Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
On Defending the NWT (II)
10/01/2005 - James WhiteAnother text our JW correspondent mentioned was John 8:58. Once again the commentary shows no sign of any serious interaction with the chapter I offered in The Forgotten Trinity nor any of the various scholarly articles on the use of evgw. eivmi at 8:58, 8:24, 13:19, 18:5-6, etc. Of course, it is hard to be overly critical (outside of his comments against me specifically) in that the vast majority of evangelicals, even those who have been privileged to grow up in sound churches, have no idea how rich and full and glorious John's testimony to the deity of Christ truly is. A few vague references to John 10:30 or John 1:1 is about as far as most can go on a topic that in reality not only defines our faith (how important is the deity of Christ to Christian exclusivism, for example---and could our ignorance of this great topic be part of the reason why inclusivism is making such inroads?). Just a thought in passing.
The incessant usage of single-author, off-beat, "never heard of that one" translations is a hallmark of JW internet e-pologists. Obviously, just because someone publishes something, it does not follow that there is anything overly meaningful in its content. Indeed, just some of the versions cited give you a good idea of the level of this kind of apologetic: The Simple English Bible; the Living Bible; The Four Gospels & Revelation by Richmond Lattimore. Why not cite the Oxford Inclusive Version and the Reader's Digest Version for all it means to serious exegesis? The writer then kicks open a somewhat humorous "back door" by saying that even if it is rendered "I am," all Jesus is saying is that He pre-existed. That has "nothing to do" with Exodus 3:14. Of course, as I pointed out in my work on the subject:
When dealing with theological issues, we often condense things and make connections that, in reality, take a little more proof than we have offered. This is nowhere better illustrated than in the connection that is alleged to exist between Jesus’ words in John 8:58 and the words of Yahweh in Exodus 3:14, “I am that I am.” You will find references to Exodus 3:14 in most commentaries on John 8:58, yet, those who deny the deity of Christ cry “foul!” and argue that such an immediate connection can’t be made. The strongest argument they can present is that the ego eimi portion of Exodus 3:14 isn’t really the assertion of divinity: the ho ohn portion is (ho ohn being translated as “the Being” or “the One Existing.”).
As far as the argument goes, this is true. However, the assertion that Jesus’ words in John 8:58 (and the other passages) should be connected to Exodus 3:14 does not exist in a vacuum. There is a line of argumentation, a very solid one, that leads us from John 8 back through Isaiah to Exodus 3. We need to trace that path before we can make the assertion that Jesus is, in fact, using a name of deity of Himself in John’s Gospel.
The closest and most logical connection between John’s usage of ego eimi and the Old Testament is to be found in the Septuagint rendering of a particular Hebrew phrase, ani hu in the writings (primarily) of Isaiah. The Septuagint translates the Hebrew phrase ani hu as ego eimi in Isaiah 41:4, 43:10 and 46:4. In each of these instances the phrase ani hu appears at the end of the clause, and is so rendered (or punctuated) in the LXX (just as in these seven examples in John). The phrase ego eimi appears as the translation of a few other phrases in Isaiah as well that are significant to this discussion. It translates the Hebrew anoki anoki hu as ego eimi in 43:25 and 51:12. Once (52:6) ani hu is translated as ego eimi autos (basically an even more emphasized form). And once (45:18) we find ego eimi kurios for ani Yahweh! This last passage is provocative in that it is in the context of creation, an act ascribed to Jesus by John (John 1:3) and other New Testament writers (Colossians 1:16-17, Hebrews 1:2-3).
The use of ani hu by Isaiah is a euphemism for the very name of God Himself. Some see a connection between ani hu and Yahweh as both referring to being. That it carried great weight with the Jews is seen in 8:59 and their reaction to the Lord’s usage of the phrase. If one wishes to say that Jesus was not speaking Greek, but Aramaic, the difficulty is not removed, for the identification would have been just that much clearer!
There seems to be a direct connection between the Septuagint and Jesus’ usage of ego eimi. In Isaiah 43:10 we read, “So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He.” In John 13:19, Jesus says to the disciples, “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.” When one removes the extraneous words (such as the phrase which connects the last clause to the first) and compares these two passages, this is the result:
Is. 43:10: hina pisteusete ... hoti ego eimi
Jn. 13:19: hina pisteusete ... hoti ego eimi
Even if one were to theorize that Jesus Himself did not attempt to make such an obvious connection between Himself and Yahweh (which would be difficult enough to do!) one must answer the question of why John, being obviously familiar with the LXX, would so intentionally insert this kind of parallelism.
Another parallel between the usage of ego eimi in John 13:19 and its usage in Isaiah has to do with the fact that in 13:19 Jesus is telling them the future—one of the very challenges to the false gods thrown down by Yahweh in the passages from Isaiah under consideration (the so-called “trial of the false gods.”) This connection is direct in Isaiah 41:4, “Who has performed and accomplished it, calling forth the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He.’” Here the “calling forth” of the generations—time itself—is part of the usage of ani hu. The same is true in John 13:19. In the same chapter of the book of Isaiah references above, in verse 22 we read, “Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; as for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming.” That this reference to knowledge of the future would appear in the same section that uses ani hu as the name for God, and that this would be introduced by the Lord Himself in the same context in John 13:19, is significant indeed.
Hence, though some would easily dismiss the ani hu/ego eimi connection, or ignore it altogether, the evidence is overwhelming that this connection is intended by John himself.