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[Jhn 8:58 CSB] (58) Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am."

[Jhn 8:58 MGNT] (58) εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί

[Psalm 90:2 Brenton Septuagint (LXX 89:2)] (2) Before the mountains existed, and before the earth and the world were formed, even from age to age, Thou art.

[Psalm 90:2] (LXX 89:2) πρὸ τοῦ ὄρη γενηθῆναι καὶ πλασθῆναι τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν οἰκουμένην καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος σὺ εἶ

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It certainly apears that John 8:58 is an allusion to Psa. 90:2 since both share the same syntax.1 Both Meyer2 and De Wette3 refer to Psa. 90:2 in their commentary on John 8:58.

On his notes of Psa. 90:2,4 Frederick Field wrote,5

Field, Frederick. Origenis Hexaplorum. p. 245, Psa. 89:2–3

Jerome in Epistle to Sunnias and Fretela: “You are God.” And you say that “God” isn’t in the Greek [manuscript]. It is clear that [God] is in them, for the Hebrew [manuscript] even has [it], and all other translators and the LXX similarly have translated [it]: ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος σὺ εἶ, ὁ θεός.6

Here is the aforementioned passage of Jerome in entirety:7

Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Latina. Vol. 22. p. 858

And you say that “God” isn’t in the Greek [manuscript]. It is clear that [God] is in them, for the Hebrew [manuscript] even has [it], and all other translators and the LXX similarly have translated [it]: ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος σὺ εἶ, ὁ θεός, which in Hebrew, it is said, מֵעוֹלָם עַד־עוֹלָם אַתָּה אֵל.

The Crux of the Issue

The crux of the issue is the Hebrew word אֵל. As we know, original Hebrew manuscripts did not contain diacritics, so the scribe would only have written אל. As אֵל, it can be a reference to God.8 As אַל, it can be a negative particle.9 As אֵל, it can be a preposition, meaning “unto.”10 The Codex Sinaiticus translated the Hebrew text as the negative particle μὴ and connected it with the following verse, hence μὴ ἀποστρέψῃς:

Codex Sinaiticus, Psa. 89:2–3

However, on the LXX’s translation, Franz Delitzsch commented,11

Delitzsch, Franz. Biblischer Commentar über das alte Testament. Vierter Theil: poetische Bücher. Erster Band: die Psalmen. pp. 107–108. Psa. 90:2

The LXX misses the sense, because it drags אל from v. 2 and reads אֵל־תָּשֵׁב (“you will not turn”).

Summary

John 8:58 could allude to a proto-LXX version of Psa. 90:2 wherein the Greek text translates the Hebrew אַתָּה אֵל (atta el)—“You are God.” As such, John 8:58 would mean, “I am God,” and the ellipsis ὁ θεός would need to be supplied in conjunction with ἐγὼ εἰμί. However, with all the textual issues, there is much uncertainty. Reading John 8:58 as is, and observing the reaction of the Jews to Jesus’ statement, the following translation seems appropriate:

58 Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I exist.”

The distinction is between Abraham, who was born and came into existence, and Jesus, who pre-existed as God. Whether we can supply ὁ θεός by ellipsis to ἐγὼ εἰμί, it does not alter the meaning (or import) of the Greek text.


Footnotes

1 Subject with copula, sans predicate.
2 Meyer, p. 370
3 De Wette, p. 126
4 Psa. 89:2 in Codex Sinaiticus
5 p. 245
6 Translation of the Greek text: “from age unto age, you exist, O’ God”
7 p. 858
8 cf. Gen. 14:18 (Strong’s H410)
9 cf. Jdg. 19:23 (Strong’s H408)
10 cf. Gen. 1:9 (Strong’s H413)
11 Delitzsch, pp. 107–108

References

Delitzsch, Frank. Biblischer Commentar über das alte Testament. Vierter Theil: poetische Bücher. Erster Band: die Psalmen. 3rd ed. Leipzig: Dörffling and Franke, 1873.

De Wette, Wilhelm Martin Lebrecht. Kurze Erklärung des Evangeliums und der Briefe Johannis. Leipzig: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1839.

Field, Frederick. Origenis Hexaplorum. Vol. 1. Oxonii: E Typographeo Clarendoniano, 1875.

Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Kritisch exegetischer Kommentar über das Neue Testament, Zweite Abtheilung, Kritisch exegetisches Handbuch über das Evangelium des Johannes. 5th ed. Vol. 2. Göttingen: Vandenboeck and Ruprecht, 1869.

Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Latina. “Epistola CVI. Ad Sunniam et Fretalam” (“Epistle 106. To Sunnias and Fretela”). Ed. Migne, Jacques Paul. Vol. 22. Petit-Montrouge: Imprimerie Catholique, 1845.

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    Thank you for your thoughtful and well documented response! I'm particularly gratified that you explored the implications of both the Hebrew and the LXX readings. +1 way up and accepted as the answer. You made my day. – Ruminator Oct 20 at 21:00
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The Prayer of Joseph: This prayer of repentance is only known through three fragments embedded in the writings of Origin. J. Z. Smith described the text as “a tantalizing fragment that has left no discernible impact on subsequent literature” (OTP 2:711).

Although the prayer originally ran some 1100 lines, only nine are now extant. Since the longest fragment appears in Origin’s Commentary on John, the prayer dates before A.D. 231. Origin introduced the text as “an apocrypha presently in use among the Hebrews.” J. Z. Smith thought the parallels with Hebrew and Aramaic prayers suggest a date in the first century (OTP 2:700). After observing the uncertainty associated with this text, Stephen Robinson suggests the prayer was written in the first century in either in Aramaic or Greek by a Jewish author (ABD 3:976). In his Lexham Bible Dictionary article, John Barry suggests the possibility the text may have “gnostic undertones” since Jacob is described as elevated figure with special abilities and knowledge.

Of interest to New Testament studies is the description of Jacob as “firstborn of every living being” in line three of the first fragment:

“I, Jacob, who is speaking to you, am also Israel, an angel of God and a ruling spirit. Abraham and Isaac were created before any work. But, I, Jacob, who men call Jacob but whose name is Israel am he who God called Israel which means, a man seeing God, because I am the firstborn of every living thing to whom God gives life.

This is remarkably similar to Colossians 1:15, although the Prayer of Joseph uses πρωτογενός rather than πρωτότοκος. But as Smith points out, both usages have their origin in Exodus 4:22, “Israel is my firstborn” (πρωτότοκός μου Ισραηλ, cf., 4 Ezra 6:58; Sir 36:17; PssSol 18:4). In addition, this fragmentary text also stats Abraham and Isaac were created before anything else. In John 8:58, Jesus claims “before Abraham was, I am.” In both Colossians and John, the issue is the pre-existence of Jesus, the Prayer of Joseph may be evidence of some interest among some first century Jews in the pre-existence of patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob.

One additional intriguing element of the first fragment is the re-interpretation of the struggle between Jacob and an angel in Genesis 32:22-32. In that canonical story, the identity of the man who wrestles with Jacob is not at all clear; he is never called an angel, but he seems more than human. When he blesses Jacob, the man says “you have striven with God.” Although this may imply the man was an angel (on an incarnation of God), that is not clear in the text. The Prayer of Joseph identifies the angel as Uriel:

And when I was coming up from Syrian Mesopotamia, Uriel, the angel of God, came forth and said that ‘I [Jacob-Israel] had descended to earth and I had tabernacled among men and that I had been called by the name of Jacob.’ He envied me and fought with me and wrestled with me saying that his name and the name that is before every angel was to be above mine. 6I told him his name and what rank he held among the sons of God. ‘Are you not Uriel, the eighth after me? and I, Israel, the archangel of the power of the Lord and the chief captain among the sons of God? Am I not Israel, the first minister before the face of God?’ And I called upon my God by the inextinguishable name.”

This angel is one of the archangels, serving as a “chief captain among the sons of God,” but so too is Israel, the “first minister before the face of God.” Uriel appears in Uriel are those found in The Astronomical Book (1 Enoch 72–82) and guides Enoch in several other heavenly journeys (1 Enoch 19:1; 21:5, 9; 27:2; 33:3-4). 1 Enoch 20:2 identifies him as one of the angels ruling over Tartarus. Since Israel overcomes Uriel, Barry suggests this is an allegory for the elevation of Israel (the nation) over all people.

Bibliography: Barry, John D. “Prayer of Joseph” LBD; Newsom, Carol A. “Uriel (Angel),” ABD 6:769; Smith, J. Z. “Prayer of Joseph,” OTP 2:699-714.

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Well to be honest I do know that John 8:58 refers to Exodus 3:14 but never heard of it referring to Psalm 90:2. The literal reading of John 8:58 is, "Before Abraham sprang into existence, I am." Or before Abraham came into being, I am."

Now, regarding Psalm 90:2,"Before the mountains were born, Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, Even from evberlasting to everlasting, Thou are God." Here is what's interesting about this?

At Genesis 1:1 it says, "In the beginning." At John 1:1 it says, "In the beginning." Is the beginning at John 1:1 referring to the same beginning at Genesis 1:1?

No! John 1:2, beginning. The definite article has been supplied. The actual Greek is en arche-that is, "in beginning." The "Word" was there before the creation of space-mass-time of the universe. This means that John's beginning even antecedes the Genesis "beginning," extending without an initial beginning into eternity past, even before time was created.

Or to put it another way, even though both verses start out with the same three words, "In the beginning, the main thought of Genesis 1:1 is WHAT HAPPENED "in the beginning," and at John 1:1 the EMPHASIS IS ON WHO EXISTED "in the beginning."

This is backed up at John 1:3, "All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him (OR WITHOUT HIM) nothing has come into being that has come into being." So, I think one can tie this to the Psalm 90:3 verse you gave. Hope this helps!

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