John 8:58, again!

From: Ron Henzel (
Date: Thu Aug 22 1996 - 05:38:26 EDT

Alan wrote:

> Are you making this comparison based upon speculation of
> what eye witnesses to the conversation might have heard Jesus say or
> on comparing the Greek of John 8:58 with the Greek of the LXX in
> Exodus 4:14 ? [sic]

No way! I am sticking with the facts:

FACT 1. The original Hebrew of Exodus 3:14 reads:
         <ehyeh asher ehyeh>, "I am who I am."

         This is an awkward expression in Hebrew, but our standard
         English translations do an adequate job.

FACT 2. The LXX rendered Exodus 3:14:
         <ego eimi ho wn>, "I am the being."

         This is obviously NOT a completely literal translation of
         the Hebrew. And the fact that you yourself have cited
         alternate renderings in variant LXX texts demonstrates that
         others thought they could do a better job.

FACT 3. Exodus 3:14 does NOT end with the words cited above.
         God goes on to say: "This is what you are to say to the
         Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (NIV)

FACT 4. As knowledgeable rabbis, Jesus, the scribes and the
         Pharisees ALL knew Hebrew.

FACT 5. We do not know with certainty which language Jesus was
         actually speaking. His use of <ego eimi> could therefore
         have been any one of the following (in descending order
         of likelihood):

         A. His own translation of the Hebrew directly into Greek.
         B. His own translation of the Hebrew directly into
            Aramaic, and then translated by John in his Gospel.
         C. A partial -- but to the Pharisees a very recognizable
            quotation of the LXX of Exodus 3:14.
         D. An actual quotation of the Hebrew text of Exodus 3:14,
            which John later translated for his readers.

As indicated, I find C. and D. less likely than A. or B. above.

Several years ago, Dr. Gleason Archer and others did a magnificent
piece of work by laying side-by-side every single Hebrew text that is
quoted in the New Testament with its LXX and NT counterparts. When
you see the Hebrew and LXX of Exodus 3:14 next to the Koine of John
8:58, all these arguments about the "perfective present" and the
predicate clause in the LXX rendering simply pale in comparison to
the striking resemblances between all versions!

In order to deny a connection between John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14, you
have to deny the following:

1. Jesus' words, <ego eimi>, are a perfectly proper rendering of the
   divine name as it occurs in the Hebrew version of Exodus 3:14b:
   "This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me
   to you.'" It would have been recognizable to the Pharisees.

2. The same "I am" construction in Hebrew and the LXX is used many
   times in the book of Isaiah, and at least once in direct
   connection with the divine name (Isa. 52:6). This, too, would
   have been known to the Pharisees.

3. An easy case can be made for Jesus's words <ego eimi> as being at
   least a partial quote of, or selective reference to, the LXX of
   Exodus 3:14a (in addition to it being a complete translation of the
   Hebrew of Exodus 3:14b). The Pharisees, who knew the Torah inside
   and out, would not have missed it.

4. The Pharisees had no legal grounds within the Torah for stoning
   Jesus if he was only claiming pre-existence. He could only be
   stoned if he had committed an infraction for which stoning was
   specifically prescribed under the Law, such as *blasphemy.*

If you're looking for an explanation that rests solely and completely
on grammar and syntax, and does not take into account context as
well, you'll never find it. The same holds true for any other text
of Scripture.

In addition to the immediate context of the passage, the broader
context of the book, and the even broader context of the NT corpus of
literature, in the case of John 8:58 you also have to take into
account the various factors I've listed above.

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

-- Ron Henzel

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