John 8:58, <ego eimi> & <aiwnios>

From: Ron Henzel (
Date: Tue Aug 20 1996 - 11:51:35 EDT

Al Kidd took special note of something that I included in my previous
response to our J.W. friend, Mitchell:

> Ron Henzel asked the following question in a post that appears here
> on b-greek (--see John 8:58--perfective or imperfective? From: Ron
> Henzel <> Subject: John 8:58--perfective or
> imperfective? Date: Mon, 19 Aug 1996 15:32:17 CST6CDT):
>> . . . .
>> In fact, I can't think of any better and more concise
>> way that Jesus *could* have stated the fact of His own
>> eternal existence, can you?

(Please note the elipsis at the beginning of Al's quotation of me.
I'll get to its significance later.)

Al then goes on to accurately exegete my meaning:

> Ron Henzel in effect asks Mitchell if he knows a better way Jesus
> might have declared himself to be one who has been in existence
> eternally prior to Abraham's birth -- "better," that is, than that
> which we read at John 8:58.

He's nailed it!

> Well, assuming for the sake of argument that Jesus had as much to
> declare, then we might offer that Jesus could have said the following:


> "I have been in existence from all past eternity."

Excellent point! Somehow I just *knew* that somebody would come up
with something like this!

I can't say that I recognize the construction, however. Both
<pantos> and <aiwnios> (which I believe you misspelled) look like two
adjectives in search of a noun. Perhaps you had something in mind
like <pro chronwn aiwniwn> (2 Tim. 1:19). Anyway, your basic point
seems to be that if Jesus had used a construction involving the
adjective <aiwnios> ("eternal") would have expressed eternal
existence more explicitly. Point well taken. I don't have time
to check for parallels to your example right now. Can you provide

I also notice that you translate your own example of <ego eimi> as "I
have been." I think that <pro> would also be a subordinating
adverbial particle in this case, making such a rendering problematic.
I think a better rendering would be "for all eternity, I am." (cp.
Psalm 90:2b -- are there any resemblances between your alternative
and the LXX there?)

> And that would have logically covered not only the fact of his
> pre-Abrahamic existence, but would have also given us the thing that
> Ron Henzel argues per his words we have quoted above.

Oh, how I live in dread that people will discover some flaw in my
logic!!! (N'yuk! N'yuk! N'yuk!) And I must admit, something
involving the adjective <aiwnios> could have been about as clear as
you could have gotten in NT Greek. (However, even in such a case as
this you would probably find some who would speciously argue that
since <aiwnios> derives from the word for "age," it only means
something like "age-long," and thus stops somewhat short of our
western concept of "eternity" (no apologies to Calvin Klein). This
is a foolish argument, but I have seen it proposed. There will
always be people who try to avoid the obvious, straining out
grammatical gnats while swallowing exegetical camels!)

But my main point in my sentence was that Jesus's words were not only
"better," but that they were also the most "concise" expression he
could have used to convey that meaning. And, to be sure, Al's
alternative would have been in some ways "better" (at least it would
leave no doubt as to the time reference of <ego eimi>; J.W.'s would
probably still dispute its connection to Exodus 3), but less concise
-- especially if it also included a reference to Abraham, as the
context would apparently have required.

But even on the issue of whether <ego eimi> was a "better" way to
communicate eternal existence, I think that in the context of a
conversation among first century Jews, given their knowledge of the
extensive use of the phrase "I am" as applying to the eternal God in
both Exodus and Isaiah, this would have been the best way for Jesus
to get the point of his eternal existence across to his hearers.
Thus my reference to "context" in the -- well, uhm -- *context* of my
question to Mitchell.

The sentence immediately preceding Al's citation of me (found
in that elipsis I mentioned earlier) should probably of been a more
explicit part of the sentence that Al actually quoted. Here they are
together, as I originally wrote them:

> <Ego eimi> is ideally suited to such an idea in
> this context. In fact, I can't think of any better and more
> concise way that Jesus *could* have stated the fact of His own
> eternal existence, can you?

Now, certainly, Al has provided an even clearer and relatively more
precise (in western terms) way of stating eternal existence in N.T.
Greek than John quoted Jesus as saying.

But the point that I did not communicate all-too-clearly was that
Jesus's simple words, <ego eimi>, were the most ideally suited to the
context -- i.e., the context of a discussion among Jews about the
Christ's relation to Abraham. I probably should have said, "I can't
think of any better and more concise way *in the context* ...
(etc.)," and then explained what I meant by "context," as I did here.

All I can say is, this was what I had in mind when I first wrote the
remarks that Al responded to -- *and* that I appreciate Al's

sola (scriptura + gratia + fide) = solus Christus,

-- Ron Henzel

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