John 8:58: “I am” = Eternal?

Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I tell you, before [Greek transliteration: prin, Strong’s #4250] Abraham was born [Greek transliteration: genesthai, Strong’s #1096], I [Greek transliteration: ego, Strong’s #1473] AM [Greek transliteration: eimi, Strong’s #1510].” — World English

The claim is often made by trinitarians and some others that “I am” in John 8:58 and some other verses means that Jesus is eternal without beginning. First of all, we note that there is nothing in the verse that states that Jesus was claiming to be person of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or that he was indeed the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The idea that Jesus was here claiming Himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has been assumed by use of the spirit of human imagination, added to, and read into what Jesus stated. It is also an assumption that Jesus was here stating that he is eternal “without beginning”. The thought of “without beginning” has to actually be added to and read into what Jesus said.

Most literally, EGO EIMI means “I am” — present tense, and that it is how it appears in most translations. However, Jesus is speaking of his existence in the past, not just the present. By using the Greek word “prin”, meaning “before”, Jesus places what he next states in the past tense, “before Abraham” came to be existing, and he then relates his own existence “before” Abraham’s existence. In the Koine Greek, the present tense is often used in the context of the past is often used to denote a past continuity. Indeed, most most modern translations recognize in many other scriptures, but few will do so in John 8:58. Those who refuse to realize this in John 8:58 may come up with some excuse not to do so, but it still remains that they would make an exception in John 8:58, based on theological bias. Many wish this to be translated as “I AM” in order to connect it with “I AM” — EHJEH — of Exodus 3:14, or with certain scriptures in Isaiah, such as Isaiah 41:4 and Isaiah 43:10, with the thought that this phrase means without beginning or without end.* “I am” [Greek transliterated: ego eimi] however, is simply present tense, and simply states what is now, and in itself states nothing about an eternal past and future. Any thought of “uncreated” has to be imagined beyond what he stated so as to force his words into such a meaning.

However, the present tense, when used in a past tense situation, as it is used in John 8:58, expresses an action begun in the past and continued, sometimes even to the present. The usage of Jesus is similar to what many scholars refer to as the “historical present.” The fact that Jesus places his present tense usage in a past tense situation is almost ignored by many, and the focus is place simply upon the present tense usage of “ego eimi.” And the only reason for doing this in John 8:58 is to satisfy a doctrine that has to be added to and read into the scriptures. Thus, some trinitarians especially, would like the past tense usage of a the present tense in this verse to mean their idea of eternal, which they would define as “uncreated.” In reality, what happens is that the trinitarian is using John 8:58 as proof that Jesus always existed by using circular reasoning: Since we believe that Jesus has always existed, then this usage in John 8:58 means that Jesus always existed, and thus since we believe that it means that Jesus always existed, then it is proof that Jesus always existed.

In view of the context wherein Jesus was being asked how old he was, this can be expressed in English as “I have been,” but probably even better “I have been being” or “I have been existing” since it is existence that is being spoken of in context, thus “I have been existing before Abraham came to be existing”. Some modern translations do recognize this as present tense used in a past tense context and thus render ego eimi here with some form of past tense. Some render it as “I was” or “I existed”, but this causes the verb to loose the past continuity, although they can be used since it is self-evident that he was still in existence when he spoke the words. “Have been” in English denotes “present perfect”, while “have been being/existing” denotes “continuous perfect”. But it is the continuous element that many of our trinitarian neighbors point to, and thus read into this continuous past the thought of eternal past, although past-present continuity in itself does not necessarily, and very rarely ever does, mean continuous past eternity, and uncreated existence. It simply denotes that when something or someone had begun activity or existence, that it/he has continued to express/have such activity/existence.

Despite all of the linguistical ramifications, which can be argued until it is beyond all reasoning, in reality, there is nothing in Jesus’ statements that would deny what is signified in the expression: “son of God.” The word “son” means one who has been brought forth into existence by a Father. The word “God” in the expression “son of God” signifies one person, not three persons, and that unipersonal God is “the God and Father” of Jesus, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Now we wish to examine some of the usages of EGO EIMI to demonstrated that such an expression does not mean “uncreated.” Many of these we have already examined in our study on:

John 8:58 and Other “I am” Statements of Jesus

We will not be examining all these again, so we suggest that one consider what we have already stated in that study.

Matthew 14:27 – But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I [EGO EIMI]; do not be afraid.” – New American Standard.

Mark 6:50 – 50 for they all saw him, and were troubled. But he immediately spoke with them, and said to them, “Cheer up! It is I [EGO EIMI]! Don’t be afraid.” — World English.

Some translations render EGO EIMI as “I am” in Matthew 14:27 and Mark 6:50, evidently with the desire to make it appear that Jesus was declaring himself to be EHJEH of Exodus 3:14. It should be apparent from the context, however, that Jesus was simply telling his disciples that it was really he, and not a spirit-phantom, as we read in the context. — Matthew 14:26; Mark 6:49.

Matthew 22:32 – ‘I am [EGO EIMI] the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

Jesus here quotes from Exodus 3:6. Jesus does not identify himself as being the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but he speaks of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as a totally separate entity, and quotes Him. Here, the word “EIMI” is supplied in the Greek New Testament for an non-existent verb in the Hebrew. The word “EIMI” is not translated from EHJEH, since EHJEH does not appear in Exodus 3:6.

However, was Jesus using the expression “EGO EIMI” to mean that God was uncreated? No, he was expressing that his God stated that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and, in harmony with Romans 4:17, God counts all as being alive, since Jehovah is not a God of dead, but the living. Was Jesus saying that Jehovah had always from all eternity past been the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? We are given no reason from the scriptures to believe this to be true, for this would make Abraham, Isaac and Jacob into uncreated beings, but we know that there was a time when they did not exist, for, in John 8:58, Jesus speaks of his existence before Abraham’s existence.

Matthew 26:22 They were exceedingly sorrowful, and each began to ask him, “It isn’t me, is it [EGO EIMI], Lord?” — World English

Matthew 26:25 Judas, who betrayed him, answered, “It isn’t me, is it, Rabbi?” He said to him, “So you have said.”

EGO EIMI in Matthew 26:22,25 definitely does not mean that either the disciples or Judas was asking Jesus if they were uncreated. Again, we find that EGO EIMI does not mean uncreated.

Mark 13:6 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he! [EGO EIMI]’ and will lead many astray.

Some claim that the false prophets Jesus spoke of here are imitating Jesus’ claim to be the Jehovah. Actually, there is no indication that Jesus was saying that these false prophets were making such a claim, although there are many who have claimed to be Messiah and who claim that the Messiah is Jehovah. These “many” that Jesus was speaking of, however, are teachers who may come who claim to be the Messiah, or to have divine authority like that of the Messiah, and of such there have been many. As Brother Essler stated: “Even in this day of so much enlightenment there are those who assume authority over others, setting forth what is to be believed, and what works are to be engaged in. But as a wife’s first loyalty and submission is to her husband, so the Church’s first loyalty and obedience is to Christ, her Lord.” (“The Unity of the Spirit, by F. A. Essler, The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom, May/June, 1975) Nevertheless, there is nothing in the expression EGO EIMI as Jesus used it in Mark 13:6 that Jesus was speaking of these false teachers as claiming to be uncreated.

Mark 14:61 But he stayed quiet, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”
Mark 14:62 Jesus said, “I am. [EGO EIMI] You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of the sky.”

Here is should be obvious that Jesus was simply identifying himself at the Messiah, the son of David, the one whom the Jehovah anointed and sent. If EGO EIMI here had any meaning of eternity past, it would mean that there was never a time when Jehovah anointed His Son, making him the Messiah. — Psalm 2:26; 45:7; Isaiah 61:1; Ezekiel 34:23,24; John 10:29; 17:1,3; Acts 2:23,36; 4:27; 10:38; Hebrews 1:9

Luke 1:19
The angel answered him, “I am [EGO EIMI] Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God. I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news.

Certainly Gabriel was not here claiming to have had an eternal past. It is rather odd, however, that many translations that capitalize the phrase as “I AM” when it is Jesus speaking, do not do so in this verse. Obviously, their theological bias is shown when it comes to Jesus, in that they put “I am” in all caps with the deliberate attempt to make it appear that Jesus is EHJEH.

Luke 22:70
They all said, “Are you then the Son of God?” He said to them, “You say it, because I am.”

Jesus’ usage here was simply to identify himself as the Son of God, in answer to the question asked. While many translations put “I am” in all caps “I AM”, there is nothing in the expression that offers any thought that Jesus was claiming to be the Supreme Being, or that he was claiming to have existed from all eternity past.

Luke 24:39
See my hands and my feet, that it is me {ego eimi}. Touch me and see, for a spirit doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you see that I have.

Jesus’ usage of EGO EIMI in Luke 24:39 certainly is not speaking of eternal existence; indeed, in all the translations I have examined, none of them give a all caps I AM in this verse, even though they do so with the same exact expression as used by Jesus in many other verses. They would do so in this verse because Jesus is speaking of his body of flesh and bones; however, Jesus certainly did not have that body of flesh and bones for all eternity past, and since Jesus, after ascending into heaven, offered that body in sacrifice, EGO EIMI in Luke 24:39 cannot mean eternity.

John 1:20,21
John did not refuse to answer, but spoke out openly and clearly, saying: “I am {EGO EIMI} not the Messiah.” “Who are you, then?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?” “No, I am {EGO EIMI} not,” John answered. “Are you the Prophet?” they asked. “No,” he replied.

John 3:28
You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am (EGO EIMI) not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’

Here John the Baptist (or, Baptizer) used the phrase EGO EIMI in the negative. In saying, however, that he was not the Messiah, since the Messiah was as some point in time, anointed by Jehovah so that he became the Messiah (anointed one), we should certainly not think that John, in denying that he was Messiah, was also, by use of EGO EIMI negatively denying some eternal existence in the past. He surely had not thought of eternity attached to EGO EIMI in denying that he was Elijah the prophet.

John 1:27
He is coming after me, but I am {EIMI EGO} not good enough even to untie his sandals.

Here John the Baptist again uses the phrase negatively; no thought that EGO EIMI means eternity in his verse.

John 4:26
Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he {EGO EIMI}.”

Here Jesus was certainly not claiming to have an eternal past, for he used EGO EIMI to affirm that he is the one whom the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob promised to send, the Messiah, the anointed of Jehovah. That one who was to come was foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-19, the prophet like Moses who was to speak in the name of Jehovah, and who was to speak the words of Jehovah. As such a prophet, Jesus, by using EGO EIMI, was certainly not saying the this prophet was in existence for all eternity past. Probably most translators realized this, and thus they do not give an all caps “I AM” in this verse.

(To examine all instances where EGO EIMI appears is not necessary; however, we suggest that one examine the usage of EGO EIMI in the following verses: John 7:34,36; 8:12,18; 9:5; 10:11; 17:24; Acts 13:25; 18:10; 22:3; 26:29; Romans 11:13; 1 Timothy 1:15.)

Nevertheless, others claim that, in his words as recorded in John 8:58, Jesus was declaring his name to be “the” “I am” of Exodus 3:14, although the Hebrew text does not say “the” regarding “EHJEH” (or, EHYEH, as many prefer) in Exodus 3:14. Jesus, of course, was not discussing his name in John 8:58, but rather his age. If Jesus was declaring that he was Ehjeh, as God does in Exodus 3:14, then it would have had to been in reference to the name, for that is how it is expressed in Exodus 3:14.
*See the study:
John 8:58 and Other “I am” Statements of Jesus

In the context of John 8:58, what do we find out about “God”? In John 8:40, does Jesus speak of “God” as three persons, or one person?

John 8:40 But now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham didn’t do this. — World English

Jesus very clearly identifies “God” as one person, and distinguishes himself from this unipersonal God, saying that the words he spoke, he heard from this unipersonal God. This agrees with Deuteronomy 18:15-19, for Jesus, as the prophet like Moses, speaks the word of the unipersonal God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Peter also shows this in Acts 3:13-26. Hebrews 1:1,2 also agrees with this same line of thought. All through the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is presented as one person, and not once is He presented as more than one person.

What the trinitarian has to imagine beyond what Jesus stated, and assume regarding what Jesus stated, and add to what Jesus stated, and read into what Jesus stated, is that Jesus, by the use of the word “God” here, is only referrring to one person of their imagined triune God, which “God” is no where presented in the Bible.

Then Jesus stated:

John 8:42 Therefore Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came forth and have come from God. For neither have I come of myself, but he sent me. ” — World English.

Again, Jesus speaks of “God,” not as three persons, but as one person. Jesus declares that this unipersonal “God” sent him. This agrees with John 17:3, where Jesus refers to this unipersonal “God” as the “the only true God,” and declares himself as distinct from “the only true God” by saying that he was sent by the “the only true God.”

Jesus spoke of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as one person, and not once as more than one person. Nor did he ever include himself as person of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, nor does any Bible writer ever describe Jesus as a person of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.Indeed, throughout the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is always presented as one person, and not once as more than one person. Throughout the New Testament, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is always presented as distinct from Jesus, His son. It is the continued distinction that should be used as a basis for understanding John 8:58, rather than seeking to understand John 8:58 in light of a doctrine that is no where to be found in the Bible. One should not seek force upon Jesus’ words in John 8:58 a meaning so as to make it apply to a doctrine of men that has to be presumed upon the scriptures, and for which the spirit of human imagination has to be utilized so as to imagine, assume, add to, and read into the scriptures such imagined teachings.

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5 comments to John 8:58: “I am” = Eternal?

  • Souheil Bayoud

    Was,have been,past,perfect present,relating to Exodus 3:14 or not,the fact that who manipulate the Word of God is not a honest person and his purpose is not to seek to know God.The truth that the Lord Jesus Christ is always existing you like it or not it is your problem when you face Him.The Son has the same nature as the Father and eternally exist.The Truth is not in you,you will die in your sins like the Jews for their unbelief and nobody will be sorry for your heretic and satanic teachings.

    • ResLight

      I must have missed this earlier. There is nothing in the scriptures that warrants adding to and reading into the scriptures that Jesus is uncreated or that Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If the Lord Jesus Christ has always existed in eternity past, then there never was a time when the Lord Jehovah anointed Jesus, making him both lord and Christ (Christ means anointed one). The claim that “the Lord Jesus Christ” had no beginning would call for the Lord Jehovah of Isaiah 61:1 to have anointed the one speaking in Isaiah 61:1 at no time at all. The Bible never speaks of such an idea. — Psalm 2:26; 45:7; Isaiah 61:1; Ezekiel 34:23,24; John 10:29; 17:1,3; Acts 2:23,36; 4:27; 10:38; Hebrews 1:9.

      See my studies related to:
      Was Jesus Uncreated?

  • Liam H

    This article ignores the stronger part of the argument pertaining to this passage studied whilst refuting the weaker part of the argument.

    The exact words as used by Yahushua as focused on in this article are no where near as compelling as the fact that whatever he may have said, the Jews instantly wanted to kill him after his statement.

    Let us explore our two options, the first as proposed in this article:

    1. He was claiming that he was simply older than Abraham

    In this case, would the Jews have immediately tried to stone him? It seems more likely that he would be considered as a lunatic, not straight in the mind maybe. Maybe he would have lost credibility but it is clear by the Jews’ reaction that whatever he was saying was taken seriously.

    2. He was claiming to be as the eternal, having existed always.

    In this case it is clear as to why the Jews reacted as they did. His words would have been considered blasphemy at the utmost level. Thus, in the Jews’ opinion, deserving a punishment of the most severe, death.

    • ResLight

      This short study was not meant to cover all aspects and all claims related to John 8:58.

      For more related to John 8:58 see my other studies related to:
      EGO EIMI

      The Jews had long been seeking a legal excuse to kill him. Whatever “reason” these lying Jesus may have given for their excuse to kill Jesus does not make their claims to be truth. Jesus told them the real reason they sought to kill him.

      See my studies:
      The Real Reason the Jews Sought to Kill Jesus
      The Jewish Leaders’ Cause to Kill Jesus

      Any idea that Jesus was claiming to have always existed, however, has to be imagined, assumed, added to, and read into, what Jesus stated in John 8:58.

      See my studies related to:
      Was Jesus Uncreated?

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