John 8:58 & Exodus 3:14

From: Ron Henzel (
Date: Wed Aug 21 1996 - 10:36:17 EDT

Alan Repurk wrote:

> Ron,
> It is my understanding that the posters on this thread have
> examined the relationship between John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14
> and have concluded that no relationship exists.

I acknowledge that you are not alone in this conclusion, although it
seems to be a distinctly minority opinion. In the Word Biblical
Commentary on John, Beasley-Murray seems to agree with you, but I
think that Beasley-Murray was too dependent on the conclusions of
Schnackenburg who (in my opinion) adopted a metaphysical approach
unsuited for proper exegesis of Exodus.

Otherwise, the vast -- nay, overwhelming! -- majority of commentators
I have checked into (mainly commentators on the NT Greek of John
8:58) find a direct connection between <ego eimi> in John 8:58 and
the LXX of Exodus 3:14, despite the fact that Exodus 3:14 contains a
predicate, <ho wn>. This has also been a traditional Christian view
going back many centuries.

> Exodus 3:14 contains an obvious predicate (HO WN) and therefore
> cannot point to an identity.

Well, that is a conclusion that others would disagree with. For

"The fact that the Jews attempted to stone Jesus after hearing the
words _I am_ shows that it suggested to them the divine name so
translated in the LXX version of Ex. iii.14." -- R.V.G. Tasker,
Tyndale Commentary on John (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1960).


"It is not easy to render into Greek the Hebrew underlying passages
like Exod. 3:14. The LXX translators did so with the same form that
we have here." -- Leon Morris, New International Commentary on the
New Testament, _John_ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), p. 473.

Here we have two experts in N.T. Greek (Morris was also proficient in
classical and Septuagint Greek) who saw the <ego eimi> of John 8:58
as a direct reference to the LXX of Exodus 3:14.

> Also, as already posted, some other
> translations of the LXX use "EGO ESOMAI" (I will be) to reflect the
> Hebrew grammar and not "EGO EIMI."

I'm sorry, I must not have read those messages very thoroughly. Were
they saying that an alternative LXX translation of Exodus 3:14
exists, and that this alternative translation renders the Hebrew
<ehyeh asher ehyeh> as <ego esomai>? If so, I had no idea that such
an "alternative LXX" existed. What exactly do you mean when you say
"other translations of the LXX?"

> So what is your mechanism for linking John 8:58 with Exodus 3:14 ?

According to both Tasker and Morris, the <ego eimi> of John 8:58 was
basically the same form as the LXX of Exodus 3:14. Apparently the
absence of the predicate in John 8:58 did not bother them. It
doesn't bother me either.

One issue that hasn't been addressed is that of the language(s)
spoken by Jesus. If Jesus was speaking Aramaic, more emphasis should
be placed on how John translated Jesus's words into Greek.

This would also shed some light on why the <ego eimi> of John 8:58
appears to be a truncated form of the <ego eimi ho wn> of LXX Exodus
3:14. The <ho wn> portion, as Morris pointed out earlier, reflected
the difficulty of rendering the Hebrew into the Greek.

The English translation of the Septuagint is roughly "I am the being"
(per the Bagster edition of the English-Greek LXX). In light of the
context, it is highly questionable as to whether "I am the being" is
what God was trying to say to Moses in this account. Although John
I. Durham notes, "The answer Moses receives is not, by any stretch of
the imagination, a name," [Word Commentary on Exodus, 1987, p. 38.],
that doesn't necessarily mean it was therefore a metaphysical
statement of some sort.

Moses had been questioning God as to why he was the appropriate man
to go back to Egypt and lead Israel out (Ex. 3:11). In Exodus 3:12
God responded, "I am with you," which is essentially the same "I
am" statement as found in Exodus 3:14, and *could* be rendered "I am
with you."

Therefore, "I am who I am" of Exodus 3:14 could be interpreted as an
expression of divine impatience. God essentially cuts Moses' line of
questioning off, saying, "Look, Moses! Whatever you need, I am!"

Now: does such a line of reasoning preclude the notion of
timelessness in the original Hebrew? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Durham
seems to think that timelessness was also included in the basic
thought: "The repetition of these 'I AM' verbs, as awkward as it may
appear, is entirely intentional." [op. cit., p. 39].

Whatever the case of the meaning of the Hebrew, it is at least
likely that the idea of timeless was imported into the verse by the
LXX rendering, "I am the being," or "I am the one who is." Since
this was already a well-grounded Biblical concept (cf. Ps. 90) long
before the LXX was translated, there could have been no objection to
it on doctrinal grounds. Hence, by the time of Christ it was assumed
that such was the essential meaning of the original on the part of
those for whom the LXX was the primary Scripture version.

But the issue of whether or not "I am" was an expression of
timelessness in Exodus 3:14 is a secondary matter. The real issue is
whether it is directly quoted in John 8:58. My personal opinion is
that the "mechanism" you request is one of either two things:

1. Jesus, speaking in Greek to the Pharisees, supplied His own more
   accurate translation of the Hebrew <ehyeh>, which was still close
   enough to the LXX to be recognizable; or,

2. Jesus, speaking in Aramaic to the Pharisees, supplied an
   unmistakable reference to Exodus 3:14 in Aramaic, which John
   translated into Greek in such a way as to bring out both the
   sense of the Aramaic, and Jesus's intended reference to the
   "I am who I am" of Exodus 3:14.

> And please stick to the specific subject of Ex. 3:14.

I hope I succeeded in meeting your request. However, I must point
out that since the whole of Old Testament history had already passed
by the time of Jesus's statement, that context should also be brought
to bear on his <ego eimi> statement. There are many OT "I am"
statements, especially in the book of Isaiah, which provided a rich
background for John 8:58. Perhaps the most vivid is one which links
the words "I am" directly with God's name (a la Exodus 3:14):

"Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore in that day I am
the one who is speaking, 'Here I am.'" -- Isaiah 52:6, NASB.

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

-- Ron Henzel

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