How credible are NWT's critiques?: Allin and John 8:58. (2)

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    How credible are NWT's critiques?: Allin and John 8:58.

    A few weeks ago we had a discussion surrounding John 8.58. The posters in this forum offered various views in regards to Jesus' divine role in Scripture. Occasionally, some scholars publish articles where they voice their opinion against the NWT theological renderings. But, how reliable are these critiques? How much stock can we put on them?

    Let's consider one of more recent critical evaluations being published on the Internet. This one is written by Dr. Trevor R. Allin: John 8:58 “Before Abraham was, I am” – Jesus || A Consideration of the Defence made by the Jehovah’s Witnesses of their Translation of John 8:58 and of some other verses. Allin has been associated with the Baptist Church of England and the Spanish Anglican Church. He has a Ph.D. in Linguistics from St. Andrews University. In this page, I will list some of the author's CLAIMS and my REBUTTALs below it. (Underlines are mine unless indicated otherwise.)

    Allin states the purpose of his study: “The purpose of this study is to consider the arguments presented by the publishers of this translation in an article of theirs where they seek to justify their translation of the last two words of the original Greek text of verse 58 of the eighth chapter of the gospel of John.” (p. 3)

    CLAIM: Centuries before the time of Christ, the Israelites came to refer to God as the “I am”, and this is particularly clear in the Greek translation of their Scriptures. For instance, in the Septuagint translation of 2 Samuel 12:7 we read: “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘I am anointed you as king over Israel and I am rescued you out of the hand of Saul.’ ” (“Translated as literally as possible, this says: ) This important text about King David would have been well-known to the Jews of Jesus’ day in the Greek translation. (p. 5)

    REBUTTAL: Allin did translate the text correctly even producing the awkward per Greek, “I am anointed you as king...” in the rendition. The NETS LXX version is similar to his. Is this ‘important text about King David known to the Jews of Jesus' day’ in any way conveying that “ego eimi [I am]” was the equivalent of God's name? Other than NETS, and Allin's own rendering for this article, most translators ignore the literal translation of “ego eimi [I am]” appearing in a prominent Greek text of the Septuagint (LXX, Rahlfs edition), and just render the text like this: “I anointed you” … “and I rescued you,” all but ignoring the “eimi [am]” in the text.

    See: Brenton (LXX); Orthodox England (LXX); ABP (LXX); The Apostle's Bible (LXX); Thomson (LXX); CAB (LXX); Syriac Peshitta (Lamsa); Tanakh; Isaac Leeser Old Testament; Rotherham; NASB. Even the modern Greek Vamvas version omits the “am” from “I am” as it reads: “I anointed you” ... “and I delivered you.” The Latin Vulgate reflects the same pattern: “I anointed you” … “and I delivered you.” Hence, overall, most translations, whether they are based on LXX, or not, do not reflect the the Greek words ego eimi literally in their renderings of 2 Samuel 12.7.

    Why do most versions omit the fact that the LXX (Rahlfs edition) has ego eimi (I am)? Well, for a start, one edition of LXX (ABP) does not even have “eimi” in the text. It only has “ego [“I”].” Also, the bulk of these versions recognize that the original Hebrew pronoun transmits emphasis, without the theological element that traditionalists are accustomed to attribute to it: “I [’ā·nō·ḵhî] I-anointed-you” ... “and I I-delivered-you [we·’ā·nō·ḵhî]”. The Hebrew emphasis is brought out by Tanakh: “It was I who anointed you,” and by NWT: “I myself anointed you.”

    The Greek (ego with eimi) is also emphatic. The Orthodox Study Bible (LXX) shows this as: “I am the one who anointed you king over Israel, and I am the one who delivered you from the hand of Saul.” Jünemann (LXX) in Spanish does likewise. However, “emphasis” is altogether different from declaring that “‘ego eimi [I am]’ is the equivalent of God's name’”? Besides, this “significant” text has no direct quote in the New Testament. Hence, most Bible translators do not see any import of ego eimi at 2 Samuel 12.7 in LXX as another name for God. It simply serves the purpose of an emphatic connection to the stated action that follows it: “I am the one who anointed you,” or, “I myself anointed you.” A French translation from the Greek LXX (La Septante) has it: “C'est moi qui [It is me who, or It is I who] t'ai sacré [anointed you].”

    Thus, 2 Samuel 12.7 in the Greek Septuagint does not make ‘particularly clear that the Israelites came to refer to God as the I am.’ The “I am” expression in this text is simply used as an everyday expression (albeit emphatic), not as a theological theme.

    CLAIM: However, the most well-known divine “I am” statements are found in Exodus 3, on the occasion when God revealed Himself to Moses, and in John 8:58, Jesus was quoting verbatim from the passage in Exodus 3:14, which was likewise extremely well known to the Jews of His day, especially in the Greek. In that passage God describes Himself to Moses with the phrase [ego eimi ho on] - “I am the one being” or “I am the one who exists”. (p. 5)

    Allin goes on to say: But when Jesus refers in John 8:58 to the same incident in Exodus 3, the New World Translation on this occasion only translates [ego eimi] with the words “I have been”, to hide the obvious quotation and the clear claim by Christ that He is divine...” (Emphasis his.) (p. 15)

    REBUTTAL: The author of this article is so convinced of his theological position that he is willing to charge that the NWT is, “totally inconsistent as well as not being an honest or correct translation of the original Greek.” (p. 15) When a scholar comes out swinging so assertively implying that the matter between Exodus 3 and John 8.58 has already been settled – with no uncertainties whatsoever on the subject – , it is not hard to imagine a hypothetical scenario of uninformed NWT users caught running away scared like cockroaches from this bright source of light.

    This brings up the question: How credible are the author's assumptions? Is the author presenting his side of the matter only, or is he presenting a broader picture of theological opinion?

    For the sake of honesty, I have to mention that Allin is in good company with traditionalists like J.H. Bernhard, Leon Morris, R.E. Brown, E. Stauffer, R. Snackenburg, and others who contend that Jesus' “I am” sayings without the predicate allude to Jehovah's self-designation. R.E. Brown, goes so far as to claim for the three occurrences in John 8: “No clearer implication of divinity is found in the gospel tradition.” (John (i-xii), p. 367) Exodus 3 deals with the early history of the Hebrews religion in which the angel of Jehovah appeared to Moses in a burning bush and spoke to him on behalf of the Lord. This is what the angel of the Lord said (NIV):

    13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, 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, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. (Underlines added)

    The scripture above at Ex. 3.14 by NIV has the Lord's self-designation as “I am.” Now, if we compare that to John 8.58, we'll find that in most versions Jesus asserted a similar “I am” without a predicate nominative. Since most Bible versions read like this, with the “I am” rendering in both places, traditionalists have taken for granted that Jesus was using the very same language that God did 1,500 years earlier. Any translation that deviates from tradition stands out as suspicious.

    So is the case with the NWT, the version under review by Dr. Allin, which reads differently in both places from traditional versions, at both Exodus 3.14 and John 8.58, like this: So God said to Moses: “I Will Become What I Choose to Become.” And he added: “This is what you are to say to the Israelites, ‘I Will Become has sent me to you.’” At John 8.58, the NWT has Jesus saying: Before Abraham came into existence, I have been. (Underlines added to both texts.)

    This marked difference in statement between the traditional versions and the NWT is obvious, and is the basis for the author's conclusion that the NWT is ‘inconsistent, dishonest and incorrect.’ Not only Allin, most churchgoers assume that the NWT is the one in error, because everyone else is preaching “mainstream” theology. But, what does the evidence indicate? Is it firmly established that John 8.58 is ‘quoting verbatim’ Exodus 3.14? Is “I am” really an equivalent name for God?

    The first observation to be made in this regard is that the book of “Exodus,” like the rest of the Old Testament, was written mostly in Hebrew. In turn, the gospel of John and the other 26 books of the New Testament were written in Greek. By the time of Christ, Greek was the “lingua franca” of the people, serving as the link between the many cultures of the era. Because circumstances had changed, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek by necessity, and ended up being frequently used and quoted by the Christian Authors of the NT. Currently though, the bulk of English versions focus on translating the Old Testament from the “Hebrew” instead of the Greek Septuagint (Or, LXX), and the New Testament is done from the Greek text. However, the LXX Greek translation is still essential to Bible students for many reasons.

    Thus, for the purpose of the main discussion, we find ourselves caught up between various cultures, three languages (Hebrew, Greek and English, and three Sources of “original” Writings – the OT, the NT and the Greek LXX.) Not to mention that two millenia or more have gone by between those Writings and our modern versions. That's a lot of room for human error and fickle interpretations. I'm trying to keep it simple, but it can get much deeper than that.

    Exodus 3 was written originally in Hebrew, and these are the words spoken by Yahweh as they appear in 3:14: ʼEh·yehʹ ʼAsherʹ ʼeh·yehʹ, which likely means: ‘I will be what I will be.’ (A New Translation by James Moffatt has it: “I-will-be-what-I-will-be”) This is also the rendering which appears in the footnotes of three leading Protestant versions: NIV, ESV, and NRSV. In the main text all three versions read: ‘I am who I am.’ All three versions acknowledge however that ‘I will be what I will be’ is a valid alternative in the translation from Hebrew, something Dr. Allin did not do. Allin did not even discuss the Hebrew implications of Exodus 3 and how it could relate to the Greek Septuagint and to John 8.58 in his 21 page critique. That's quite amazing since the standard Bible translation is largely based on the Hebrew text. The NWT under review, translated the “Exodus” text from the Hebrew, not from the Greek LXX, something Allin surely knows. So it is strange to see Allin charging that the NWT is ‘hiding the direct quotation from Exodus 3.14 in John 8:58,’ when John 8.58 does not read verbatim like the Hebrew text in Exodus 3:14, not to mention the Greek OT text for that matter. Allin is obviously seeing a lot more between these two scriptures than the evidence warrants.

    Even though translators translate the Old Testament (OT) from Hebrew to English as the standard, some at times deviate from the main Hebrew text to adopt an alternative reading from the Greek Septuagint, or from some other ancient source language, like Latin or Syriac, if there is a valid reason to do so. Is that the case here? Is following the Greek LXX at Exodus 3.14 done for accuracy reasons, or for theological reasons?

    How do we know that the original Hebrew reading of ʼeh·yehʹ (“I will be”) is the most likely appropriate rendering instead of the more popular ‘I am who I am’ found in mainstream Bibles? Well, the form of ʼeh·yehʹ appears 43 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, and with the exception of just a few cases, it always has future meaning. (Here is a sample: Joshua 1:5; Judges 6:16; 1 Samuel 23:17; 2 Samuel 7:14; 15:34; 16:18; 1 Chronicles 17:13; Isaiah 47:7; and Jeremiah 11:4)

    C. R. Gianotti, of Dallas Theological Seminary points out: “Significantly, most interpreters translate ['ehyeh] in Exodus 3:12 as future (i.e., I will be ['ehyeh] with you’). Yet, two verses later, why should not the same translation suffice?” Gianotti says that “in light of the imperfect form, ['ehyeh] used in Exodus 3:14,” translating ['ehyeh] as most English versions do assuming a present tense meaning, is “unjustified.” (“The Meaning of the Divine Name YHWH,” Bibliotheca Sacra 142: January-March 1985)

    The NIV, ESV and the NRSV above render ʼeh·yehʹ in verse 12 as “I will be,” but not at Exodus 3.14. Why the inconsistency? I will name two reasons: “Tradition,” and the “influence of the Greek Septuagint” in the text.

    The Septuagint rendered the Hebrew words (I will be what I will be) as: “ego eimi ho on” = “I am The Being”; or, “I am the Existing One.” Why the mistranslation? Perhaps the Greek LXX translator got caught up in the technicalities between two words (one Hebrew & one Greek): In the Hebrew ha·yahʹ (ʼEh·yehʹ comes from the Heb. verb ha·yahʹ), and in the Greek eimi. These two are not reciprocal equivalents. The translator saw the word eh·yehʹ twice, and perhaps took that for emphasis.

    Whatever, he ended up using the participle of eimi with the article ho, in his effort to approximate the Hebrew meaning. In the final analysis, ho on translates both instances of “ʼeh·yehʹ” while “eimi” serves simply as a linking verb. But in the process, he apparently overlooked the future meaning of eh·yehʹ in his final rendering, which goes on to show how difficult is the translation process. His final choice was fodder for later generations. The Latin Vulgate followed the path of LXX, which in turn greatly influenced the early English translations, and the rest is history.

    Next, we have to consider that in “ego eimi ho on,” ho on is the predicate, the significant part of the statement, not ego eimi. This is well understood by Brenton: “I am THE BEING; and he said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, THE BEING has sent me to you.” According to Brenton, “I am” is just serving as a copula or connecting link to the predicate, THE BEING, just as today we use I am to connect thoughts, like: “I am the owner”; “I am the wife,” “I am the boss,” etc. In the first instance of “THE BEING,” it becomes the predicate nominative, while in the second part of the verse “THE BEING” becomes the subject: “THE BEING [Not “I am”] has sent me to you.” Apostolic Bible Polyglot renders the verse: “I am the one being” … The one being has sent me to you.”

    In view of the above, one could conclude that if Jesus really was ‘quoting verbatim” from Ex. 3.14 (in LXX) as Allin claims, he would have said instead: “Before Abraham was born, I am The Being.” Or: “I am the Existing One.” Or: “I am YHVH,” or, “I am God.” Or, did Jesus say: “I am the I am (Or, I am who I am)”? No, he did not. Instead, we just find a simple “I am” in most English versions, which leaves a lot of room for speculative claims, like this one: “I Am This is like the name of God used in the Old Testament. See Isa. 41:4; 43:10; Ex. 3:14. However, it can also mean ‘I am he, meaning I am the Messiah.’ Also in verses 28, 58.” (Holy Bible: Easy-to-Read Version, footnote John 8.24, World Bible Translation Center)

    Not to be dismissed, is the fact that Jesus most likely did not speak Greek when addressing the Jews within the context of John chapter eight. It is believed that Jesus spoke either Hebrew or Aramaic to them. Thus, Jesus could have used either the Hebrew perfect “hayiti [“I have been”],” or “'ani hu [“I-he”].” These words are normal Hebrew expressions, with no mystical connotations. So we begin to see a picture where there is quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding the interpretation and application of the Greek phrase “ego eimi” as used by the Apostle when various factors are considered.

    Traditionalists often state that “ego eimi” is used in Scripture as a religious title or name for God. Even so, scholars often point out not to make too much of such conclusions. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology being a Trinitarian work, advocates that God is identified with Jesus, and mentions that “certain ‘I am’ formulae are noteworthy”. Nonetheless it concedes: “The mere Heb. words that translate ‘I am’ occur frequently in the OT and are not an exclusively religious formula.” (Abridged Edition, p. 164) What about the Greek LXX? Georg Braumann also claims that “ego eimi in the LXX is not an exclusively religious title.” (Georg Braumann, “ego eimi,” in DNTT 2:278)

    Consequently, the claim that John 8.58 is a direct quote (“verbatim”) of Exodus 3.14 cannot be proven. Evidently it is not! Concluding that “ego eimi” is equivalent to God's name is another misleading assumption, to say the least. Trinitarian apologist James White conceded: “It could fairly be admitted that an immediate and unqualified jump from the ego eimi of John 8:58 to Exodus 3:14 is unwise.” (“Purpose and Meaning of ‘Ego Eimi’ in the Gospel of John In Reference to the Deity of Christ.”) And R. Bultmann asserts concerning John 8, “We should, however, reject the view that ego eimi means: ‘I (Jesus) am God,’ i.e., that the sentence identifies Jesus with God.” (John, p. 327)

    A single “untrue” statement (that Jesus quoted verbatim from Ex. 3.14) does not become “true” after saying it 100 times. However, repeating a statement 100 times may change the perception of the same. And this is what happens with fragile claims as the one Allin makes above.

    CLAIM: In their interlinear version, the translators of the “New World Translation” give a footnote to justify this change: “I have been = [ego eimi] after the a’orist infinitive clause [prin=Abraam genesthai] and hence properly rendered in the perfect tense....Why have they used terminology that is so difficult to understand?” (p. 6)

    REBUTTAL: I think Allin made a valid observation here. He is right in suggesting that the average Witness is unlikely to understand the brief explanation given in KIT 1969. However, he conveniently failed to mention in his revised article that the more recent 1985 edition provided a footnote with a more sensible explanation: “I have been (… ego' eimi') The action expressed by this verb began in the past, is still in progress, and its properly translated by the perfect indicative.”

    CLAIM: To support their erroneous translation of John 8:58 in all these decades of research they have found a mere 5 [per KIT Appendix] translations. Statistically, this is insignificant ...What is more, linguistically, the translations referred to by the Jehovah’s Witnesses are of little significance. […] The Syriac departure from the Greek text is thus irrelevant to the determining of the original text... It is thus clear that appeals to the [Syriac translations] to support a departure from the Greek text of the New Testament cannot be justified. (Underline his. pp. 8, 12)

    REBUTTAL: I am surprised that Dr. Allin would use more than four pages of his 21 page essay to undermine the Syriac versions in order to belittle the KIT Appendix's use of them, when he completely ignored the far more important Hebrew implications of Exodus 3.14 in the translation of the Greek Old Testament (LXX). He mentions various instances where the Syriac is suspected of being in error. Say what? Consider this: Can anyone say that the NT Greek text is error free? Can we say that the Greek LXX text is perfect? The Latin Vulgate?, etc. You can see where I am going with this. All available “original” language texts written centuries ago will have problems. Perfection in textual integrity is not to be found in any ancient biblical text, period. In all, I would not be surprised one bit if Allin himself is tempted to quote from the Syriac versions when theology is in his favor. Therefore, Allin coming up with multiple samples of “error” in the Syriac texts unrelated to the subject at hand (John 8.58) could indicate a theological motive.

    More relevant to the issue at hand is what Rolf Furuli (Semitic Lecturer at Oslo University) observed: “The Ethiopic and the Syriac versions are compatible with the NWT rendering because the perfect of these ancient languages do not have the same restrictions as the English preterite. The Syriac Peshitta, both its Eastern and Western versions, has rendering ’ena itai ("I am/was/will be") which is completely time indifferent.” (The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation, p. 212)

    It should be mentioned as well that other scholars do not hold the same negative opinion of Syriac versions as does Allin: ‘Syriac versions are highly esteemed by textual critics.’ (Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament, pp 4-5) See also the ISBE editions of 1915 & 1988. And:

    By the way, there are more than “5” mere translations published (in fact, dozens of them) supporting readings other than “I am” in John 8.58. However, if someone is not convinced by seeing “5” translations in the presentation of a scripture, would that person likely change its view after seeing another “50”?

    CLAIM: “The Jehovah’s Witnesses also misuse other translations. The same translations to which the Watchtower Society appeals as authoritative are rejected by them for other passages, where they do not support the Jehovah’s Witness translation.” (p. 13)

    REBUTTAL: This is standard practice. Just about everyone, with the exception of the extreme fanatic, will use selective portions of a reference work or Bible version as a means to bolster a certain argument they seek to convey effectively. Is everyone under obligation to agree 100% with the source of information being quoted?
    Will Bruce M. Metzger and Philip W. Comfort, known “experts” in the field of textual criticism, agree 100% of the time in determining the degree of the integrity and accuracy of countless readings of doubtful origin within the Greek text? The truth is they often have to be selective when facing ambiguous readings from the variant manuscripts.

    You will find too that many scholars often disagree with the way some passages are rendered in various Bible versions, even when they are products of the same religious branch. They often quote from them selectively, and reject the portions they disagree with. If the JWs happen to do it more than others, it is simply because they, as a religious group have greater doctrinal differences relative to the other groups, but the principle is still the same. The amount of such “misuse” is in the eyes of the critical beholder. This claim has no meat to it.

    CLAIM: There is a lack of consistency in the translation of the phrase [“ego eimi”] in the “New World” translation. On six previous occasions in the same eighth chapter of John’s gospel (and in many other parts of the New Testament), the translators of the “New World Translation” correctly translate [ego eimi] by “I am”. Only in verse 58 do they translate it incorrectly. One must ask oneself why there is this lack of consistency, even within one chapter. (Underlines his. Page 15)

    REBUTTAL: Since he does not say, I am assuming that the “six previous occasions in the same eighth chapter of John's gospel” are: John 8.12; 18; 23 (2x); 24; 28. This complaint of a lack of consistency may seem valid for someone seeking to link John 8.58 to Exodus 3.14. But is there any truth to this ‘inconsistency’? No.

    In first place, the author is overlooking something crucial: The verb “eimi” (in ego eimi) cannot be rendered strictly the same way all the time. Allin should know this. Stanley Porter declares: “...The verb [“eimi”] may be translated in a variety of ways.” (Fundamentals of New Testament Greek, p. 73) Is Porter right? Yes, he is! For instance, just take a look at one version, the NIV, to see how they variously render the verb “eimi” in their translation:

    NIV: is (702), are (369), was (300), be (262), am (130), were (129), untranslated (105), been (35), have (16), come (15), had (10), means (10), comes (8), happen (7), have being (2), exist, existed, exists . etc. (The Greek-English Concordance to the New Testament) This list reflects only a portion of the many ways the NIV renders the word. Other translations deal with it similarly. Strong's Concordance defines eimi as: “am, have been, it is I, was.” That being the case, why did not Allin acknowledge this fact?

    If strict consistency of the translation of the verb “eimi (I am)” is what we aim for every time it appears in the Greek text, we are going to be greatly disappointed to find that Bible translators themselves are not fully consistent in doing so.

    Below we look at how three scholars – recognized as top biblical scholars (Moffatt; Goodspeed and C.B. Williams ) – deal with these instances of the Greek phrase ego eimi in this one chapter (8) of the Gospel compared to the NWT.

    Verse 12: All three translators render the verse similarly: “I am the light of the world.” So does the NWT.

    Vv. 18 & 23:

    The three mainstream translators did not use “I am” at all for ego eimi in verse 18 and 23b, they simply used “I.” In this case, the NWT stands out for showing the basic emphatic meaning of ego eimi when the other translators did not. See below:

    “I am one who bears witness” (v. 18, NWT)
    “I am from the realms above” (v. 23a, NWT)
    “I am not from this world” (v. 23b, NWT)

    Vv. 24, 28:
    “for unless you believe who I am” (v. 24, Moffatt)
    “you will then know who I am” (v. 28, Moffatt)
    “that I am what I say” (vv. 24, 28, Goodspeed)
    “that I am the Christ” (vv. 24, 28, C.B. Williams)
    “that I am the one” (v. 24, NWT)
    “that I am he” (v. 28, NWT)

    V. 58:
    “I have existed before Abraham was born.” (Moffatt)
    “I existed before Abraham was born!” (Goodspeed)
    “I existed before Abraham was born!” (C.B. Williams)
    “Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.” (NWT)

    As shown above, none of these translators were 100% consistent in dealing with ego eimi within the chapter, a chapter often singled out by Trinitarians as one displaying high Christology. The three famous translators are Trinitarians, and recognized the world over as top-level Greek experts. Yet they found it prudent to variously render ego eimi throughout the chapter. Why did they do so? It's simple! Context! True, other translators of literal versions may render the Greek phrase exactly the same way throughout the 8th chapter, but those who don't cannot by any means be blamed for adapting the Greek words to English idiom. Adapting the Greek form to English idiom results in greater accuracy to the modern reader. Below we can see how various translators represent “ego eimi” into English at John 8.58:

    Wakefield: “Before Abraham was born, I am He.” (Wakefield, Gilbert: A Translation of the N.T. (1795)
    Richmond Lattimore: “I am from before Abraham was born.”
    Good News for the World (1969): “I already was before Abraham was born.”
    The New Testament, Kleist & Lilly: “I am here-and I was before Abraham.”
    Contemporary English Version: “even before Abraham was, I was, and I am.”
    The 20th Century New Testament, 1904: “Before Abraham existed I was already what I am.”
    The New Testament, Noyes: “From before Abraham was, I have been.”
    Wade: “Before Abraham came into being, I have existed.” (The Documents of the New Testament)
    Translation for translators (T4T): “I existed before Abraham was born!”

    Allin wants the reader to believe that the NWT is the only translation to render “ego eimi” inconsistently. The claim of the author is not objective to the facts.

    CLAIM: “In the Spanish-language article that they [the JWs] gave me...” [it is stated]: “En tal situación, [eimí], que es el presente de indicativo de la primera persona del singular, se traduce correctamente por el pretérito perfecto del indicativo.” “There is no such thing as a “preterite perfect tense” [pretérito perfecto] in Spanish...” (p. 16)

    REBUTTAL: Allin is misinformed on this one. There IS a pretérito perfecto in Spanish.

    A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish by John Butt & Carmen Benjamin, 5th Edition (2011), states: “The main variants are listed below; the [Royal Spanish] Academy's current usage is in bold: ‘... Perfect Indicative – Example: he hablado [I have spoken], has tenido [you have had]. Other names: ‘pretérito perfecto (compuesto), pretérito perfecto actual, antepresente, present perfect.’” (pp. 202-203)

    A prominent English grammar by Daniel B. Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) was adapted and edited by Daniel Steffen to the Spanish language (Gramática griega – Sintaxis del Nuevo Testamento, Editorial Vida) in which the author of the adaptation, not surprisingly, used “pretérito perfecto” for the perfect indicative or present perfect = he amado, has amado, ha amado, etc. (See chart on p. 374)

    The Grammar by Rafael y Manuel Seco (Manual de gramática española) also uses the term “pretérito perfecto” in their Manual. (See p. 66. Madrid, 1966) El “pretérito perfecto” is current usage in many parts of the Spanish world. So much in fact that it also appears in various grammar books oriented toward English speakers, to name a few: See Barron's Diccionario de 201 Verbos Ingleses, 1972; Complete Handbook of Spanish Verbs (4,500) by Passport Books, 1984, and 2,000 Essential Spanish Verbs, by “Living Language,” 2003.)

    And “The Royal Spanish Academy” (= Real Academia Española – the maximum authority in Spanish grammar), has a massive Grammar (3,885 pages, 2009) of which a condensed edition (Nueva gramática de la lengua española – Manual, 2010, 993 pages), lists under section heading 23.4, “El pretérito perfecto compuesto (HE CANTADO [“I have sung”])”, with a subsequent explanation below it.

    What happened here? Allin may have confused the pretérito perfecto (present perfect) with variant definitions of the English / Spanish ‘preterits’ presented in different contexts, or in various grammar sources on both languages. Whatever the reason, this inaccurate “fault-finding” by Dr. Allin is uncalled for someone holding a Ph.D in Linguistics.

    CLAIM: The explanation [in the Kingdom Interlinear] continues with the words “Examples of the same syntax are found in Lu 2:48, 13:7, 15:29, Jn 5:6, 14:19, 15:27” and three other verses [“Ac 15:21; 2 Cor 12:19; 1 Jn 3:8.”]. In the first example given, I have not been able to determine to which verb they are seeking to refer. (p. 16)

    REBUTTAL: If the reader of the quoted note wants to find the verb being alluded to at Luke 2.48, he or she must refer specifically to the Greek text used by the author of the note, in this case, the Wescott & Hort Greek text. The other Greek texts have an imperfect verb form ezētoumen (were seeking) toward the end of the text (which does not fit with the group of examples mentioned), instead of the present form zētoumen (are seeking) found in W&H and earlier editions of the Nestle Greek text, which does.

    Here it is: “After three days they [Joseph & Mary] found him [Jesus] in the temple … Now when they saw him they were astounded, and his mother said to him: Child, why did you treat us this way? Here your father and I in mental distress have been looking for you.” (Lit. “Look! The father of you and I being pained we are seeking you.” (Luke 2.46,48)

    In this scripture (W&H), we have a present verb form “we are seeking you” tied to actions extending to the past (three days). Because of this, most Bible versions use a present perfect (have been looking) or a past progressive tense (were looking), not unlike what others have done at John 8.58.

    For instance, the 1977 NASB Edition following the 23rd edition of the Nestle Greek text rendered the words above as: “Your father and I have been...looking”, with a marginal note saying: “Lit., are looking.” Incidentally, some early editions of the NASB at John 8.58 presented the alternative, “I have been” in the marginal note for their “I am” reading in the main text. Many years later, when someone wrote them asking if they still held to the former explanation, they said that it was an acceptable alternative reading presented as a smoother English rendering. The NASB translators likely removed it because of external pressure from the traditionalists, not because there was anything wrong with it.

    CLAIM: Contrary to their claim, none of the examples given [*] has “the same syntax” (grammatical structure) as John 8:58. None of the verbs in the other verses that they give is “[ego eimi].” (p. 17)
    (* NWT: Examples of the same syntax are found in Lu 2:48; 13:7; 15:29; Joh 5:6; 14:9 ; 15:27; Ac 15:21; 2Co 12:19; 1Jo 3:8.) Exs. in bold below:

    REBUTTAL: We begin to see a pattern here by the author making claims of “half-truths”. According to J. H. Moulton and Nigel Turner, John 8.58 displays the same syntax or “grammatical structure” as the other texts mentioned in the Appendix of the NWT: “The Present which indicates the continuance of an action during the past and up to the moment of speaking is virtually the same as Perfective, the only difference being that the action is conceived as still in progress . . . It is frequent in the NT: Lk 248 137 . . . 1529 . . . Jn 56 858 (εἰμί). . .149 … 1527 … Ac 1521 … 2 Co 1219 … 1 Jn 38.” (A Grammar of New Testament Greek, by J. H. Moulton, Vol. III, Syntax, by Nigel Turner, Edinburgh, 1963, p. 62)

    Allin is partially correct in that ‘none of the verbs in the other verses that they give is ‘ego eimi.’ However, he is off when stating that ‘none of the examples given has the same syntax as John 8:58.’ Having the “same syntax” does not require that the samples share the same verbs. All that is required by the statement (the same syntax) in this case, is that the samples contain a present verb combined with an expression of past time in the verse. The verses in bold above (and mentioned by the NWT) do indeed meet such requirement. Notice that Turner includes John 8.58 in this group, knowing full well that the other verses lack “ego eimi” per se. Ernest Burton, under The Present of past Action still in Progress also includes Luke 13.7; 15.29; John 5.6; Acts 15.21 in the group of PPA's. He concludes: English idiom requires the use of the Perfect in such cases.” (Syntax of Moods and Tenses in N.T. Greek, p. 10)

    Not to be overlooked, John 14.9 listed in the quote does contain the verb “eimi” without the pronoun in the statement. Regardless, the meaning is no different. And how do translators render the present verb “eimi” in such structure? “Even after I have been [eimi] with you men for such a long time, Philip, have you not come to know me?” In this scripture, a present verb “eimi” is accompanied in the clause by an expression implicating past time (for such a long time).

    CLAIM: Nowhere else in the New Testament does “[ego eimi]” have a past meaning .... Contrary to the claims made by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christ was here not using a structure that required the present to communicate the past. This is not a personal opinion; it is the fact of the Greek structure. (p. 17)

    REBUTTAL: Bible commentator Albert Barnes has a different opinion: “The expression I am, though in the present tense, is clearly designed to refer to a past time.” (Barnes' Notes on the New Testament)

    And Dr. Carl W. Conrad (Department of Classics/Washington University) states: “If one is willing to sacrifice the structure of the Greek and reformulate the content, I think one might write, ‘My existence antedates the birth of Abraham.’” ( Is the suggested rendering by Dr. Conrad vastly different from saying, as some versions have it: “I have been in existence since before Abraham was born”? Pre-existence did not conflict with Judaism, as M.M.B. Turner observes, “other beings than God were thought by the Judaism of the day to pre-exist Abraham.” (“The Spirit of Christ and Christology,” p. 171)

    A.T. Robertson points out that to express past time, ‘Homer and later Greek writers often use the present with an adverb of time instead of a past tense.’ Robertson mentions “the present of past action still in progress. Usually an adverb of time (or adjunct) accompanies the verb … Often it has to be translated into English by a sort of ‘progressive perfect’ (‘have been’), though, of course, that is the fault of the English.” (Robertson's Grammar, p. 825, 879)
    The Greek Bible LXX, at Judges 16.17, puts Samson saying literally: “For nazarite of God I am [ego eimi] from belly of my mother.” How should one translate this verse? NETS (LXX) translates this verse: For I have been a nazirite of God from my mother's belly.” And The Orthodox Study Bible (LXX) has it: “For I have been a holy one of God from my mother's womb.” Why do they do this? Simply because the text describes an action from the past (from birth) extending to the present. “English idiom requires the use of the Perfect [have been] in such cases,” as Burton indicated.

    : In Greek there is a past tense form of the verb to be – [ēmēn]. This is the form which Christ would have had to use in John 8:58 if he had wanted to give a past meaning. (p. 17)

    REBUTTAL: We have heard this criticism before. Haven't we? It is true that there is a past tense (ēmēn “I was”) in the Greek NT. Let's get something clear at this point: Greek and English tenses are not created equal in the full sense of the word. We are dealing with two distinct languages, not one. Greek tenses emphasize aspect (kind of action) over time, unlike English.
    The imperfect tense usually expresses continuous or repeated or incomplete action in the past. (Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek, 60) The imperfect takes a motion picture, so to speak, portraying the action as it unfolds. The imperfect focusses on the process of the action without implying anything as to its completion.

    The Greek “I was” is thus imperfective in aspect, but normally associated with the past – with the spatial value of remoteness, while the present tense-form is imperfective in aspect, with the spatial value of proximity. (Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, C. R. Campbell, p. 41-42) So, using a past tense is almost like saying, “I was, but no longer..., even if this is not technically true.” Therefore, John the writer of the Gospel would not want to focus on a past or remote meaning for the action Jesus was describing.

    What about the perfect tense? The Greek perfect is not suitable either for what Jesus intended to say. Why? First of all, there are no forms of the “perfect” for the verb “eimi.” So John, in describing Jesus speech, could not have used a perfect form of “eimi.” Secondly, “The Greek perfect is more restricted in use than the parallel English tense.” “In the indicative the perfect signifies action as complete from the point of view of present time.” (Dana & Mantey, p. 200-201.) “There is no exact English equivalent to the Greek perfect. The so-called English perfect, formed by the auxiliary verb have, is the nearest equivalent that can be given, but it will not always serve to translate a Greek perfect.” (It's still Greek to me, David A. Black)

    Hence, the apostle John was careful in reporting Jesus intention for us. (Keep in mind that Jesus may have spoken Hebrew or Aramaic instead of the Greek of John 8.58.) John obviously did not want to report the action being described by Jesus as one emphasizing repeated action or remoteness by using an imperfect (past) tense (Greek - I was). Neither would he seek to establish Jesus referring to an action that was over, done with, or complete (Greek perfect).
    John reports Jesus as doing one better: He gathered up past and present time into one expression, which brought out the notion of proximity, indefiniteness and relevancy better than a Greek imperfect or perfect verb could ever have. How did he do that? By using an available idiom established in classical Greek and duly employed by biblical writers – a present verb in combination with a past time element. Here the present tense “gathers up past and present time into one phrase.” (Moulton, Grammar of New Testament Greek, Prolegomena, p. 119)

    On top of this, we have to consider English idiom when attempting to convey the Greek tense-form used in John 8.58 – a present verb linked to a past expression in the clause (Before Abraham was born...). The Oxford English Grammar has this to say: “The [English] present perfect differs from the past tense; the latter is used refer to situations that can be said to be ‘over and done with.’ While situations in the past can also be relevant at the present time, it is important to stress that the past tense does not encode current relevance, whereas the present perfect construction does.” (By Bas Aarts, p. 256)

    And finally, the fact that Jesus, as reported, did not use a Greek perfect or imperfect verb form at John 8.58 does not mean that a modern translator is wrong by replacing the present verb used at John 8.58 with the English present perfect (I have been) or past tense (I was) in his/her version to convey the original, due to established differences between the two languages. Hence, the claim above is not factual.

    : When Jesus said [ego eimi], the Jews picked up stones to stone Him (John 8:59), for having claimed that He was God. (See John 10:33, where they give precisely this explanation.) (p. 5,17)

    REBUTTAL: These two incidents of Jews picking up stones to stone Jesus are mentioned more than once in Allin's essay, as if this alone is proof that Jesus is God. Other scholars add the John 5.18 incident to these two as further proof that Jesus claimed to be God. But to have someone ‘stoned’ in Israel by law did not require that one claim to be God. One could receive the punishment of stoning for lesser crimes than that. For instance: idolatry (Deut. 17:2-7), child sacrifice (Lev. 20:2), divination (Lev. 20:27), the worship of false gods (Deut. 13:10), blasphemy (John 10:31-32), disobedience toward one's parents (Deut. 21:18-21), Sabbath-breaking (Num. 15:32-36), adultery (Ezek. 16:40; John 8:5), and disrespect toward the king (1 Kgs. 21:13).” Bruce Corley informs that Judaism interpreted these two Torah laws (Lev. 24.15-16 & Num. 15.30-31) of blasphemy with a “wider significance in the NT period ... Blasphemy referred to acts or words which violate God’s power and majesty, a claiming of prerogatives which belong to God alone.” (“Trial of Jesus,” in DJG p. 852)

    Jesus had explained to his disciples early in his ministry that Jewish leaders would seek to kill “the Son of man.” After Peter's confession that ‘Jesus is the Christ,’ the account tells us: “He began teaching them that the Son of man must undergo many sufferings and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and rise three days later.” (Mark 8.31) This is what happened.

    Does it take Jesus claiming to be God to prompt the Jews to kill him? No. It was even forbidden for others to say that Jesus was the Messiah. (John 9:22) And why was Stephen the martyr stoned to death? Stephen was stoned, not because he claimed to be God, nor because he claimed Jesus was God, but because he was proclaiming Jesus to be the heavenly-exalted Son of Man, the Messiah. (Acts 7.55-58)

    Traditionalists seem to be also remiss of the context at hand. The truth is that Jews had been trying to kill Jesus prior to the “I am” statements, and afterwards: Mt. 12.14; 16.21; Mr. 3.6; John 5.18; 7.1; 7.19; 7.25; 10.31-33; 11.53. Their motives included: Sabbath breaking, ‘calling God his own Father,’ (John 5.18) blasphemy for saying, “I and the Father are one” (10.30), ‘making himself to be God (or, a god, NEB) being a man’ (10-33), for claiming: “I am God's Son” (10.36), for saying he was ‘doing the works of the Father,’ and being “in union with the Father” (10.38-39), for ‘performing many signs’ (11.47,53). Take note that in those occasions, Jesus did not do anything wrong. It was the Jews' perception of Jesus' actions that were wrong.

    At Luke 4:23-29, the Jews tried to kill Jesus, not because he claimed to be God, but only because he brought out their hypocrisy and made them angry. Yes, the record shows that before Jesus spoke the “ego eimi” words at John 8:58, the Jews already were seeking to kill Jesus for simply claiming that ‘the truth he taught came from God.’ (John 7:16,19; 8:37, 8:40) Furthermore, consider this: Prior to Jesus' statement of verse 58 (ch. 8), he had “exposed” Jews for the following actions: ‘ignorance’ (John 8:14); of being ‘judgmental’ (8:15); of not ‘knowing’ Jesus and his Father, God (8:19,55); of impending death for their sinfulness (8:21,24); of being ‘worldly’ (8:23); of ‘unbelief’ (8:24,45); of being ‘slaves to sin’ (8:32-34); of ‘murderous intentions’ (8:37,40); of ‘not following Abraham's example’ (8:39,40); of ‘indifference’ to Jesus' preaching (8:37,43); of ‘having deaf ears’ (8.47); of being ‘children to the Devil’ (8:44); of ‘not observing the word of the Father’ (8:38,55); of ‘dishonoring’ Jesus (8:49); of being ‘liars’ (8:55), all in one chapter.

    That's a lot of incriminations brought up by Jesus against the Jews in just one brief encounter. Any of these alone would suffice to get the Jews upset. Add to that the build-up of previous encounters leading to this one, and it's easy to see why the Jews felt they could no longer tolerate this man in their land. But it was their intention to kill Jesus all along. The 8.58 incident where Christ asserts his “superiority” over Abraham (historically, the most distinguished of all Jewish ancestors) was ‘the straw that broke the camel's back.’

    Traditionalists claim that it was precisely Jesus claiming to be God with the “I am” sayings that made Jews react they way they did. There are some problems with this conclusion. Edwin D. Freed, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Gettysburg College, contends that “the meaning of the sentence [at John 8:58] in the mind of the writer was: “Before Abraham was, I, the Christ, the Son of God, existed.” (“Who or what was before Abraham in John 8:58?”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 17, 1983, 52-59) The Jews could not imagine any man claiming divine prerogatives of this sort. (John 9.22)

    Something else to consider: The words “I am” are perhaps the most common words in any language. “Ego eimi” is no different. Among the Septuagint and the New Testament Greek texts there are nearly 9,000 occurrences of the word “eimi” (“am”) alone, not counting “ego” (“I”). Thus, it was not only God Yahweh who used “I am,” but also Jesus, angels, men, women, who used the expression.

    Jacob, Samson, David, John the Baptizer, and Paul, to name a few, used “ego eimi” or “eimi” as part of their language. Bathsheba too said “ego eimi” when addressing King David: ‘I am – I am pregnant.’” (2 Samuel 11.5, NETS) Paul once said: “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” (NIV) In the ninth chapter of John, right after the immensely popular “I am” of Jesus (8.58), we read of a blind man who kept saying, “I am” (Greek: ego eimi, John 9.9). Can you imagine if we change the names of Paul and ‘the blind man’ in these two instances and substitute them with “Jesus”? These two scriptures would surely be “daily bread” in Churches all over for both supporting “The Holy Trinity.”

    So generally speaking, the words themselves are not theological or mystic in meaning. However, Trinitarians want to attach exclusive significance to the phrase. If “ego eimi” held the mystic value that some seek to assign to it, then the Bible individuals registered using it, would have been reluctant from doing so in the first place, out of fear or respect to God and Christ. Furthermore, Jewish worshipers would not hesitate one moment to expose others who were misusing a divine name. After all, according to a Jewish tradition, the name of God YHWH became too holy to misuse by common people to the point that Jewish scribes were prompted to remove it from Holy Scripture. Logically then, the Jewish people would not welcome replacing YHWH with another holy unpronounceable epithet, “I am.”

    Even people today who claim “I am” denotes “divinity” in relation to Jesus, use these words in their normal speak without the fear of infringing the wrath of God or Jesus. The words are so common that Presidential candidate Donald Trump used them recently in his campaign: “I am who I am.” Was Mr. Trump making himself equal to God by saying that? I think he had something else in mind. Therefore, the concept that God and his Son, Jesus, would purportedly use the most common phrase in any language, and designate such as the “absolute” name of God is most unexpected.

    A situation that is often misleading is the occurrence of “ego eimi” without an expressed predicate. In other words, “I am” may appear at the end of a clause with no words after them, as is the case in John 8.58. The term absolute is often used to imply that the words stand by themselves without the need of a predicate as it does in John 9.9: ‘The blind man kept saying that I am’. As indicated before, various translators fill in a predicate nominative at John 8.24 & 8.28 like so: “I am [the Christ]”; “I am [the Messiah]”; “I am [the one”]; “I am [he],” etc. Likewise, at John 9.9 for the blind man: “I am [he]”; “ I am [the one]”; “I am the man]”, etc. ”

    Even if Jews understood that the “I am” sayings of John 8 stood for Jesus claiming equality with God, it does not mean they were in the correct. In the two previous incidents (John 5.18 & 10.31,33) where the Jews tried to stone Jesus for ‘making himself equal to God,’ the subsequent argumentation employed by Jesus in the following verses proves they were wrong. Scholar Ernst Haenchen explains it well: “The Jews are therefore completely mistaken when they accuse him [Jesus] of blasphemy: he makes himself equal to God. He actually stands in the place of God as the one sent by him.” (John 2: A Commentary on the Gospel of John, Chapters 7-21 in Hermeneia, 1984, p. 30.)

    The same here in John 8.58. Craig L. Blomberg (Professor of the New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado since 1986) He wrote, “The fact that the Jews immediately tried to stone him does not mean they understood his statement as a direct equation of himself with God. Claiming that Abraham had seen his day (verse 56) itself bordered on blasphemy, and the Jews had already tried to kill him for much lesser 'crimes', such as healing on the Sabbath and speaking of God's love for the Gentiles!” Stephen Motyer concludes that John 8:58 'would not be heard as a claim to be God. It would be heard as a claim to be a divine agent, anointed with the name and powers of God, and (in this case) active in the genesis of Abraham.’ (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels: Second edition, pp 209-210)

    Even if traditionalists are right in claiming Jesus purposely made use of ego eimi to echo God's words, allowance should be made to the fact that Jesus himself was “taught” by God the Father to speak just as he was commanded to do. Jesus said this (8.28): “Just as the Father taught me, I speak.” And: (John 12.49-50): “The Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken ... So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (NIV. See also: John 5.19; 7.16; 14.24.) Thus, if Jesus uttered the “I am” sayings to echo similar sayings by God in the OT, it was only to highlight the unity between himself and Yahweh His God.

    From that angle, G.R. Beasley-Murray wrote: “Nevertheless the OT revelation formula [Yahweh’s “I am” sayings in especially Deuteronomy-Isaiah] is in the background.... Is then the statement an assertion that Jesus is God? Not in terms of identification. It is an affirmation of Jesus as the revelation of God,... As such it entails unity with God, as John 1.1.” (John, p. 139) Trinitarian Brian Hebblethwaite concedes, “it is no longer possible to defend the divinity of Jesus by reference to the claims of Jesus” in the NT gospels. (The Incarnation: Collected Essays in Christology, Cambridge: University, 1987, p. 74.)

    One other thing: According to Mark 14:61-64*, when Jesus was finally apprehended and brought before the Jewish High Court (the Sanhedrin) and accused of blasphemy, he was charged by Jewish leaders for claiming to be the Messiah and the Son of God, not for claiming to be “God.” This is remarkable if one considers that Trinitarians emphatically state that in the previous incidents of John 5.18, 8.58, and 10.31,33, the Jews wanted to stone Jesus for blasphemy precisely because ‘he was making himself equal to God.’ If Jews had understood those declarations as a claim to equality with God, it surely would have surfaced at Jesus’ subsequent hearing before the Sanhedrin. Would it not? (* cf., Mt 26.63-64)

    It appears then that Jesus convinced these Jews with his disclaimer (that he was “God's Son,” not “God”), because no witness at Jesus’ interrogation by the Sanhedrin ever alleged that he claimed to be God. And if they changed their mind, as the evidence seems to suggest, then the claim by traditionalists that Jesus is God based on the Jewish response on those previous occasions is invalidated later by the lack of the same allegation at this hearing in the Sanhedrin, a most convenient place to expose Jesus for blasphemy to get him condemned to death. It should be noted that the Jewish leaders were looking for any justifiable reason to get him killed. (Mark 14.55)

    The most important point out of all this is that the Sanhedrin’s charge of blasphemy was provoked more by Jesus’ implicit identification of himself as the heavenly-exalted, eschatological Son of Man of Daniel 7.13-14. Jesus was condemned to death for claiming, not that he was “God,” but for claiming to be “the Son of man,” “the Christ the Son of the Blessed One.” Jesus Christ connected his “I am” declaration at the trial solely to being “the Son of man,” “the Son of God,” “the Christ (“the Messiah).” Nothing else!

    A similar report by John shows Jewish leaders taking Jesus before Pilate to have him sentenced to death (but Pilate found him innocent), where the Jews insisted: “We have a law, and according to that Law he must die because he made himself out to be the Son of God.” (John 19.7, ISV)

    In sum, as C.K. Barrett rightly noted: “It is not however correct to infer either from the present passage [Jn 8.24] or from the others in which ego eimi occurs that John wishes to equate Jesus with the supreme God of the Old Testament.... He pronounces ego eimi, not to identify himself with God in any exclusive and final sense, but to draw attention to himself as the one in whom God is encountered and known.” Ego eimi [“I am”] does not identify Jesus with God, but it does draw attention to him in the strongest possible terms. “I am the one—the one you must look at, and listen to, if you would know God.” (C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St John, Westminster Press, London, 1978, p. 342, 98)


    A comparison of various scriptures (Mk 13.5; Lk 21.8; Mt. 24.5; Mk 8.27; Lk 9.18; Jn 3.13,14; 4.25,26; 8.25; 9.35-38) clearly indicates that the “I am” statements pronounced by Jesus are linked to the concept of Jesus as “the Son of man,” “the Christ” (“the Messiah”), and other times as the “Teacher and Lord” of his disciples (Jn 13.13). So, there is no evidence in the NT gospels that during Jesus’ public ministry he ever declared expressly or implicitly that He was Yahweh. If Jesus never identified himself as God, how did his contemporaries identify him? Over forty times in the NT gospels, God, men, women, angels, and even demons proclaim that Jesus is “the Christ” or “the Son of God.”

    This review of Allin's critique on John 8.58 reveals the author made a slanted analysis of the NWT. At times, he presented arguments that were barely “half-truths.” He did not present a balanced article where his readers could be made aware of opposing views on the subject. In fact, he makes no allowance for other interpretations on the matter. The NWT is singled out as uniquely flawed. No mention is ever made that some reputable scholars happen to disagree with the popular renderings of ego eimi in English versions in John chapter 8. Is that honest scholarship?

  • menrov

    Wonderment, thanks for the review. It is interesting albeit a rather long story. My view: all translations are the result of the agenda of the translator(s) and their (paying) organizations. The NWT is nothing different. It have been shown in various ways that the translators have changed wording, word order or meaning of verses or words to serve their doctrines. But also other translations are guilty of that. I therefore prefer translations that have good footnotes to explain why the translators decided to translate a verse or word the way he did but also shows that there are other options or views. You can then either agree or disagree but at least you are informed. The NET is not a bad example in that sense. But likely there are others.

    The NWT however hardly have footnotes that actually add any value or clarify something. Check out John 1:4 and compare this with other translations. Nothing in the NWT indicates they have rendered this verse rather differently than many other translations.

    My view on John 8:58 and the rendering in NWT versus others. It very much seems the NWT is inconsistent in their translation of that particular word. I am not saying that grammatically it cannot be I have been but in about all 138 occurrences of εἰμί it is translated as I AM. Did Jesus in his reply in John 8:58 actually wanted to teach his audience he was YHWH? The context does not give that impression. In my view Jesus just wanted to show that he was not jus the son of Josef (and therefore merely a mortal person) but that he was from heaven, and existed far before anything else. In my view the expression I am in this case gives the impression that Jesus wanted to show that it is not relevant how long he lived before Abraham, just that he existed before Abraham.

    The NWT is so worried that the Rank and File might think more of Jesus than what the WBTS wants them to think of Jesus (WBTS prefers to minimize the role of Jesus and act as if the organization is more important than Jesus), that they decided to deviate from a normal translation and applied a translation that technically (grammatically) can be correct but seen from the context or from perspective of consistency, it s a most peculiar translation to say the least.

  • Wonderment

    menrov: The NWT however hardly have footnotes that actually add any value or clarify something. Check out John 1:4 and compare this with other translations. Nothing in the NWT indicates they have rendered this verse rather differently than many other translations.

    Thanks for your observations!

    You mentioned the NET Bible as one version standing out having copious footnotes. I don't know of any single volume that can compete with the NET Bible in that sense. I think the Editor or co-Editor of the NET Bible is Daniel B. Wallace, a grammarian by choice. And it shows throughout with its technical comments, and its strong Evangelical orientation.

    The NWT on the other hand is prepared for JWs (Bible students of limited grammar expertise). That is not to say it avoids getting technical at times. The 1984 Reference Edition footnotes shows depth of textual decision making by the Committee. I for one found the notes helpful. True, John 1.4 is not explained as extensively in the 1984 Ref. Edition as is done in NET (which from the point of grammar observations, the NET Bible is far more impressive).

    The 1984 NWT Edition does offer a rather limited note: "Joh 1:4 The punctuation of vss 3 and 4 is according to WH, Vg~ and The Greek New Testament by the United Bible Societies." (Note: The symbol next to Vg (~) in here stands for Novum Testamentum Latine... Edition.) The 2013 edition has none for the verse.

    All these versions fill a niche. Who is willing to carry around the massive volume of the NET Bible to the meetings? No doubt that it is an excellent Bible for serious students at home, but not the best one for spiritual upbuilding in public churches.

  • Beth Sarim
    Beth Sarim

    **Nothing in the NWT indicates they have rendered this verse rather differently than many other translations.**

    I always wondered about that too!!!


    One religious dude has his bias, another has theirs.

    It doesn't matter if Jesus was GOD in the flesh, or the WORD or power of GOD in the flesh, or if he was trying to tell people that he was the son of the Universal Father and not of YHWH. It doesn't matter if the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one, in some quantum manner that we will never know, or some kind of Magi who's story was later perverted.

    JWism is still NOT the ONE TRUE RELIGION.


  • Clambake

    Read the entire the book and chapter . If you can't figure out the author intent you are absolutely retarded.

    Christian theology isn't based on fighting over single verses or arguing over indefinite articles etc etc.

  • Beth Sarim
    Beth Sarim

    **JWism is still NOT the ONE TRUE RELIGION.**

    No. It isn't. Theres more than one path to God!!!

  • bsmart
    Wonderment, lots of information here, and I am sad to say I only read part of it . A semi-brief note of its conclusions (like the part where you underlined) and a link would be more to my liking. I know a lot of people wont click on a link but can come up with a google search with the same information.
  • kepler

    It was remarked in another forum:

    " What [is] not take into account is the particular category of usage into which John 8:58 falls as a result of the context in which it is found. As D.A. Carson points out in his book, Exegetical Fallacies, context and usage are much more important than technical, grammatical rules. He calls these kinds of fallacies “grammatical fallacies.” While there are many possibilities when it comes to the use of words that would fall within the parameters of Greek grammar, the proper understanding of terms comes most often through discovering its actual usage in the sacred text....

    " “The ‘I am’ formula without the predicate,” or “I am” without anything following it (Gr.—ego eimi) , is used frequently in John’s Gospel and elsewhere in the New Testament, with crucial antecedents in the Old Testament as well. In Mt. 14:27; Mk. 13:6; 14:62; John 4:26, 6:20, 8:24, 8:28, 18:6 and, of course, John 8:58, as we’ve seen, we find this formula used, but each time it is in the context of either some sort of miraculous intervention where Christ is revealing his divine authority, or in the context of an overt statement declaring his divinity in no uncertain terms as we saw in John 8:58. This does not mean this “formula” cannot have other meanings, but it does establish a context in which we find it often relating to Christ’s identity as more than just a man in the New Testament."

    For those who are just picking up this discussion, I will repeat one of the earliest arguments I can find in Biblical textual analysis in the Greek community - for which I presume a translation into the vernacular is not required.

    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.'


    John Chrysostoms examined the same text in the same language a century later with the same conclusion.

    I suggest that if one is actualy looking for a grammatical problem, one might consider what language or languages these Gospel exchanges might have been undertaken originally. Aramaic with the disciples on the Lake in Matthew? In Hebrew with the high priest in Mark?

  • Wonderment


    Thanks for your information. I agree with your post for the most part.

    But from your quoting Origen here and Chrysostoms in a previous post, I get the impression (not sure if I understand you correctly) that you seek to convey that since these theologians who were Greek knowledgeable used the John 8.58 statement just like it appears in popular English versions, then that's the way it should show be in our Bibles. In short, they are reflecting the Greek literally. There is nothing wrong with that.

    Someone mentioned in this thread that the verb "eimi" is rendered 138 times as "I am" somewhere in the text. Again, I agree with that person that "eimi" should be rendered simply as "I am" in most cases. But here's the thing. "Most" cases does not equal "always."

    I quoted James Moffatt, Professor of Greek and NT Exegesis at Mansfield College, Oxford, among his various accomplishments, who translated "eimi" for the most part as "I am." Well, we cannot question his Greek competence (nor Origen's or Chrysostoms, for that matter), but we can try to understand the way they used the Greek word in certain contexts. Since Origen and Chrysostoms were closer to the NT Writings, they stuck with the Greek words they were familiar with. However, if both of those men were to translate "eimi" into English today, that would be another story. They would probably end up doing what Moffatt did in his English translation. In the majority of cases, Moffatt renders eimi with a corresponding English present - I am.

    However, Moffatt at John 14.9 translated the present form of "eimi" with a perfect indicative, like this: Jesus said to him, "Philip, have I been with you all this time, and yet you do not understand me?

    And at John 15.27, Moffatt translated a present form of eimi with a perfect indicative: "and you too are witnesses, for you have been with me from the very beginning."

    At John 8.58, Moffatt again took the present eimi and transferred the meaning of such with a perfect indicative in the English translation: "I have existed before Abraham was born."

    In all the three cases above, the present verb eimi was in the presence of a past time marker: I have been with you all this time; you have been with me from the beginning; Before Abraham was born, I have been. Like grammarian Burton said: ‘English idiom requires the perfect indicative in such cases.’

    We can easily see this with this illustration: A student ("John") at the front of the English class tells his classmates: "Before the donut restaurant close by was built, I eat (donuts)."

    Now, will the English teacher let that grammatical blunder pass by? If the English teacher was alert, he or she would call Johnny out at once, and correct him: Johnny, you cannot use a present verb with an adverb of past time in the same sentence. You should say instead: I have been eating donuts since before that local donut restaurant was built.

    Dr. Kenneth L. McKay argues that Jesus' response in John 8:58 “would be most naturally translated ‘I have been in existence since before Abraham was born,’ if it were not for the obsession with the simple words ‘I am.’" (“‘I am’ in John's Gospel”, Expository Times, 1996, p. 302)

    So in essence, Jesus was telling those Jews: Since I was alive before Abraham was born, I am greater than your father Abraham. Yes, ‘from the realms above’ I came forth.

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