These words, spoken by our Savior in Jn.8:58, have
led to much controversy and confusion. Some use this verse to prove
the Messiah's pre-existence. Others use it to prove the trinity doctrine. And then
there are those who use it to prove Yeshua is the great "I AM" of
The phrase "I am" is "ego eimi" in Greek. Since the Greek New Testament records Yeshua using "ego eimi" many times, Christian theologians term these sayings, "The I Am's of Jesus." It is believed that each of these occurrences implies Yeshua's identity as the "I AM" of Ex.3:14. Can this be true? Can our Savior, the Son of Yahweh, actually be the "I AM"?
Ex.3:14-15 reads, "And Elohim said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And Elohim said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, Yahweh, Elohim of your fathers, the Elohim of Abraham, the Elohim of Isaac, and the Elohim of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations." Therefore, the "I AM" is identified as "Yahweh."
And what does Yahweh say in Ps.2:7? "I will declare the decree: Yahweh hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." Yahweh is the Father of Yeshua. Yeshua is the Son of Yahweh. Yeshua is not Yahweh and the Son is not the Father. Therefore, Yeshua (the Son of Yahweh) cannot be the I AM (Yahweh). That alone should be sufficient to discredit the belief that Yeshua was claiming to be the "I AM." But let's look into the matter a little farther.
In the Greek Septuagint (LXX), Ex 3:14 reads,
In Septuagint English it reads, "And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am THE BEING; and he said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, THE BEING has sent me to you."
In KJV English it reads, "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you."
In John 8:58, "I am" is "" in Greek. As you can see, "" in Ex 3:14 is just the prelude to what the Almighty really wanted the Israelites to know, that is, that He was the "" or "the Being" or "the Existing One".
If Yeshua truly wanted to tell the Jews he was the great "I am" of Ex 3:14, he would have said, "Before Abraham was I am the Being" or "I am the Existing One".
It is believed that Jn.8:59 further supports the
position that Yeshua is the "I AM." Why else would the Jews try to
stone him? He obviously blasphemed in the eyes of the Jews, a
stoneable offense. Or did he? Is the mere utterance of "ego eimi" a
blasphemy? Does the use of "ego eimi" automatically identify the
speaker as Yahweh, the I AM?
Several individuals aside from Yeshua used "ego eimi" as well. In Lu.1:19, the angel Gabriel said, "Ego eimi Gabriel." In Jn.9:9, the blind man whose sight was restored by Yeshua said, "Ego eimi." In Acts 10:21, Peter said, "Behold, ego eimi (I am) he whom ye seek." Obviously, the mere use of "ego eimi" does not equate one to the "I Am" of Ex.3:14. But perhaps the Savior's use of it was somehow different. After all, he came down from heaven.
If, in fact, Yeshua spoke Greek to the Jews (which I doubt), he used the phrase "ego eimi" at least twenty times and yet, in only one instance did the Jews seek to stone him (Jn.8:58). Yeshua said, "I am the bread of life" to a large crowd in Jn.6:35 & 48, yet no one opposed him. In verse 41, the Jews murmured because he said, "I am (ego eimi) the bread which came down from heaven." But in verse 42, the Jews questioned only the phrase, "I came down from heaven" and ignored "ego eimi." The same is true of verses 51 & 52.
In Jn.8:12, 18, 24, & 28, Yeshua used "ego
eimi" with Pharisees present (vs.13) and yet, no stoning. He, again,
used it four times in Jn.10:7, 9, 11, & 14 with no stoning.
Yeshua said to his disciples, "...that...ye may believe that I am
(ego eimi)" in Jn.13:19 without them batting an eye.
An interesting account occurs in Jn.18 when the Jews came to arrest Yeshua in the Garden of Gethsemane. When the chief priests and Pharisees said they were seeking Yeshua of Nazareth, Yeshua said to them, "Ego eimi." At that they fell backward to the ground. It is not made clear why they fell to the ground, but what followed will make it clear that Yeshua was not claiming to be the "I AM."
After Yeshua's arrest, the Jews took him to Annas first (vs.13). Then they took him to Caiaphas (vs.24) and eventually to Pilate (vss.28,29). A parallel account is found in Mt.26:57-68. Notice, in particular, verse 59. The same men that had fallen backward to the ground were in attendance when the council sought false witnesses against Yeshua to put him to death. Verse 60 says they couldn't find any. Eventually two came forward. Interestingly, they didn't bear false witness about what Yeshua said in Jn.8:58, but about his reference to destroying the temple and building it again in three days. Where were all those witnesses from Jn.8:58?
The point about Mt.26 is, why would false witnesses be sought if they had true witnesses in attendance? The arresting officers heard Yeshua say "Ego eimi." They could have stoned him right there in the garden for blasphemy, but they didn't. They could have reported the supposed blasphemy to the council, but they didn't. Why not? Because it wasn't blasphemy, nor was it a stoneable offense. He was merely identifying himself as Yeshua of Nazareth.
This brings us back to Jn.8:58. Why did the Jews seek to stone him on that occasion? The context of Jn.8 shows that Yeshua;
1) accused the Pharisees of "judging after the flesh" (vs.15).
2) said they would die in their sins (vss.21,24).
3) implied they were in bondage (vss.32,33).
4) said they were servants of sin (vs.34).
5) said they were out to kill him (vss. 37,40).
6) implied they were spiritually deaf (vs.43,47).
7) said their father was the devil (vs.44).
8) said they were not of Elohim (vs.47).
9) accused them of dishonoring him (vs.49).
10) accused them of not knowing Yahweh (vs.55).
11) accused them of lying (vs.55).
Aside from that, the Jews misunderstood Yeshua's words leading
them to believe;
1) that he accused them of being born of fornication (vs.41).
2) Yeshua had a devil (vs.52).
3) that he was exalting himself above Abraham (vs.53).
4) that he saw Abraham (vs.56).
Yeshua's words in verse 58 were the culmination of an encounter that was so offensive to the Jews that they couldn't restrain themselves anymore. They simply couldn't take it anymore so they sought to stone him, not because of two simple words, "ego eimi," but because he was making himself out to be greater than their beloved father Abraham. They sought to stone him illegally.
So what does Jn.8:58 really mean? Although I do not believe we can be certain what Yeshua meant due to a variety of reasons, one being the absence of this passage as it appeared in John's original writing, I offer the following explanation.
Let's look at the context of Yeshua's statement. It begins in verse 51 with the thought of eternal life; "If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death." The Jews thought since Abraham and the prophets were dead, Yeshua must have a devil. The context is eternal life. Then in verse 56 Yeshua says Abraham "rejoiced to see my day." He did not say he saw Abraham as the Jews misunderstood. How did Abraham see Yeshua's day? Heb.11:13 says, "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." He saw Yeshua's day by faith.
Yeshua then resumed the context of his initial conversation by saying, "Before Abraham was, I am." "Was" is from the Greek "ginomai" meaning, "to come into being, ... to arise." What Yeshua actually meant was, "Before Abraham comes into being (at his resurrection unto eternal life), I will." Confirmation of this understanding comes to us from Figures of Speech Used in the Bible by E.W. Bullinger, pgs. 521,522. Under the heading "Heterosis (Of Tenses)," subheading "The Present for the Future," hewrites, "This is put when the design is to show that some thing will certainly come to pass, and is spoken of as though it were already present." He then lists some examples such as Mt.3:10b, "therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is [shall be] hewn down;" and Mk.9:31a, "For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is [shall be] delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day." Included among this list of examples of Heterosis is Jn.8:58. In other words, although properly written, "Before Abraham comes to be, I am," with "I am" in the simple present tense, the meaning points to the future, "Before Abraham comes to be, I will."
Some people believe this verse should be translated, "Before Abraham existed, I existed." However, neither Greek verb is in the perfect tense (past tense). "Was" is in the aorist tense and "am" is in the present tense. Let's look a little closer at "was." Concerning the aorist tense, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament by Dana and Mantey says, "It has time relations only in the indicative, where it is past and hence augmented." The verb ginomai (was) is in the infinitive, not the indicative. Therefore it should not be translated in the past tense. This same reference says of the infinitive, "The aorist infinitive denotes that which is eventual or particular, ..." Abraham will eventually resurrect which is why the Greek uses the aorist infinitive. The meaning is, "Before Abraham comes to be" not "Before Abraham was (or existed)."
In conclusion, Yeshua was not declaring that he is the great "I AM" of Ex.3:14. Yeshua was not declaring himself to be Yahweh. And Yeshua was not declaring his pre-existence. He is the Son of Yahweh and the Son of the great "I Am."