Under the Microscope: John 8:58
The following article is taken from the book, The Doctrine of the Trinity, Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound, by Sir Anthony Buzzard and Charles Hunting.
This book is so devastating to the false teaching that Yeshua is God that its availability is kept hidden from Christians. Contemporary Christian and counterfeit Messianic leaders hope you never hear of this book since it rips away the veil of deceit that has for so long been used to blind mankind to the TRUE God and TRUE Messiah. Anyone that claims to be a sincere truth seeker yet refuses to study the powerful arguments put forth in this book proves him/herself to be disingenuous.
I have often had individuals refuse to read this book, despite the fact they claim to be sincere. In fact, very few who believe the “God in the flesh” idolatrous falsehood will dare allow themselves to be challenged by the many iron-clad arguments the book presents. I have since decided a “litmus test” of ones sincerity is whether or not they actually look at the evidence.
Sadly, most are like the unwise juror in my article “Truth on Trial”. They are in bondage to the Beast – the same bondage in which I was imprisoned for 30 years – and have no motivation or desire to verify their beliefs. They are so fearful of being proven wrong that they avoid evidence that can prove the teaching of a “God in the flesh” Messiah to be erroneous.
If you currently believe Yeshua is God, yet are sincere and truly wish to find truth, you very much should purchase, borrow, or check out of the library The Doctrine of the Trinity, Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound. If you don’t, then I ask that you please not mock Truth and God by insisting you are sincerely wanting to know truth and have studied the issue thoroughly.
John 8:58 (KJV)
58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
In John 8:58 Yeshua claimed superiority over Abraham. His supreme position, however, depends on the Father who glorifies His Son (John 8:54). He stated that Abraham rejoiced to “see my day” (John 8:56) – that is, Abraham by faith saw Messiah’s coming in advance of its actual arrival. The day of Messiah “preexisted,” so to speak, in Abraham’s mind. It is noteworthy that Rabbinic traditions state Abraham saw a vision of the entire history of his descendants (Midrash Rabbah, XLIV, on Gen. 15:18) IV Ezra 3:14 (additional commentary) says that God granted Abraham a vision of the end times. The Jews misunderstood what Yeshua had said, believing that he had made a claim to be actually a contemporary of Abraham (John 8:57). Yeshua reaffirmed his absolute preeminence in God’s plan with the astonishing claim, “Before Abraham was, I am [he]” (John 8:58).
To grasp the meaning of the phrase “I am” in this text, it is essential to compare it with John’s frequent use of the same phrase, which is in several places connected with the Messiahship of Yeshua:
- John 18:5 (KJV)
- 5 They answered him, Yeshua of Nazareth. Yeshua saith unto them, I am he. [identified himself as the one they were looking for] And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.
- John 6:20 (KJV)
- 20 But he [walking on the water] saith unto them, It is I [literally “I am”]; be not afraid.
- John 9:9 (KJV)
- 9 Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he [the man healed of blindness] said, I am he.
- John 4:25,26 (KJV)
- 25 The woman saith unto him, I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. 26 Yeshua saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. [meaning he is the Messiah]
- John 8:24 (KJV)
- 24 I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.
- John 8:28 (KJV)
- 28 Then said Yeshua unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
- John 13:19 (KJV)
- 19 Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.
- John 9:35-37 (KJV)
- 35 Yeshua heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God [many versions say “Son of Man”]? 36 He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? 37 And Yeshua said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.
- John 10:24; 25 (KJV)
- 24 Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. 25 Yeshua answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.
- John 8:58 (KJV)
- 58 Yeshua said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am [he].
At this point John’s expressly stated purpose for writing the whole of his Gospel must be kept in mind. His aim was that we should “believe that Yeshua is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). The fact that in the Tanakh God speaks of Himself as “I am [He]” does not lead us, as often thought, to the conclusion that on Yeshua’s lips “I am [he]” means “I am God” in the Trinitarian sense. Yeshua’s “I am he” declarations in John can be satisfactorily explained as a claim to be the Messiah. As such Yeshua presents himself as the unique agent of the One God and empowered by the latter to act on His behalf.
Even if one were to connect Yeshua’s ego eime (“I am”) statements with the words of God in the Tanakh, there would still be no justification for identifying Yeshua with God in the Trinitarian sense. Yeshua, as Messiah, may bear a divine title without being God. Once the Hebraic principle of “agency” is taken into account, it will be readily understood that Yeshua perfectly represents his Father. As agent he acts for and speaks for his principal, so that the acts of God are manifested in Yeshua.
None of this, however, makes Yeshua literally God. He remains the human Messiah promised by the Scriptures. Trinitarian theology often displays its anti-Messianic (antichrist) bias, and “overreads” the evidence of John, failing to reckon with his simple monotheistic statements defining the Father as “the one true God” distinct from His Son (John 17:3, 5:44). This procedure sets John against Matthew, Mark, and Luke/Acts. It also blurs the New Testament’s central point, which is to proclaim the identity of Yeshua and the Messiah.
The evidence before us (cited above) shows that the famous phrase ego eimi means “I am the promised one,” “the one in question.” The blind man identifies himself by saying “I am the person you are looking for”, “I am the one.” In contexts where the Son of Man or the Messiah are being discussed Yeshua claims to be “the one,” i.e., Son of Man, Messiah. In each case it is proper (as translators recognize) to add the word “he” to the “I am.” There is every reason to be consistent and to supply “he” in John 8:58 also. Thus John 4:26, “I am” = “I am [he, the Messiah].” In John 8:58 likewise Yeshua declares, “Before Abraham was, I am [he, the appointed Messiah].”
It is important to notice that Yeshua did not use the phrase revealing God’s name to Moses. At the burning bush the One God had declared His name as “I am who I am” or “I am the self-existent one” (Ex. 3:14). The phrase in the Greek version of the Tanakh (Septuagint) reads ego eimi ho hown, which is quite different from the “I am he” used by Yeshua.
If Yeshua had indeed claimed to be God, it is quite extraordinary that in a subsequent encounter with hostile unbelieving Jews he claims NOT to be God, but the unique agent of God bearing the title “Son of God” (John 10:34-36)
It is fair to ask how someone can “be” before he actually is. Is the traditional doctrine of the incarnation of a second divine being the only possible way of dealing with the Johannine preexistence statements? The pattern of foreordination language found in John’s Gospel does not require a literal preexistence of the Son. Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. Messiah’s day was a reality to Abraham through the eyes of faith. So also the Messiah “existed” as the supreme subject of God’s plan long before the birth of Abraham.
“Before Abraham came to be, I am [the one]” is a profound statement about God’s original plan for the world centered in Yeshua, whom John can also describe as “crucified before the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). We have no difficulty grasping how this is to be understood. Yeshua was the one appointed – and appointed to die – long before Abraham, as the supreme agent of God’s plan. If Yeshua was “crucified before Abraham,” he himself may be said to have “existed” in the eternal counsels of God. In that sense he was indeed appointed as Savior of the world before the birth of Abraham.
In support of this interpretation we cite again the comments of Gilbert. Of John 8:58 he says:
Yeshua has been emphasizing his Messianic claim. He does not say that before Abraham was born the logos [plan, motive, intent, word] existed; he says “I am.” It is Yeshua the Messiah, Yeshua the man whom the Father consecrated to the Messianic work who speaks. Just before this he had spoken of “my day,” which Abraham saw (John 8:56), by which we must understand the historical appearance of Yeshua as Messiah. Abraham had seen this, virtually seen it in God’s promise of a seed (Gen. 12:3, 15:4,5) and had greeted it from afar (Heb. 11:13). And now it is this one who consciously realizes the distant vision of Abraham who says, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” Yeshua therefore, seems to affirm that his historic Messianic personality existed before Abraham was born. If that had been the case, then its existence before Abraham must be thought of as an ideal.
The ambiguity of John 8:58
Commentators on the book of John frequently note a certain ambiguity in the sayings of Yeshua, especially in connection with the failure of the hostile Jewish audience to grasp what Yeshua meant. Orthodoxy is often keen to side with the opinions of the Jews against Yeshua. The Jews, it is argued, thought that Yeshua was claiming to be God. Therefore he is. But Yeshua’s hostile audience is not a safe guide to the intentions of Messiah. We have already seen that Yeshua had to correct the Jewish misunderstanding that he was claiming to be God. His claim was that he was the Son of God, which is the rank of a human being, not God. In John 8:58 there is an interesting grammatical ambiguity that makes a different translation possible. The standard rendering: “Before Abraham came to be, I am” is not the only way to render the Greek.
It is an elementary fact of language that a Greek aorist infinitive takes its meaning from the context. It may refer to events future or past. Thus Matthew writes, “Before the cock will have crowed” (Matt. 26:34: prin, “before,” + aorist infinitive). But earlier in the same Gospel we have, “Sir, come down before my child dies” (John 4:49; prin + aorist infinitive); “I have told you before it comes to pass” (John 14:29; prin + aorist infinitive).
The question arises, What is the proper rendering of John 8:58? Did Yeshua say: “Before Abraham comes to be [i.e., returns to life in the resurrection], I am”, or “Before Abraham came to be [i.e., was born], I am [he]”?
It may be that Christian orthodoxy misreads this verse as a proof of a preexistent Messiah. Only a few verses earlier Yeshua had spoken of resurrection as conferring endless life on those who follow him (John 8:51). The Jews objected that this made Yeshua superior to Abraham who was then dead. Yeshua justifies his claim by pointing our that Abraham had in fact looked forward to the Messiah’s day. The Jews misunderstood Yeshua to mean that he and Abraham were contemporaries (“Have you seen Abraham?”; John 8:53, 56, 57). It is possible that Yeshua counters with the stupendous claim that he will precede Abraham in the resurrection. Before Abraham gains immortality in the resurrection, Yeshua will already be alive and immortal. This would fully justify the claim to be superior to Abraham. “Coming to be” (the aorist infinitive of ginomai) is in fact used of resurrection in the Septuagint of Job 14:14: “I will wait until I come to be again.”
If the text is read as standard translations render it Yeshua will have claimed to be the Messiah appointed from eternity. Or he may be stating his superiority to Abraham in another sense. Abraham anticipated the Messiah’s triumph. Yeshua will indeed be enjoying endless life as the resurrected Savior long before Abraham reappears in the future resurrection.
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