Every native speaker can intuitively tell that "Before Abraham was born, I am" is not grammatical English. To take "I am" as a title of God is equivalent to "Before Abraham was born, Fred."

That's pidgin English and robs the sentence of its subject and verb.

Also if εγώ είμι (the Greek from John 8:58) is existential (answering the WHEN and not the WHO), the past tense adverbial dependent clause "Before Abraham was born", that modifies the to-be verb "am" should not be rendered as "I am" but must use the English present perfect tense "I have been" to be grammatical

Good idiomatic Greek can always be rendered into good English.

So, did Jesus speak pidgin or ungrammatically at J 8:58?

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    Hello, and welcome to the BH.SE! This seems to have started out with the appearance of a question, but by the end you made a conclusion. You called out the seven "I AM" statements of John, and then concluded So the emphatic words used by Jesus ... do not echo the words of Exodus 3:14 so it seems you have included both a question and an answer, which is why I am DVing this question and moving to close it. Here's my suggestion: Edit your question to everything above the break and post the rest as an answer to you Q and I will throw an UV your way for the Q and retract my close vote. Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 17:54
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    ...assuming I can't find a suitable duplicate. Which I did. In light of this, the rest of your "question" after the break might be best posted as an answer there 1) with some edits and 2) after reading the existing answers and detailing how the arguments made there to claim Jn 8:58 is intended to quote Ex. 3:14 are wrong. Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 18:04
  • Christ spoke Hebrew; the New Testament, along with the Septuagint, were written in Koine Greek. So, are you asking whether the text of the fourth Gospel is grammatically correct, according to the rules of the particular Greek dialect it was penned in; or whether the dialect itself had the same grammatical rules as other more prestigious dialects of the same language; or whether Greek (of any kind) and (modern) English possess the same (or very similar) ways of according various verbal tenses ?
    – Lucian
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 0:28
  • @ThomasPearne: So your question then is why (post-medieval) English translators favored a more brutal (for modern English standards) but literal translation of the (Koine) Greek, over a more native-friendly (but possibly less enlightening) one ? For starters, how did most English speakers make use of their verbal tenses in late medieval and early modern times ? Was it the same as in the current age ? If so, then perhaps because they feared something (important) might get lost in translation; if not, then there is no deep (theological) reason, just a simple matter of linguistics.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 1:10
  • @ThomasPearne: Perhaps it would be best to create a Linguistics.SE and/or History.SE account ?
    – Lucian
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 1:28

2 Answers 2


πριν αβρααμ γενεσθαι εγω ειμι [TR] John 8:58 [Text undisputed]

Baxter's Analytical Greek Lexicon says of the word γενεσθαι, genesthai, that it is the aorist 2, infinitive and is an inflection of γίνομαι, ginomai Strong 1096 which means 'to come' 'to become' or 'to come into being'.

And, without a doubt, the meaning of εἰμί, eimi Strong 1510 is 'I exist' or 'I am'. It is, in the text, the first person singular and the present form of the verb. It cannot be made to mean anything other than 'I am' or 'I exist' whatever may precede it or whatever may follow it. It means what it means.

YLT (Young's Literal Translation) translates the verse :

Before Abraham's coming -- I am;

And the KJV gives :

Before Abraham was, I am.

Green's Literal Translation has :

before Abraham came into being, I AM.

J N Darby has the same as the KJV :

Before Abraham was, I am.

Douay Rheims gives :

Before Abraham was made, I am.

I would have expected The Wycliffe to be as D-R (since they are both from the Vulgate) but Wycliffe has :

Before that Abraham should be, I am.

I would suggest, myself, that 'before Abraham was to come' is also faithful both to the aorist and to the infinitive.

That Jesus says, 'before Abraham' . . . I am' cannot be considered ungrammatical from an English language point of view. It is an expression of eternal being. Which is not a matter of a past tense 'I have been'.

The eternal is. It changes not.

It is perfectly correct to say 'I am' if one is indeed, as he is, eternal.

One can change the sentence around and say 'I am, before Abraham was' and it means exactly the same thing. The statement 'I am' is not dependent on what, originally, preceded it or what, now, follows it. There is an equivalence.

The preposition πριν, prin, 'before' modifies the clause 'before Abraham came' or 'was' but it does not affect the main statement 'I am'. It governs its own clause. Before this . . . that. Or, that . . . was before this.

The copular verb εἰμί, eimi, 'I am', is first person singular and it is present tense. It cannot be made into a past tense, of any kind, by the preposition which governs the clause regarding Abraham.

Whether or not Jesus is naming himself as Jehovah in this particular place is wholly another question which I do not wish to encroach upon in this particular enquiry.

But no, it is not ungrammatical and it is not 'pidgin' according to the definition stated by Wikipedia.

It appears to me that an attempt is being made to mistranslate Jesus' words by criticising the quite correct translation 'I am'. By saying that the correct translation is 'ungrammatical' or 'pidgin' English, the real criticism is, in fact, a criticism of what Jesus actually uttered.

If the translations above that I have cited are - indeed - valid, grammatical and correct translations, then Jesus did, in fact, say (in the Greek language) 'I am'.


If we can imagine Jesus to be emphasising "was" in the phrase, "Before Abraham was," the grammatical non-congruity of the following "I am" can be jotted up to making clear His eternality (explaining His personal acquaintance with historical figures long predating His birth—and moreover their internal life and experience), and His self-identifcation with the Revelator at the Burning bush who identified Himself as the God whose very name was His essence: "He who is" (Heb. Yehoah, Gk. Ho on). That is to say, He contrasts "was" with the present tense "am" in a way that is grammatically jarring on purpose, in order to not be ambiguous with His claim: and He was successful:

John 8:57-58 (DRB) Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am. They took up stones therefore to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

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    Why is your Greek Scholar quoting other "I am" verses? They have nothing to do with the "I am" at John 8:58. Your ignoring the context of John 8:58. Jesus said, "Before Abraham sprang into existence, I am." Tell me why the Jews picked up stones to kill Him? When Jesus said, "I am the gate/door" the Jews did nothing. Jesus said I'm the bread of life, Jews said nothing, why? And if you really want to get technical, it was the angel of the Lord who said, "I Am Who I am." at Exodus 3:14. Read the entire chapter of Exodus 3 and "PROVE" to me I'm wrong. Who do you think is the angel of the Lord?
    – Mr. Bond
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 22:17
  • @Thomas Pearne Ex 3 "And God said"... Before Abraham was born, "God". God outside time, outside physics [burning bush], outside human grammar, or any other restriction. -1.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 13:54
  • @Thomas Pearne If God breaks rules to show who He is He is also setting up higher rules. Does not grammar have to be seen through the prism of His purposes?
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 16:13

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