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&Jesus' use of "I AM" in John 8:58

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Question #1:  

Thanks for trying to help me find a good pastor/Bible based teaching area around here. I know it is a hard thing to find. I do think my Presbyterian Church does teach pretty accurately and the services are Bible based, so I will probably go there from time to time. I do have problems with 'church' though as many people do. So many are ''hellfire and brimstone", "love bombers", "we need money", or contemporary churches who are almost cults. It also seems that most people these days want a social club or entertainment, (programs, programs), and the congregations don't feel it important to support those who need it emotionally, etc, during their trials, nor is making God the number 1 priority in their lives the reason many churches exist (Church these days is a business).  I will be continuing to read the great articles you have posted and thank you for taking so much of your time to have this ministry on the internet for all of us to benefit from! It is just what I had prayed for and was looking for because I had decided that I needed a teaching that was based on 1) someone with linguistic knowledge of Hebrew/Greek, 2) theology background, 3) familiarity with ancient customs, and 4) study of ancient history. I first thought I would find this by contacting Jewish people and finding a Messianic site, but yours is just the ticket!!!

Response #1:  You are very welcome. And I quite agree with your assessment of many contemporary churches. Hebrews 10:25, the one passage people quote for the necessity of church attendance, gives as the reason for doing so "mutual encouragement". My reading of this is that of course believers, true dedicated followers of Jesus Christ, will want to learn about Him (= the Bible) and help others to do the same (= use of our own gifts to facilitate the process of spiritual growth). The main additional purpose of Christian fellowship is the draw encouragement, directly and indirectly, from our fellow believers who are likewise advancing in the Christian life and who are likewise facing difficult trials, and to gain courage, comfort, consolation, motivation and encouragement through our mutual contact and mutual testimonies.

The problem is that when the underlying purpose of the local church (spiritual growth through Bible study) falls by the wayside, this corollary principle of mutual encouragement necessarily suffers as well (how could it not when now the stuff of spiritual maturity is lacking?). The whole manner in which the local church has come to be structured and operated lends itself to the problems you so deftly identify. For when "teaching" is limited to 10-20 minutes a week, of course it is going to become a show-piece that is emotion or entertainment heavy with little content. And when "fellowship" is limited to 60 seconds of "turn around and greet the people behind you", of course this is going to be phony, shallow and superficial. It is a testimony to the persistence, perseverance and purity of some believers that they have managed to get anywhere at all spiritually under such a system. Usually, they have had to do most of it on their own (with books, tapes, internet, para-church organizations, auxiliary and personal Bible reading and Bible study). Add to this problem the overarching need and desire for more people to get more money to get more people to get more money .... and you have a recipe for spiritual torpor.

I commend you for your spiritual fervor and you dedication to Jesus Christ, and am very pleased that you consider these materials to be helpful for your spiritual advance.  You may also find the following links helpful:

Dysfunctional Churches.

Church: The Biblical Ideal versus the Contemporary Reality.

Mega-Churches, Emergent Christianity, Spirituality and Materialism.

The Local Church and Personal Ministry I

The Local Church and Personal Ministry II

The Local Church and Personal Ministry III

The Local Church and Personal Ministry IV

Some Questions on Church Polity.

Church Polity and three other passages.

In our dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #2:  

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

I have a question about Exodus 3:14. When it says "Tell them I AM has sent me to you." What does the Septuagint say for the "I AM"? I am discussing the matter with someone who tells me that the OT quotes in the NT gospels all come from the LXX (Septuagint = Greek version of the OT). I know it was widely read, but do they ONLY come from the LXX? Couldn't some also come from the Hebrew scriptures? He claims Jesus was quoting from the LXX in John 8:58, and so couldn't have been invoking the Tetragrammatron of Ex. 3:14, which says, "I am the One Who is." Not, "I Am Who I Am." But the second half of that verse has, "tell them I AM has sent you." That is why I would like to know.

Response #2: 

First of all, even the name "Septuagint" is somewhat misleading - like the "Vulgate", it makes it sound like there is a fairly unified text and that this was always so. In fact, there a number of strains of the LXX (in some books more than others), and, unlike the Vulgate (whose textual history is likewise hopelessly muddied), the LXX, even in its earliest iterations, was clearly the work of multiple translators (i.e., the style is anything but uniform: see Textual Criticism and the Old Testament: The Septuagint after Qumran by R.W. Klein, 1974). Add to this the fact that there were a number of discrete variations of the Greek Old Testament of which we are aware (thanks to Origen), namely, the so-called trifaria varietas of Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotian (whose works constituted three of the six columns of his Hexapla). But beyond all this - as if that were not enough - it is clear to me that there were other Greek translations of the O.T. (or at least widely divergent variations of what today is known as the LXX) in the mix during the time of the apostles (though scholarship has not fully exploited this issue yet).

You are quite right - translations from the O.T. in the New Testament take on a variety of forms. Some are consonant with the version of the LXX we have; some are largely similar but with significant variations; some are largely dissimilar but with points of congruence; and some bear no relationship to the LXX whatsoever. Of this later category, some of the not-at-all-LXX quotes are probably direct renderings from the Hebrew, while others may represent alternative Greek translations no longer extant (some of these could be from the trifaria varietas from portions that no longer survive). This picture is further complicated by the fact that in some (many) cases, the LXX represents a fairly straightforward translation according the canons of "how you ought to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek" so that in a number of cases where a passage is, say, "50/50" LXX/non-LXX it is really impossible to say that the person quoting really has the LXX in mind at all. The best work on this subject of which I know is G.L. Archer and G.C. Chirichigno's Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey (1983). The authors examine this very issue in all the passages which are clearly O.T. quotes (but not Ex.3:14!) and many for which there is some question (i.e., allusions which may or may not be intended as direct quotes, of which there are plenty in the N.T.). Like most works of this sort, the book's treatment is spotty, both in terms of quantity and quality. One would disagree with many of their conclusions, and fault them for insufficient research in many others. But it is a good starting point whenever one has issues of this sort and can often prove at least marginally helpful.

What all this means for your question is that the assumption that all clear O.T. quotes in the N.T. are necessarily from the LXX and essentially agree with the LXX text is breathtakingly incorrect. One has to look at each and every passage individually.

As to Exodus 3:14 versus John 8:58, here in transliteration is the LXX of the entire verse: kai eipen ho theos pros Mousen, "Ego eimi ho on"; kai eipen, "houtos ereis tois huiois Israel: 'ho on apestalken me pros humas.

What Jesus says in John 8:58 is also ego eimi. The phrase means, as I have said many times before, "I am". Now the LXX adds ho on, which we translate literally as "the one being/existing", so that the combination of the indicative and the participle in the two phrases is a clear attempt by the LXX translator to render the nearly impossible-to-render Hebrew `eheyeh `asher `eheyeh, a double use of the imperfect which has a multitude of uses in ancient Hebrew. I have chosen to render `eheyeh `asher `eheyeh as "I will be what I can be" (to bring out the future and the modal elements of the imperfect, although the imperfect can also be an iterative past and sometimes a present). I would explain this double use of the imperfect as capturing not only the essence but also the potential of "being" and everything that entails - the Lord not only "is" but is the origin, empowerment, and essence of "being" (see the link: "The Essence of God"). Given that Jesus' words are identical to the critical first part of this phrase in Exodus 3:14, I would take ego eimi as a clear "short-hand" for the longer expression (a thing one would want to do to work this into a sentence in Greek). Clearly, in my view, Jesus is using ego eimi to lay claim to divinity based upon this key verse - I can see no other reasonable interpretation, even if one were to view this claim in a completely secular and skeptical way.

It is true what your correspondent says that ho on is both the second half of the first double-phrase and is also the pair of words used to translate the second "I am" about which you ask. But as I hope the above discussion has made clear, the idea that the LXX was the only game in town at this point, or that Jesus is definitely quoting the LXX, or that His audience could only have understood ego eimi only in that narrow context and so would have necessarily ruled this out as a claim to divinity without the coupling of the participial phrase ho on is ridiculous (cf. our Lord's laying claim to His divinity in a similar way in Jn.4:25-26, "I am [He] the One speaking with you"). The ego eimi is the critical, set-up phrase, and the most natural way to translate the Hebrew imperfect (as most English versions do, after all), especially if one is only going to translate the first half of the first occurrence or the just the second phrase, is "I AM" (rather than "I AM the One being"). If one were translating the Hebrew "on the fly", this would be the most obvious way to do it, and I would be willing to wager that 7 out of 10 contemporary translators would have said it just this way. So Jesus may or may not have had the LXX in mind - but He clearly had Exodus 3:14 in mind and knew very well the implications of this statement, a fact that, as I have pointed out a number of times before, is incontrovertibly proved both by the reference making Him contemporaneous to Abraham and by the reaction of His critics in the following verse (Jn.8:59) who also well understood the reference and sought to stone Him as a result (something that would not have made sense nor would it have been recorded by the writer if it had not been the case that His enemies understood this phrase as Jesus claiming to be divine).

Hope this is helpful to you.  Please see also:

The Meaning of Jesus' Words, I am in John 8:58.

Jesus is God.

Where does the Bible teach that Jesus is God?

The Divinity of Jesus Christ.

Kenosis: How did Jesus know He was divine?

"The Persons of God: The Trinity", in BB 1: Theology

In the Name of the great "I am", our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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