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Exodus 3:14 YLT

And God saith unto Moses, 'I AM THAT WHICH I AM;' He saith also, 'Thus dost thou say to the sons of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

How does the translation of the Greek Septuagint of the "I am" in Exodus 3:14 compare to the Greek "I am" of John 8:58?

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    See Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58.
    – Lucian
    May 5, 2021 at 1:02
  • also there is an extensive discussion at hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/13459/…
    – Perry Webb
    May 5, 2021 at 10:17
  • 1
    If Ehyeh means "I am" without the word Anoki | Ani, then explain what יְהוָ֔ה אֶֽהְיֶה֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים means in Jeremiah 31:1 May 5, 2021 at 13:33
  • @Lucian. If John had heard Jesus claimed that he is the ‘I am’ in Hebrew and understood Jesus to be the same one who spoke the words ehyeh asher ehyeh to Moses, how should John record and tell his readers that in the Greek language? – May 5, 2021 at 15:19
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    @AlexBalilo: I haven't got the faintest; you asked a question about the (original) Greek, and I provided two links, for a quick and direct comparison.
    – Lucian
    May 5, 2021 at 18:03

4 Answers 4

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The answer to this is subtle. The words, "I am" are the same in both places, BUT, their grammatical function is different. See the appendix below for a longer discussion of this. The facts are these:

  • In Ex 3:14 (LXX) we have ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν = "I am the being" [This is NOT a good translation of the Hebrew, "I am who I am", or similar.]
  • In John 8:58 (and in other places - see below appendix), we have ἐγώ εἰμι = "I am".

Crucially, note that in Ex 3:14 (LXX) the "I am" has a predicate ("The being" in this case). By contrast, John 8:58 is unpredicated. The OT precedent for this more significant unpredicated "I am" is/are Deut 32:39, Isa 41:4, 43:10, 13, 25, 45:19, 46:4, 48:12, 51:12, 52:6. These ALL refer exclusively to the LORD Jehovah. Further, unpredicated "I am" statements are NEVER used by anyone else in either the OT nor NT.

In the NT the only times these unpredicated "I am" statements occur is in the mouth of Jesus and associated with His divine identity.

APPENDIX - I AM

In the Old Testament, Jehovah’s self-proclaimed title of “I AM” is given special prominence in Ex 3:13-15. While we are told “I Am” was to be God’s name forever, there is no record in the Bible of it ever being used again (in Hebrew) unless we admit the grammatical connection between “I am” and the “Tetragrammaton” (which see), YHWH, commonly translated, “Jehovah”, “Yahweh”, “LORD”, or even “Eternal” in Moffatt’s version. However, the unpredicated phrase, “ego eimi” (= I am), occurs in the LXX in a number places (Deut 32:39, Isa 41:4, 43:10, 13, 25, 45:19, 46:4, 48:12, 51:12, 52:6) and always refers the One and Only Great Jehovah God Almighty.

“I am” in the Greek (NT) is, ἐγώ εἰμι “ego eimi”. The verb, “eimi” occurs 2462 times in the New Testament in various forms, but in only about 67 of these cases is the first-person nominative pronoun, “ego” used with it. Generally, the complete form, “ego eimi” only occurs when some emphasis is required.

This present continuous verb, “to be”, is the most common in almost all languages and has several syntactical functions in Greek (eg, see John 1:1 ):

  • Existence, “I am.”, ie, unpredicated (see below).
  • Identification, eg, Luke 1:19, “I am Gabriel”; John 9:9, “I am [that one]”; John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd”.
  • Relationship, eg, Acts 18:10, “I am with you”.
  • Predication, eg, Acts 22:3, “I am Jewish”.

The New Testament shows an interesting and (somewhat) unexpected pattern in the use of the Greek phrase, “ego eimi”, “I am”.

The exact phrase “ego eimi” occurs 48 times in the New Testament. It also occurs 11 times as “eimi ego” which has a very similar but still different construction and all are relational or predicative. It occurs in a few other forms such as “ego gar eimi”, “ego men eimi”, “ego ouk eimi” (I am not), etc, a total of 67 times (one or two are disputed).
Of the 48 cases of the exact phrase “ego eimi”, “I am”, just 15 are unpredicated and have (with one exception) the syntactical form existence as opposed to identification, relationship or predication. All are listed below (my translation) unless preceded by “not”, eg, Matt 26:22, 25, plus one exception to be noted.

  • Matt 14:27, Mark 6:50 – “Be encouraged. I am.” [To the frightened disciples in the boat.]
  • Mark 13:6, Luke 21:8 – “Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am’”.
  • Mark 14:62, Luke 22:70 – “Jesus replied, ‘I am’”. [He was then accused of blasphemy by the Jews and condemned.]
  • John 4:26 – “Then Jesus said, ‘I am.’” [To the Samaritan woman at the well. There is a reasonable case for this being identification, but that is a matter of taste.]
  • John 6:20 – “But then [Jesus] said to them, ‘I am. Fear not.’” [To the frightened disciples in the boat.]
  • John 8:24 – “If you do not trust/believe that I am, you will die in your sins.”
  • John 8:28 – “When you will lift up the Son of Man, then you will trust/know that I am.”
  • John 8:58 – “Truly, truly, I say to you; before Abraham existed, I am.” [The Jews then tried to stone Him for blasphemy.] Note that this and the previous two mean that Jesus, in the space of this chapter of John 8 uses the unpredicated “I am” idea in the present (v24), future (v28) and past sense (v58). V24 & 28 appears to be tied to believers’ salvation as well.
  • John 9:9 – “Some were saying that, ‘this is [that one]’, and others were saying ‘no, it is like him.’ But he was saying, ‘I am [that one].’” (This instance is clearly identification rather than existence.)
  • John 13:19 – “From now [on] I tell you before the occurrence, that you may believe when it occurs that, I am.”
  • John 18: 5, 6, 8 – “He said to them, ‘I am.’ …Therefore, when He told them, ‘I am’, they fell backward to the ground.” [This occurred when the Jews tried to arrest Jesus in the garden. It could be reasonably argued that this is a case of identification. However, the fact that the arresting mob fell backward suggests that much more is intended here.]

Significantly, according to Mark 13:6 and Luke 21:8, one of the distinguishing characteristics of false christs is their claim to be “I AM”. Unfortunately, there has been a historical parade of charlatans making such false claims.

Thus, with the obvious and rather trivial exception of John 9:9 (and self-exclusory Mark 13:6 and Luke 21:8), all of the “I am” existence statements in the New Testament, including the 7 in John, were spoken exclusively by Jesus, and all were either the basis for absolute trust/belief and reassurance in Jesus, or were a clear declaration of His claim to be the “I AM.”

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    Septuagint of Exodus 3:14 used ho ohn for the divine name, but the same Greek has Jesus saying ego eimi to the Jews in John 8:58. The divine name is not ego eimi (ἐγώ εἰμι) which Jesus said. It is ho ohn (ὁ ὢν), which Jesus did not say. Exodus 3:14 LXX “And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am THE BEING (ego eimi ho ohn – εγω ειμι ο ων); and he said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, THE BEING (ho ohn – ο ων) has sent me to you.” May 5, 2021 at 10:07
  • @AlexBalilo - I am also fascinated that (1) the Greek in Gen 3:14-17 is not a good translation of the original Hebrew, and (2) the word YHWH does not appear in this pivotal text about the name of God.
    – Dottard
    May 5, 2021 at 12:00
  • 1
    If Ehyeh means "I am" without the word Anoki | Ani, then explain what יְהוָ֔ה אֶֽהְיֶה֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים means in Jeremiah 31:1 May 5, 2021 at 13:33
  • @Dottard. If John had heard Jesus claimed that he is the ‘I am’ in Hebrew and understood Jesus to be the same one who spoke the words ehyeh asher ehyeh to Moses, how should John record and tell his readers that in the Greek language? May 5, 2021 at 15:04
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    @AlexBalilo - exactly as is recorded in Scripture. He claimed to be the I AM on 14 recorded instances in the NT - no one else says this.
    – Dottard
    Nov 29, 2021 at 0:12
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Only a supplement to the prior answers:

Ex 3:14 uses אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, ’eh·yeh ’ă·šer ’eh·yeh, in Hebrew, and the Aramaic Onkelos uses the original Hebrew wording here. There is no difference between the first I AM (εγω ειμι) and the second I AM (ο ων). Supposing, Jesus really said what John reports, Hebrew will be more important than Greek because Jesus did not speak those words in Greek, so Greek does not lead to any conclusion as to what Jesus said but only how the translator understood it.

’eh·yeh in the Torah, although it is a form of a quite common verb, is really only found when God is speaking. The observation Dottard made on the usage of the Greek ἐγώ εἰμι corresponds to the Hebrew equivalent.

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    If Ehyeh means "I am" without the word Anoki | Ani, then explain what יְהוָ֔ה אֶֽהְיֶה֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים means in Jeremiah 31:1. May 5, 2021 at 13:31
  • @Dflat. If John had heard Jesus claimed that he is the ‘I am’ in Hebrew and understood Jesus to be the same one who spoke the words ehyeh asher ehyeh to Moses, how should John record and tell his readers that in the Greek language? May 5, 2021 at 15:08
  • @AlexBalio I also write in English here although I usually speak German. If I wrote in German, perhaps some readers wouldn't understand me. People in the Galil and in Juda all didn't speak Greek as their native language. Jesus may have used colloquial Aramaic which I do not understand at all (Syrian «I am» is ayety).
    – SDG
    May 6, 2021 at 4:23
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    @Dflat - If אֶֽהְיֶ֣ה Ehyeh means "I am" (when אָֽנֹכִי֙ Anoki means "I am"), then what should כִּי אֶֽהְיֶ֣ה עִמָּ֔ךְ mean in Exodus 3:12? - Why perpetuate a translation if the translation is not grammatically correct? May 6, 2021 at 13:05
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    I am not an expert in English, but the difference between "I will be" and "I am" is still understood. - When you learn basic Hebrew, the difference between אהיה and אני אהיה and אנכי is distinguished. May 6, 2021 at 14:32
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Background - Hebrew Text

14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”[a] And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD,[b] the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר כֹּ֤ה תֹאמַר֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֲלֵיכֶֽם
[a] Exodus 3:14 Or I AM WHAT I AM, or I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE
[b] Exodus 3:15 The word LORD, when spelled with capital letters, stands for the divine name, YHWH, which is here connected with the verb hayah, “to be” in verse 14

The exact meaning of the Hebrew expression ehyeh asher ehyeh is uncertain:

...Hebrew does not have a word for the present tense of the verb "to be." In other words, there is no Hebrew word for "am" or "is" or "are."...Importantly, this name "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will be," is never again mentioned in the Torah. This suggests God was giving an answer for Moses, not for the Israelites. Such an abstract name would have made no sense to the theologically primitive Israelites. Even though God tells Moses to tell the Israelites "Ehyeh" ("Am" or "Will Be") sent him, that name is really for Moses. Moses is not going to get the Israelites to follow him by telling them, "'I am' sent me to lead you" - as is made clear in the next verse, when God gives Moses a more relatable name to use.1

Since ehyeh asher ehyeh is never mentioned, this name is for Moses, and the name given for the Israelites is found in verse 15, YHVH.

While the term "I am what I am" or "I will be what I will be" is not used again, the most commonly used name for Go in the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible is essentially the verb "to be." It is composed of the Hebrew letters, YHVH (from where we get the word "Jehovah"), and it is always translated "Lord" because it is pronounced Adonai, meaning "Lord" even though YHVH actually means "Being," or "Will Be," or even "Is." Given that in the Torah names indicate essence, "YHVH" tells us the essence of God is being. God simply cannot be explained any further' anything else anthropomorphizes God, God simply "Is."2

Jeffrey H. Tigay gives this explanation for the difference between the names in 3:14 and 15:

14 God's proper name, disclosed in the next verse YHVH (spelled "yod-heh-vav-heh" in Hebrew; in ancient times the "vav" was pronounced "w"). But here God first tells Moses its meaning: Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, probably best translated as "I Will Be What I Will Be," meaning "My nature will become evident from My actions." (Compare God's frequent declarations below, that from His future acts Israel and Egypt "shall know that I am the LORD [YHVH]," as in 7.5; 10.2; etc.) Then He answers Moses question about what to say to the people: "Tell them 'Ehyeh' ("I Will Be," a shorter form of explanation) sent me." This explanation derives God's name from the verb "h-v-h," a variant form of "h-y-h," "to be." Because God is the speaker, He uses the first person form of the verb.3

Background - LXX

14 And God said to Moyses, “I am The One Who Is,” And he said, “Thus shall you say to the sons of Israel, ‘The One Who Is has sent me to you.’” 15 And God said again to Moyses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, God of Abraam and God of Isaak and God of Iakob, has sent me to you,’ This is an everlasting name of mine and a memorial of generations to generations. (LXX-Exodus 3)
14 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεὸς πρὸς Μωυσῆν ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν καὶ εἶπεν οὕτως ἐρεῗς τοῗς υἱοῗς Ισραηλ ὁ ὢν*ἀπέσταλκέν με πρὸς ὑ 15 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεὸς πάλιν πρὸς Μωυσῆν οὕτως ἐρεῗς τοῗς υἱοῗς Ισραηλ κύριος ὁ θεὸς τῶν πατέρων ὑμῶν θεὸς Αβρααμ καὶ θεὸς Ισαακ καὶ θεὸς Ιακωβ ἀπέσταλκέν με πρὸς ὑμᾶς τοῦτό μού ἐστιν ὄνομα αἰώνιον καὶ μνημόσυνον γενεῶν γενεαῗς

The Greek ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν literally means, "I am the One Who Is" (or I am The One Being"). A word-for-word comparison of the Greek to the Hebrew means God said "I am (ἐγώ εἰμι), The One Who Is (ὁ ὤν). Thus, ὁ ὤν is the name given exclusively for Moses and "Lord" is the name Moses is to give the Israelites. However, "Lord" is also a title and if one ignored the Hebrew source and simply used the Greek, then ὁ ὤν could be taken as the name for both Moses and the Israelites:

          For Moses         For Israelites         
Hebrew    ehyeh             YHVH (v. 3:15)
Greek     ὁ ὤν              ὁ ὤν (v. 14) or Lord (v. 3:15)

John 8:58

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (ESV)
εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί

Jesus used the same words, ἐγὼ εἰμί, which the LXX attributes to God in Exodus 3:14.


Notes:
1. Dennis Prager, Exodus: God, Slavery, and Freedom, Regnery Faith, 2018, pp. 44-45
2. Ibid., p. 45
3. Jeffery H. Tigay, The Jewish Study Bible, Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 111

-2

They are identical in the words "I am" themselves: ἐγὼ εἰμί (“ego eimi”).

See interlinear of John 8:58 here and of Exodus 3:14 here.


It is worth pointing out than in the Septuagint “ego eimi” is followed by "ho on" to try to capture the breadth of the Hebrew "ehyeh", a concept that is difficult to convey through translation.

Some later translations of Exodus 3:14 render "I am" differently--from KJ Cronin:

they chose to replace the words “ego eimi” with “esomai”, which is to replace the words “I am” with “I will be”

The "I will be" translation doesn't capture the Hebrew particularly well--Cronin suggests “ego eimi ho ego eimi" would be more accurate. See further discussion by Cronin of the translation methodology here.

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  • Were the words "ho On" not in the Greek septuagint translation of Exodus 3 :14?, May 5, 2021 at 1:44
  • @AlexBalilo yes they are in the Septuagint translation--it reads: καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεὸς πρὸς Μωυσῆν ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν· καὶ εἶπεν οὕτως ἐρεῖς τοῖς υἱοῖς Ἰσραὴλ ὁ ὢν ἀπέσταλκέν με πρὸς ὑμᾶς. The bolded words (transliterated) are "ego eimi ho on". The Hebrew, Greek, and English are provided together here May 5, 2021 at 2:36
  • So why doesn’t John record Jesus as saying ‘ego eimi ho on’ i.e. ‘I am he who is.’ May 5, 2021 at 3:34
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    @AlexBalilo I do not claim to know; that strikes me as a separate question. Although probably a question that would generate a lot of opinion-based answers. May 5, 2021 at 4:45
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    If Ehyeh means "I am" without the word Anoki | Ani, then explain what יְהוָ֔ה אֶֽהְיֶה֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים means in Jeremiah 31:1 May 5, 2021 at 13:32

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