Re: John 8:58 - Ex. 3:14

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Mar 12 1997 - 17:54:04 EST

At 6:30 AM -0600 3/12/97, Jim Lindemann wrote:
>A thought on this thread (although I have not checked out the full
>previous thread on the "I AM" debate).
>God gave to Moses the "Name" "I AM" --
>yet the Israelites' Name for God "YAHWEH" is "HE IS"
> (if I understand it correctly)
>The interesting thing about it is that this is not "Name" as we
>normally think about it -- names are usually static words that don't
>change based upon who is speaking. More than a static ID tag, it
>seems that the "Name" of God reflects more an active concept. This is
>something totally foreign to human thinking (at least in the
>OTestament, not even Israel treated any other name that way), which
>then may present its difficulties in regard to the "I AM" of John.
>I'm not here opting for any particular conclusion, just suggesting
>that this is an element that must enter the consideration of the
>Also I am a little troubled by Carl Conrad's reference to the idea
>that this similar to the magic invocations of "names" in the thread
>RE: John 3:18. Here my theology leaks out again (but Carl opened
>that door ;-) ), but just because Satan can counterfeit a reality,
>the reality cannot be defined by the counterfeit.

>I confess that there are many things I do not understand about my
>religion. For instance, when Jesus says where two or three are
>gathered in His Name, He is in the midst of them -- how is this any
>different than when He is with us normally? or when He says (in the
>same place) that if any two agree on any one matter He will "give"
>it -- isn't He listening at any other times? What's so special about
>this particular instance?
>The same goes for "placing the Name" upon the People of God, as Moses
>was instructed, or by the use of the "Name" in many NT locations.
>Just how does the presence of the "Name" indicate a greater
>involvement of the Lord in the affairs of men (whoops, "people") and
>the Church? I don't know, but I hesitate to immediately look to
>magic for clues or even for a valid comparison.
>In addition, was the late Jewish avoidance of using the Name so as to
>not misuse it based on a sense of magic or on a sense of the power of
>the word (which is reflected in John's LOGOS)?
>Carl, if I misunderstood your reference, please forgive me.
>As always, there is a garbage can (refuse cantainer, recyling bin,
>dust bin) by the door.....

Let me try to clarify what I meant to say yesterday but said in much too
imprecise a fashion. Here's what I actually wrote yesterday:

"This is an interesting question actually; there is such a thing as an
"appositional genitive" but I don't know that anyone has ever argued that
as an explanation of this particular construction. I suspect that the usage
of a phrase like this, "the name of X" could have originated in LXX
translations from the way the Hebrew OT was read aloud, but I'd be leery of
affirming it as what must have happened. The real question is what the
author of John 3:18 meant by using the phrase, ultimately. And there's a
sizable theological problem involved here too: what does "believing in the
name of Christ" mean that is different from "believing in Christ"?--if
there's any difference between the two. This could well be a touchy
theological issue, but I seriously wonder whether the usage of such phrases
as "in the name of the Father, and of the Son ..." involves some implicit
belief in the magical efficacy of invoking the name orally? I think it
probable that what doing this implied for each individual doing it may
differ, but I suspect that to one like Simon Magus the pronunciation of the
name of Jesus might seem like a magic phrase, "Presto Change-o." My guess
furthermore, for what it's worth, is that the phrasing "believe in the name
of Christ" did indeed mean 'believe in Christ.'"

I don't really think I'm in any essential disagreement with you, Jim. I
said that I thought that generally "the name of X" in this religious
language was understood by the pious to mean "X"--so that "the presence of
the name of X" = "the presence of X." Once that has been said, however, I
think there's still a point to be made about name-magic: I think that one
of the dimensions of the narrative of Exodus 3:14 is that God's name is not
the sort of name that CAN be used to invoke for the purposes of magical
manipulation; He presents his name to Moses as the kind of name indicating
that He transcends the sort of divine names that can be invoked and
manipulated. That at least is one reading of Ex 3:14; moreover, I think I
am in agreement with you about the post-exilic Jewish practice of avoidance
of pronunciation of the Tetragram; it is in reverence for God, and in fact
"ha-Shem" MEANS "God" but the orthodox even today write "G-d" rather than
"God," and do so out of reverence rather than with any notion that to use
that name is to invoke divine magic. Nevertheless, as in the case of the
Torah and the reformulation of it by the rabbis into so many precise
Mitzvoth to be observed, there is a peril in extreme ritualization that
pious practice may become superstitious repetition of a ritual behavior for
its own sake and thoughtlessly from a notion that the ritual behavior has
value in its own right--I would think that this is akin to the observance
of dietary laws because they are understood to involve taboos, not because
one understands them as God's intelligible Torah. It is a matter of
externalization and ritualization of pious behavior which in turn may
evolve into a notion of the self-completing efficacy of a rite performed,
regardless of the intention or understanding of the person performing the
rite. It seems to me that the temptation of Simon Magus is precisely the
supposition that the invocation of "the name of Christ" has magic efficacy.

I hope that I haven't delivered myself into deeper and hotter water by
trying to explain myself rather than leaving well enough alone.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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