“Before Abraham was I am.”
Kel’s Introduction to his argument:
“The Trinitarian Claim
Trinitarians claim that Jesus was intentionally employing special language to identify himself as Yahweh, the God of Israel. They claim he was using God’s divine name to identify himself as Yahweh, and as Yahweh, they claim Jesus was saying that he pre-existed as a self-conscious divine person (God the Son) before Abraham existed and for that reason the Jews clearly understood he was identifying himself as their God and wanted to stone him for blasphemy.
Trinitarians are actually attempting to make three different claims at once with respect to this verse:
- Jesus was using the Greek version of the divine name (ego eimi) given to Moses at Exodus 3:14 and was therefore identifying himself as Yahweh their God.
- Jesus was claiming to have existed as a self conscious living divine person/being before Abraham existed.
- The Jews knew Jesus was identifying himself as their God and therefore wanted to stone Jesus for blasphemy.
The Claim vs. The Facts
The facts tell us that Jesus is referring to what he initially stated: he is the light of the world. That Light existed long before Abraham.”
“1. The Impossibility of the Trinitarian Interpretation
The Trinitarian interpretation directly contradicts Jesus’ own words in at least three explicit ways:
(1) Jesus had just said that if he testified about himself, his testimony is not true (Jn 5:31; 8:17-18). But that is precisely what Trinitarians have Jesus doing at John 8:58 in direct contradiction to what he said.”
Actually, Kel misunderstands these passages.
Since Jesus said, “Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true” (John 8:14), he could not have meant that if he testifies about himself his testimony is not true PERIOD, that is, without qualification. John 5:30-31 says, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true.
John 8:17-18 says, “In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
Clearly, the import of Jesus’ words is that if he alone testifies about himself his testimony is not true, and that he is not alone in his testimony, but his Father testifies in agreement with him. Kel ends his quotation of John 5:31 prematurely and so loses the context that explains Jesus’ meaning. Strangely, in this same article he later concedes the point I am making here, yet without apparently realizing that he is contradicting his own earlier argument.
“. . . I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.” – John 8:18
“(2) Jesus also had just said that if he glorified himself concerning who he is, his glory would mean absolutely nothing (8:54). But Trinitarians contradict Jesus again insisting that he did indeed glorify himself at John 8:58 and he did so in the highest way possible, and instead of meaning nothing as Jesus insisted, Trinitarians contradict him and insist it means everything.”
Again, Kel quotes only part of John 8:54, cutting of the rest of Jesus’ words that explain his meaning. Jesus actually said, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’” – which must mean that if Jesus is alone in glorifying himself his glory is nothing, but he is not alone because his Father also glorifies him. I say this because in other places Jesus did glorify himself, and the glory was indeed something. In John 2:11, for instance, Jesus turned water into wine. The Scripture says of this that it was the “beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”
Clearly, Jesus sometimes glorified himself for certain purposes, so Kel’s understanding of Jesus’ words in verse 54 is wrong.
“Trinitarians talk about of both sides of their mouth concerning Jesus. On one hand, they will admit that Philippians 2:5-9 says that Jesus made himself nothing and humbled himself. On the other hand, they have Jesus glorifying himself as God Almighty.”
It is easy to see from Scripture why Kel’s argument has no merit. Jesus said, “You call me Master, and Lord; and you say well, for so I am” (John 13:13). In saying this, Jesus was either glorifying himself or he was not.
- If Jesus was glorifying himself by calling himself Lord, then obviously he could sometimes glorify himself, yet at the same time have the mindset of humility described in Philippians 2:5-9, which would mean that Kel’s assertion that Trinitarians are talking out of both sides of their mouth is nonsense.
- On the other hand if Jesus was not glorifying himself by calling himself Lord, then the reason must be that being humble doesn’t mean you can’t speak a fact about yourself that people need to know, even if in so doing some might think you are glorifying yourself.
However, if Jesus could call himself Lord without glorifying himself, why couldn’t he call himself God without glorifying himself? It is clear that the only answer Kel could give to this question is to assert that Jesus is not God and so Jesus if Jesus said he was God he would not be stating a fact about himself and must therefore be glorifying himself. But if Kel argues that way, his argument that Trinitarians are talking out of both sides of their mouth is circular because he must first assume that Jesus is not God in order to argue that if he said he was he would be “glorifying himself.”
“(3) Trinitarians also say the Jews wanted to stone Jesus because they knew exactly what he was saying at John 8:58. But yet again, Trinitarians directly contradict Jesus who had just said these Jesus could not understand what he was saying because they were not of God and were children of the devil (8:43-47).”
The passage actually says
“Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (emphasis mine).
In Luke 1:11-18, an angel appeared to Zacharias the high priest and told him that his aged wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son who would be named John. Zacharias replied, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” The word for know in Luke 1:18 is the same as the word for understand in John 8:43-37. It is not that Zacharias did not understand what the angel had said, it is that he found it hard to believe.
The Jews Jesus spoke to in John 8 may not have understood that what He was saying was true, but they understood him well enough to believe he was wrong. You cannot disbelieve something you don’t understand at all; they must have had at least some understanding of what Jesus meant in order to reject his words as true. Therefore it is not necessarily that they didn’t understand what Jesus was claiming, but that they didn’t believe it.
“2. Ego Eimi — Trinitarians say that when Jesus used the words ego eimi, the Jews knew he was using the divine name of their God. However, this claim is ridiculous for several reasons.
Trinitarians typically suggest that ego eimi was a Greek way of saying God’s name “Yahweh.” But this is preposterous on several levels. If that is the case then Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, Yahweh.” This is absurd nonsense.”
This is a silly argument. “Yahweh” is how the name is pronounced (we think). “I am” is what the name means. Almost all if not all biblical names have meanings. If we substitute the name for the meaning of the name every time we run across the meaning in the Bible, much of Scripture would be reduced to gibberish (unless you are fluent in Hebrew). As we read on, we will see that it is the way Jesus said “I am” in verse 58, not the words themselves, that Trinitarians think indicates his Divinity.
“And are we also to believe Gabriel identified himself as Yahweh at Luke 1:19 when he said, “I am (ego eimi) Gabriel.” At Luke 22:33, when Peter said to Jesus, “I am (ego eimi) prepared to go to prison with you and to death,” shall we then say he used the words ego eimi to say to Jesus, “Yahweh is prepared to go to prison with you and to death?” By using ego eimi was Peter also claiming to be Yahweh? When John said, “I am (ego eimi) not the Christ,” are we expected to believe it really means John the Baptist was saying that Yahweh is not the Christ? (John 1:20). When the centurion said, “I am (ego eimi) a man under authority (Matthew 8:9), are we to believe this really meant, “Yahweh is a man under authority” and the centurion was claiming to be Yahweh? When Jesus said one of his disciples would betray him and Judas literally said, “Not I am (ego eimi) Lord?” are we to believe this really meant Judas was claiming to be Yahweh and Yahweh was going to betray Jesus? (Matthew 26:25). Why aren’t Trinitrians being consistent with the term ego eimi in many other passages? The implications of the Trinitarian claim are disturbingly ridiculous.
In the Greek Septuagint, the actual divine name revealed to Moses was not, “ego eimi” as Trinitarians are suggesting to everyone. God’s divine name was “ego eimi ho ōn” which means “I am the being” or “I am the existence” or “I am the existent one” or some similar idea. Also, English translations which read as, “I AM sent me to you” are not translating “ego eimi sent me to you” from the Greek. The Greek actually reads “ho ōnsent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14). In other words, it does not say, “Ego eimisent me to you.” This Trinitarian claim is enitely perched upon a farce that God’s divine name in Greek is simply ego eimi. But it isn’t.”
My friend the seminary professor commented on Kel’s words here:
“There’s nothing really mysterious about the Greek here–nothing to prevent someone from offering a poor interpretation of this verse, which Kel does. His objection fails to note the fundamentals of an interpretive context. Saying ‘I am’ can mean different things in different contexts, which Kel seems to recognize. In John 8:58 specifically, it is crystal clear that the Pharisees took Jesus’ statement of identity as an explicit claim to divinity–hence the attempt to stone him for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16) There’s no getting around that. Jesus is saying things that only God should say.
While some like Kel see a connection between John 8:24 and Exodus 3:13-14, it seems clear that if John wanted to make an explicit connection with Exodus, he would have included ‘ho on,’ but he didn’t. Most scholars see a much clearer link between John 4:24, 24, 58 and the use of ‘ego eimi’ in Isaiah 40-55 (esp. 41:4, 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12). Here God discloses himself with the repeated declaration ‘I am he’ which the LXX renders ‘ego eimi.’ So says D. A. Carson:
‘For Jesus to apply such words to himself is tantamount to a claim to deity, once it is clear that the other potential meanings of ego eimi are contextually impossible. This does not mean that Jesus and Yahweh of the Old Testament are identified without remainder, since v. 28 (where this title next occurs) is immediately followed by v. 29, where Jesus again distinguishes himself from the Father (similarly 13:19-20). But this tension between unqualified statements affirming the full deity of the Word or of the Son, and those which distinguishes the Word or the Son from the Father, are typical of the Fourth Gospel and are present from the very first verse . . .’ The Gospel according to John, p. 344.
John 8:58 is even clearer. If Jesus had wanted to claim merely that he existed before Abraham, he could have said ‘Before Abraham was, I was.’ But says instead, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am.’ So Carson says, ‘Whatever doubts may attach themselves to whether or not ego eimi should be taken absolutely in vv. 24, 28, here there can be none’ (p. 358).”
I hasten to add that, while it is not explicit, it seems to me that Jesus’ words in verse 58 might indeed also echo God’s words in Exodus 3:14, which in Hebrew says Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, (roughly, ehyeh = I am, asher = who, ehyeh = I am), with no difference between the first “I am” and the second. The second “I am” of Exodus 3:14 may be “ho on” in the Greek, but remember that Jesus was not speaking Greek but Aramaic, which is strongly related to the original Hebrew.
There could also have been something in the way that Jesus said “I am” that harkened back to Exodus 3:14. When Jesus spoke those very words in John 18:6, they all drew back and fell to the ground. Is it not obvious that there was something different in the way Jesus said “I am” in John 18:6 than the way he said the same words most other times (except perhaps in John 8:58)?
“The words ego eimi are used many times in the New Testament by several people . . . . This Trinitarian claim is usually presented as if Jesus suddenly broke out the words ego eimi which no man ever used, in order to identify himself in a shock and awe manner which provoked the Jews to anger since they would automatically recognize ego eimi to be the divine name of their God. However, the contextual facts demonstrate this is absurd and just the opposite is true. During this very same dialogue with the Jews in John chapter 8, Jesus used the term ego eimi several times before he used it at verse 8:58 (8:12,16,18,23,24,28).”
This argument is shown to be specious by what the seminary professor said above. The fact that Jesus kept saying things like “unless you believe that I am [he] you will die in your sins” and they kept answering “who are you?” merely shows that they didn’t “get it” until Jesus said “before” Abraham was, “I am.”
“3. Blasphemy: The Alleged Jewish Motivation for Picking up Stones
Trinitarian apologists also have an unwarranted interpretation of John 8:59 They claim the Jews wanted to stone Jesus because he was claiming to be Yahweh and so under their Law they thought he deserved stoning. Many Trinitarians will even make the disingenuous claim that these Jews would not have attempted to stone Jesus unless he was claiming to be God by suggesting that the only way Jesus could have possibly blasphemed God by claiming to be God Himself. But that is completely untrue. The Bible shows us that one could blaspheme the name of God in many ways. Moreover, the Jews stoned Stephen to death and he was not claiming to be God.”
Stephen was not claiming to be God, but he was proclaiming Jesus. Kel’s argument from Stephen’s stoning only works if you assume that Jesus was not God, which is the very point at issue. If Jesus did claim to be God, or if he was regarded as having done so, then the nonbelieving Jews would have regarded Stephen’s endorsement of Jesus as blasphemy. The fact that the Jews tried to stone Jesus may not be absolute proof that they thought Jesus had claimed to be God, but it is at least evidence to that effect. By itself it is not enough evidence to prove that Jesus is God, but Kel overstates the Trinitarian argument on this point in order to make it easy to knock down.
Kel is right when he says that the Jews already wanted to kill Jesus before Jesus said “I am.” I do not argue that they wanted to stone Jesus because he claimed to be God; they already wanted to stone him and were looking for an excuse to do so. All I say is that Jesus’ claim to be God gave them that excuse.
In the next paragraph, Kel argues that Trinitarians
“need everyone to accept the premise that the Jews would never have stoned Jesus unless he had broken the Mosaic Law as if to say these men were righteous law-keepers” but that Jesus testified to the contrary; “These men were lawless hypocrites (Matthew 23:28), and Jesus here testified that they wanted to kill him (8:37,40) long before his John 8:58 statement . . . . Jesus identified these men not as law-keepers but as lawless hypocrites, thieves, liars, murderers, serpents, vipers, sons of Hell and sons of Satan.”
As he often does, Kel picks the weakest Trinitarian argument he can find. Trinitarians do not need anyone to accept the premise that the Jews would not have stoned Jesus if he hadn’t claimed to be God, or that they were righteous law keepers. Such a view is not necessary to support the view that Jesus claimed to be God in John 8:58. It is true that they already wanted to kill Jesus; Jesus’ words here merely gave them an excuse to do so.
In Matthew 21:26, we learn that the Jewish leaders who wanted Jesus dead feared the common people and were willing to alter their public words and behavior so as not to anger them. The “lawless hypocrites” whose father is the devil were in the Temple when Jesus was speaking to them. They were not the only people Jesus was speaking to, because the whole context of John 7-8 indicates the presence of the common people, some of who supported Jesus. That means that even though they already wanted to harm Jesus, they were seeking a pretext from the law to do so.
“4. The “Jesus pre-existed therefore God” Claim
Trinitarians also claim that if Jesus existed as a person before Abraham that he must therefore be God since only God could possibly exist before Abraham and still be existing. However, they are quite mistaken. The folly of this argument is seen when it is realized that many angels existed before Abraham and they are still quite alive and well, including Satan and his angels, and it seems to this writer that we can be quite certain that their pre-existence would not mean any of them are God. The point here is not that Jesus is an angel; the point here is that this claim is fallacious.
Another false premise Trinitarians expect people to accept is that if Jesus did somehow pre-exist before Abraham then this somehow amounts to the conclusion that he was a divine second person of the Trinity hanging out with God in heaven before creation, and after. The problem here is that JW’s and Arians believe Jesus existed before Abraham without believing he is God. To suppose Jesus pre-existed does not amount to a pre-existent hypostases of a three-person-God. Pre-existence is a not a license to resort to imaginations.”
Kel ignores the grammar of the John 8:58 in this argument. Jesus did not say, before Abraham was, I was, he said, before Abraham was, I am . . . thus claiming present tense existence at a point in the past. Only God has that; as God said in Isaiah 43:13, before the day was, I am he . . . which amounts to the same thing regarding time. As we saw, most scholars believe that passages like Isaiah 43:13 (where God says before the day was, I am) are being echoed by Jesus here.
“5. The Confusion of the Jews
Jesus had said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day. The Jews respond by changing what Jesus had said, “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?” But Jesus didn’t say he had seen Abraham. It was the other way around. He said Abraham rejoiced to see his day.”
This is irrelevant – Jesus did say that Abraham rejoiced to see his day, but Jesus also said that “before Abraham was, I am” – and the fact that Abraham saw Jesus on earth is completely consistent with the fact that Jesus is before Abraham.
“Analysis of the Evidence
- Two Required Witnesses
At John 8:12-58, the entire dialogue between Jesus and the Jews concerns who he claimed to be and that two witnesses were required concerning this matter. Two witnesses were required under the Law and Jesus himself said that if he testified about himself, his testimony would not be true. He clarifies this matter by explaining he spoke the words of the Father. Hence, the Father Himself was the second witness testifying about Jesus. In the same way, Jesus said that if he glorified himself, his glory would mean nothing. Two witnesses are required and the two witnesses were Jesus and God the Father.”
NOW Kel seems to realize what I mentioned in my first response to his first argument, namely, that Jesus was not saying that if he testified/glorified himself his testimony/glory would be nothing, but that if he alone did this it would be nothing. However, he doesn’t seem to realize that this contradicts his earlier argument to which I was responding.
“2. Jesus spoke the words of the Father
Jesus said that he did not come to do his own will but to do only the will of the Father. For this reason, he tells us many times in the Gospel of John that he did not teach his own teaching or speak his own words. He only spoke what the Father gave him to say. He also said his words were not his own but the Father’s who sent him. Once we understand that Jesus spoke the Father’s words, it is clear how the Father was the second witness concerning who Jesus was. Not only so, one we realize Jesus spoke the words of the Father, his words, “Before Abraham was I am” are words the Father was expressing to these Jews.”
Although Jesus spoke the words of the Father, that doesn’t mean that it was really the Father speaking when Jesus said “before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus often made a distinction between his words and the Father’s words. When Jesus said “I am he who testifies about myself, AND the Father who sent me testifies about me” what could he have meant but that he (Jesus) was himself speaking? Kel seems to be trying to have his cake and eat it too; if the “I am” of John 8:58 does not mean that the speaker is God, as Kel has claimed, then on what basis is he also claiming that the real speaker is the Father, who is God? And why would Kel even make the argument that the one who said “I am” in this verse is really the Father unless in his heart of hearts he really suspects that these words indicate the Deity of the speaker?
Sometimes in the Bible it is true that a speaker can speak the words of someone else. However, in this context (John 7-8) Jesus several times refers to both himself and the Father, the simplest example being “I and the Father” (vs 16). Is Kel really asking us to believe that since Jesus’ words were not his but the Father’s who sent him, that “I and the Father” really means “I who am the Father and the Father?” Isn’t it obvious that even though Jesus spoke the words the Father gave him, some of the words the Father gave Jesus were about Jesus himself?
Since in the context Jesus is speaking of both himself and his Father – calling the Father “He” many times – it would be extremely confusing if not downright deceptive if sometimes when Jesus said “I” he meant himself, and other times it was only the Father speaking through Jesus. It is far better to let the grammar of the text determine the meaning, which in this case points to Jesus as being the “I am.”
“3. I am the light of the world
The dialogue between Jesus and the Jews began when Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world.” God the Father is Light (1 John 1:5) and the Father abiding in Jesus did the works (1:10). Now let us remember that when Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” he spoke the words of the Father as he reminds the Jews in this discourse (8:26,28,47). Therefore, whoever receives the testimony of Jesus has certified that God is true (3:33; cf. 14:24). The Father was the True Light which was coming into the world and John the Baptist was testifying about that Light (1:6-9). In this way, Jesus declared the Father (1:18) in terms of all the things he said and all the things he did. The works that I do in my Father’s name, these testify of me (10:25; cf. 5:36). The Father abiding in Jesus did the works (14:10-11).
Jesus declared the Father who is Light by doing his Father’s will, saying what the Father gave him to say, doing what the Father gave him to do. The Father who is Light was explained/expressed through Jesus and for that reason Jesus could say, “I am the Light of the world,” that is, he explained/expressed the Father who is that true Light which was coming into the world as John the Baptist witnessed about that Light. The Father existed before Abraham and his will for the work of the Messiah existed before Abraham. Now that will of the Father was being manifested, fulfilled.”
Kel misunderstands the passages he quotes. In John 14:10-12, Jesus said
“The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”
Jesus also said,
“Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” – John 5:19.
It is not just that Jesus expressed and explained the Father, he also imitated the Father. The Father did the works, but Jesus also did the works in like manner.
Kel is simply wrong when he asserts that when Jesus said “I am the light of the world” he really meant “the Father is the light of the world, and I am showing you that light.” Grammatically, one cannot derive what Kel says Jesus meant from what Jesus actually said, and it looks to me like Kel is simply substituting what he wishes Jesus had said for what is actually written.
Also, Kel misquotes 1 John 1:5, for it does not say “the Father is Light” but “God is Light.” 1 John 1:5 is of no use in proving Kel’s notion that “The Father was the True Light which was coming into the world and John the Baptist was testifying about that Light.” The Scripture Kel refers to, John 1:6-9, indicates that Jesus is the True Light that was coming into the world, which to the Trinitarian is no contradiction to the idea that the Father is that same Light, but which to Kel is false doctrine.
If Jesus had meant to say “My Father is the light of the world,” why didn’t he just say it that way in the first place?
“Before Abraham was, I am” – Jesus, John 8:58
“Before the day was, I am he” – God, Isaiah 43:13