The claim by many regarding John 8:58 is that Jesus was saying that his name is the holy name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In Greek, the words used at John 8:58 are transliterated as EGO EIMI. Actually, Jesus says nothing about claiming that his name is EHYEH (transliterated from the Masoretic text) of Exodus 3:14. The contextual discussion was concerning Jesus’ age, not his name.
Some claim that Jesus, as recorded in John 8:58, quoted the Septuagint of Exodus 3:14. However, the short form used in the Septuagint of Exdous 3:14 is transliterated as HO OHN, not EGO EIMI. The long from of Exodus 3:14 EHYEH ‘ASHER EHYEH, is rendered in the Septuagint as a sentence: “EGO EIMI HO OHN,” meaning “I am the being.” If Jesus was declaring his name to have been EHYEH, and doing so by quoting the Septuagint, then he would have said “HO OHN,” not EGO EIMI. If by saying EGO EIMI he was quoting the Septuagint, then he started a sentence that he left without its object. Actually, there is absolutely no evidence that Jesus was quoting the Septuagint in John 8:58.
Jesus was simply expressing his existence in a past tense context, that is, before Abraham was, before Abraham existed. In doing so, he used what is called by Koine Greek scholars as “the historical present.” The historical present uses a form of the present tense in a past tense context to express a past tense situation. The only place we know of where such usage in the Bible is questioned is in John 8:58, where trinitarians and some others would like it to mean there the holy name, or else that Jesus was expressing his past eternality. In all other cases that we know of, except for a few “literal” translations, translators will render the historical present usage in the Bible by using a form of the past tense in English. Only the most literal translations will use the present tense in translating the historical present usage. For instance, in Matthew 3:1, we read: “In those days, John the Baptizer came.” (World English) The word translated “came” here is actually a present tense form. Young’s Literal renders it with the archaic present tense, “cometh.” “And in those days cometh John the Baptist.” However, most translators, recognizing this as a “historical present” usage of the koine Greek, will render the word with an English past tense form.
Not all translators render John 8:58 with the present tense form of “I am.” Many do render Jesus’ words with a past tense form in English:
The New Testament Or Rather The New Covenant – S.Sharpe: “I was before Abraham”.
A Bible, A New Translation – J.Moffatt: “I existed before Abraham was born”
The New Testament in the Language of the Day – W.G.Beck: “I was before Abraham”
The Simple English Bible: “I was alive before Abraham was born”
The Twentieth Century New Testament: “before Abraham existed I was”
The New Testament in the Language of the People – C.B.Williams: “I existed before Abraham was born”
The Bible – An American Translation – E.Goodspeed: “I existed”
The Unvarnished New Testament – A.Gaus: “I have already been”
The Authentic New Testament – H.J.Schonfield: “I existed”
The Complete Gospels – R.J.Miller (Editor): “I existed”
These, and a few other translators and Greek scholars, do give recognition to the “historical past” usage of Jesus in John 8:58. In reality, it is only for the purpose of promoting the doctrine that Jesus was saying that he was Yahweh that translators have made the claim that in John 8:58, the historical present does not apply. Thus their argument becomes circular in nature when they use John 8:58 as proof that Jesus is Yahweh.
The truth is that Jesus was indeed declaring that he was in existence before Abraham, and that he was thus older than Abraham. He was, in effect, declaring his existence as a divine being (THEOS) before Abraham, at a time before he came into the world of mankind. (John 1:1,2,10) Jesus spoke of that existence in John 17:5, where speaks of a glory that he had with the only true God (John 17:3) before the world of mankind had been made, a glory that he did not then possess “in the days of his flesh.” — Hebrews 5:7.
Of course, such a claim by Jesus would be very upsetting to the Jewish leaders who were claiming that Jesus was sinner man, being possessed of a demon, etc.
Jesus, however, was not, by his words recorded in John 8:58, declaring an eternal existence before Abraham; such a thought would have to be assumed and read into what Jesus was saying. Being the firstborn creature (Colossians 1:15), there was a time that he was brought forth into existence as a living creature, and therefore a time before his being brought forth when he did not exist.
Regardless of what the “cause” the Jews promoted to kill Jesus (Mark 14:1; John 15:16,18; 10:33), the real reason why the Jews wished to kill Jesus is revealed in Matthew 21:38; 27:18; Mark 12:7; Luke 20:14; John 8:37,40,42; 10:25,32.
Some related discussions:
John 8:58 and “I am”
“I am” in John 8:58
CLICK HERE for a list of books related to the trinity.
Our recommendation of these books does not mean that we agree with all the conclusions and opinions presented by the authors.
Some sites that claim that Jesus refers to himself by use of the holy name in John 8:58 (of course, we do not agree with their assumptions):
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