I already assumed the opposite in an answer to why there are so many Bible translations, on Christianity.SE. Now that we have an expert community, I'd like to check. The translators of the New World Translation (NWT) almost certainly know Greek better than me and are smarter than me, so maybe they had a good reason for their translation that I just can't see.

Comparing the New World Translation's take on John 8:58 to other English translations, we notice it's quite different from the rest. All other translations (that I've seen) translate "I am" whereas NWT translates "I have been" (NASB shown as an example):

New World Translation
Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to YOU, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”

New American Standard Bible
Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am."

I don't know Greek, so I'd like to hear the expert opinion. Is "I have been" a reasonable translation of the Greek text?
From the interlinear it looks like it boils down to, how should ἐγώ εἰμι be translated?

John 8:58 interlinear

11 Answers 11


It does not appear to be a very good translation of this word.

1473 (εγώ) is the personal pronoun, "I", so it tells us that Jesus was talking about Himself.

1510.2.1 (ειμι) is the real core of the question. 1510 is the infinitive "to be, exist". The following numbers (".2.1") tell you more about the nuances of meaning - tense, voice, etc. Some lexicons will give another code here instead - in this case, my intralinear has G5748. Either of these codes tell you that this word is present tense, indicative mood.

Based on these findings, the most direct way to express this in English is "I am".

Contrast this with the word He used to describe Abraham. In my intralinear, 1096 is also decorated with G5635; we'll come back to that. 1096 (γίνομαι) is the infinitive "to become, come into existence, arise, be made." Note that He chose not to use the same word, even though some translations will translate this "was". The majority of translations say either "was born" or "existed".

G5635 indicates the second-aorist tense, middle-deponent (active) voice, infinitive. Aorist tense is normally translated as past tense, though strictly speaking it is outside the concept of time. In this case, the second (punctiliar) aorist implies that the statement was, is or will be true at some point without a concrete definition of that point. Active voice ties the subject to the action - in a generic sense, he did it, it was not inflicted upon him. "Abraham came into existence".

Coupling this with our discussion above, one could amplify this as follows: "At whatever time Abraham came into existence, at that time I already was and still am."

However, there is another aspect that we have to consider as well. The Jews were quite aware that God used the name or term "I am" to refer to Himself. (c.f Exodus 3:14) The Septuagint even translates this with the exact same Greek words: εγώ (G1473) ειμι (G1510). (In this case, my copy of LXX uses Robinson's Morphological Analysis Codes - for 1510 in this verse, the code is V-PAPNS, which means "verb", "present tense", "active voice", "participle", "nominative", "singular" - effectively, exactly the same as above.) This explains their immediate response - they grabbed stones to kill Him, because they and He both knew that He had just claimed to be God and they couldn't or wouldn't accept that as truth.

The issue with this translation, then, is that it is rather weak linguistically. "have been" could be taken in a number of different ways - Jesus had previously existed, but subsequently did not, Jesus merely came into existence before Abraham, etc. None of these carry the weight of His claim - to be a member of the Godhead.

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    But they can't get there from John 8:58. The Greek is "I am" not "I have been." And the context beyond the verse shows that the Jewish leaders understood it as blasphemy, a claim where Jesus claimed himself to be God. – Frank Luke Aug 15 '13 at 14:33
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    @Trig, yes, I can. It is well established in Biblical studies that Jews did use the personal name of God casually (YHWH, often translated "I Am"). In fact, in seeking to put a fence around the commandment not to take his name in vain, they used different circumlocutions (Matthew even hesitates to use "Kingdom of God" preferring "Kingdom of Heaven"). When Jesus says "I am" and they understand it to be blasphemy, the only king of blasphemy that fits is a claim to be God. Claiming to be pre-existent wouldn't cut it. Jesus using the name of God as his own would qualify were it untrue. – Frank Luke Oct 28 '13 at 2:19
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    I think the above comment by Frank is pure fiction. The Jews in the narrative are upset about Jesus claiming pre-existence, not supposedly using a title of God "I am" inasmuch as saying "I am" is just a common phrase you can't live without, "I am happy," "I am sad," etc. Are we to suppose that in deference to God using this as a title once in Exo 6, the Jews never used "I am" in a sentence? – david brainerd Aug 28 '14 at 5:02
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    Someone apparently deleted my comments so I'll repeat them. In the next chapter the man born blind says "EGW EIMI" and no one bats an eye. So also Paul says "EIMI hO EIMI" (1 Cor 15:10) and no one bristles or worships him. Maintaining the word order into English is what makes this sound dramatic. It should read "I am before Abraham is born". This makes Abe's birth future in relation to the present. – Ruminator Aug 25 '17 at 11:33
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    @WoundedEgo In John 9, the statement "I am" has an implicit object ("I am [he; the same man]"). This is also true in 1 Cor. 15:10, but also Paul doesn't use the personal pronoun. And switching the words makes your sentence incomprehensible. You're saying that Jesus was saying Abraham had not yet been born at the time he was speaking? – GalacticCowboy Aug 25 '17 at 11:59

I’ve finally dug out my copy of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures — with references (1984 edition, which as far as I know is still the latest). It has a simple footnote on this phrase, referring the reader to Appendix 6F: “Jesus — In Existence Before Abraham”.

The appendix article begins with a series of quotes, which I here present:

From the Fourth/Fifth Century:

before Abraham was, I have been

Syriac. Edition: A Translation of the Four Gospels from the Syriac of the Siniatic Palimpset, by Agnes Smith Lewis, London, 1984.

From the Fifth Century:

before ever Abraham came to be, I was

Curetonian Syriac. Edition: The Curetonian Version of the Four Gospels, by F. Crawford Burkitt, Vol. 1, Cambridge, England, 1904.

From the Fifth Century:

before Abraham existed, I was

Syriac Peshitta. Edition: The Syriac New Testament Translated into English from the Peshitto Version, by James Murdock, seventh ed., Boston and London, 1896.

From the Fifth Century:

before Abraham came to be, I was

Georgian. Edition: “The Old Georgian Version of the Gospel of John”, by Robert P. Blake and Maurice Brière, published in Patrologia Orientalis, Vol. XXVI, fascicle 4, Paris, 1950.

From the Sixth Century:

before Abraham was born, I was

Ethiopic. Edition: Novum Testamentum ... Æiopice, by Thomas Pell Platt, revised by F. Praetorius, Leipzig, 1899.

The appendix article continues as follows. (I’m taking just the first three paragraphs, because (a) I don’t want to quote too much, and (b) the rest of the appendix article is more theological in nature, while the first three paragraphs are technical.)

The action expressed in Joh 8:58 started “before Abraham came into existence” and is still in progress. In such situation εἰμί, which is the first-person singular present indicative, is properly translated by the perfect indicative. Examples of the same syntax are found in Lu 2:48; 13:7; 15:29; Joh 5:6; 14:9; 15:27; Ac 15:21; 2Co 12:19; 1Jo 3:8.

Concerning this construction, A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament, by G. B. Winer, seventh edition, Andover, 1897, p. 267, says: “Sometimes the Present includes also a past tense (Mdv. 108), viz. when the verb expresses a state which commenced at an earlier period but still continues,—a state in its duration; as, Jno. xv. 27 [Greek text omitted because I don’t know how to type the diacritics], viii. 58 [ditto].”

Likewise, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, by J. H. Moulton, Vol. III, by Nigel Turner, Edinburgh, 1963, p. 62, says: “The Present which indicates the continuance of an action during the past and up to the moment of speaking is virtually the same as Perfective, the only difference being that the action is conceived as still in progress ... It is frequent in the N[ew] T[estament]: Lk 248 137 ... 1529 ... Jn 56 858 ...”

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    This answer does not substantiate why these variant translations appear in these quotes - are these definitely variations in the source texts, or are these variants in how different sources were translated by others? Why take later Syriac translations as a benchmark over the Greek texts they were translated from? Even assuming it's an issue in the source, are there any compelling reasons why these later manuscripts should be taken over p66 which is 2nd Century? The pasted text might be helpful to the discussion, but don't address most of the key hermeneutical questions about their claims. – Steve Taylor Mar 7 '16 at 14:03

In the book called ‘Truth In Translation - Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament” author Jason Debuhn looks at selected passages in 9 Bibles - The Amplified New Testament (AB); The Living Bible (LB); the New American Bible with Revised New Testament (NAB); THE NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE (NASB); the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV); New Revised Standard Version Bible (RSV) New World Translation of the Holy Scripture (NWT) Good News Bible in Today's English Version (TEV); King James Bible (KJV)

In Chapter 9 entitled “Tampering with tenses” he discusses John 8:58. On page 104 he lists the various translations of that text

KJV Before Abraham was, l am. NRSV Before Abraham was, I am. NASB Before Abraham was born, I am. NIV Before Abraham was born, I am! TEV Before Abraham was born, 'I Am'. AB Before Abraham was born, I AM. NAB Before Abraham came to be, I AM. NWT Before Abraham came into existence, I have been. LB I was in existence before Abraham was ever born!

Straight after listing those renderings on page 104 and 105 he points out…

You may think that there is a particularly difficult or convoluted Greek clause underlying this mess of English. But that is not the case. The Greek reads: prin Abraam genesthai ego eimi. What Jesus says here is fine, idiomatic Greek. It can be rendered straightforwardly into English by doing what translators always do with Greek, namely, rearrange the word order into normal English order, adjust things like verbal tense complementarity into proper English expression. These steps of translation are necessary because Greek and English are not the same language and do not obey the same rules) grammar. Leaving the translation at the stage of a lexical ("interlinear”) rendering, which is one way to describe what most translations do here simply won't work. That is because Greek has more flexibility with word order than English does, and it can mix verbal tenses in a way English cannot

As a part of his summary on that verse he says on pages 110 and 111,112

In John 8:58, all translations except the LB break the first-personpronoun + verb ("I am") clause out of its relation to the syntax of the sentence, and place it artificially, and ungrammatically, at the end of the English sentence. These modern translations violate their standard practice of using correct English word order by in this case slavishly following the Greek word order, apparently under the influence of the KJV. Even the TEV, supposedly written in modern idiomatic English does this.

All translations except the LB and NWT also ignore the true relation between the verbs of the sentence, and produce a sentence that makes no sense in English. On top of this, we see the strange capitalization in the NAB, AB and TEV. These changes in the meaning of the Greek and in the normal procedure for translation point to a bias that has interfered with the work of the translators....

....The LB comes out as the most accurate translation of John 8:58. The translator avoided the lure of bias and the pressure of the KJV tradition. The NWT is second best in this case, because it understands the relation between the two verbs correctly, even though the influence of the KJV has led its translators to put the verb improperly at the end of the sentence. The average Bible reader might never guess that there was something wrong with the other translations, and might even assume that the error was to found in the LB and NWT. When all you can do is compare the English translations, and count them up like votes, the LB and NWT stick out as different in John 8:58. It is natural to assume that the majority are correct and the odd ones at fault. It is only when translations are checked against the original Greek, as they should be, that a fair assessment can be made, and the initial assumption can be seen to be wrong.

So the bottom line is then, that the NWT is correct in translating ego eimi as “I have been” except that they put it at the end of the sentence.

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The NWT translation of John 8:58 is not reasonable, since it mangles the tense of the word εἰμί (Present/Active/Indicative/2nd Person Singular - "I am"), which they don't do for Paul's statement in Act 17:28, where they have:

For by him we have life and move and exist, even as some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his children.’

The word the NWT gives as "exist" here, is ἐσμεν (Present/Active/Indicate/2nd Person Plural - "we are"). If they were consistent, then they would have at least given "I exist" in John 8:58.

Given the controversial nature of Jesus' teaching about himself -- to the Jews then, and others since -- it is "Most, truly" clear that he was making a reference to the continuous nature of his existence, as did Yahweh in Exodus 3:14.

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    The translators of the NWT state that their goal is to "strike a balance between using words and phrasing that mirror the original and, at the same time, avoiding wording that reads awkwardly or hides the intended thought". Their priority is not just to be accurate, but to also be readable. Your example of Acts 17:28 has different context and different sentence structure, so it allows for a different (perhaps more understandable) translation. – 4castle Aug 23 '17 at 1:57
  • @4castle Saying, "Their priority is not just to be accurate ...", is simply YOUR justification for the NWT translators spinning the text in the way you prefer. Personally, I prefer to err on the side of accuracy. There is nothing particularly different about the two contexts that merits accuracy in one, but not the other. – enegue Aug 23 '17 at 4:18
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    How do you define "accuracy"? If you mean that you prefer a word-for-word translation, feel free to use an interlinear translation. I think you will quickly find that word-for-word translations are nearly unreadable, and can be easily misunderstood due to how different languages differ greatly in grammar, sentence structure, and idiom. Would you really prefer if it said "we have life and move and have been"? – 4castle Aug 23 '17 at 4:21
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    If you compare how the NWT has translated Acts 17:28 to other Bible translations, you will see that pretty much all translations using different wording from John 8:58. It just doesn't make sense to translate it the same way in the context of the verses. This is not specific to the NWT at all. – 4castle Aug 23 '17 at 4:30
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    I respect that, but will not refrain from commenting on an objectively unsubstantiated answer. You have not shown that the translation has been unreasonable or "mangled" the tense, you've just shown that different verses can use the same words to mean different things. If the NWT is unreasonable for recognizing this, then all translations are unreasonable. – 4castle Aug 23 '17 at 4:44

Everyone seems to be missing an obvious and important point on this verse. Trying to prove that it should be translated as "I am" over "I have been" is not the issue. The issue is word order. It is incorrect to translate the verse "before Abraham was born, I am". why? Because it is left in an interlinear form. Therefore, this is ultimately not an English translation, and the verse is left incomplete.

If you have the Living Bible (which is in favor of the Trinity), it says “The absolute truth is that I was in existence before Abraham was ever born!”.

This is the correct way to read the verse. Why? Because the "subject", that is the person talking, Jesus, when he says "I am", is now moved to the beginning of the sentence.

The word order in Greek at John 8:58 is "Predicate + Subject + Verb" but we must rearrange the word order when we translate to English, which is "Subject + Verb + Predicate/Object ". You can compare the same word order found in John 14:9, and John 15:27, which all other bibles suddenly remember how to translate from Greek to English.

Greek Scholar notes: Kenneth Mckay, says that John 8:58 "would be most naturally translated 'I have been in existence since before Abraham was born', if it were not for the obsession with the simple words 'I am'" (K. L. McKay, 'I am' in John's Gospel, Expository Times 1996: 302-303).

As for the implication that Jesus is God in this verse, I believe that the context bears out that this is not his claim, just from reading around the verse. Remember Jesus is speaking of God being his Father. This is a very bold claim, referring to YHWH in such a personal way has never been done before, nor by any prophet. Note what Jesus says at John 8:38 and 40 that they are already seeking to kill him at this point, well before vs 58. He then accuses them in vs 44 "You are of your father the devil". All of this builds from Jesus' claim that he is from God, and that God is his father.

If you go back to John 5:18, it reads "For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God"-NASB

We know that Jesus is the Son of God, him claiming that God was his father was in their eyes enough to enrage them. John 19:7: "The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God."-NASB

So going back to John 8:58 if Jesus says "I have been in existence since before Abraham was born", K. Mckay says that "The claim to have been in existence for so long is in itself a staggering one, quite enough to provoke the crowd's violent reaction" (page 302).

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It's not just reasonable, but according to Greek scholar Kenneth McKay, those who have only "a smattering of Greek" and see some sort of "magic" in the words use the words "I am" and not some form of the English perfect (e.g. have been). See the article, Kenneth McKay, "I AM" in John's Gospel and also a link to the paper online.

Kenneth L. McKay graduated with honors in Classics from the Universities of Sydney and Cambridge, taught Greek in universities and theological colleges in Nigeria, New Zealand, and England, who taught at the Australian National University for 26 years, has written numerous articles on ancient Greek syntax, as well as authored a book on Classical Attic, Greek Grammar for Students, and A New Syntax of the Verb in "New Testament Greek: an aspectual approach", provides the following in relation to the alleged "true parallel between Exodus 3:14 (LXX) and John 8:58"

"I am" in John's Gospel

The Expository Times, 1996, page 302 BY K. L. MCKAY, MA, FORMERLY OF THE AUSTRALIAN UNIVERSITY

It has become fashionable among some preachers and writers to relate Jesus' use of the words "I am" in the Gospel according to John, in all, or most, of their contexts, to God's declaration to Moses in Exodus 3:14, and to expound the passages concerned as if the words themselves have some kind of magic in them. Some who have no more than a smattering of Greek attribute the "magic" to the Greek words ego eimi. 1 I wish briefly to draw attention to the normality of the Greek in all such passages, and the unlikelihood of the words ego eimi being intended to suggest any special significance of this kind.

It is, of course, perfectly reasonable to draw attention to Jesus' claims about himself by noting the "I am" element common to them: 'I am the bread of life' (6:35), 'I am the light of the world' (8:12), 'I am the gate/door' (10:7), 'I am the good shepherd' (10:11), 'I am the resurrection and the life' (11:25), 'I am the way, the truth and the life' (14:6), 'I am the true vine' (15:1). These statements give important insights into the identity and work of Jesus, and we can be challenged to decide whether the words "I am" in them convey truth, delusion, deceit, or something else.

In each case the Greek words used are ego eimi, the pronoun being emphatic (as is usually appropriate in beginning a startling fresh statement, answering a question of identity or personal activity, and in some other circumstances), and the verb, also slightly emphatic, [2] being the normal use of the verb 'to be' as a copula, the means of linking the subject with the significant words, 'bread', 'light', etc., which occur as noun complements. The same principle applies when the complement is an adjective or an adverb or adverbial phrase used adjectivally.

With variations of context the degree of emphasis may vary, and either the pronoun or the verb may be omitted. In the parallelism of 8:23 pronoun and verb are separated: humeis ek ton kato este, ego ek ton ano eimi, but in the immediately following parallel statement the introduction of a negative brings the verb forward (thus also giving extra emphasis to toutou): ego ouk eimi ek tou kosmou toutou. In 14:10 the verb is omitted, because it is understood from the rest of the sentence: ego en tw patri kai ho pater en emoi estin. [3] In 14:20 a development from the same statement, also in a hoti clause, omits the copula entirely: ego en tw patri mou kai humeis en emoi kagw en humin. In 10:36 the personal pronoun is not needed for emphasis, and is omitted: huios tou theou eimi. In 7:34 and 7:36 the clause structure demands the postposition of the subject: hopou eimi ego humeis ou dunasthe elthein.

Although the natural English translations differ, there are two contexts of this kind in which Jesus uses the words ego eimi alone to identify himself: in 6:20, where the disciples are afraid of the apparition they see walking on the water, and Jesus reassures them by identifying himself, quite naturally, with these words, which translate into English as "It is I" and in 18:5, while Jesus acknowledges that he is Jesus of Nazareth by speaking the same words, which are naturally translated into English as "I am he".

The syntactic difference between them is that in the former ego is the complement, the unexpressed subject being something equivalent to 'what you see', and in the latter ego is the subject, the unexpressed complement being 'Jesus of Nazareth'. In both these passages ego eimi is the natural Greek response [4] in the circumstances, as may be seen in 9:9, where the man cured of blindness uses exactly the same words to acknowledge his identity. The dramatic reaction of the arresting party in 18:6 is readily explained if we note that the confident authority of Jesus' presence was such that he defeated the merchants in the temple (2:15), and he simply walked away when the crowd was intent on throwing him over the brow of the hill near Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30).

The verb 'to be' is used differently, in what is presumably its basic meaning of 'be in existence', in John 8:58: prin Abraam genesthai ego eimi, [5] which would be most naturally translated 'I have been in existence since before Abraham was born', [6] if it were not for the obsession with the simple words 'I am'. If we take the Greek words in their natural meaning, as we surely should, the claim to have been in existence for so long is in itself a staggering one, quite enough to provoke the crowd's violent reaction.

For the emphasis on the words 'I am' we need to look back to God's words to Moses in Exodus 3:14, 'I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: "I am has sent me to you".' The passage in its Hebrew form has been discussed by many commentators as something of a problem, with possibilities that the verb could mean 'I am', 'I will be', 'I become', or 'I will become', and the pronoun 'that', 'who', 'what', or even 'because'. Some see a need to emend the text, and some stress various critical principles as basic to its interpretation. A few refer to the Septuagint translation of the passage as relevant for understanding it. [7]

Now the Septuagint was the translation done for the benefit of the increasing number of Greek-speaking Jews a couple of centuries earlier, so naturally it is the version of the Old Testament that is normally referred to in the New Testament, and certainly the one most likely to be known to the early readers of John's Gospel.

It's translation of Exodus 3:14 follows the sense (as understood by the Jewish translators) rather than the exact form of the Hebrew: ego eimi ho wn ... Ho wn apestalke me, which translates into English literally as 'I am the being one',' [8] and 'the being one has sent me'. Now the words ego eimi here are the emphatic pronoun and the copula as in most of the passages cited above; and ho wn represents a relative clause which in its first occurrence would be hos eimi and in its second occurrence would be hos esti, [9] but the most natural translation into English of both would be 'the one who is (who really exists)',' [10] the verb having its basic meaning (and being so accented), and not being a mere copula In neither is there any possibility of inserting an emphatic ego.

So the emphatic words used by Jesus in the passages referred to above are perfectly natural in their contexts, and they do not echo the words of Exodus 3:14 in the normally quoted Greek version. Thus they are quite unlikely to have been used in the New Testament to convey that significance, however much the modern English versions of the relevant passages, following the form of the Hebrew words, may suggest it.


1 I have seen one such speaker try to impress his audience by writing the words on a blackboard, only to demonstrate that he was ignorant of even the simplest details of Greek. [2] It's position is un-emphatic, but the degree of emphasis could be reduced by its omission, which would make no difference to the meaning. The omission of the copula is quite common in Greek, especially, but not exclusively, in the third person. [3] The fact that this is a reported statement, in a hoti clause, does not affect the grammar, but only the degree of emphasis. [4] In translation, if as is likely, the original reply was the equivalent in Aramaic. [5] Note that with this meaning the verb is differently accented in Greek [ E)GW\ E)MI/ instead of E)GW\ E)IMI ]. [6] For the construction see "K. L. McKay, A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek: An aspectual approach" (Peter Lang, 1994), 4.2.4. [7] For extensive modern discussion of the problems of interpretation see Brevard S. Childs, Exodus: A Commentary (OTL, SCM, 1974) and John 1. Durham, Exodus (WBC 3, Word, 1987). See also Martin Noth, Exodus (OTL, SCM, 2nd ed. 1966); U. Cassuto, Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Magnes Press), 1. P. Hyatt, Exodus (NCB, Oliphants, 1971); Alan Cole, Exodus (TC, IVP, 1973); J. W. Wevers, Notes on the Greek Text of Exodus (Scholars Press, 1990). [8] As Noth mentions in a footnote. [9] Cf. the Vulgate translation of 14b: Qui est misit me ad vos. [10] English has lost the full range of inflections, and the relative pronoun is now treated as if it were always third person.

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  • Apparently the Jews who were listening understood something which deserved the immediate action of stoning. – Revelation Lad Jan 7 at 0:00
  • @RevelationLad McKay addresses the reaction of the Jews in the article in the paragraph where I put have been in bold. – user33125 Jan 7 at 0:06
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    @RevelationLad At John 19:7 the Jews said he should die for making himself to be God's Son. – user33125 Jan 7 at 0:42
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    @RevelationLad McKay proves his point with Greek. You never gave a reference about Jewish law. And claiming to be God's son is not the same as claiming to be God. Angels are sons of God too. – user33125 Jan 7 at 0:47
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    @RevelationLad I don't see any reference to a law at J 10:33. Also Jesus denies it and says instead it is because he claimed to be God's son, just like 19:7. They did not believe him and said he merely claimed to be (made himself to be) God's son. You are reading your theology into the text. – user33125 Jan 7 at 1:00

Attempting to identify Jesus with Jehovah some say that ego eimi is the equivalent of Ani hu (I Am He) which is used by God.However, it is to be noted that this Hebrew expression is also used by man, as in 1Chronicles21:17. Further attempting to identify Jesus with Jehovah some try to use Ex.3:14 which reads ego eimi ho on. Which means I am The Being or I am The Existing One. This attempt cannot be sustained because the expression in Ex.3:14 is different from the expression in John 8:48. Throughout the Christian Greek Scriptures Jehovah and Jesus are never identified as the same person.The earlier Hebrew Scriptures quote is from the LXX.

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    In 1 Chr. 21:17, אֲנִי הוּא (LXX: ἐγώ εἰμι) is followed by a relative clause. In John 8:58, ἐγώ εἰμι stands alone with nothing following. Unfortunately, you are comparing apples to oranges. You also stated, “Throughout the Christian Greek Scriptures Jehovah and Jesus are never identified as the same person.”—Quite the contrary. Rom. 10:9 cp. Joel 2:32 identifies Jesus as Yahveh. – user862 Jan 28 '17 at 19:25
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  • @user863 Paul quotes Joel 2:33 at Acts 2:21 & Rom 10:13 showing that Yahveh is to be called on. The New Testament in Hebrew reads in these verses "YHWH" is support of Calling on "Yahveh"! – user26950 Oct 28 '18 at 18:52

The following are your own words and comments Thomas Pearne. "You never gave the reference about Jewish law. And claiming to be God's son is not the same as claiming to be God. Angels are sons of God too." I want to address this statement of yours in detail.

Now, I'm going to say first that the Jews knew all the time what Jesus was claiming and that's why they accused Him of blasphemy. Or to put it another way, "What did Jesus say to the Jews that caused them to want to kill Him for blasphemy? At John 5:17, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working." Verse 18, "For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God." When Joseph and Mary His mother were looking for Jesus at Luke 2:49 Jesus says, "Why is it you were looking for Me? Did you not know I had to be about MY FATHER'S affairs.?

What did Jesus say at John 8:58, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham sprang into existence, I am." The Jews reacted by saying, "Therefore the Jews picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple."

John 10:30, "I and the Father We are one." The Jews took up stones again to stone Him." Jesus was claiming in this verse that He and His Father are one in nature. The Jews understood what Jesus was saying. It goes without saying that Jesus and His Father are also one in purpose in protecting the sheep but the immediate context has to do with Jesus claiming to be one in nature or essence with His Father.

What do the Jews say at verse 31, "The Jews's took up stones again to stone Him." Verse 32, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?" Verse 33, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out God."

Now, the Jews were under Roman rule and they could not have a trial unless they first got permission from the Romans. This is why they went to Pilate and even though Pilate found no fault in Jesus he gave into the Jews demands. At John 19:6, "When therefore the chief priests and the officers say Him, they cried out saying, Crucify crucify! Pilate said to them, "Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him." Verse 7, "The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by that law He ought to died because (or why), He made Himself out the Son of God." The law that the Jews accused Jesus of breaking is found at Leviticus 24:16.

At Matthew 16:13, Jesus ask His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Verse 15, "But who do you say that I am?" At verse 16 Peter says, "Thou are the Christ/Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus says at verse 17, "Blessed are you, Simon because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven."

So now we get back to the trial at Matthew 26:63 and notice the question the high priest ask Jesus. "I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ/Messiah, the Son of God?" In other words, Caiaphas asked if Jesus was "The Messiah, the Son of (God)" thus asking the ONE person of Jesus if Jesus was BOTH the Messiah and the Son of God, committing him to the view of a divine Messiah. At Luke 22:70, Jesus said, "Yes, I am."

At Matthew 26:65, Then the high priest tore his robes saying, "He has blasphemed!" What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy." It should be noted that claiming to be the Messiah is not a blasphemous offense. People have been claiming to be the Messiah even before Jesus to this very day.

The charge of blasphemy was not false. They rightly convicted Jesus of blasphemy--NOT because He blasphemed, but because they did not believe He is who He said He was.

I want you to notice something. When Jesus ask Peter who He was, Peter replied, You are the Christ/Messiah the Son of God. The high priest ask Jesus, "Are you the Christ/Messiah, the Son of God." At John 20:30-31 it says, "Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book." Verse 31, "but these have been written that you may believe, THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST/MESSIAH, THE SON OF GOD; and that believing you may have life in His name."

I also want to address the Jewish "son of" idiom. First of all the Jews new or understand what Jesus was claiming by asking Jesus to swear as to Him being the Son of God. So why did they ask Him that question since they themselves believe there are sons of God as well? The Jews have an "idiom" known as the "son of" idiom and the Bible is filled with these idioms. Sons of the prophets refer to men belonging to a prophetic band. (1 Kings 20:35). Son of goldsmiths, a goldsmith. In the New Testament we have "Sons of disobedience, Ephesians 2:2, are those characterized by disobedience. Or "Son of perdition, (John 17:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3) Judas the lost one and the son of destruction known as the antichrist.

At (Nehemiah 3:8) Both "Son of God" and "Son of Man" are Messianic titles. Jesus himself authenticates these titles by claiming them for Himself. The "Son of Man" was the title derived from the figure who appears in Daniel 7. I've already explained how the "Son of God" idiom which was understood by the Jews in what Jesus said to the Jews. John 5:18, being equal to His "OWN" Father. John 10:30, "I and the Father, we are one." That is one in nature. And at John 19:7, "He ought to die because He made Himself out the Son of God." Bottom line, the Jews and others simply did not believe what Jesus claimed to be, unfortunately to their eternal detriment.

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  • 1
    why do you cling to the 'I and the Father are one' when it's well documented that it is not a reference to 'one essence' at all!? Find some others that have a modicum of veracity about them pls! – user48152 Aug 7 at 2:04

What did Jesus likely say in John 8:58?

Professor of Religious Studies , Jason David BeDuhn of Northern Arizona University in his book "TRUTH IN TRANSLATION Accuracy and Bias of the New Testament" compares nine major English translations and list them as follows:

In Chapter ten "TEMPERING WITH THE TENSES" deals exclusively with John 8:58 analyzes grammar and syntax of this verse and other similar verses.

KJV NRSV NASB NIV TEV AB all translate as the NAB "I AM "

NAB before Abraham came to be, I AM

NW before Abraham came into existence,I have been.

LB I was in existence before Abraham was ever born.

Quote "What is going on here? You may think that there is a particularly difficult or convoluted Greek clause underlying this mess in English. But that is not the case. The Greek reads "prin Abraham genesthai ego eimi". What is Jesus says here is fine idiomatic Greek. It can be rendered straightforwardly into English by doing what translators always do with Greek, namely, rearrange the word into normal English order,and adjust things like verbal tense complimentary into proper expression"unquote.

The chapter runs into ten pages, the concluding paragraph is as follows.

"The LB comes out as the most accurate translation of John 8:58. The translator avoided the lure of bias and the pressure of the KJV tradition. The NW is second best in this case, because it understands the relation between the two verbs correctly, even though the influence of the KJV has led its translators to but the verb improperly at the end of the sentence. The average Bible reader might never guess that there was some thing wrong with the other translations, and might even assume that the error is found in the LB and NW When all you can do is compare the English translations, and count them up like votes,the LB and NW stick out different in John 8:58. It is natural to assume that the majority are correct and the odd ones at fault. It is only when translations are checked against original Greek, as they should be, that a fair assessment can be made, and the initial assumption can be seen to be wrong".

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In the context of a prior persecution of Jesus, when there it is clear to the Jews that He is a blasphemer and makes himself equal to God, i.e. making himself Jahve (Jehovah) (John 5:18), it is only reasonable to conclude that for majority of the listeners Jesus' wording of "before Abraham was, I am" was not something totally unexpected, but confirmed their suspicion and even conviction that Jesus is a blasphemer and in the "I am" implied a sacrilegious theology;

Even if (let us suppose hypothetically) Jesus did not put this meaning, so to say, grammatically, but only indicated His pre-existence before Abraham's birth, the Jews who already knew and suspected Him being a blasphemer, would definitely see in the "I am" this theological implication. Who on earth would have reasoned about the subtleties of Hebrew or Greek grammar, when there was a clear terrifying expectation of blasphemy of Jesus equaling himself to God on the part of the enraged Jews immediately after the words "ἐγὼ εἰμί" were uttered? Since the expectation was of this concrete theological blasphemy, then the "ἐγὼ εἰμί" would definitely bear for them this blasphemous implication rather than a mitigated and lessened one of Jesus simply making himself a pre-existent but not eternally existent being.

Thus at least a conspicuous majority of them would have naturally seen a blasphemous theology in Jesus' "I am". Moreover, Jesus apparently makes a direct allusion to Psalm 89:2 (or 90:2 according to an alternative numeration), which in the Greek Septuagint reads:

πρὸ τοῦ ὄρη γενηθῆναι καὶ πλασθῆναι τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν οἰκουμένην, καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος καὶ ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος σὺ εἶ

Before mountains came to being, and earth and the world was formed, and from eternity to eternity, You are.

The verb γενηθῆναι is the same as in John 8:58, and the "You are" has the same existential import as the "I am", meaning "You exist", and therefore also the "from eternity to eternity" is automatically implicated in Jesus' words, which makes him identical with Jahve (Jehovah). (In later theology this identity was expressed in the theological notion of "essence" - οὐσία which is absolutely identical in the Father and the Son, whereas the no less outspoken difference between Jesus and the Father by the notion of "person" - ὑπόστασις, which they have absolutely uniquely and uninterminglably).

It was just impossible for Jewish religious experts present at Jesus' address not to see a clear and intentional allusion to the Septuagint text of the Psalm 89:2 and thus their rage is clearly related to Jesus making himself eternally existing, just as God. It cannot be more clear. And for sure Jews saw this quite unequivocally.

Also later they had to admit directly: "we do not want to kill you because of good deeds, but because of being a man you make yourself God" (John 10:30-33), now nobody is God who is not eternally existing, and thus in Jew's belief Jesus claimed of Himself just that - the eternal existence. Hence the translation of the John 8:58 provided by NWT is a bad, biased and eisegesitic one, while King James' version is plain and good: "Before Abraham was, I am".

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  • Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. I have broken up your wall of text into paragraphs, to make it easier for people to read. I have also added formating for your quote from LXX. – enegue Aug 22 '17 at 21:56

There are at least four reasons why the New World Translation is unreasonable.

First, in the 1981 printing of the 1971 Revision, the New World Bible Translation Committee1has this footnote explaining their translation:

Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”

□ I have been=ἐγώ εἰμι (e-go' ei-mi') after the a'orist infinitive clause πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι and hence properly rendered in the perfect tense indicative. It is not the same as (ho ohn meaning "The Being" or "The I Am") at Exodus 3:14 LXX.

Obviously, the phrase is an interpretation of what the Committee recognizes as the literal translation. Their position εἰμί is to be translated in the perfect tense following the aorist infinitive clause is not supported by scholarly reference or a rule of grammar. In fact, there is no perfect tense use of εἰμί in the New Testament or in the LXX. Additionally, the Committee's understanding of the aorist perfect is contrary to accepted New Testament grammar of this tense (also known as the dramatic or historical perfect):

...is rarely used in a rhetorical manner to describe an event in a highly vivid way. The aorist/dramatic perfect is "used as a simple past tense without concern for present consequences..." In this respect, it shares a kinship with the historical present. There are but a handful of examples of this in the NT, occurring only in narrative contexts. Thus this use is informed by contextual intrusions (narrative). The key to detecting a dramatic perfect is the absence of any notion of existing results.2

Not only is the use not in narrative, the issue is the present consequences of the phrase, which the Committee's note states was interpreted specifically to distinguish it from Exodus 3:14. However, in the actual event what was heard was "ἐγώ εἰμι" which was clearly understood elsewhere in the same event (cf. 8:12, 18, 24, 28) and would account for the crowd's reaction.

The deficiency in the NWT translation is not in any theologically connotation of "I am" implied or not. Rather, it is whether the actual words should be conveyed in English. Many trinitarian scholars argue against "I am" in John 8:58 as referring to the Divine Name as given in Exodus. So the reasonable approach should be to accurately render the phrase as "I am" and footnote the Committee's opinion there is no connection to Exodus 3:14, citing those scholars who agree with their position.

Second, "...I have been.” renders the verb εἰμι in a way contrary to the meanings as found in accepted Lexicons. For example, BDAG gives eleven primary meanings all stating some type of current existence like be, with, is live, something taking place at the time, and the like. About the use in John 8:58 they say:

be, exist, be on hand...Of Christ, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί before Abraham was born, I am 8:58 (on the present εἰμι cp. Parmenides 8, 5: of the Eternal we cannot say ἦν οὐδ ἕσταὶ, only ἕστὶν; Ammonius Hermiae [Comm, in Aristotle IV 5 ed. ABusse 1897] 6 p. 172; in Timaeus we read that we must not say of the gods τὸ ἦν ἤ τὸ ἕσταὶ μεταβολῇς τὶνος ὃντα σημαντὶκἀ, μὸνον δἐ τὸ ἕστὶ='was' or 'will be', suggesting change, but only 'is'; Ps 89.2; DBall 'I am’ in John's Gospel [JSNT Suppl. 124] '96.)3

Third, the phrase ἐγὼ εἰμί occurs 48 times in the New Testament. Here is a summary of how the New World Translation translates the phrase:

I am - 32 times 
I am he - 9 times
I - 6 times
I have been - 1 time

In every other use, the phrase is treated consistent with the meanings found in the Lexicons. "I have been" is not only a meaning contrary to how it is used in John 8:58; it is unlike any rendering in the New Testament, even in the NWT. This type of inconsistency is not the mark of a reasonable translation.

Finally, when translating spoken words, the most accurate rendering is one which conveys exactly what was said, regardless of whether their speech was grammatically correct. In other words, if the phrase means "I am he" as is obvious from the Lexicons and how the NWT otherwise treats it, then "I have been" is an interpretation. Even if the phrase is unintelligible (which is not the case), a reasonable translation will simply state what was said. This is perhaps the most egregious deficiency, because it robs the text of a important feature: misunderstanding something Jesus says.

The Fourth Gospel is known for using words and phrases which have one than one meaning. This leads to "misunderstandings" which play a significant role in all Jesus' teachings. The fact the exact meaning of "I am" is debated among scholars today is no different than the original hearers. It is unreasonable to replace the literal meaning with something designed to remove the tension or conflict present in the original text.

The New World Translation of "I have been" is an interpretation, not a translation. It was done purposely to deny Jesus was making an reference to Exodus 3:14. In this regard it is doubly inaccurate as the proper way to refute the reference is to accurately translate ἐγὼ εἰμί as "I am" and to explain why it is not referring to Exodus in the footnote.

Likely the Committee recognized two issues with "I am." One is Jesus' claim to divinity. The other, which may be more significant, is a New Testament use of the Divine Name (in any context) which is not Jehovah.

1. Members of the Committee are not identified. A general criticism of the New World Translation is the failure to disclose the individuals who work on the translations and revisions.
2. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Zondervan, 1996, p. 578
3. Fredrick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University Chicago Press, 2000, p. 283

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