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The “I Am” Scandal




A brief glance at ἐγὼ εἰμί in John 8:58 and other texts:


Introduction:


This dramatic dialogue historically culminates the conflict between Jesus and the pharisaical Jewish sect in chapters 5–8. The religious Israelite authorities here assert that they are the natural children of the patriarch Abraham (8:37, 39), but Jesus countercharges that they are actually the children of the Satan (8:44). There are three parts to this interplay: The Jewish declaration to be descendants of Abraham (8:31–41a), Jesus’ counter that their true father is the devil (8:41b–47), and Jesus’ claim to be the true Son of the Most High by the popular declaration “ἐγώ εἰμι” (8:48–59). Thus proving to them that he has a greater priority than Abraham. This was not taken well by his opponents.[1] The Jewish leaders needed not a spark of law infringements to initiate their violent reaction. We see striking parallels to Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37, more on this later.


It's important to note first and foremost that ego eimi (ἐγὼ εἰμί) wasn't necessarily considered some special epithet that describes GOD Almighty. In fact, it is believed that ἐγὼ εἰμί just implies “I am-He” or “I am-the one” relating to just a statement of identification.


There are times when simple identification or description seems to be the primary point, or where it is difficult to see the emphasis on the relevant pronoun. For example, Mat 20:15, Lk 1:18, 19:22, Ac 21:39, 22:3, 23:6, Rom 7:13. It is worth considering at least as examples of where the emphasis seems more on the predicate (P) than on the subject (A).[2] If the apostle wanted to communicate to us that Jesus was making a special claim to be God, then it would have been much more favorable if he had used the definite article followed by a participle— ἐγώ εἰμι_ὁ ὤν, which would read something similar to “I AM THE EXISTING ONE” or I AM THE BEING”. That would be very similar to the LXX. The "I am” sayings were nevertheless a common saying in the Greek-speaking world. Especially around the NT milieu.


The context in 8:58 in this case is dealing with eternal life (vs. 51) and Christ’s importance over Abraham. Whom the Jews claim was their supreme patriarch. Reaching forward to the word "Was" in verse 58, it is from the Greek "γίνομαι" meaning "to come into being". It is grammatically in the aorist tense, not the perfect tense, and therefore cannot be translated as "existed" as a pre-existing claim. A possible interpretation would be as forementioned "Before Abraham comes into being (possibly at his resurrection unto eternal life) I will be."[3] Meaning, considering all the elements of the context, "I Am" the one who the prophets spoke about that will through the power of God, brings eternal life...(Deuteronomy 18:18), speaks on behalf of God and Abraham ἠγαλλιάσατο (rejoiced) to see his day [here expounding upon Abraham’s prophetic foresight of the gospels inclusion)…


Some theories are put in place that proposes the patriarch (Abraham) had visually “saw” Jesus in forms of Christophanies, i.e The Angel of YHWH. However, Jesus neglected to make such a claim during the debate as it would have been emphatically significant to mention to the opposition. Indeed, it would have been unreasonable for Christ to have discreetly asserted he was present during Abraham’s time as YHWH himself and expected his audience to have deciphered a correlation between him and God's messenger.


Who else is the “I Am”?


It should also be noted that this phrase itself was not linguistically exclusive to Jesus or God. The blind man uses it (John 9:9), Paul, and Judas uses it, and many others do as well, in both the NT and the Greek OT (LXX). Peter emits it in Luke 22:33. Interestingly enough the archangel Gabriel joins the party and identified himself as YHWH, at Luke 1:19. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:10 declares, "By the grace of God I am what I am" (χάριτι δὲ θεοῦ εἰμι ὅ εἰμι).


Observe how these two men identify themselves by saying, "ego eimi." “And Asahel pursued Abner, and as he went, he turned neither to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner. Then Abner looked behind him and said, “Is that you, Asahel?” And he answered, ἐγώ εἰμι "I AM" (i.e. “It is I.”). 2 Samuel 2:19-20 (LXX)


Therefore the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, “Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?” Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, "I AM" John 9:8-9. This particular verse certainly leaves the door open to the likelihood that Johannine ἐγώ εἰμι sayings are everyday grammatical usages of the emphatic pronoun, and, more importantly, that a predicate should be and could be implied.


The above texts illustrates how flexible the verb ἐγώ εἰμι is even in absolute form. It was uttered profusely by individuals in the ancient world; Trinitarians would certainly cry foul if one doesn't consider the contextual components from the blind man’s interaction. They would be correct, context should be considered and not glossed over when interpreting the linking verb and emphatic pronoun. Ironically, we will cover later how this complaint proves hypocritical to their own detriment in my Trinitarian Treatments section. On contrary to a divine utterance, Rabbi Aqiba, although post-Christ, interestingly enough utters the ‘sacred’ bipartite formulas אני/אנא הוא in b. Ket 63a when he self-identified as a ‘great man’ to his father-in-law. Who then falls to the ground to kiss his feet.[4]


“In the meantime her father heard that a great man came to the town. He said: I will go to him. Maybe he will nullify my vow and I will be able to support my daughter. He came to him to ask about nullifying his vow, and Rabbi Akiva said to him: Did you vow thinking that this Akiva would become a great man? He said to him: If I had believed he would know even one chapter or even one halakha I would not have been so harsh. He said to him: I am he. Ben Kalba Savua fell on his face and kissed his feet and gave him half of his money”.


This example in retrospect doesn't prove Jesus’ sayings are unaccounted for, however, it does give us insight post-second temple on how elastic and non-sacred the “formula” was.


Some grammar junkies may argue that John 8:58 has a different grammatical structure than the other predications of identification with respect to the pronoun and verb-to-be. That is that It has a temporal clause with an infinitive πριν γενεσθαι whose time comes from the main verb ειμι which is being pressed into service as a present perfect. They attest that the Greek to-be verb doesn't have a full paradigm there being no aorist or perfect tense form. This use of the present tense form of the Greek to-be verb is not uncommon. Also, it is said that the πριν clause is referring to a time before Abraham was born signaling an event in the past from the time of Jesus' speaking. [See John 14:9 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· τοσούτῳ χρόνῳ μεθ̓ ὑμῶν εἰμι καὶ οὐκ ἔγνωκάς με,: Also Ps 89:2 (LXX) πρὸ τοῦ ὄρη γενηθῆναι καὶ πλασθῆναι τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν οἰκουμένην καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος σὺ εἶ.]


Theological bias at play


The greek of John 8:58 is pretty forthright when you take theological bias away. The key is how we should read the context of verse 58, how Abraham prophetically "comes to be". This would have in itself been viewed as offensive to the common dogmatic Jewish psyche because Christ was explicitly claiming to have been greater and far more important than a essential patriarch. Thus in the eyes of his opponents, a false prophet. We are explicitly told in the Book of Deuteronomy (18:20) that false prophets must be killed. This is what triggered the zealous sect who disapproved of Jesus. Also, Jesus’ declaration documented at John 8:54,55 demonstrates emphatically that he was not trying to portray himself as being in the same strata as his Father.


A viable possibility:


Did Jesus say: “Before Abraham comes to be [i.e., returns to life in the resurrection], I am,” or “Before Abraham came to be [i.e., was born], I am [he]”? Only a few verses earlier Jesus had spoken of resurrection as conferring endless life on those who follow him (John 8:51). The Jews objected that this made Jesus superior to Abraham who was then dead. Jesus justifies his claim by pointing out that Abraham had in fact looked forward to the Messiah’s day. The Jews misunderstood Jesus to mean that he and Abraham were contemporaries (“Have you seen Abraham?”; John 8:53, 56, 57). This leaves us with a literal reading as such, ‘Before Abraham gains immortality in the resurrection, Jesus will already be alive and immortal’. This would also fully justify the claim to be superior to Abraham. [5]


“Coming to be” (the aorist infinitive of γένωμαι) is in fact used of resurrection in the Septuagint of Job 14:14: “I will wait until I come to be again.”

An appeal to Exodus 3:14:


Grammatically, In Exodus 3:14, ego eimi ho ōn technically does not make a smooth translation to the Hebrew 'ehyeh 'asher 'ehyeh because it represents a nominal clause. The Hebrew is 1st person singular, "imperfect". The greek ἐγώ εἰμι is present tense, a present" tense" in Hebrew would be expressed by using the participle, the greek is not a good translation. In verse 12 'ehyeh is translated by esomai, 1p s future indicative, which is an equivalent. In Origen's Hexapla, the alternative reading of v14 is esomai (hos) esomai ( Aquila and Theodotion). In Exodus 3:14, ἐγώ εἰμι is not the divine name, it is virtually an incorrect translation. Again, the repeated expression in v14 is ho on, which is not used in John 8:58. The representative divine name is specified in verse 15 as his commemorative name, “I will be” -YHWH. It notes emphatically; "the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,”. Such qualifying declarations are absent from Jesus’ dialogues with the Pharisees.


Theodotion and Aquila, as I understand it, have ἔσομαι ὃς ἔσομαι at Exodus 3:14.


Where art tho predicates?


Those who harped on the absence of a [immediate or present] predicate explicitly applied after the ‘linking’ verb εἰμί are doing so unjustly. This is assumed to prove that the absence of a prediction after the to-be verb in the "Christological" passages in the GNT and the OT permits a "stand-alone" manifestation of the divine name. The objection I have is that the predicate doesn’t have to be clear, neither does it have to be immediate. It can syntactically be located before or after the verb (i.e. Predicate-subject- verb or subject-predicate-verb). Usually, when handling a form of a "being’’ verb (such as εἰμί) a predicate nominative or subjective complement usually has an anaphoric role in the general book or chapter. It can be detected in the context, or in a clause whether it’s in another chapter or paragraph that’s contextually relative to the subject. E. M. Sidebottom, for instance, has stated that a predicate can always be inferred behind the ἐγώ εἰμι utterances in the Gospel of John.[6]


Just because the translators didn’t apply the predicate in the absolute sense doesn’t mean the "to-be" verb doesn’t demand the force of one. Grammatically and contextually it likely does. The Jews understood ἐγώ εἰμι wasn't some special epithet that is an exclusive technical title for GOD almighty, it was a simple statement of some sort of description of oneself or identification (as K. L. McKay points out in his ANSVNT)[7] as implied by the prediction located in the context…If the "I am" sayings by Jesus in John’s corpus wanted to convey a special claim for God similar to Exo. 3:15 he would have been much more clear if he had used the definite article followed by a participle which he (Jesus) never used, anywhere. So the greek ἐγώ εἰμι alone is not necessarily an adequate translation from the Hebrew אני הוא , hence why it’s truly a meaningless phrase.


Are we supposed to supply a predicate here for ἐγώ εἰμι? Normally the ellipsis would suggest an implied PN (predicate nominative) from context, but then what do we supply and what would it mean? Perhaps "Before Abraham was born, I am he?"


C. Williams In her, ‘I am He, The Interpretation of 'Ani Hu' in Jewish and Early Christian Literature’ notes that it was an identification formula only" by detailing the nuances of the difficulty in translating אני הוא into idiomatic Greek. She says translating the Hebrew אני הוא to εγω ειμι was a stylistic motivation, not a theological one.[7] She also notes that it was likely adopted because ἐγώ οὗτός (the closest translation) or εγω ειμι οὗτός would have been an unusual formula to native Greek speakers.


It is also worth noting that earlier ritualistic usages of the Hebrew אני הוא are recorded in most Tannaitic literature, particularly the saying attributed to Hillel the great teacher/Hebrew scholar, in which it symbolizes God's presence (b.Suk 53a). Also, the declaration appears within a conspicuous non-divine context, in a decisive ‘clefting’ statement attributed to David (I Chron. 21:17). You can further discover that אני הוא was never described in rabbinic circles as the Shem HaMephorash.[8]



A neglected central text in the 4th Gospel


Notice the text John 11:25-27 sitting directly in the interior of John's gospel.

[25] Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: [26] And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? [27] She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. …


The text above encompasses all bases of John’s accretion about the Messiah. He points out that ἐγώ εἰμι (i am) the resurrection (pointing back to the 4:25-26 while simultaneously pointing backward to 8:24,58), and his emphasis on πιστεύετε (believing), (pointing to 14:1 and 20:29), and finally, his declaration as to the Son of God (a messianic title) along with that they should believe to have life in the apex of his gospel in 20:31. Before their patriarch, Abraham whom they held in high regard, was born (or to be resurrected, he was the Messiah to come.


Much to the disdain of the pharisaic sect who was in direct opposition to Jesus who offended them to the point of physical violence, because of his seemingly disrespect to their proginator


Trinitarian treatments:


Michael R. Burgos Jr. in his 2016 article “Prostrate Before Him: An Examination of John 18:6 in Light of a Survey of the Use of Ego Eimi” has directed his focus on the proclamation in John 18:6 as an apparent example of the Son's designation of himself as YHWH. He rules out the claims of Jesus exclusively referring to messianic primacy. Burgos says that “The text of John 18 does not indicate that the reason the soldiers fell to the ground was due to a Messianic claim”. However, that objection seems antithetical to John's overall inclusio, which Burgos evidently dismissed. We see on a number of occasions where Jesus self-identifies as the coming Messiah who is the Son of God i.e. John 3:16-18, 4:26, 18:37, and especially 20:31.


Nevertheless, the following verse neutralizes his interpretation, for the Jews to whom he was speaking, and who surely would have been aware of the phrase Ani Hu'/ἐγώ εἰμί, neglects to huff in horror that Jesus is insisting that he is God Almighty, but they simply ask, “Who are you?” This shows that they understood Ani Hu' as a simple “I am he” or “I am the one”, that is the Son of the most High, who is empowered by him. Since THE Son of God and THE Messiah are exclusive convertible terms, Burgos's theory seems inverse to an evident biblical narrative. It was clear that his opponent's views of him were riddled with ‘false’ Messiah accusations and charges.[9]


David Guzik (a popular trinitarian commentator) says unapologetically in his study guide for John 18 [1] that “With this Jesus consciously proclaimed that He was God, connecting His words to the many previous I am statements recorded in the Gospel of John”. If this is the case without a doubt then the declaration would appear contrary to Jesus’ own testimony of how he was in absolute discord with self-glorification, in the highest sense (John 8:54). Even with becoming the loftiest priest. (see Hebrews 5:4).


If indeed we have instances where Jesus was speaking to audiences in ciphers that he was the Almighty YAHWEH, well, certainly, Trinitarians have cracked it. They have actually discovered that the Messiah actually did what he did not come to do.[10]


Rob Bowman in his "Putting Jesus In His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ," alludes to the idea concerning the passage in Mark (6:50) that the parallels to Exod. 14:16, 22, 27, 29 are evident.[11]


However, if one simply read the immediate context it can be easily detected that the έγώ είμι saying only served as an assurance of identification predicated from the previous verse (vs 49). The disciples were fearful of the figure approaching them that appeared ghostly and they cried out. To compare the disciples to the Egyptians who never turned their hearts and were actually destroyed is quite bizarre. The only elements that are analogous to the OT account would vaguely be the water components and the fact that the apostles showed some form of incredulity (vs 52). Moses may also be an exception. Nevertheless, not because their hearts were hardened with stubbornness like the Egyptians, but rather because they lost the ability of understanding (henceforth the passive participle πεπωρωμένη/peporomēnee). It would be a hermeneutical disaster to assume shared imagery equals shared identity. [Interestingly the LXX uses the active form of the verb for hardened. σκληρυνῶ]


James White in his "The Forgotten Trinity” makes another interesting appeal to ἐγώ εἰμι in the Isaianic passages in relation to the "I am” sayings in Isaiah 43:10 & John 13:19, specifically. To be fair, White admits that a stand-alone allusion to Exodus 3:14 with the "I am” sayings in John by Jesus in itself doesn't accomplish much.

He quotes;


"The emphasis in Exo 3:14 is ὁ ὤν (as seen in its repetition). The proper connection to Exo 3:14 is through the prophets, and in particular, Isaiah. And here is the most compelling example I know of. In the very text that Jehovah's Witnesses use for their name, Isaiah 43:10, we have this from the LXX:


ἵνα γνῶτε καὶ πιστεύσητε καὶ συνῆτε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι


trans: in order that you may know and believe and understand that I am


This is put into the context of future prophecy, for in Isaiah this is about Yahweh's revelation of His future actions in judging Israel, exile, restoration, etc. So, Yahweh is telling Israel what will happen so that when it does they may know and believe and understand that "I am.


Now (and very few have noticed this, even in commentaries), on the night of His betrayal Jesus draws from this very text, in the very same context of prophecy, in this case, speaking of the betrayal of Judas and its results. John 13:19 says:


απ αρτι λεγω υμιν προ του γενεσθαι ινα πιστευητε οταν γενηται οτι εγω ειμι


Trans. I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.


Let's compare the LXX and Jesus' words in that last phrase:


"ινα...πιστευητε ... οτι εγω ειμι,


"ινα πιστευητε ... οτι εγω ειμι


The only way to escape the reality that Jesus is quoting the LXX of Himself where Yahweh is speaking of His UNIQUE identity as the "I am" is to say Jesus would have been ignorant of the

LXX, or, that the Hebrew/Aramaic underlying these two phrases would be radically different, when, obviously, they are the same. The fact is, Jesus well knew what He was doing, and just as the same εγω ειμι phrase appears in John 8:24, 8:58, and 18:5-6, so here in 13:19 it is meant to communicate a divine truth: one that is rejected by unitarians."


This is a prime example of a Fulfillment fallacy, (coined by Dr. Dale Tuggy). It is a fallacious suggestion based on a faulty replacement of subjects in two different texts. In addition, White unjustly takes εγω ειμι as a strict absolute. As in some special epithet for a divine identity. He is ignoring the implicit predicates. Thus, the implied predicates (he) associated with ἐγώ εἰμι are relatedly confined to its context. Not grammar.


To be blunt, James Dr. James White has a bizarre way of conflating grammatical similarities with contextual similarities. We would call his appeals faulty parallelisms. This is not to say parallels cannot be true. However, there seems to be a severe case of negligence towards the contextual elements in the relevant texts White cites. Notice the caveat White adds in his explanation, "Now (and very few have noticed this, even in commentaries)”. This is quite telling. That the lack of support for his specific interpretation tells us that this is quite a huge leap by White to make an accurate parallel. He assumes others do not "notice". Well, certainly White has brought this "divine truth” to Unitarian's attention.


What James does here is just basically inject Jesus as the ἐγὼ ὁ θεός in Isa. 43. But it is misplaced, the texts are polemically motivated by other False Gods and their "presence", Israel’s insubordination, salvation, and reprieve. Jesusʼ εγω ειμι sayings however are clearly associated with his crucifixion and betrayal. Jesus explicitly says in the first strophe of the text White employs in John 13:9,


"I am telling you this now, before it takes place,” 19


The neuter definite article "τοῦ” (it), defers directly to the upcoming betrayal by Judas and the subsequent crucifixion of the Lord himself. How out of the realm it would be to have Jesus prophecy of his death by disloyalty, then in the same discourse claim his is the eternal and immortal κύριος ὁ θεὸς (or ἐγὼ ὁ θεός) of the prophets writings.


Scoped out, White is inaccurately saying Jesus fulfills the "Trail of gods” motif the book of Isaiah embodies. White must dismiss the emphatic discourse about polemics against False deities in Isaiah and isolate grammatical look-alikes to come to his conclusion. We should allow the NT to use its own similar languages and concepts of inspiration (from at the time was the OT) to explain important events in their time without conflating and assuming identical ontology [12]. Simply considering the surrounding context proves fatal to Whites’ interpretation of Isaiah 43:10, from Exodus 3:14 to Jesus’ saying in John 13:19, and beyond.


 

Part of my climactic conclusion here is that Jesus' Jewish opponents cannot be counted upon as trustworthy interpreters of Jesus' true identity. I think John A. T. Robinson's following point should give one cause to pause.


he notes:


"To say that Jesus is 'before' him is not to lift him out of the ranks of humanity, but to assert his unconditional precedence. To take such statements at the level of the 'flesh' so as to infer, as 'the Jews' do that, at less than fifty, Jesus is claiming to have lived on this earth before Abraham (8:52, 57) is to be as crass as Nicodemus who understands rebirth as an old man entering his mother's womb a second time (3.4). These are not assertions about the ego of the human Jesus, which is no more pre-existent than that of any other human being. Nor are statements about the glory that he enjoyed with the Father before the world was to be taken at the level of Jesus' true identity.”


Furthermore, if Christ had positively wanted to declare, "Before Abraham was born, I existed" it was possible to make that utterly clear with a construction as such- πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ ἐγενόμην/ὑπῆρξα/ἤμην. The most natural way to express this would be to use an aorist or imperfect (depending on precisely the nuance one intends), but the present tense seems uncommon, it's practically unheard of, and simply does not adhere to the normal use of sequence of tenses in Greek.



Why did they fall back to the ground?


Psalms 2:-1-9 though could have possibly have had an original referent. David should be at play here as the ‘prototype’. We are not explicitly told who or how many of the band of soldiers (Romans and Jews) fell, but the Jews shocking response given their familiarity of the OT messianic prophecies would have been a rationalized reaction. The notion of “Then will he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure:” (vs 5) and “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (vs 9) would have given the persecutors cause to pause on any level. Jesus here claims to be the anointed one, thus the symbolic representational presence of God Almighty claimed by the Messiah was likely the reason for the physical withdrawal. Furthermore, the prohibition of the pronouncement of the actual divine name (יְהוָה) was in play near Christ’s time. [The Jewish Encyclopedia notes: " Josephus' paraphrase of Ex. iii., "God declared to him [Moses] His holy name, which had never been discovered to man before; concerning which it is not lawful for me to say any more" ("Ant." ii. 12, § 4). When Aquila made his Bible translation, which, in the spirit of Akiba's Biblical exegesis, adheres to the text with extreme rigidity, he could not follow the Septuagint, Κύριος being only a free paraphrase of the name of God. Since, therefore, he could not give an exact rendering he introduced the word bodily into his translation, writing it IIIIII, a form which is found in the Hexaplar manuscripts of the Septuagint and is the representation in the Greek alphabet of the letters of read from left to right…[13]



Why did they pick up stones?


A sophisticated argument is made that the violent response from the Jews after the famous declaration only entails that Jesus’ Jewish opponents understood the significance of the saying "I Am”. That they understood him to be calling himself the covenant God of Israel. This would be the primary reason they would want him put to immediate death.


Would a practitioner of the Jewish religion be put into capital punishment (death) for claiming to be the Son of God? In theory, no, however, the nuanced declarations carried with it can and would cause the Jewish savagery towards Jesus justifiable in their view. Jesus called God, their God his own Father. Thus to the Jewish interlocutors is a arrogant claim that their God loves him tremendously more than them. This reaction isn't new to the biblical narrative. The book of Genesis deserves a look here.


In Gen 37:18, Joseph’s brothers conspired against him with murderous intent for being a dreamer and the special relationship he had with their father, Israel. The narrator says in vs 18 "And they saw him afar off, and before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.” We certainly wouldn't find in the ordinances and law that being a dreamer was worthy of capital punishment. The author of Genesis lays a simple overview in the previous context that pure jealousy can lead one to plot and craft violence. Vs 3 declares “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children” and "And his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren; and they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.”(vs 4)…Joseph did not have to enunciate anything blasphemous such as "εἰμί ἐγώ" to his brothers. He wasn't claiming pre-existence as God and they did not see a correlation to a divine claim. Just merely asserting a future authority over them, doing pleasurable work with his sheaves, being his Fathers favorite and dreaming that the day will come that they will show obeisance to him caused a violent reaction. So to it, the Son of God as explained in the 4th Gospel was in a unique relationship with their God, adding to the plethora of insults the messiah laid upon them caused them to unjustly pick up stones to eliminate him. The episodes of Joseph and Jesus with their interlocutors are impressively similar.

8:24


What must you believe?


So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, that he says, ‘Where I am going you cannot come?’” He said to them, “You belong to the lower realm; I belong to the upper realm. You belong to this world; I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” -8:22-24



Jesus once again slashes into their dispute with a peremptory deposition. He and they belong to two different domains, as is shown by the different presuppositions and perspectives of their very thought and language. They were “from those below” (ἐκ τῶν κάτω), he said; he himself was “from those above” (ἐκ τῶν ἄνω). The genitive plural τῶν may be either masculine or neuter. Which is it here? Is he relating his hearers to “the persons below” (τού ἐστέ) or to “the things below” (τα κάτω)? And is he relating himself to “those above” (οι ἄνω) or to “the things above” (τα ἄνω)? He speaks of himself here as coming from “the things above”—the upper realm. And if this is so, his opponents will similarly be described as coming from “the things below”—the lower realm.


The absence of a sudden predicate ("I am X") in verse 24 nevertheless requires an implied predicate. The immediate context (vs 23) is helpful here, "that I am-from above". Jesus’ point here is that they will die in their sins unless they believe that he reveals and has a special allegiance to the Father (the true light 1 John 1:5-7) thus accomplishes his salvific plan. This would be essential to a Christian in that paradigm. Also, the fact that rabbinic evidence post second-temple points to the Hebrew equivalent assessment of אהיה, not as a divine name, and the fact that this expression can be employed,(אני הוא) by human beings in such forms as אם אני הוא הטמא (m.Naz 8:1) [14]certainly undermines the force of the argument that אני הוא symbolizes a formula too sacred to be pronounced or has an ultimate divine inclusive identity.


We are told numerous times that we must believe he is the Christ, the son of God.

Philippians 2:11 “And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.


-1John 4-15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.


-1 John 5-5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?


John explicitly states the purpose for writing his Gospel is so that we will know that Jesus is the Christ the son of God…not ο θεος.


-John 20- 31 “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”


John also states in his later letters that those who deny that Jesus is the CHRIST is a liar. 1 John 2- 22 “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son…Ideally, the one that overcomes the world is the one who believes Jesus is the SON of God.”


In retrospect, the notion that Jesus proposes a proposition that they must believe that he is “YHWH” to avoid death is immediately shot down in the forthcoming verses, 8:25, 26, where Jesus speaks in high regard concerning the God who sent him. How unnatural would it have been if Jesus was hinting he was YHWH all the while utilizing strong subordinate language such as “he who sent me is true" and “and what I say to the world is what I have heard from him.” This is a severe warning regarding the terrible destiny awaiting those who refuse to believe. Jesus establishes a series of oppositions between himself and these Jewish opponents. He is from above, they are from below. He is not from this world, they are of this world. His destiny is not theirs. His father is God, theirs is the devil.


In the opening contrast, which repeats 7:33–34, Christ points to his destiny. He predicts his coming departure from this world and the fact that they cannot follow him to heaven. When he says, “you will look for me,” he refers to their continual search for a Messiah while remaining unwilling to accept that the man in their very presence (Jesus) has now fulfilled that role. When he says, “you cannot come,” it could suggest several elements. In 7:35 they thought he was shifting to another region, but he was referring to the cross and his departure from this life, when he would become the atoning sacrifice for sin. This is that which they must believe. There was no other alternative. They knew nothing of this, for they had renounced him as promised Messiah and refused to πιστεύω (believe). Also the fact that the Jews never picked up a stone after this particular declaration should give cause to pause.

The NET has a good note here: “unless you believe that I am.” In this context there is an implied predicate nominative (“he”) following the “I am” phrase. What Jesus’ hearers had to acknowledge is that he was who he claimed to be, i.e., the Messiah (cf. 20:31). This view is also reflected in English translations like NIV (“if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be”), NLT (“unless you believe that I am who I say I am”), and CEV (“if you don’t have faith in me for who I am”). For a different view that takes this “I am” and the one in 8:28 as nonpredicated (i.e., absolute), see R. E. Brown, John (AB), 1:533-38. Such a view refers sees the nonpredicated “I am” as a reference to the divine Name revealed in Exod 3:14, and is reflected in English translations like NAB (“if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins”) and TEV (“you will die in your sins if you do not believe that ‘I Am Who I Am’”).sn See the note on Christ in 1:20.


Conclusion:


Provided that John 8:58 occurs in the midst of what is known as the "misunderstanding motif" of John, and given that Jesus' use of *ego eimi* elsewhere points to him being the Messiah (e.g., Jn 4:25-6; 8:24, 28; 13:19), it seems more consistent with the immediate and larger surrounding context, as well as with the overarching theme of the book (20:31), to understand him here to be doing the same. Furthermore, Isaiah 45:22 gives a more decisive expression that is absent from Jesus’ sayings. ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ θεός (LXX Isa. 45:22).[15] There may be some narratival crossover with the אֲנִי הוּא in Isaiah, but the lexical, syntactic, and referential environment of the pericope (John 7-8) points more firmly towards the 1 Samuel 7 thematic motif of a promised Messianic king as the correct allusion. (Attempt lexical substitution for 8:12; 8:16 [esp. notable is the μόνος οὐκ εἰμί]; 8:23; 8:24; and 8:28). Furthermore, the theophany in Exodus 3 is in great distant parallel to the content of the Sukkot Declarations in John 8.


The sayings in the Deutero-Isaianic passages:


The ultimate aim of these declarations in the Deutero-Isaianic texts is to proclaim the uniqueness and individuality of Israel’s deity[16] and to answer rhetorical questions posed earlier. YHWH, not Baal or any of the Babylonian gods is God above all. These predicate clauses are oftentimes polemically motivated in their original context and are clearly absent from Jesus’s sayings in the Gospel of John. Jesus’ usage of the to-be verb seems to serve as a proclamation of unique Messiahship. Furthermore, Isaiah 41:4 provides us with a glorious example of how relative the string of sayings are between God and everyone else. Particularly God's self-glorification.


-Isaiah 41:4 “Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I, Jehovah, the first, and with the last, I am he.”[17]


First notice that YHWH is making a trail of speech. He's emphatically challenging claims made by other nations Patreon deities and answers the question about who steers historical events. He is the one who hath raised up one from the east, Cyrus. He is the one who appoints men to rule over kings. All prosperity of the Persian King's military is predicated on him (YHWH)…Likewise 44:6 also says “The King of Israel”, “Lord of Host”. This is when the Israelites were in their own land. And his redeemer, when he is in exile. Notice the emphatic statement in vs 3 by YHWH, of which whom should be defined as the Father. We know this because only the Father will pour out his Spirit. [18]


The tripartite formula in Deuteronomy (32:39 אני אני הוא ) proclaims a frame to Moses’ testimony of YHWH’s uniqueness and incomparability in the fashion of a song at 4:35 & 39. In both structures, the false gods that the polemic addresses are impotent and therefore qualify as no real gods. The construction ἴδετε ἴδετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν θεὸς πλὴν ἐμοῦ ἐγὼ [LXX] brings about the dual aspect of divine supremacy, and is, moreover, colorfully illustrated in the Deutero-Isaianic poems. Only the Father YHWH as the Divine sovereign entity can kill and make alive, wound and heal, and no-one can deliver out of his hand, anticipating the inevitability of judgment on his adversaries (vv. 40–43; cf. 4:32–34). He declares “I, myself am He! (ἐγώ εἰμι) -and there is no god besides me;". The ἐγώ εἰμι sayings in the 4th gospel, i.e 8:24, 58 is incompatible with the sayings in Torah when the qualifications are factored in. Jesus’s establishment of his complete control and supremacy over false gods is drastically absent from his declarations. In any case, self-aggrandizement seems opposed to his theological psyche (John 8:54)…Rather Jesus’ primary focus points to extreme glorification of the one who sent him in conjunction that he has unity with this one in the plan of salvation. Key components can also be located in vs 26, ἀλλ᾽ ὁ πέμψας με ἀληθής ἐστιν κἀγὼ ἃ ἤκουσα παρ᾽ αὐτοῦ ταῦτα λὲγω εἰς τὸν κόσμο, that the belief in the promised Messiah leads to knowledge of truth. Jesus proclaims that he is the ἐγώ εἰμι that represents God the Father as his χαρακτὴρ (representative) and they will be free if they would believe so. His opponents who were indeed familiar with Israelite vernacular did not accept his proposal and undermined the idea that Jesus’ use of the bipartite formula was not an allusion to divine identification per Deutero-Isaiah.


The Father declares אני אני הוא/ἐγώ to glorify himself in his name and stamps his supremacy overall. So to it, the Messiah came to carry out this glorification. This is a common motif for Christ that any self-adulation outside of God the Father’s self-glorification stands for οὐδέν (aught), that is, to believe Jesus echoes an absolute (without predicate) “I AM” declaration in the Gospels as a supreme divine claim would be antithetical to Jesus’s objectionable view of self-glorification. The question now must be asked, can one glorify themselves more than calling themselves the covenant God of Israel?The pinnacle of ontological status? [19]


In light of the evidence I provided in this article, we can now interpret Jesus’s famous declaration in its rightful place. Jesus identifies himself as the one through whom Abraham becomes, i.e. the seed, the father of nations. Abraham saw Jesus day in faith, not his pre-incarnate being. The semantics of vs 58 gives no evidence of pre-existence. Exodus 3:14 nor the Deutero-Isaianic passages do not reference John 8:58, the Hebrew original is not "I am" but more so aligns with “I will be who I will be” (note V12).


Nevertheless, the statement in an absolute sense (without predication) is not exclusive to Supreme deity. It seems to me that it is always linguistically and most importantly, contextually qualified with something. The example in Exodus 3 mentioned earlier, that the qualified statements, ho ōn, were immediately utilized for clarity. In vs 14 he says tell them ὁ ὢν has sent me, and vs 15 makes it more decisive with the proclamations "the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob", which serves as a practicable example. All of which Jesus does not allude to when he says "I am".


Jesus declares in John 8:39-40 “They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, ⁴⁰ but now you seek to kill me, ἄνθρωπον-a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.” Here, it is as if Jesus eliminates any preconceived idea that he will consecrate himself by calling himself the God of their forefathers by insisting he is just a man, who heard from God. John does not record here that Jesus is God, but identifies him as the sent messiah, the unique seed of Abraham. Pure jealousy was likely the motivation behind the rejection from the Jewish religious authorities. Genesis 37 and Joseph's unfortunate conflict as his Fathers favorite and his savage brothers give us great commentary on the matter in the 4th Gospel and proves that Christ’s uncanny interaction with his Jewish opponents was not unique.






 

References:


[1] See Brown, R. E. The Gospel According to John. 2 vols. AB. New York: Doubleday, 1966, 1970 for an exhaustive exposition on the gospels intro.


[2] See Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983.; or C. Williams In her, ‘I am He, The Interpretation of 'Ani Hu' in Jewish and Early Christian Literature’


[3] Sidenote: “ego eimi” can also be translated "I will" or "I shall" (Judges 6:18 & Ruth 4:4 in LXX; Exo 3:12 KJV.)


[4] See b. Ket 63a & Ketubot Chpt 5 vs 2


[5] See John 8:53, where the question was asked about the status of value between Abraham and Jesus.


[6] See John 9:9,10:24….Also E. M. Sidebottom, The Christ of the Fourth Gospel in the Light of First-Century Thought (London: SPCK, 1961),

p. 43.


[7] ANSVNT by K. L. McKay


[8] See Catrin Williams ‘I am He, The Interpretation of 'Ani Hu' in Jewish and Early Christian Literature’ pg. 181:[9783161571664 Catrin H. Williams ] for one of the most exhaustive studies on the I am sayings.


[9] Midr. Teh. on Ps. xxxvi. [200b]), Sanh. vii.



[11] David Guzik Bible Commentary on John, BLB


[12 ] Dr. Steven Nemes in his 2022 article "Jesus and Yahweh in the New Testament” notes that “This is the most important point of all to make in this discussion. The New Testament authors do not make use of the Old Testament texts like modern exegetes do. They do not operate according to a sophisticated grammatical-historical hermeneutic. Rather, their use of the Old Testament texts has a basis in a certain form of religious experience, that of hearing God use a text to say to you something other than what it means in itself. Many people have undergone this sort of experience before: Anthony, Augustine, Bonhoemer, John Goldingay, Ben Witherington, and even yours truly.”[https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjU4Yaet5iAAxXPnWoFHaC1BhsQFnoECBQQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fsnemes2.substack.com%2Fp%2Fjesus-and-yahweh-in-the-new-testament&usg=AOvVaw0y_Osckc9JgAPf52DcXJBH&opi=89978449]


[12] "Putting Jesus In His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ," on p.205, by Dr. Rob Bowman:


[13] See Swete, "Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek," p. 30; Nestle, in Z. D. M. G." xxxii. 468, 500, 506). https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13542-shem-ha-meforash]


[14] See m.Naz 8:1


[15] See Dodd, C. H. The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1953.


[16] cf. Deut 7:4, Isaiah 41:4, 43:10,48:12


[17] See, also, Williams, Catrin H. "I Am He": The Interpretation of "Anî Hû" in Jewish and Early Christian Literature. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000, and Williams, Catrin H. "'I Am' or 'I am He'? Self-Declaratory Pronouncements in the Fourth Gospel and Rabbinic Tradition," in Jesus and Johannine Tradition, edited by Robert T. Fortna and Tom Thatcher. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.


[18] See Acts 2:33 “Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear”; Note that the outpouring of the Spirit By the Son is not clearly established in the NT. Jesus would send the Holy Spirit promised by the Father. Yet, the Father's delegation of his Spirit upon others is explicit. If we are going to take the “I am” declarations from the Isaianic passages as proxy for a ontological connection with YHWH and Jesus, then we should not ignore contextual relativity. That is according to the context, who was speaking at the time. See also Acts 2:16-17 & Luke 24:49


[19] John 4:34 declares that Jesus came to "do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work." And again in John 5:19, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself, He can do only what He sees His father doing."


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