Doxa

Page 3 on John's Theology: Focus on 8:44.




"Before Abraham was, I AM" John 8:44


Focuss on John 8:44, "I Am."


The Christadelphians go to such great lengths to deny the meaning of this passage but it is obvious. He's exchaning with the phrisees and others. He says that "Abrham longed to see my day, he saw it and was glad." They ask how he could have seen Abraham. He says "before Abrham was, I Am" the name of God given Moses in Exodus 3:18. Of course they deny that this is what he meant, but they can't explian why he said it or what it means to say that Abrham saw his day if he didn't mean to say that he's God. Nor can they explian why the phrisee supporters picked up stones to stone him at that point!

One of the rationalizations they use is to argue that the name of God used in Exodus is in the future tense, thus "I will be what I will be." Of course John is in Greek, and Jesus used the LXX which was the Bible of the early chrucl. Thus he's quoting the LXX which says exaclty, present tense "ego eimi" (I am).But still they deny it. Yet, to say that the name given Moses is future tense (I will be) is misleading. Ancient Hebrew didn't mark tenses by the ending of the word, but by context. Latter vowel points were invented and used to mark tense, but we can't go by that. There is no way to tell just by the word alone if it is future or present or past. So that is a misleading argument. They also say that no lexicon has it in present tense and that is totally misleading because Strong's does! Moreover, the same word and the same construction is used thrugout the OT for all three, past, present and future.

Hebrew Tenses

Jews for Jesus web site.

"There is no such thing as "tense" in biblical Hebrew. (Modern Hebrew, on the other hand, does have tenses.) Biblical Hebrew is not a "tense" language. Modern grammarians recognize that it is an "aspectual" language. This means that the same form of a verb can be translated as either past, present, or future depending on the context and various grammatical cues. The most well known grammatical cue is the "vav-consecutive" that makes an imperfective verb to refer to the past."

"Therefore it is wrong to say that Isaiah 53 or other prophecies are in the "past tense." BIblical Hebrew has no tenses. There are many examples of what is wrongly called the "past tense" form (properly called "the perfective" or "perfect") being used for future time."

"David Kimchi, Sefer Mikhlol. Cited in Waltke, Bruce K. and O'Connor, Michael Patrick. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), p. 464 n. 45. They reference Leslie McCall, The Enigma of the Hebrew Verbal System: Solutions From Ewald to the Present (Sheffield: Almond, 1982), p. 8.

Rabbi Isaac ben Yedaiah (13th c.)

"[The rabbis] of blessed memory followed, in these words of theirs, in the paths of the prophets who speak of something which will happen in the future in the language of the past. Since they saw in prophetic vision that which was to occur in the future, they spoke about it in the past tense and testified firmly that it had happened, to teach the certainty of his [God's] words -- may he be blessed -- and his positive promise that can never change and his beneficent message that will not be altered".-- Saperstein, Marc. "The Works of R. Isaac b. Yedaiah." Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1977, pp. 481-82. Cited in Daggers of Faith by Robert Chazan, Berkeley: UC Press, 1989, p. 87.

From the standard grammar of Biblical Hebrew, Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar (section 106n, pp. 312-313):

"More particularly the uses of the perfect may be distinguished as follows: -- ...To express facts which are undoubtedly imminent, and, therefore in the imagination of the speaker, already accomplished (perfectum confidentiae), e.g., Nu. 17:27, behold, we perish ,we are undone, we are all undone. Gn. 30:13, Is. 6:5 (I am undone), Pr. 4:2....This use of the perfect occurs most frequently in prophetic language (perfectum propheticum). The prophet so transports himself in imagination into the future that he describes the future event as if it had been already seen or heard by him, e.g. Is. 5:13 therefore my people are gone into captivity; 9:1ff.,10:28,11:9...; 19:7, Jb. 5:20, 2 Ch. 20:37. Not infrequently the imperfect interchanges with such perfects either in the parallel member or further on in the narrative.

David ("Fortress of David," 18th c. commentary by David Altschuler) on Jeremiah 31:32:

"I will place -- lit. I placed. This is the prophetic past. I will incline their hearts to keep the Torah."

-- Cited in Rosenberg, A. J. Jeremiah: A New English Translation. New York: The Judaica Press, 1985, vol. 2, p. 255.

Contemporary Jewish commentator Nahum Sarna on Exodus 12:17, "for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt":

This is an example of the "prophetic perfect." The future is described as having already occurred because God's will inherently and ineluctably possesses the power of realization so that the time factor is inconsequential.

-- Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), p. 59.

From the recent textbook of Biblical Hebrew, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Sec. 30.5.1.e, pp. 489-490):

"Referring to absolute future time, a perfective form may be persistent or accidental. A persistent (future) perfective represents a single situation extending from the present into the future."


Ron Henzel, Wheaton College

On John 8:44

Now: does such a line of reasoning preclude the notion of timelessness in the original Hebrew? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Durham seems to think that timelessness was also included in the basic thought: "The repetition of these 'I AM' verbs, as awkward as it may appear, is entirely intentional." [op. cit., p. 39].

Whatever the case of the meaning of the Hebrew, it is at least likely that the idea of timeless was imported into the verse by the LXX rendering, "I am the being," or "I am the one who is." Since this was already a well-grounded Biblical concept (cf. Ps. 90) long before the LXX was translated, there could have been no objection to it on doctrinal grounds. Hence, by the time of Christ it was assumed that such was the essential meaning of the original on the part of those for whom the LXX was the primary Scripture version. But the issue of whether or not "I am" was an expression of timelessness in Exodus 3:14 is a secondary matter. The real issue is whether it is directly quoted in John 8:58. My personal opinion is that the "mechanism" you request is one of either two things:

1. Jesus, speaking in Greek to the Pharisees, supplied His own more accurate translation of the Hebrew , which was still close enough to the LXX to be recognizable; or,

2. Jesus, speaking in Aramaic to the Pharisees, supplied an unmistakable reference to Exodus 3:14 in Aramaic, which John translated into Greek in such a way as to bring out both the sense of the Aramaic, and Jesus's intended reference to the "I am who I am" of Exodus 3:14."




The Christadelphian argument is that the Hebrew word used to mean "I am" in Exodus 3:17 (the name of God) is future tense; I will be. Thus, when Jesus says "before Abrham was I am" in John 8:44, he couldn't have been calling himself God because he uses the present tense, God's name, so they say, is not "I Am" but "I will be." Yet, Jesus says "I am." They also say that the word used here never means anything else but "I will be." This is manifest nonsense. First, turning to on line lexicon, Brown, Diver, And Briggs(at Bible Study tools.org, cross referenced with Strong's Numbers) We can see that the word has many meanings, some include the prest, the past and the future:

Strong's Number: 01961
Original Word Word Origin
hyh a primitive root [compare (01933)]
Transliterated Word TDNT Entry
Hayah TWOT - 491
Phonetic Spelling Parts of Speech
haw-yaw Verb

Definition

to be, become, come to pass, exist, happen, fall out
(Qal)

to happen, fall out, occur, take place, come about, come to pass 1a
to come about, come to pass
to come into being, become 1a
to arise, appear, come 1a
to become
to become
to become like
to be instituted, be established
to be
to exist, be in existence
to abide, remain, continue (with word of place or time)
to stand, lie, be in, be at, be situated (with word of locality)
to accompany, be with

to occur, come to pass, be done, be brought about
to be done, be finished, be gone


From just a few examples of the word in use we can see from both context and translation that it can mean any tense, because it's silly and ignorant to think that the word itself can ony have one tesne meaning. Hebrew is not declined, as is Greek, so we can't tell by the word ending what tense is used. And the examples clealry demonstrate that the word can be used with any tense.

Hebrew Word: Hyh
Transliterated Word: hayah
Book to Display: Genesis

From on line version of Brown, Driver and Briggs, atBible Study tools.org.


Gen 1:2 And the earth [0776] was [01961] (8804) without
Gen 1:3 And God [043 said [0559] (8799), Let there be [01961] (8799) light
Ge 1:29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed
Gen 3:1 Now the serpent [05175] was [01961] (8804) more subtil
Exd 3:14 And God [043 said [0559] (8799) unto Moses [04872], I AM [01961] (8799) THAT I AM[01961]
Exd 5:13 as when there was [01961]


Notice that even in the verse in question, the name of God as revealed in Exodus 3:14, Driver and Briggs render it in the present tense!


Pauline Theology and the Triune God.


The Religious A priori