John 8:58

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Barry Hofstetter
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John 8:58

Post by Barry Hofstetter »

εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί.

There has been a long and involved discussion on this over at B-Greek, some of it quite good, actually, but wondering what the litterati here think. Not interested in any theological conclusions, but how do you read the Greek here?
N.E. Barry Hofstetter

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mwh
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Re: John 8:58

Post by mwh »

I should know better than to set foot in an NT forum but I read ἐγὼ εἰμί as saying “I am.”

(In fact I think that’s the only way to read it. Of course the present tense is startling in this grammatical context but there it is: it grabs attention. —But I have to say it’s quite absurd to attempt to disregard the implicit theological claim. Textkit is not b-greek.)

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Re: John 8:58

Post by cb »

Hi all, not sure what was said on another forum, but I’ve just received the Wallace reference work yesterday Greek grammar beyond the basics, which is quite engaging (and I understand the leading NT syntactical reference work: please correct me if I'm wrong). Useful syntactical commentary on this topic:

Wallace notes that εἰμί likely does not represent a historical present (p. 515):
Some think that the first person present tense verb, εἰμί, in John 8:58 is a historical present. But since all undisputed historical presents are third person, and since none involve the equative verb, this is rather doubtful.
There is also analysis at pp. 530–31 on how the aor. inf. preceding does not affect this.

On whether ἐγώ marks emphasis, this may the case, but can’t be determined off the syntax alone: Wallace notes early on (p. 20) that pronouns are often used as subjects where Attic left them out. Personal pronouns are commonly used for emphasis (p. 321–23), with John 1:23 among others given as an example of this “subject focus” usage:
John 1:23 ἔφη Ἐγὼ “φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ
I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness
This is John’s answer in response to the question, “Who are you?” (v 22). There is of course a contrast implied as well: John is not Elijah (v 21), but the focus seems more to be on his positive identity.
However, personal pronouns in the nominative are also sometimes redundant, rather than for emphasis, and (p. 323):
Only the context can help determine whether a per­sonal pronoun is emphatic or not. Many of these instances could be func­tioning in the narrative as a “switch-reference device, signifying a change in subject to someone or something that had been mentioned previously.”
I won’t go anywhere near the broader context yet and attempt an interpretation! Just passing on references from Wallace in case helpful.

Cheers, Chad

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Re: John 8:58

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In John, Jesus talks about himself quite a bit. He sometimes gives these bare ἐγώ εἰμι statements, such as ὁ δὲ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ἐγώ εἰμι, μὴ φοβεῖσθε, that very much echo LXX Genesis. Another example: ἀπ’ ἄρτι λέγω ὑμῖν πρὸ τοῦ γενέσθαι, ἵνα πιστεύσητε ὅταν γένηται ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι. Another: λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ἐγώ εἰμι.

But he often makes copular statements as well, ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ζῶν ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς. Etc.

One particular copular form that he likes to use is ἐγώ εἰμι with a preposition:

ἐγὼ ἐκ τῶν ἄνω εἰμί "I am from the things above"
ἐγὼ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου "I am not from this world"

This, I think, better fits in the context here. Notice that he is replying to Πεντήκοντα ἔτη οὔπω ἔχεις. He answers: πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί. So, just like the above, it's best understood as copular with a preposition, describing his true age. "I am before Abraham was born."

This seems also to be a slightly better fit with the prophetic/gnostic utterances that Jesus usually makes with these ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν statements than the more pedestrian "Before Abraham was born I existed" (with a weird tense). See bottom of this post for the full collection.

***

The context might be worth a look too:

Ἀβραὰμ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ἠγαλλιάσατο ἵνα ἴδῃ τὴν ἡμέραν τὴν ἐμήν, καὶ εἶδεν καὶ ἐχάρη. εἶπον οὖν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι πρὸς αὐτόν, Πεντήκοντα ἔτη οὔπω ἔχεις καὶ Ἀβραὰμ ἑώρακας; εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί. ἦραν οὖν λίθους ἵνα βάλωσιν ἐπ’ αὐτόν· Ἰησοῦς δὲ ἐκρύβη καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ.

There are at least three difficulties that I see.

1) Why is "καὶ εἶδεν καὶ ἐχάρη" (referring to Abraham) turned by the crowd to "ἑώρακας" (Jesus)?
2) Why does the crowd find "πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί" blasphemous instead of somewhat puzzling?
3) ἐκρύβη?

There are arguments to make all of these go away, and I've just made one for 2, but it seems like a lot in a small space here.

***

John 1:51 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὄψεσθε τὸν οὐρανὸν ἀνεῳγότα καὶ τοὺς ἀγγέλους τοῦ θεοῦ ἀναβαίνοντας καὶ καταβαίνοντας ἐπὶ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.
John 3:3 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.
John 3:11 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι ὅτι ὃ οἴδαμεν λαλοῦμεν καὶ ὃ ἑωράκαμεν μαρτυροῦμεν, καὶ τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἡμῶν οὐ λαμβάνετε.
John 5:19 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ δύναται ὁ υἱὸς ποιεῖν ἀφ’ ἑαυτοῦ οὐδὲν ἐὰν μή τι βλέπῃ τὸν πατέρα ποιοῦντα· ἃ γὰρ ἂν ἐκεῖνος ποιῇ, ταῦτα καὶ ὁ υἱὸς ὁμοίως ποιεῖ.
John 5:24 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ὁ τὸν λόγον μου ἀκούων καὶ πιστεύων τῷ πέμψαντί με ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον, καὶ εἰς κρίσιν οὐκ ἔρχεται ἀλλὰ μεταβέβηκεν ἐκ τοῦ θανάτου εἰς τὴν ζωήν.
John 5:25 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἔρχεται ὥρα καὶ νῦν ἐστιν ὅτε οἱ νεκροὶ ἀκούσουσιν τῆς φωνῆς τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ οἱ ἀκούσαντες ζήσουσιν.
John 6:26 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ζητεῖτέ με οὐχ ὅτι εἴδετε σημεῖα ἀλλ’ ὅτι ἐφάγετε ἐκ τῶν ἄρτων καὶ ἐχορτάσθητε.
John 6:32 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ Μωϋσῆς δέδωκεν ὑμῖν τὸν ἄρτον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, ἀλλ’ ὁ πατήρ μου δίδωσιν ὑμῖν τὸν ἄρτον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τὸν ἀληθινόν· ὁ γὰρ ἄρτος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν ὁ καταβαίνων ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ζωὴν διδοὺς τῷ κόσμῳ.
John 6:47 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὁ πιστεύων ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
John 6:53 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ φάγητε τὴν σάρκα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ πίητε αὐτοῦ τὸ αἷμα, οὐκ ἔχετε ζωὴν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς.
John 8:34 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν δοῦλός ἐστιν [τῆς ἁμαρτίας].
John 8:51 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐάν τις τὸν ἐμὸν λόγον τηρήσῃ, θάνατον οὐ μὴ θεωρήσῃ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.
John 8:58 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί.
John 10:1 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὁ μὴ εἰσερχόμενος διὰ τῆς θύρας εἰς τὴν αὐλὴν τῶν προβάτων ἀλλὰ ἀναβαίνων ἀλλαχόθεν ἐκεῖνος κλέπτης ἐστὶν καὶ λῃστής· ὁ δὲ εἰσερχόμενος διὰ τῆς θύρας ποιμήν ἐστιν τῶν προβάτων.
John 10:7 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θύρα τῶν προβάτων
John 12:24 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ ὁ κόκκος τοῦ σίτου πεσὼν εἰς τὴν γῆν ἀποθάνῃ, αὐτὸς μόνος μένει· ἐὰν δὲ ἀποθάνῃ, πολὺν καρπὸν φέρει.
John 13:16 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐκ ἔστιν δοῦλος μείζων τοῦ κυρίου αὐτοῦ οὐδὲ ἀπόστολος μείζων τοῦ πέμψαντος αὐτόν.
John 13:38 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, οὐ μὴ ἀλέκτωρ φωνήσῃ ἕως οὗ ἀρνήσῃ με τρίς.
John 14:12 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ τὰ ἔργα ἃ ἐγὼ ποιῶ κἀκεῖνος ποιήσει, καὶ μείζονα τούτων ποιήσει, ὅτι ἐγὼ πρὸς τὸν πατέρα πορεύομαι· καὶ ὅ τι ἂν αἰτήσητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου τοῦτο ποιήσω, ἵνα δοξασθῇ ὁ πατὴρ ἐν τῷ υἱῷ· ἐάν τι αἰτήσητέ με ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου ἐγὼ ποιήσω.
John 21:18 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ὅτε ἦς νεώτερος, ἐζώννυες σεαυτὸν καὶ περιεπάτεις ὅπου ἤθελες· ὅταν δὲ γηράσῃς, ἐκτενεῖς τὰς χεῖράς σου, καὶ ἄλλος σε ζώσει καὶ οἴσει ὅπου οὐ θέλεις.
"Here stuck the great stupid boys, who for the life of them could never master the accidence..."

Joel Eidsath -- jeidsath@gmail.com

cb
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Re: John 8:58

Post by cb »

Many thanks Joel, all interesting! For an uninformed reader like me, another question came up: putting aside parallels across the broader corpus and just focusing on this single text, whether this related in any way to the claim about temporality at 1:15 Ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν, ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν· (and similarly at 1:30). However, I'm trying to press 'pause' in my brain on broader interpretation for now, lacking the historical, literary and theological context, and just focusing on surface understanding as a beginning...

Cheers, Chad

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Re: John 8:58

Post by mwh »

Chad, What a can of worms you've opened!
It may or may not be the case that as Wallace fuzzily says “Only the context can help determine whether a per­sonal pronoun is emphatic or not.” But as I indicated in my post by italicizing "I" in "I am,” I think the context makes it sufficiently clear that εγω is emphatic here. Certainly I couldn't accept that it's "redundant."
And as to ειμι, I go further than Wallace in saying that it more than likely does not represent a historic present here.
Let us know if and when you're ready to discuss any of this. But I'm not much inclined to say more.
Cheers! Michael

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Re: John 8:58

Post by cb »

Thanks Michael! As to when I’ll be ready to go beneath the surface and discuss, hmmm … I’ve been hanging out down the rabbit-warrens of Platonic and Homeric Greek, and Ciceronian Latin, for a long time now and still fairly in the dark; deciding to come back up for a little bit and pop my head back out, and see what else is going on, and finding it quite interesting, I’ll see how long it takes to find my way. I hope that muddled mixture of metaphors clarifies! :) In the meantime, I’ll keep listening closely to others and trying to learn more.

Cheers, Chad

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Re: John 8:58

Post by Barry Hofstetter »

mwh wrote: Wed Aug 04, 2021 7:15 pm I should know better than to set foot in an NT forum but I read ἐγὼ εἰμί as saying “I am.”

(In fact I think that’s the only way to read it. Of course the present tense is startling in this grammatical context but there it is: it grabs attention. —But I have to say it’s quite absurd to attempt to disregard the implicit theological claim. Textkit is not b-greek.)
True enough -- about Textkit not being B-Greek! For what it's worth, I am (see what I did there?) in total agreement with your reading.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter

Cuncta mortalia incerta...

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Re: John 8:58

Post by Isaac Newton »

ἐγὼ εἰμι here is a PPA (Present of Past Action, still in progress). This is fine idiomatic Koine . Professor BeDuhn provided the following parallel:
ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι Ιωβαβ πρὶν ἢ ὀνομάσαι με ὁ Κύριος Ιωβ.

“For I have been Jobab [since] before the Lord named me Job.”
Testament of Job 2.1
https://el.wikisource.org/wiki/%CE%94%C ... F%89%CE%B2
2 1 Ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι Ἰωβάβ πρὶν ἢ ὀνομάσαι με ὁ Κύριος Ἰώβ. 2 ὃτε Ἰωβὰβ ἐκαλούμην, ᾤκουν τὸ πρὶν ἔγγιστα εἰδωλίου θρησκευομένου· 3 καὶ συνεχῶς βλέπων ὁλοκαυτώματα αὐτῷ ἀναφερόμενα διελογιζόμην ἐν ἑαυτῷ λέγων 4 Ἆρα οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ θεὸς ὁ ποιήσας τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ ἡμᾶς ἀυτούς; ἄρα πῶς γνώσομαι;
Οὐαὶ οἱ λέγοντες τὸ πονηρὸν καλὸν καὶ τὸ καλὸν πονηρόν, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ σκότος φῶς καὶ τὸ φῶς σκότος, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ πικρὸν γλυκὺ καὶ τὸ γλυκὺ πικρόν

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