After Jesus took action which resulted in a man blind from birth seeing, a controversy over the man's identity ensues. Near the end of the dispute the man responds to those who are interrogating him by asking a question:
He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” (John 9:27) [ESV]
ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς Εἶπον ὑμῖν ἤδη καὶ οὐκ ἠκούσατε· τί πάλιν θέλετε ἀκούειν μὴ καὶ ὑμεῖς θέλετε αὐτοῦ μαθηταὶ γενέσθαι
Undoubtedly, "to become his disciples" is sarcasm; everyone reacts by claiming to be a disciple of Moses (9:28). The question describes a situation in which a change, if made would paint this picture of the action, γενέσθαι:
This "now" and "later" condition describes the man himself. When Jesus encountered the man He acted without asking if he wanted "to become" a man with sight. Even though Jesus did not ask, receiving sight divides the man's life into two periods of time:
Ironically, the man's question retrospectively describes his own transformation. The difference is his life looks from the past to the present while his question looks from the present to the future. The meaning of γενέσθαι as depicted in the events is a difference in condition, either past and present or present and future.
Before the event with the blind man, Jesus used γενέσθαι to describe His relationship to Abraham: "...Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι..." There is an event in Abraham's life after which he became "Abraham:"
No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 17:5)
Historically, before Abraham γενέσθαι he was Abram. If one places an event in the life of Abraham using the element of time the event may have occurred when Abraham was called Abram.
The use of γενέσθαι in the events of the man blind from birth demonstrate how prefacing γενέσθαι with πρὶν when speaking of an historical situation in which a change occurred, creates a single statement with two identical meanings:
- "before [the change]..."
- "when [as yet unchanged]..."
In the case of Abraham, if one speaks to an existence "before Abraham γενέσθαι" it would seem to be equivalent as saying "when Abram was." So when Jesus states, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί is He placing Himself in the period of time when Abraham was called Abram?
If so, is Genesis 17:1 a better understanding of how "I am" was received by the crowd?
Now Abram came to be ninety-nine years of age, and the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am your God; be well pleasing before me, and become blameless
(Genesis 17:1 LXX-Genesis)
ἐγένετο δὲ Αβραμ ἐτῶν ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα καὶ ὤφθη κύριος τῷ Αβραμ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ θεός σου εὐαρέστει ἐναντίον ἐμοῦ καὶ γίνου ἄμεμπτος