John 8:58

Here is the Greek text:

 εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί.

Followed by the English translation (ESV): “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

The New World translation has this: “Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly, I say to you, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.'” The Watchtower organization has argued that there is no relation at all of this verse to the famous “I am that I am” of Exodus 3:14. But there are several points to notice here which they do not address in any way, shape, or form. First of all, the tense of their translation is completely and utterly wrong. If John had wanted to say that Jesus existed before Abraham did in the past (but not including any idea of eternal pre-existence), without any confusion on the score, he had no fewer than three tenses at his disposal: aorist, imperfect, or perfect. The NWT reflects what would be a perfect tense. The Greek is PRESENT TENSE. It indicates ongoing existence before Abraham was. God does not exist in time the same way that we do. God is both transcendant and immanent in time. The way to express this is to say that in the past God is (present tense). The NWT translators knew this, which is why they completely changed the meaning into something finite.

The second point that they do not engage at all is the fact that what Jesus says here mirrors Exodus 3:14 ***precisely*** in the Greek translation of the OT (called the Septuagint, or LXX for short). They Watchtower people offer *zero* argumentation for why there is no connection, especially given the exact Greek correspondence between the two verses. I should mention that it is the first two words of the Greek in God’s words in Exodus 3:14 which I am talking about. The Watchtower people also fail utterly in their explanation of why the people picked up stones to stone Him. That happens when someone is uttering blasphemy. Jesus could have corrected their misunderstanding of His actions if He wasn’t claiming divinity. No, it is because He *was* claiming divinity that they picked up stones to stone Him.                        

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15 Comments

  1. Steve said,

    November 7, 2006 at 1:37 am

    Dear Greenbaggins,

    I happened to note your latest post critical of the NWT’s translation of John 8:58. I’m curious, when you say: “They[sic] Watchtower people offer *zero* argumentation for why there is no connection, especially given the exact Greek correspondence between the two verses”, where have you gone looking for explanations? Explanations are readily available if you want to ask about them before claiming there is *zero* argumentation available…

    Just ask, I’ll be glad to provide the explanations.

    Here you go…

    Answer #1

    The Greek verb there used, eimi´, is literally in the present tense, but in view of its being preceded by the aorist infinitive clause which refers to Abraham’s past, the Greek verb eimi´ must be viewed as a historical present. Regarding the historical present Hadley and Allen’s Greek Grammar says, in section 828: HISTORICAL PRESENT.—In vivid narration, a past event is often thought of and expressed as present: . . . The present in this use is freely interchanged with the past tenses . . . ”
    Says A. T. Robertson’s A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, under “The Historical Present,” pages 866-869: “This vivid idiom is popular in all languages, particularly in the vernacular. . . . it is much more frequent in Greek than in English and is a survival of ‘the original stock of our languages.’ ‘It antedates the differentiation into imperfect and aorist.’ . . . It is common enough in the LXX [Septuagint], . . . Hawkins finds the historical present in the LXX 337 times. Josephus uses it also. The New Testament examples are thus ‘dramatic.’ The historical present is not always aoristic. It may be durative like the imperfect. . . . Hawkins . . . finds 93 historic presents in Matthew (15 of them in Parables), but 162 in John and 151 in Mark. It is rare in the rest of the New Testament. It is most frequent in Mark, John, Matthew and in this order. . . .”
    If you will examine the New World Translation you will find that except for the final book of The Revelation the historical present is not rendered as such in the translation, but if the context calls for it the historical present is rendered in the past. For examples of where the Greek mixes the historical present with past tenses, we refer you to John 1:29-42, also John chapter 20, as shown in the King James Version. Note also Mark 1:12, 13. Even the King James Version renders some historical Greek presents as English past tenses; for instance, Matthew 3:1.
    That a historical present in the Greek in the midst of a context of the past tense is properly rendered in English as a past tense is recognized by the best of modern Bible translators. Dr. James Moffatt was on the Revised Standard Version Bible Committee, and note how he translates John 8:58 in his own version: “‘Truly, truly I tell you,’ said Jesus, ‘I have existed before Abraham was born.’”
    Professor E. J. Goodspeed was a member of the American Standard Bible Committee, and his translation renders John 8:58 as follows: “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you, I existed before Abraham was born!’”
    Note other translations:
    Chas. Williams’ The New Testament: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘I most solemnly say to you, I existed before Abraham was born.’”
    A. S. Lewis’ “The Four Gospels” According to the Sinaitic Palimpsest: “He said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I have been.”
    The Twentieth Century New Testament: “‘Believe me,’ Jesus replied, ‘before Abraham was born I was already what I am.’”
    G. M. Lamsa’s The Modern New Testament: “Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham was born, I was.”
    Jas. Murdock’s The Syriac New Testament: “Jesus said to them: Verily, verily, I say to you, That before Abraham existed, I was.”
    F. Pfaefflin’s Das Neue Testament (German): “Jesus: ‘Before there was an Abraham, I was already there [war ich schon da]!’”
    C. Stage’s Das Neue Testament (German): “Jesus said to them: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you: Before Abraham was born, I was [war ich].’”
    Nácar Colunga’s Nuevo Testamento (Spanish): “Jesus answered: ‘In truth, in truth, I say to you: Before Abraham was born, I was [era yo].’”
    F. Delitzsch’s Hebrew New Testament and that by Salkinson-Ginsburg both have the verb in the perfect form “I have been” (haiithi) instead of in the imperfect form.
    From the above it is to be seen that the New World Translation is consistent with itself in rendering the historical present by rendering John 8:58 “I have been” instead of “I am.” Since Jesus was here referring to an existence from before Abraham and continuing down till he spoke, the New World Translation rendered ego´ eimi´ as “I have been” instead of “I was.”

    When any clerical critic tries to claim inaccuracy for the New World Translation at John 8:58, then he is indicting not only it but also all these other scholars, English and foreign language, of inaccuracy. He is entitled to take and accept the version that he prefers because of bias toward a religious doctrine, in this case the trinity, but yet it should be recognized that the New World Translation has plenty of support by acknowledged, widely known translators for its rendering at John 8:58.

    Answer #2

    AT JOHN 8:58 a number of translations, for instance The Jerusalem Bible, have Jesus saying: “Before Abraham ever was, I Am.” Was Jesus there teaching, as Trinitarians assert, that he was known by the title “I Am”? And, as they claim, does this mean that he was Jehovah of the Hebrew Scriptures, since the King James Version at Exodus 3:14 states: “God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM”?
    At Exodus 3:14 (KJ) the phrase “I AM” is used as a title for God to indicate that he really existed and would do what he promised. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, edited by Dr. J. H. Hertz, says of the phrase: “To the Israelites in bondage, the meaning would be, ‘Although He has not yet displayed His power towards you, He will do so; He is eternal and will certainly redeem you.’ Most moderns follow Rashi [a French Bible and Talmud commentator] in rendering [Exodus 3:14] ‘I will be what I will be.’”
    The expression at John 8:58 is quite different from the one used at Exodus 3:14. Jesus did not use it as a name or a title but as a means of explaining his prehuman existence. Hence, note how some other Bible versions render John 8:58:
    1869: “From before Abraham was, I have been.” The New Testament, by G. R. Noyes.
    1935: “I existed before Abraham was born!” The Bible—An American Translation, by J. M. P. Smith and E. J. Goodspeed.
    1965: “Before Abraham was born, I was already the one that I am.” Das Neue Testament, by Jörg Zink.
    1981: “I was alive before Abraham was born!” The Simple English Bible.
    1984: “Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.” New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
    Thus, the real thought of the Greek used here is that God’s created “firstborn,” Jesus, had existed long before Abraham was born.—Colossians 1:15; Proverbs 8:22, 23, 30; Revelation 3:14

    Again, the context shows this to be the correct understanding. This time the Jews wanted to stone Jesus for claiming to “have seen Abraham” although, as they said, he was not yet 50 years old. (Verse 57) Jesus’ natural response was to tell the truth about his age. So he naturally told them that he “was alive before Abraham was born!”—The Simple English Bible.

  2. Steve said,

    November 7, 2006 at 1:53 am

    After learning why Jesus was simply answering a question about his age, many Bible students become curious about what the meaning of Exodus 3:14 really was…. What’s all this about God’s name being “I am”?

    What we know is that Jehovah chose his own name, one rich in meaning. “Jehovah” literally means “He Causes to Become.” True, he brought all things into existence. That in itself is an awe-inspiring thought. But is that the point of God’s name? Moses evidently wanted to learn more. You see, the divine name was not new. People had been using it for centuries. Really, in asking God’s name, Moses was asking about the person represented by the name. In effect, he was saying: ‘What can I tell your people Israel about you that will build their faith in you, that will convince them that you really will deliver them?’

    In response Jehovah explained the meaning of his name. He said to Moses: “I shall prove to be what I shall prove to be.” (Exodus 3:14) Many Bible translations here read: “I am that I am.” But the careful rendering in the New World Translation shows that God was not merely affirming his own existence. Rather, he was teaching Moses—and by extension all of us—what that name implies. Jehovah would “prove to be,” or cause himself to become, whatever was needed in order to fulfill his promises. J. B. Rotherham’s translation pointedly renders this verse: “I Will Become whatsoever I please.” One authority on Biblical Hebrew explains the phrase this way: “Whatever the situation or need . . . , God will ‘become’ the solution to that need.”
    What did that mean to the Israelites? No matter what obstacle loomed before them, no matter how difficult the predicament in which they might find themselves, Jehovah would become whatever was needed in order to deliver them from slavery and bring them into the Promised Land. Surely that name inspired confidence in God. It can do the same for us today. (Psalm 9:10) Why?

    To illustrate: Parents know how versatile and adaptable they must be in caring for their children. In the course of a single day, a parent may be called upon to act as a nurse, a cook, a teacher, a disciplinarian, a judge, and much more. Many feel overwhelmed by the wide range of roles they are expected to fill. They remark upon the absolute faith put in them by their little ones, who never doubt that Daddy or Mommy can make the hurt better, settle all disputes, fix any broken toy, and answer whatever question pops into their endlessly inquisitive minds. Some parents are humbled and occasionally frustrated by their own limitations. They feel woefully inadequate to fill many of these roles.

    Jehovah too is a loving parent. Yet, within the framework of his own perfect standards, there is nothing he cannot become in order to care for his earthly children in the best possible way. So his name, Jehovah, invites us to think of him as the best Father imaginable. (James 1:17) Moses and all other faithful Israelites soon learned that Jehovah is true to his name. They watched in awe as he caused himself to become an unbeatable Military Commander, the Master of all natural elements, a peerless Lawgiver, Judge, Architect, Provider of food and water, Preserver of clothing and footgear—and more.

    So God has made his personal name known, has explained its meaning, and has even demonstrated that the meaning is true. Unquestionably, God wants us to know him. How do we respond? Moses wanted to know God. That intense desire shaped Moses’ life course and led him to draw very close to his heavenly Father. (Numbers 12:6-8; Hebrews 11:27) Sadly, few of Moses’ contemporaries had the same desire. When Moses mentioned Jehovah by name to Pharaoh, that haughty Egyptian monarch retorted: “Who is Jehovah?” (Exodus 5:2) Pharaoh did not want to learn more about Jehovah. Rather, he cynically dismissed the God of Israel as being unimportant or irrelevant. That outlook is all too common today. It blinds people to one of the most important of all truths—Jehovah is the Sovereign Lord.

  3. Maria said,

    November 7, 2006 at 3:17 am

    Just found your blog!

    God bless
    Maria in the UK
    http://www.inhishands.co.uk

  4. greenbaggins said,

    November 7, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    Maria, do I know you from somewhere?

    Steve, repeating word for word what is on the site is also not argumentation. I already read it. Don’t waste comment space on repeating word for word what they said.

    Secondly, it cannot be an historical present, since the subject of the verbs would have to be the same. In John 8:58, the subject of “was” is Abraham, whereas the subject of “is” is “I” (Jesus). The shift in subject indicates also that the verb shift is significant, and not merely historical. Historical present would not be needed here under any construction. Wallace notes in his grammar (515, 530-531) that this is not a use of the historical present. Lincoln says in his commentary (276) “This final saying clearly contains an absolute use of ‘I am’, whose present tense contrasts with the aorist infinitive (“genesthai”) that expresses the coming into existence of Abraham, and indicates that more than a claim to pre-existence is being made. As with the earlier absolute uses of ‘I Am’ in vv. 24, 28, a reference to Isaiah 43:10 LXX with its lawsuit context again appears to be in view. Significantly, there Yahweh’s self-predication in terms of ‘ego eimi’ is also contrasted with the temporal existence of another being, of whom the aorist tense of ‘ginomai’ is employed…Jesus’ claim to be the self-revelation of the one true God is now unmistakable.” In other words, the same grammatical construction is in the LXX of Isaiah 43:10 referring to God.

    The site’s re-construction of the stoning of Jesus is unbelievably lame. In fact, they don’t even attempt to explain it! The stoning was for blasphemy. That was the prescribed penalty for blasphemy, according to Jewish sources (see Kostenberger’s commentary, pg 273, Carson, pg 358).

    By the way, you cited A.T. Robertson as supportive of your position. Here is what he says on the passage in his Word Pictures: “Undoubtedly here Jesus claims eternal existence with the absolute phrase used of God” (V, pg 158-159).

    I can count translations too, you know. All the English translations (27) on Bibleworks have “I am,” all the German translations (9 of them) have “bin Ich” (present tense: the verb with Abraham is “ward”), the French (7 translations)all have “je Suis” (present tense), the Dutch (7 translations) all have “ben ik” (present tense), The Italian (3) all have “io sono” (present tense), the Spanish translations (7) all have “yo soy” (present tense), and the Vulgate has “ego sum” (present tense). Furthermore, all of these translations were done by committee except the Vulgate, not by an individual scholar. Therefore, if you wish to count, my numbers dwarf yours into insignificance.

    You cannot quote the Hebrew perfect versus imperfect as supporting your position in the slightest, since the Hebrew verb tenses mean something quite different from English verb tenses. There is no one-to-one correspondence between the two. You can’t use that.

  5. Gomarus said,

    November 7, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    Lane wins!

  6. greenbaggins said,

    November 7, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks, Jim. This really is getting to be quite exhausting! But the defense of the faith is always worth it.

  7. Josh said,

    November 7, 2006 at 8:53 pm

    I wonder how Steve’s 48 favorite translations, translate it?

  8. Steve said,

    November 8, 2006 at 2:16 am

    Josh: Greenbaggins criticizes the NWT, and by extention multiple other scholars and translations listed above (a few posts above).

    As for the argument of the Jews throwing stones…

    Are you really arguing that because the Jews picked up stones to throw at Jesus, this proves that Jesus was saying he was Jehovah?

    What does this say about the times they also stoned Stephen? (Acts 7:58-60)
    Or the times they stoned Paul? (Acts 14:19)

    Where Stephen and Paul guilty of blasphemy for saying they were Jehovah?

    Of course, not. To suggest that for Stephen and Paul would be silly, just as it was with Jesus.

    Jesus clearly explains to the Jews that he wasn’t even calling himself “God”. The Bible calls men “gods” and that’s fine, but he was simply calling himself “The Son of God” and they want to stone him for it?

    This is so absolutely clearly explained by Jesus here:

    (John 10:31-36) Once more the Jews lifted up stones to stone him. 32 Jesus replied to them: “I displayed to you many fine works from the Father. For which of those works are you stoning me?” 33 The Jews answered him: “We are stoning you, not for a fine work, but for blasphemy, even because you, although being a man, make yourself
    God.” 34 Jesus answered them: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said: “You are gods”’? 35 If he called ‘gods’ those against whom the word of God came, and yet the Scripture cannot be nullified, 36 do you say to me whom the Father sanctified and dispatched into the world, ‘You blaspheme,’ because I said, I am God’s Son?

    It sounds like Jesus was pretty amazed at their lack of logic also.

  9. Steve said,

    November 8, 2006 at 3:43 am

    The apostle Paul showed the basic meaning of bla·sphe·mi′a by using the related Greek verb bla·sphe·me′o at Romans 2:24 when quoting from Isaiah 52:5 and Ezekiel 36:20, 21, cited above.

    Blasphemy includes the act of claiming the attributes or prerogatives of God, or ascribing these to another person or thing. (Compare Ac 12:21, 22.) The Jewish religious leaders accused Christ Jesus of blasphemy because he said that the sins of certain persons were forgiven (Mt 9:2, 3; Mr 2:5-7; Lu 5:20, 21), and they tried to stone him as a blasphemer because of his declaring himself to be God’s Son. (Joh 10:33-36) When Jesus made a statement to the Sanhedrin concerning God’s purpose toward him and the high position to be granted him, the high priest ripped his garments and accused Jesus of blasphemy, for which Jesus was condemned as worthy of death. (Mt 26:63-66; Mr 14:61-64) Having no authority from the Romans to implement the death sentence, the Jewish religious leaders shrewdly changed their accusation of blasphemy to that of sedition when taking Jesus before Pilate.—Joh 18:29–19:16.

    Since Jesus was God’s Son and direct representative, the things spoken against him may also properly be defined as blasphemy. (Lu 22:65) So, too, since the holy spirit or active force emanates from God and is intimately connected with God’s person, Jesus could speak of “blasphemy against the spirit.” This is stated to be the unforgivable sin. (Mt 12:31; Mr 3:28, 29; Lu 12:10) Blasphemy is shown to originate within one’s heart (Mt 15:19; Mr 7:21, 22); hence the heart condition, manifest in the willfulness involved, must relate to such blasphemy against the spirit. The incident that led to Jesus’ statement concerning the unpardonableness of such sin demonstrates that it refers to opposing the operation of God’s spirit. This would not be because of deception, human weakness, or imperfection; but the opposition would be willful and deliberate. The Pharisees clearly saw God’s spirit at work in Jesus to accomplish good, yet for selfish reasons they attributed this power to Beelzebub, Satan the Devil, thereby blaspheming God’s holy spirit.—Mt 12:22-32; compare Heb 6:4-6; 10:26, 27.

    Like Jesus, Stephen was martyred on a charge of blasphemy. (Ac 6:11-13; 7:56-58) Paul, as Saul, had been a blasphemer and had tried to force Christians to make “a recantation” (literally, “to blaspheme”). However, upon becoming a disciple himself, he suffered blasphemous contradictions from the Jews, and in Ephesus his teaching was possibly labeled by certain elements as blasphemous against the goddess Artemis. (Ac 13:45; 19:37; 26:11; 1Ti 1:13)

  10. Steve said,

    November 8, 2006 at 3:51 am

    “The Watchtower people also fail utterly in their explanation of why the people picked up stones to stone Him. That happens when someone is uttering blasphemy. Jesus could have corrected their misunderstanding of His actions if He wasn’t claiming divinity. No, it is because He *was* claiming divinity that they picked up stones to stone Him.”

    Actually Jesus explains it best when he says he was simply claiming to be the “Son of God”…. I don’t see any reference where Jesus says: “I’m claiming divinity”….

    John 10:35, 36 ” If he called ‘gods’ those against whom the word of God came, and yet the Scripture cannot be nullified, 36 do you say to me whom the Father sanctified and dispatched into the world, ‘You blaspheme,’ because I said, I am God’s Son?”

  11. Gomarus said,

    November 8, 2006 at 8:17 am

    It’s your blog, Lane. You determine how you want to invest your time in discussion/argumentation. Sometimes I question the fruitfulness of continued debate when the lines are drawn like this. You have more patience than I. Onward and upward.

  12. Josh said,

    November 8, 2006 at 8:18 am

    I have two words: Brick Wall :-)

  13. greenbaggins said,

    November 8, 2006 at 10:52 am

    I have to close this discussion for now, Steve. I don’t have the energy. I have other things that I need to be doing right now. I can only pray that your long years of study will actually start to have an effect now, and that you will see Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, in all His glory sitting at the right hand of God the Father. That you will, like Paul, have a Damascus Road experience. You are just like Paul in so many ways. You both are scholars. You both depended on your learning to ensure that you were right. You both persecuted the church for many years. And yet your story could wind up just like his: Jesus will call out to you and say, “Steve, Steve, why are you persecuting me?” Then you will say, “Who are you?” The answer will come back, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Then the scales will fall from your eyes, and you will see that Jesus is God. Paul also used to think that it was absurd that there could be only one God, and yet that Jesus was God. But then he met Jesus face to face. I pray it happens in this life by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not in the next, when you will bow down in anguish. Those are your alternatives, Steve. Bow down now or later to Jesus as God.

  14. Steve said,

    November 8, 2006 at 11:15 am

    Dear Greenbaggins and others,

    As this conversation closes, I will tell you I continue to be amazed at those who are able to believe in a Trinity Doctrine that so clearly contradicts the words of the resurrected and glorified Jesus when he said:

    “(Revelation 3:12) “‘The one that conquers—I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will by no means go out [from it] anymore, and I will write upon him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which descends out of heaven from my God, and that new name of mine.”

    And yet, Trinitarians will cling to reasonings like; “But the Jews picked up rocks and threw it at him, therefore he must have been claiming to be God”.

    It’s as if the eyes of Trinitarians have been blinded from seeing the obvious.

    I am truly greatful to God that I had the opportunity to start by first reading the Bible and understand it’s clear truths without being preconditioned with traditions of men who put the Trinitarian philosophies of pagan religions ahead of the word of God.

    Good day,

    -Steve

    http://www.watchtower.org/e/ti/

  15. bren said,

    February 11, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    I didn’t read your post, but I have studied this topic before…

    Exodus was written in Hebrew and John in Greek, as i’m sure mr. Baggins knows ;)

    Therefore, you cannot draw a connection between “I AM” in Greek and “I AM I AM” in Hebrew.

    I think you’re just trying to prove the trinity as a bible-based and inspired doctrine, but you really can’t do that. Especially not with this verse.

    PS – sorry I didn’t read the post, I don’t have time to waste on reading so much opnion when i’ve already done my own study.


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