Re: John 8:58

Date: Thu Aug 08 1996 - 12:39:13 EDT

     Mitchell originally 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 responded:
     < It is also important to recognize that there is not just one, but
     three references to EGW EIMI in John 8. This should also be taken
     into account in our interpretation of John 8:58. It is difficult to
     see the interpretation of simply "I have existed before" (e.g.,
     present perfective) in the two previous references of 8:24 and 28. It
     would seem that He implied much more. A more dramatic interpretation
     seems to be implied by the context.>
     Regardless of my personal beliefs on this matter doctrinally, the
     contextual uses of the non-predicate "EGO EIMI" in v.24 and v.58 are
     different although they are the same expression syntactically. This is
     reflected in the following bible translations.
     KJV John 8:24 for if ye believe not that I am he,
     ASV John 8:24 for except ye believe that I am he,
     NIV John 8:24 if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be,
     NAS John 8:24 for unless you believe that I am He,
     NAB John 8:24 for unless you believe that I am He,
     RSV John 8:24 unless you believe that I am he."
     NRS John 8:24 unless you believe that I am he."
     NKJ John 8:24 for if you do not believe that I am He,
     RWB John 8:24 for if ye believe not that I am {he},
     BBE John 8:24 for if you have not faith that I am he,
     YLT John 8:24 for if ye may not believe that I am {he},
     Why do not these translators leave it simply as "I AM" as some do in
     v.58? This context here is one of identity. The "he" or "the one" is
     understood. It makes good English to insert the "he" as we see above.
     Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, or Christ, or v.36 the Son, and they
     needed to believe that he was such.
     However, in v.58, the issue shifts to one of time, not of identity, as
     revealed by the immediate context. "You are not yet fifty years old,
     and yet you have seen Abraham? Most truly I say to you, before [prin]
     Abraham came into existence, ...." [prin Abraam genesthai]
     Regarding the contextual reference to time, Scholar K.L.McKay, in his
     new book (1995) "A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek : An
     Aspectual Approach (Studies in Biblical Greek, Vol 5)", says that this
     construction (v. 58, "egw eimi") is the present perfective and should
     be translated "I have been." He views the verbal aspect different than
     in the verbal aspect in v.24.
     I also looked this up in BDF's Grammar under "TENSE - PRESENT" (I do
     not have the page number with me). BDF also places John 8:58 in the
     category of the perfective (although John 8:58 is misspelled as 5:58
     and therefore does not appear in the index under John 8:58). But of
     course, they do not at John 8:24 due likely to the different immediate
     non-temporal context.
     Thus, it seems reasonable to conclude that due to the differing
     contexts of v.24 and v.58, the grammatical understanding of the
     non-predicate "egw eimi" (including John 9:9) should be evaluated in
     those respective immediate contexts [similar in form but not aspect].
     As a result, I do not have difficulty with the perfective here and
     think it is as far as we can reasonably go with the text.

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