Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58 – The Great “I Am” – Appendix – Yes, You Should Believe in the Trinity!

kit-Jn8-58

Yes, You Should Believe in the Trinity bookSHOULD EXODUS 3:14 AND JOHN 8:58 BE TRANSLATED AS “I AM” OR “I WILL PROVE TO BE” AND “I HAVE BEEN”?

By Justin T. Alfred, MA 1.

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD

NEW WORLD TRANSLATION

EXODUS 3:14:  “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.” ’ ” EXODUS 3:14:  “At this, God said to Moses: ‘I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I SHALL PROVE TO BE.’  And he added: ‘This is what you re to say to the sons of Israel, “I SHALL PROVE TO BE has sent me to you.” ’ ”2.
JOHN 8:58: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’ ” JOHN 8:58: “Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to YOU, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.’ ”

The identity of Jesus’ statement in John 8:58 with God’s revelation of Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14 is the primary issue of John 8:58.  The argument presented by The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures is as follows:

Attempting to identify Jesus with Jehovah, some say that ἐγὼ εἰμί (e-go’ ei-mi’) is the equivalent of the Hebrew expression ‘ani’ hu’, “I am he,” which is used by God.  However, it is to be noted that this Hebrew expression is also used by man, as in 1 Chronicles 21:17.

Further attempting to identify Jesus with Jehovah, some try to use Exodus 3:14 (LXX) which reads: ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (E-go’ ei-mi’ ho on), which means “I am The Being,” or, “I am the Existing One.”  This attempt cannot be sustained because the expression in Exodus 3:14 is different from the expression in John 8:58.  Throughout the Christian Greek Scriptures Jehovah and Jesus are never identified as being the same person. – See App 2A, 2E.3.

The first thing to do, therefore, is to actually look at the quote from Exodus 3:14, and then we will analyze its usage in the LXX and in I Chronicles 21:17, and as with the New Testament quotes, so too with the Old Testament, I will be quoting the text of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.

(1)    Exodus 3:14: “At this, God said to Moses: ‘I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I SHALL PROVE TO BE.’  And he added: ‘This is what you are to say to the sons of Israel, ‘I SHALL PROVE TO BE has sent me to you.’”  Without any equivocation, this is one of the most non-legitimate translations I have ever read of the Hebrew text of Exodus 3:14.  The following is the actual Hebrew text of Exodus 3:14:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר כֹּ֤ה תֹאמַר֙ לִבְנֵ֣י

יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֲלֵיכֶֽם׃

The Hebrew that is translated in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures as “I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I SHALL PROVE TO BE,”  is אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה (’ehyeh ’¦šer ’ehyeh), and the verb in this passage is הָיָה (hāyâ).  The definition of this verb is “to fall out, to come to pass, to become, to be, to exist, to come into being, and to be in existence.”4.  In the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, after a very lengthy analysis of the verb הָיָה (hāyâ) as a whole, and then an analysis of its use in Exodus 3:14, we read the following:

This situation suggests that the correct translation of Ex. 3:14 should be “I will be who I will be.”  The ancient versions of Aquila and Theodotion understood the Hebrew text in this sense (ésomai hós ésomai – “I will be who I will be” in Greek – my translation and note).  Such an interpretation is also supported by the appearance of the expression “I will be with you” in Ex. 3:12 (אֶֽהְיֶ֣ה עִמָּ֔ךְ – ’ehyeh ‘immāk – “I will be with you” – my Hebrew insertion, transliteration, and translation).  This ’ehyeh ‘im, the fundamental promise in the election relationship between God and his people, would then be taken up in v. 14 to explain the name and nature of Yahweh.  It is not possible, however, to be really certain of what the formula means.  All that is sure is that the author of Ex. 3:14 sought to derive the name Yahweh from the root hāyāh.5.

Thus, even though there may be some uncertainty as to just exactly how the translation of  אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה (’ehyeh ’¦šer ’ehyeh) should read, the consensus by all reputable scholars is that “I will be who I will be” is the best translation that can be given.  When we look in the Hebrew for an equivalent verb for the English word “to prove” as the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures uses it in Exodus 3:14 with the idea of God demonstrating to Moses that He is the God Who He says He is, we come up with the Hebrew verb נָסָה (nāsâ), which means “to test, to try, to attempt, assay,  to tempt, and to prove.”6.   And if we try to find a Hebrew verb that expresses the idea of “showing” somebody something, as here in Exodus 3:14 with the idea of “showing proof” of something, then the Hebrew verb that is used with that sense of meaning is רָאָה (rā’â), which means “to see” as its basic meaning, but in the Hiphil stem, it is translated as “to cause someone to see something,” as in Exodus 9:16: “But, in fact, for this cause I have kept you in existence, for the sake of showing you (הַרְאֹתְךָ֣ – har’ōtkā) my power and in order to have my name declared in all the earth” (New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures).  However, even though there is some discussion as to just how אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה (’ehyeh ’¦šer ’ehyeh) should be translated, NO ONE WHO HAS ANY CREDIBLE UNDERSTANDING OF HEBREW WOULD THINK OF GIVING SUCH A TRANSLATION AS, “I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I SHALL PROVE TO BE,” coming from the Hebrew verb הָיָה (hāyâ).  Thus, the translation given in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures is a fallacious fabrication of what the Hebrew phrase, אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה (’ehyeh ’¦šer ’ehyeh) actually means.

(2)    Exodus 3:14 (LXX): “And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am THE BEING; and he said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, THE BEING has sent me to you.”  In Greek, the phrase, “I am THE BEING,” is written as, ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (egō eimi ho ōn), and with personal pronoun, ἐγώ (egō), attached to the verb, εἰμι (eimi), it is an emphatic assertion of identity – literally, “I myself am.”  However, the next phrase, ὁ ὤν (ho ōn), is a very interesting Greek, grammatical construction.  The Greek word ὤν (ōn) is what is called a nominative, singular, masculine, present, active participle, from the verb εἰμι (eimi), which is the Greek verb that means “to be and to exist.”  In addition, as has already been stated, “The present participle indicates action simultaneous with action of the main verb.”7.  Thus, with εἰμι (eimi) being the first person singular, present active indicative of “to be” – literally, “I continually am” – the present active participle accentuates that ongoing, continuous action, and the definite article, ὁ (ho), is used to point out the specific identity of who “I am” actually is: “The purpose of the definite article is to identify, to limit, and, as the name implies, to make definite. Thus, when the article appears it emphasizes identity, and when it is absent the emphasis is usually quality and not specificity.”8.  Therefore, the translation, “I am THE BEING,” may also be translated in an amplified manner, “I continually am THE CONTINUAL BEING,” and there is none other besides me!  Therefore, when Jesus identified Himself in John 8:58 as ἐγώ εἰμι (egō eimi), and the context of this identification had to do with His statement, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born,” the Pharisees, who were not only familiar with the Hebrew text, but also the Greek Septuagint (LXX), clearly understood what He was saying, and that was, “I continually am THE CONTINUAL BEING,” and that is why in John 8:59 “they picked up stones to throw at Him” (John 8:59).

(3)    1 Chronicles 21:17 (New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures): “And David proceeded to say to the [true] God: ‘Was it not I that said to make a numbering of the people, and is it not I that have sinned and have unquestionably done bad?  As for these sheep, what have they done?  O Jehovah my God, let your hand, please, come to be upon me and my father’s house; but not upon your people, for a scourge.’”  The point to be made in this verse by the translators of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures is that  the Greek expression, ἐγώ εἰμι (egō eimi), is also used here by David, who was a mere man.  The LXX translation, therefore follows with the usage of ἐγώ εἰμι (egō eimi): “And David said to God, Was it not I (ἐγώ εἰμι – egō eimi) that gave orders to number the people? and I am (ἐγώ εἰμι – egō eimi) the guilty one; I have greatly sinned: but these sheep, what have they done? O Lord God, let thy hand be upon me, and upon my father’s house, and not on thy people for destruction, O Lord!”  As stated, ἐγώ εἰμι (egō eimi) is not an exclusive term that Jesus used to focus on Himself for whatever reason at the various times He used it, but it was also used frequently throughout the New Testament by various people, as the examples above have demonstrated.  Therefore, just the phrase, ἐγὼ εἰμί (egō eimi), by itself, does not signify deity, but the context in which it is used does, and that is what we have seen throughout this analysis.  Thus, in I Chronicles 21:17, David is using ἐγώ εἰμι (egō eimi) to emphatically focus on his sin and failure, versus anything the people have done – he and he alone is responsible for the judgment falling upon his people, and he is begging God for deliverance for them.

THE PROGRESSIVE PRESENT AND JOHN 8:58

The following quote is taken from The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, 1985 Edition:

The action expressed in John 8:58 started “before Abraham came into existence” and is still in progress.  In such situation εἰμί (ei-mi’), which is the first-person singular present indicative, is properly translated by the perfect indicative.  Examples of the same syntax are found in Luke 2:48; 13:7; 15:29; John 5:6; 14:9; 15:27; Acts 15:21; 2 Corinthians 12:19; 1 John 3:8.

Concerning this construction, A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament, by G. B. Winer, seventh ed., Andover, 1897, p. 267, says: “Sometimes the Present includes also a past tense (Mdv. 108), viz. when the verb expresses a state which commenced at an earlier period but still continues, – a state in its duration; as Jno. xv. 27 ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ ἐστε [ap’ ar-khes’ met’ e-mou’ e-ste’], viii. 58 πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμι [prin A-bra-am’ ge-ne’sthai e-go’ ei-mi].”

Likewise, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, by J. H. Moulton, Vol. III, by Nigel Turner, Edinburgh, 1963, p. 62, says: “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 N[ew] T[estament]: Lk 2:48 13:7 . . . 15:29 . . . Jn 5:6 8:58 . . .”

What we now do is look at the comments made by the publisher in the above section in order to either verify his correctness, or to expose the errors contained therein.

(1)   With reference to the quote from Winer, the present tense verb in Greek is used to indicate a continuous, ongoing action.  Thus, in John 15:27, we read in the Greek: καὶ ὑμεῖς δὲ μαρτυρεῖτε, ὅτι ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ ἐστε (kai humeis de martureite, hoti ap’ archēs met’ emou este), and the literal, English translation is: “And you all also are continuing to bear witness, that from the beginning you are with Me.”  When a native, reading Greek would read this, this is how he would read and understand it, and he would know that the phrase, ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ ἐστε (ap’ archēs met’ emou este) meant that from the beginning of Jesus’ calling them to follow Him, from that moment until the time He is making this statement, “they are continually with Him – from the past up to the very moment He is speaking.”  However, when translating this grammatical truth into English, the phrase, “have been with Me” is used to simply express for the English reader what is actually being expressed in the Greek verb tense.  The following quote comes from A. T. Robertson, who is the unquestioned, recognized, and pre-eminent New Testament Greek Scholar, and from whose research, writings, and studies, a plethora of New Testament Greek Grammars have come:

The Progressive Present. This is a poor name in lieu of a better one for the present of past action still in progress. …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. “So in modern Greek, ἑξῆντα μῆνας σʼ ἀγαπῶ (Abbott, Joh. Gr., p. 222 – “I continually love/have loved to the sixtieth month” – my translation). The durative present in such cases gathers up past and present time into one phrase” (Moulton, Prol., p. 119). …(Jo. 5:6 – “he continually has a long time/he had a long time” – my translation); τοσοῦτον χρόνον μεθʼ ὑμῶν εἰμί (14:9 – “I am continually with you so long a time/I have been with you so long a time” – my translation); …(2 Tim. 3:15 – “from childhood you have known” – my translation). … In Jo. 8:58 εἰμί is really absolute.9.

So what is the above quote stating?  First of all, in the 2 Timothy 3:15 quote, the Greek verb οἶδας (oidas) is actually a perfect tense verb, but it is used quite often to translate a present reality because that is what the perfect tense does –it expresses a completed action with an ongoing, continuous result. … when Robertson says “In Jo. 8:58 εἰμί is really absolute,” what he is saying is the following:

There is an important distinction between absolute and relative time.  An indicative verb indicates absolute time.  For example, if an indicative verb is present tense, then it usually indicates an action occurring in the present.10.

Thus, what Robertson is stating about John 8:58 in that the grammatical construction of that sentence, Jesus is unequivocally stating that He is presently God, the great “I AM” of Exodus 3:14, and that is exactly what the Jews understood Him to be saying, as we see their response in the following verse: “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple” (John 8:59).  The word “indicative” that Mounce is referring to in the above quote is one of the Greek moods, and the Greek moods describe the level of reality that is being described.  That is, it describes something actually happening – indicative mood; the probability that something will occur – subjunctive mood; the possibility that something may or may not occur – optative mood; and finally, the least of reality is the mood of commanding someone to do something, in which there is no certainty that a person will follow through with such a command – imperative mood.  Thus, the indicative mood indicates actual reality, and here in John 8:58, Jesus is saying, in no uncertain terms of actual reality, THAT HE IS THE ETERNAL GOD OF EXODUS 3:14, and the Jews clearly understood exactly what He was saying.  The following quote also deals with the present tense in helping those who are not familiar with Greek to understand what it is actually conveying:

The present tense approaches its kindred tense, the perfect, when used to denote the continuation of existing results.  Here it refers to a fact which has come to be in the past, but is emphasized as a present reality, as we say, “I learn that you have moved” (that is, information has come to me in the past which I now possess.) . . .

Sometimes the progressive present is retroactive in its application, denoting that which has begun in the past and continues into the present.  For want of a better name, we may call it the present of duration.  This use is generally associated with an adverb of time, and may best be rendered by the English perfect.

ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ ἐστε (John 15:27)

“You have been (literally, “You are”) with me from the beginning.”11.

What is being said, therefore, is that even when a present tense verb is given an English perfect translation, that is merely for the purpose of enabling English readers to better understand what is being said, but THE PERFECT FORM OF TRANSLATION IN NO WAY negates the continuous, ongoing action contained in the present tense.

(2)   With regard to the reference made to Moulton’s grammar, it is exactly as has been discussed above with Winer – the present tense does not lose any of its continuous, ongoing action, but it is merely given a perfect form of translation to help English readers understand the text.

(3)   The third area to analyze has to do with the initial Scripture references that were given that, according to the translator of  The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, 1985 Edition, indicate that:

The action expressed in John 8:58 started “before Abraham came into existence” and is still in progress.  In such situation εἰμί (ei-mi’), which is the first-person singular present indicative, is properly translated by the perfect indicative.  Examples of the same syntax are found in Luke 2:48; 13:7; 15:29; John 5:6; 14:9; 15:27; Acts 15:21; 2 Corinthians 12:19; 1 John 3:8.”12.

What we have seen, therefore, is that there is NO SITUATION EVER when a present tense verb “is properly translated by a perfect indicative,”13. but rather, a perfect form of translation may be given simply to help English readers understand what is being said.  But the present tense retains its present tense action of continuous, ongoing movement, regardless of how the translation may be given.

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1. Justin Alfred holds a Masters in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from the University of California, Los Angeles and is an Adjunct Professor at the Haggard Graduate School of Theology in San Diego, CA. He is also the president of Word in Life Ministries (www.wordinlife.com).  This is an excerpt from his thesis, An Exegetical Analysis of John 8:58 (Word in Life Ministries, 2014). Republished with permission.

2. New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible And Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1984).  NOTE: The 2013 edition of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures changed this questionable phrase of Exodus 3:14 to: “I Will Become What I Choose to Become.”   This is still a fallacious rendering of the Hebrew text.

3. The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible And Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1985), 1145-1146.

4. Francis Brown, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), 224-227.

5. G. Johannes Botterwick and Helmer Ringgren, eds., Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Vol. III, trans. John T. Willis, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and David E. Greene (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 381.

6. Francis Brown, 650.

7. Ray Summers and Thomas Sawyer, Essentials of New Testament Greek, rev. ed. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 97.

8. Ibid., 151.

9. A. T. Robertson , A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1934), 879–880.

10. William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 249.

11. H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 1957), 182-183.

12. The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible And Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1985), 1145.

13. Ibid., 451.

 

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