The mistranslation of John 8.58

by Wonderment 26 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • kepler

    There is no supposed mis-translation of John 8:58.

    Not unless Greeks of the 1st century were incomprehensible to Greek writers of the 4th. See below as John Chrysostom's statement appears in context.

    Discussion of John 8:58-59 is provided in GREEK by John Chrysostom ( Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος), c. 349 – 407,[5] Archbishop of Constantinople) in his 56th homily on the Gospel of John.

    Chysostom was one of the first Christian writers that did commentaries line by line of the Scripture. Significantly he remained silent about the OT, and had nothing to say about Revelations. Nonetheless, he analyzed the Gospels and Epistles line by line, initiating a tradition that occupied many scholars since the Reformation, e.g., John Calvin and Albert Barnes (1798-1870) author of the Barnes Bible commentaries written in the US..

    In John Chrysostom commentary on the Gospel of John, homily 56:

    “Jesus says unto them, Before Abraham was, I Am. Then took they up stones to cast at Him.”

    Do you see how He proved Himself to be greater than Abraham? For the man who rejoiced to see His day, and made this an object of earnest desire, plainly did so because it was a day that should be for a benefit, and belonging to one greater than himself. Because they had said, “The carpenter's son” Matthew 13:55, and imagined nothing more concerning Him, He leads them by degrees to an exalted notion of Him. Therefore when they heard the words, “You know not God,” they were not grieved; but when they heard, “before Abraham was, I Am,” as though the nobility of their descent were debased, they became furious, and would have stoned Him.

    “He saw My day, and was glad.” He shows, that not unwillingly He came to His Passion, since He praises him who was gladdened at the Cross. For this was the salvation of the world. But they cast stones at Him; so ready were they for murder, and they did this of their own accord, without enquiry.

    But wherefore said He not, “Before Abraham was, I was,” instead of “I Am”? As the Father uses this expression, “I Am,” so also does Christ; for it signifies continuous Being, irrespective of all time. On which account the expression seemed to them to be blasphemous. Now if they could not bear the comparison with Abraham, although this was but a trifling one, had He continually made Himself equal to the Father, would they ever have ceased casting stones at Him?

  • Wonderment

    Who is behind the translation of Chrysostom's work?

    Furthermore, how does the writings of a doctor of the Fourth-Century prove language-wise

    that John the Apostle wrote "I am" with the intention of identifying him with God Almighty?

    By that time (4th Cent.) the Trinity as we know it was being defined. To base one's

    understanding of one polemical scripture by a single man living in the 4th Century

    isn't as relevant to Christian understanding as are other Scriptures of the 1st

    which accentuate that Christ was subject to, and living to do God's will.

    Jesus was accused of many things, for which his opposers wanted him killed. He was

    charged for breaking the Sabbath, and for also calling God his Father (Jews

    understood this as if Jesus was making himself equal to God). (John 5.18)

    Were they correct? No. Jesus wasn't breaking the Sabbath. The accusation was false.

    So was the Jewish perception that Jesus was making himself to God.

    Therefore Jesus corrected them by saying: "Most truly I say to you, the Son cannot do

    a single thing of his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing." (Jn 5.19,30)

    In essence, Jesus was putting the Father, God, above him. Christ told them:

    "And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. You have neither heard

    his voice at any time nor seen his form." (Jn 5.37) Just a few verses later Jesus referred

    to the Father as "the only God." (5.44)

    In John ch. 10.30 , Jews again misunderstood Jesus "oneness" or ""unity" statement

    as placing himself in equal status to God. They also misunderstood this statement of Jesus:

    "What my Father has given me is something greater than all other things, an no one

    can snatch them out of the hand of the Father." (5.29)

    Were they right in misunderstanding Christ? No, Jesus went on to say that Scripture

    call men "gods," so how could they be right in their accusations if Jesus was only

    claiming to be "God's Son", not God? (10.33-36)

    In John ch. 8, Jesus claims at least five times (5) that he was the one being SENT by God.

    In 8.24, Jesus says: "For if you do not believe that I am the one [Others: "I am he";

    I am the Messiah," LB; "I am the one I claim to be," early NIV], you will die in your sins.”"

    Prior to John 8.58, the Jews were interrogating Jesus about him not being old enough

    to have seen Abraham. (Verse 57) "Then the Jews said to him: ‘You are not yet

    50 years old, and still you have seen Abraham?’” It was at that point where Jesus answered:

    I have existed  before Abraham was born” (James Moffatt)

    "I have been in existence since before Abraham was born." (Dr. A, Nyland)

    "I already was before Abraham was born." (Worldwide New Testament)

    "before Awraham existed, I was!" (Aramaic English New Testament)

    "I was alive  before Abraham was born!" (The Simple English Bible)
    "I was in existence before Abraham was ever born." (Dag Söderberg)
    "I have been in existence since before Abraham was born."
     (Kenneth L. McKay)
    These translators render the Greek present "I am" with
    an imperfect, or present perfect verb. Why?
    Because they realize that in English, one cannot use a present
    verb with an expression of past time in the same sentence. 
    Example: Is it correct to say in  English?: 
    "Before this Karate Academy was built, I am a fighter"? 
    Would anyone rephrase the above statement in proper English? 
    So any argument in Greek by Chrysostom must take into account
    the English idiom as well in the translation.
    Hence, who is right? The millions of religious worshippers
    saying that Jesus was claiming to be God? Or the lesser number
    of Christians who only repeat what Jesus himself claimed: 
    "I am God's Son" [Not God]? (John 10.36; 20.31)
    Didn't Jesus encouraged others to pray and worship someone else?
    (Matt. 6.10; John 4.24) 
    And unlike most Church-goers today, Jesus did not hesitate
    to speak of himself as subjected to God. He also spoke of 
    ‘his God,’ and ‘the God of everyone else.’ (John 14.28; 20.17)

    Thus, the biblical record seems to favor those affirming that
    Christ was the one sent by God, the promised Messiah, 
    God's Son. It was ‘he’ and not someone else fulfilling Bible
    prophecy. John 8.24 (ESV):
    "I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you 
    believe that I am he [the Messiah] you will die in your sins.”
  • slimboyfat

    Thanks for sending me the opening post so I could read it.

    My own take on this, through many conversations with various JW apologists years ago, is that the meaning of this expression in this verse and elsewhere in the NT is extremely complicated. It is not as simple as a mundane past tense "I existed since before" as BeDuhn argues, nor is it a simple claim to being the almighty I AM as Trinitarians argue.

    Jesus is presented using phrase as a quasi title throughout the gospel of John and this verse is no exception. But he is not thereby claiming to be God. He is claiming to be the messiah, the sent forth saviour of God. The key to understanding the "I am" sayings in John is in the gospel for Mark.

    Throughout the gospel of Mark Jesus is coy about revealing who he is:

    Mark 8: 27 Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, 'Who do people say I am?'
    28 And they told him, 'John the Baptist, others Elijah, others again, one of the prophets.'
    29 'But you,' he asked them, 'who do you say I am?' Peter spoke up and said to him, 'You are the Christ.'
    30 And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.

    And ultimately he uses the "I am" response to claim, not that he is God, but that he is the Messiah:

    Mark 14 61 But he was silent and made no answer at all. The high priest put a second question to him saying, 'Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?'
    62 'I am,' said Jesus, 'and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.'

  • megaboy

    Your personal conclusion is welcomed just as any other. But consider this:

    The book Fundamentals of New Testament Greek had this to say of the use of ego eimi in John 8.58:

    Though it may seem this was a personal view of mine, its actually not at all. Can't even call it a personal revelation, some of the deeper things it implies maybe but beyond that definitely not. They were teaching what I said in the 1st century church. Paul even told the people in one of the writings, he referenced Yah from a Psalm I believe and directly related it to the Messiah.

    He also took the people to Moses when he was revealing himself to them, always started at Moses. And that's where a lot of the follower started with people. I'm assuming that the reason it was lost so quickly is because of the gatherings growth required them to go over base stuff over and over again and no one matured at a rapid enough pace to make sure even the deeper things were maintained and passed on.

  • Wonderment

    slimboyfat: It is not as simple as a mundane past tense "I existed since before" as BeDuhn argues, nor is it a simple claim to being the almighty I AM as Trinitarians argue.

    I agree! I had focused the greater part of attention to this thread to a simple past tense, versus the common "I am" which results in an un-English rendering, because those objections are most common = that is, the "I am" must be synonymous with "I am the eternal Jehovah." (Present for present verb assumption) An expression of past-time in the verse with ego' eimi' makes that assumption unlikely, as various translators demonstrate by using different wording in the text.

    However, I indicated in my previous post by quoting John 8.24, that there was this other issue of Jesus being sent by God (5x in ch. 8) as "God's Son" and "the promised Messiah (8.24, LB)." You however did a better projection than I could have.

    So it appears that Jesus Christ addressed two main issues in his statement ("killed two birds with one stone") at John 8.58.

    1. Answering the Jews question about his age (long-existence extending to an indefinite past) which explained why Jesus was able to ‘see Abraham's day.’

    2. He was very likely addressing the other issue as well, which was in the minds of his enemies and disciples all along: Who was really Jesus Christ? How is he able to perform miracles greater than those of Moses? How could Christ compare to "the Father of the Jews" - "Abraham"? Is Jesus the "savior" of Israel? Is he really "the promised Messiah"?

    Jesus himself had been flirting with the concept of his identity, by asking his disciples and sometimes his critics, on various occasions: Who is the Christ? Who is the Messiah? Who do people say I am? Whose son is he?, etc.

    The answer to all the above: "I am God's Son"; "I am the Messiah"; "I came to do God's will and not mine"; "I am God's Sent Savior!", etc.

    The use of "I am the one" idea repeatedly was necessary to drive such message across.

    The Scriptures you presented in Mark illustrate this clearly.

  • Rattigan350
    Exodus does not say "I AM" in the Hebrew (It says hâyâh, haw-yaw; a primitive root (compare H1933); to exist, i.e. be or become, come to pass ) or Greek Septuagint (it says ego eimi ho on meaning I am the one) not a title and John 8:58 does not say "I am" as a title, it shows a linking verb. There is no connection between these two scriptures. It is the Trinitarians that made the connection with their bad KJV and NIV translations. I've spent my younger years researching these things and wonder why do people not research it and understand it.
  • kepler

    This is ridiculous.

    And I say this because to me this is not a question of whether Jesus was clearly as portrayed in John in all 4 Gospels, but that the words were put down by John in contrast to what the others said - and it was understood for subsequent centuries by the Greek speaking Roman world because they said so themselves. Clearly they struggled over that issue for centuries - and not because someone mistranslated from the Greek texts. To ignore them just discredits any supposed "translation" effort.

    John Chrystostom was not the only Greek speaking writer of the early church to comment explicitly on John 8:58 ( circa 375 AD).

    Origen (circa 225 AD) did so as well.

    In his lengthy writings titled Against Celsus, Book 8, chapter 12 first paragraph is as follows:

    'In what follows, some may imagine that he says something plausible against us. “If,” says he, “these people worshipped one God alone, and no other, they would perhaps have some valid argument against the worship of others. But they pay excessive reverence to one who has but lately appeared among men, and they think it no offense against God if they worship also His servant.” To this we reply, that if Celsus had known that saying, “I and My Father are one,” and the words used in prayer by the Son of God, “As You and I are one,” he would not have supposed that we worship any other besides Him who is the Supreme God. “For,” says He, “My Father is in Me, and I in Him.” And if any should from these words be afraid of our going over to the side of those who deny that the Father and the Son are two persons, let him weigh that passage, “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul,” that he may understand the meaning of the saying, “I and My Father are one.” We worship one God, the Father and the Son, therefore, as we have explained; and our argument against the worship of other gods still continues valid. And we do not “reverence beyond measure one who has but lately appeared,” as though He did not exist before; for we believe Himself when He says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Again He says, “I am the truth;” and surely none of us is so simple as to suppose that truth did not exist before the time when Christ appeared. We worship, therefore, the Father of truth, and the Son, who is the truth; and these, while they are two, considered as persons or subsistences, are one in unity of thought, in harmony and in identity of will. So entirely are they one, that he who has seen the Son, “who is the brightness of God's glory, and the express image of His person,” has seen in Him who is the image of God, God Himself.'

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