions although his personal preference is (2). In
the commentary on 8:24, Robertson says that the v.58 "ego eimi" refers to
"absolute divine being" whereas his commentary on v.58, he espouses position (4)
[as I understand his position]. He does not rebut position (3). Here is exactly
what Robertson said under 8:24 ---
        That I am he (hoti egw eimi). Indirect discourse, but with no
        word in the predicate after the copula eimi. Jesus can mean
        either "that I am from above" (verse 23), "that I am the one
        sent from the Father or the Messiah" (7:18,28), "that I am the
        Light of the World" (8:12), "that I am the Deliverer from the
        bondage of sin" (8:28,31f.,36), "that I am" without supplying a
        predicate in the absolute sense as the Jews (De 32:39) used the
        language of Jehovah (cf. Isa 43:10 where the very words occur
        hina pisteushte hoti egw eimi). The phrase egw eimi occurs three
        times here (8:24,28,58) and also in 13:19. Jesus seems to claim
        absolute divine being as in 8:58.
We see here that Robertson gives a number of reasons for an implied predicate in
v.24 to support position (3) as held by Person B. Robertson also gives a reason
for position (2). Robertson personally chooses position (2) here since he
understands v.58 as absolute, as held partially by person (A). However, let us
note that Robertson does not give us a compelling grammatical reason to accept
position (2) other than "it seems." NOWHERE in Robertson's Word Pictures nor in
his Grammar does Robertson support position (1), namely, that Jesus claims a
link with Exodus 3:14 "Ego eimi ho On," as maintained by Person C.

Kenneth L. McKay's Position

A poster recently posted McKay's position on B-Greek and I show it here since
McKay states the reasons why he understands it somewhat differently than

        The verb `to be' is used differently, in what is presumably its
        basic meaning of `be in existence,' in John 8:58: _prin Abraam
        genesthai ego eimi, which would be most naturally translated `I
        have been in existence since before Abraham was born,' IF IT
        take the Greek words in their natural meaning, as we surely
        should, the claim to have been in existence for so long is in
        itself a staggering one, quite enough to provoke the crowd's
        violent reaction
        . . . So the emphatic words used by Jesus in the passages
        referred to above [one of which is John 8:58] are perfectly
        natural in their contexts, AND THEY DO NOT ECHO THE WORDS OF
        quite UNLIKELY to have been used in the New Testament to convey
        that significance, however much the modern English versions of
        the relevant passages, following the form of the Hebrew words,
        may suggest it. (K. L. McKay, "`I am' in John's Gospel,"
        Expository Times (1996): 302-303)

The posted commentary is on v.58 and I cannot show how he argues in v.24. McKay
argues that the v.58 "ego eimi" carries a basic meaning of a verb of existence
in support of Position (3). He agrees with Robertson's lack of support for the
link to Ex. 3:14, Position (1), and offers supporting reasons.

Person B cited McKay's new book "A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament
Greek: An Aspectual Approach" where McKay gives the rendering "I have been" for
John 8:58 to support the English perfect for "eimi" with an expression of past
What Can Future B-Greek Posts Do?
Is there an implied predicate or isn't there?
What does the "prin" at 8:58 mean?
At 8:58, is eimi a verb or an identity or both?
Is time involved in v.58 or isn't it?
With the following summary in mind, the readers of B-Greek posts on this subject
can evaluate whether or not a post is really supporting the issue that the
poster claims it supports. I think that thoughtful contributions without
injecting unnecessary opinion can bring about an understanding of what Jesus was
really saying. If that is not possible, then perhaps we can eliminate some
It is my hope that this clarification of the basic positions will aid in the
scholarly understanding of Jesus' use of Ego eimi and it not get bogged down in
a mass of confusion.
With the above clarifications, persons can go back into the archives (at
Gramchord if not at entmp) and reread the posts already made to determine
the substance of the posts, the REASONS behind the arguments presented, as
to how strong or weak the argument is outside of theological belief.
Wes Williams

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