Hello once again Ansar Al-'Adl,
Thank you for your patience regarding my response to your message #55 in which you addressed the divinity of Jesus Christ. This response is somewhat …well, very detailed…I hope that’s OK. I look forward to hearing back from you.
I am going to be very nitpicky here. This is why: If you were headed in a straight line toward Mecca and started off just 1 degree off of direction, by the time you had traveled the distance, you would be nowhere near your point of destination (obviously, if you lived right next door to Mecca, this illustration would not apply). It's the same with interpreting text from one language almost 2000 years ago to another language of today. If we make a minor err in translation, we will end up nowhere near our destination of correct understanding.
Dr. Ali Ataie asks two questions:
"So what does Jesus mean by “Before Abraham was, I am,” and why do the Jews pick up stones?"
In answer to the first question, Dr. Ataie makes two statements: First,
"[Jesus] basically says, “Before Abraham was born into this earthly existence, I was in the knowledge and Will of God."
This is a false interpretation of the words "I am." First, neither the Bible nor, I'm sure, the Qu'ran "basically" say something. To "basically" say something implies that there are other ways of saying it. This opens the door to misinterpretation and the expression of opinion instead of an accurate understanding of fact. Both the Bible and, and I'm sure the Qu'ran, are very clear and evident in what they say. Second, the words, "I am" do not mean or say, "I was in the knowledge and Will of God." This is Dr. Ataie's opinion and not what the Bible actually says. I cannot understand how someone can just twist the meaning of Scripture like this!
"When we all existed before the creation of the physical universe in spiritual form, Abraham longed to see my day, the day of the Messiah."
Again, this is a false interpretation of the words "I am." These words do not mean or say "when we all existed before…." First, "I am" is singular (I) and not plural (we). To say "we all existed…in spiritual form" is an assumption that has nothing to do with this verse. In addition to this, the statement, “I was in the knowledge and will of God
,” is very different in meaning to the statement, “When we all existed before creation
…” The first statement speaks about our future existence that God knows about; the second statement says we existed before creation. According to Dr. Ataie, did we exist or didn’t we exist?
Before I talk about the overall context of John 8:58, I want us to make sure we look at the original Greek and original Hebrew renderings of this phrase "I am". Dr. Ataie says,
"Again, we have Christian word games being played here."
This is not a word game. If it is, then he is participating in it and obviously feels it is more than simply a game. I appreciate what Dr. Ataie has pointed out concerning John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14. It is very important, however, to understand these verses in their original languages in which the Bible was written as well as the relationship between these verses. Dr. Ataie points out that "
Jesus in John 8:58 simply says, “Before Abraham was, ego emi.
” He was right in his presentation of the Greek "I am" as "ego emi
", apart from the fact that the word should read "ego eimi
". He has fallen very short, however, in his presentation of the overall context of this phrase and its usage.
I realize I am being a little repetitious here, so please be patient. The New Testament was written in Greek; the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. Now, the LXX is a Greek translation of the original Hebrew manuscript. Dr. Ataie points out how this phrase "I am" was translated from the Hebrew phrase "Ehe’ye asher ehe’ye." In Greek, the Hebrew word "ehe'ye" means "ego eimi" and in English it means, "I am". After God declared His identity to Moses, He instructed Moses to say to the Israelites, "Ehe'ye has sent me to you." The same Hebrew word is used three times in this verse
. A literal translation of the Hebrew into Greek reads, "'Ego eimi who Ego eimi.' This is what you are to say to the the Israelites: 'Ego eimi has sent me to you.'" Now, consider the following:
"A significant point overlooked by most who approach the text of John 8:58, is that Jesus was likely speaking in Hebrew and used "EHYEH" and said none of the Greek words in the text. John actually translated Jesus' actual dialogues in Hebrew to Greek in his gospel. John 8:58 may echo Exodus 3:14 either based on the Hebrew text or the LXX. Jesus was likely speaking in Hebrew in the actual story and John may have chosen to use the LXX rendering of EHYEH in its first occurrence in Exodus 3:14 as ego eimi to report Jesus' words to the Jews in John 8:58. The fact that the LXX translates "EHYEH" as ego eimi many times, proves that there is no reason why the John 8:58 cannot echo Ex 3:14."
"The Hebrew phrase, 'ani hu' is used only of Jehovah and signifies that Jehovah alone is God. The Phrase 'ani hu' occurs six times in Isaiah 40-55 (41:4; 43:10; 46:4; 52:6; 45:18 twice) and is translated by the LXX as "ego eimi", the same phrase in John 8:58. (52:6 is rendered by the LXX as "ego eimi autos at") Further, the phrase "anoki anoki hu" is found twice in Isaiah 40-55 (43:25; 51:12) and the LXX translates it "ego eimi ego eimi". The important thing is to note that the Septuagint (LXX) translates "ani hu", which is only attributed to Jehovah in Isaiah 40-55, as "ego eimi".
'Ani' alone is translated by the LXX as 'ego eimi' in Isa 47:8,10 where Babylon says, "I am, and there is no one besides me." But we note this is a blasphemous echoing of Jehovah's words, proving further that it is the language of deity. This contrast of use between Jehovah and Babylon, clearly confirms this conclusion. (see Philip Harner, The 'I am' of the fourth gospel, p 6). The phrase "I am [He]" is virtually unique to Isa 40:55, whereas "I am Jehovah" is used throughout the Old Testament."
"There is a direct connection of thought ("you may believe that I am He") between Isa 43:10 and John 13:19. Jehovah said in Isaiah 43:10 [Septuagint], "hina ... pisteusete ... hoti ego eimi". Jesus said the same thing in John 13:19, [hina pisteusete hoti ... ego eimi]. The similarity in thought and Greek words cannot be overlooked."
(If you are interested, you can see much more concerning this at http://www.bible.ca/trinity/trinity-texts-john8-58.htm
Dr. Ataie says,
"The Divine attribute is the phrase, 'Ho on.'"
Yet, when looking at the Divinity of God in the LXX, as seen in the Scripture references above, God is also described using the phrase 'Ego eimi.'" The context determines which phrase to use in describing the same person (For what it's worth, the description of 'Ho on' is used in Hebrews 1:3 in reference to Jesus Christ).
Am I trying to counter highly educated Greek-speaking Hebrew scholars? No, not at all. It is important, however, to understand that scholars of this nature, to change the text in their translation work, had to have a very solid reason to do so. If I may use a simple personal example here to illustrate this. In English I would say, "You are right." If I translated that literally into German, I would say, "Du bist richtig." However, the phrase "You are right" is expressed in German as, "Du hast recht." The literal translation of this German back into English is "You have right/correctness." However, nobody would ever say this in English. The purpose of LXX translators was not to change the meaning of the original Hebrew, but to take into consideration the particular context and then express an unchangable truth in the way the Greek language would express this truth within context. Do these phrases, while expressed slightly differently in different languages alter the meaning. Not at all. They mean exactly the same thing based on the original text and context.
If I may briefly point out the grammatical structure of this phrase "I am". In Greek, this phrase is found in the present active indicative form.
is meant a "linear or progressive action and presents an event as it occurs…The present tense may be used in any time frame and with several different semantic emphases."
is meant "the action is being carried out by the subject of the sentence."
is meant that a "mood may be defined as the mood of assertion…It is used primarily to make declarations or ask questions."
(Hebrew-Greek Key Word study Bible, by AMG Publishers).
For Jesus to make the statement "before Abraham was, I am" was for Jesus to say that He is "always occurring;" that existed before Abraham, that He exists, and that He will always exist." This statement by Jesus was not a suggestion for people to think about; it was an assertive declaration of His identity. This leads me to my next point.
Dr. Ataie suggests that Jesus was saying,
"When we all existed before the creation of the physical universe in spiritual form, Abraham longed to see my day, the day of the Messiah."
First, I cannot understand how he can make this statement!? I could understand him going in this direction if Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, we are
." Jesus does not say this, however. Jesus is making reference to Himself as the one who existed before all creation of the physical universe. He is not making reference to all other people.
Second, we have looked at the Greek-Hebrew concerning Jesus as the "I am". For a moment, lets look at the Greek relative to Abraham. The phrase "Before Abraham was…" is the aorist middle infinitive form.
is meant the "simple assertion of an action or the naming of an event without suggesting anything about the time or manner of the action…the function of establishing background events in narratives. It is ideal for creating a setting as it calls no attention to itself and merely points out events incidental in a story."
By the middle voice
is meant the "general indication of the direct involvement of the subject in the action."
is meant a "verbal noun. Like the verb, an infinitive has tense and voice, and can take objects and modifiers."
(Hebrew-Greek Key Word study Bible, by AMG Publishers).
What Jesus was therefore saying, was "Before Abraham ever existed…". Whether Jesus was meaning Abraham's existence on this earth, or as Dr. Ataie suggests, Abraham's existence before all creation of the physical universe--either way--Jesus' existence was in effect before Abraham. There is only one who has been in existence before all else, and that is GOD (Concerning Dr. Ataie's analysis of Jeremiah 1:5, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sactified thee, [and] I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
" All I want to say at this point concerning an attempted parallel between this verse and Jesus satement in John 17:5, "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was,
" is that these verses cannot be paralled. In God's foreknowledge, He knew about the creation and existence of Jeremiah. Jeremiah, like any other human, did not exist until he was born into this world. Jesus, on the other hand had glory before He came into existence on this earth; Jesus is the "I am" who has always existed; always exists; and always will exist").
I would like to consider the overall context now of this verse, "Before Abraham was, I am." This statement that Jesus made in John 8:58, is the culmination of a dialogue that began between the Pharisees and Jesus in John 8:13, "The Pharisees challenged him…" In response to their challenge, Jesus immediately begins identifying Himself and His authority as a witness in connection with Himself and GOD. Unlike humans who could connect their identity to important people, Jesus was making an identity assertion that was of more significance and sovereignty than that of the Pharisees. And they did not like it. Each of them had valid and important fathers in the line of Pharisaical work. So the next question they pose to Jesus is, "Where is your father?
" (vs 19), still thinking Jesus was referring to an earthly father. Again, Jesus equates Himself with His Father by pointing out that if these Pharisees really knew who Jesus was, they would know who His Father was (vs 19). Jesus then makes a statement that challenges these religious leaders who thought they were alive and on their way to heaven. He says in vs 21, "I am going away and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come
." Jesus again repeats Himself in vs 24, "I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins
." These Jews then ask a question in vs 25 that all people who have heard about Jesus Christ have been and are constantly asking of Jesus, "Who are you, they asked?
" Before making a clear answer to this question concerning His own identity, Jesus raises their thinking and understanding of their own identity in vss 31-38. No, they were not slaves; yes, they were descendents in the lineage of the most important person they had ever known, Abraham. They understood Abraham's identity. In light of Abraham, they understood their own identity--or at least they thought they did.
Jesus now takes this conversation a step further in His challenge of their identity in vs 38. These Jews respond, "Abraham is our Father (vs 39)
." Jesus points out to them that if Abraham was their father, they would model their lives after him. However, they were not modeling their lives after their historical father, but rather after their immediate earthly fathers. This life was one of wickedness and deceit. These Jews now try elevating themselves from being the children of Abraham to being the children of God Himself (vs 41). Remember, when Jesus said he was the Son of God, the Jews took this as an offense (John 10:36). The very statement they made implies the same statement Jesus made and was therefore accused by them for committing blasphemy
. Jesus now points out that their true identity does not rest in Abraham or God; it rests in the devil. Jesus begins drawing the major contrast between who these Jews were by identity and who He is by identity. These Jews are naturally so angry they cannot even think straight. They want confirmation of Jesus' identity as a Samaritan (people they hated and considered to be low-class) who is demon possessed. They knew He was neither of these two. When Jesus connected eternal life with Himself (vs 51), this aggravated these Jews even further. In their minds, the great people like Abraham and the prophets died. How could Jesus say that people who believed Him and kept His word would never taste death (vs 51). The implication here was that Jesus was not only higher by identity than Abraham and the prophets, but He was also the provider and sustainer of everlasting life. In vs 53 the Jews ask, "Are you greater than our father Abraham?
" This was their way of saying you are not greater than our father Abraham. These Jews then point out the fact that Abraham and the prophets died, and again ask "Who do you think you are?
" (vs 53). This was their sarcastic way of saying, "You are absolutely nothing! You are less than them." Jesus continues taking these Jews down the road to their understanding of His own identity and it's contrast to His. Jesus points out that God His Father was glorifying Him--the very thing the Jews were trying to quench and bury. Jesus also points out that His Father, "whom [they] claim as [their] God
" (vs 54), glorifies Jesus. Then Jesus draws another major contrast to their whole mindset and understanding of their identity as opposed to Jesus' identity. He says, "Though you do not know him (Abraham), I know him
" (vs 55). How was Jesus able to know Abraham? In vs 56 Jesus says, "Your Father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; He saw it, and rejoiced
" (For excellent commentary on this passage in Genesis where GOD appeared to Abraham in human form, see http://www.bible.ca/trinity/trinity-...esis19-24.htm)
. Jesus pointed out that Abraham saw Him. The Jews respond with the question in vs 57, "'You are not yet fifty years old,' the Jews said to Him, 'And you have seen Abraham!'"
In their minds, Abraham came into existence many years before and also died many years before. How could Jesus say that He had seen Abraham? This is when Jesus makes the ulitimate statement of blasphemy in the eyes of the Jews: "Before Abraham was, I am;
" "before Abraham ever came into existence, I have been existing, am existing, and always will be existing; I am GOD." "At this, the Jews picked up stones to stone Him
" (vs 59). Jesus had turned the tables on everything these Jews had ever understood and believed about who they were and who Jesus was. They understood and in their pride and religious upholding of the law, they sentenced Jesus to death. Sad; sad; sad!!
Dr. Ataie continues,
"Your Christian friend may explode, “Then why do the Pharisees pick up stones?” The answer is because Jesus is claiming to be genuinely sent from God and His anointed."
Again, I realize I may be nitpicky here, but these Jews did not want to stone Jesus simply for saying He was sent from God. They were wanting to stone Him because He claimed to be God--blasphemy--religious crime that permitted stoning. Dr. Ataie states,
"Turn the tables on your Christian buddy and ask him, 'If the Jews truly believed that Jesus claimed to be God, then why don’t they use these ‘claims’ as evidence against him in the religious High Court of the Sanhedrin?"
There is a very good reason they did not use these claims. What is very important to understand here is that while the Jews had their own laws and penalties for breaking those laws, the Jews were also under Roman rulership at the time. Roman laws were not all the same as Jewish laws, especially in the area of religion. As far as the Jews and Jesus were concerned, Jesus' crime of blasphemy deserved execution. The Romans had no such law in effect. All the Jewish leadership--the priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, and High priest were fully aware of the basis for the charges against Jesus. They were caught between a rock and a hard place. They had a law that had been broken and was deserving of death but at the same time, did not have the authority to implement the major consequences of that law. The leadership of the Jews were not going to and could not place themselves above the leadership of the Romans. They had to conform in some way or another to Roman laws. So, when Mark 14:55 states that the "Chief priests and the whole council gathered together to find evidence that would warrant a death sentence, but failed to find any
," it is important to understand that they were not looking for evidence that would demand a death sentence in light of their own law. To them, that was already clear. They were seeking some kind of evidence that was in comformity with the breaking of Roman law. If they found this, they would be fully justified in bringing Jesus before the Roman government--Pilate--and they would have a clear case to present Pilate for the execution of Jesus. Unfortunately, within Roman laws, these people failed to find any basis to present Jesus to the Romans as one deserving punishment. In Mark 16:60-65, we see how these religious leaders publicly set Jesus up to claim who He was within their legal system, giving them the right to say he was guilty of official blasphemy: "Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "Why do we still need witnesses? 'You have heard the blasphemy! What is your decision?' And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death
" (vss 63-64). What we notice, is that these Jewish leaders could still not implement the death sentence. But at least they had some sort of official breaking of a Jewish law and a good reason to take Jesus to Pilate, the Roman procurator. Dr. Ataie says,
"Having no reason to kill Jesus, the Jews pull a "180" and changed their charge from blasphemy, a religious crime, to sedition or treason, a political crime."
The Jews, under their own law, had every reason to kill Jesus. Yes, they eventually provoked Pilate to hand Jesus over for crucifixion by charging Jesus with sedition or treason.
Again, if I may, please let me talk for a few moments about this whole situation before Pilate. Very specific details are given in John's gospel. In John 1:29, Pilate comes out to the Jews and asks, "What charges are you bringing against this man?
" Notice the "non-specific" response of the Jews, "'If he were not a crimminal,' they replied, 'we would not have handed him over to you'
" (vs 30). These Jews knew exactly why they were trying to get Jesus killed. They also knew that this reason would have no basis for charge under Roman law. So they try to portray Jesus as a crimminal--that person who under Roman law needed to be charged and sentenced. Pilate is not stupid. He responds, "Take Him yourselves and judge Him by your own law
" (vs 31). Their response: "But we have no right to execute anyone
" (vs 31). So Pilate takes Jesus inside the palace and begins to question Him. He finally goes out to the Jews and says, "I find no basis for a charge against this man
." Jesus had not broken any Roman laws. Pilate is now caught between a rock and a hard place. He has no reason to charge Jesus, yet if He does not, he has to deal with these Jewish leaders. So he puts himself in a position where he can try and stay within Roman rule and government as well as please the Jews. He points out His custom in releasing a Jewish prisoner, asking the Jews if they want Jesus back. Pilate is very sly here. He is placing the ball back in the Jewish court. No one will be able to say that Pilate broke Roman governing laws; no one will be able to say that it was his choice to keep Jesus. The blame needed to rest officially with the Jews. Unfortunately for Pilate, his conscience would not let him rest. When the Jews asked for Barabbas, Pilate has Jesus flogged and then comes out to the Jews again, stressing that he has no legal basis for a charge against Jesus (19:4). All the Jews can say in response is, "Crucify him! Crucify him
!" (vs 6). Pilate insists that the Jews take Jesus and crucify him. He again stresses his lack of basis for charging Jesus. The Jews insist, "We have a law and according to that law He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God
" (vs 7). Once again, Pilate speaks to Jesus. John 19:12 says, "From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, 'If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king is no friend of Caesar
". The clever Jews found a way to manipulate Pilate. As a Roman governor, Pilate was under the authority of Caesar, the ultimate ruler of the Roman empire--the "king" of the Roman empire. Jesus was considered by many Jews to be their King. If Pilate was to release Jesus, he would be a friend of another King instead of being a friend under the authority of Caesar--treason! Very good manipulation by these Jews. As much as the Jews hated Caesar they said, "We have no king but Caesar
" (vs 15). Pilate suddenly finds himself on the side of Jesus and the Jews on the side of Caesar. This could not happen. Finally, Pilate hands Jesus over to them to be crucified. Again, the Jews had every reason within their law to crucify Jesus. The Roman law had no reason to crucify Jesus. So the Jews manipulate Pilate into giving the crucifixion sentence to Jesus. Without realizing it, the Romans end up fulfilling the Jewish law of death for blasphemy.
Dr. Ataie says
,"The Christian will at this point be obstinate. He will cry, “No! They killed him because he claimed to be God, not just a prophet!"
As a Christian, I hope I have gone beyond the point of mere obstinacy and shown that Blasphemy was exactly the reason the Jews were able to get Jesus killed. Were any of the previous Hebrew prophets claiming to be God? Dr. Ataie is right--I say no. Why then were these prophets killed by the Jews? These prophets were killed because of the truth they spoke against the Jews. God used the prophets to bring to the attention of the Jews, their many evil and godless ways of life. He used the prophets to enlighten the Jews about the punishment they were getting ready to receive from Himself. The Prophets were like doctors revealing the infection and gangerine of serious wounds that had been covered up in the Jewish nation. As a result, the Jews hated them and killed them--their very own people. These prophets were not murdered under Jewish laws. They were the people who exposed the evils of the law and the evils of the people who claimed to abide by the laws--and they payed the price with their lives. Jesus on the other hand, was put to death because in the eyes of the religious leaders, He committed blasphemy. These proud religious people could not face the fact that Jesus was exactly who He told them to be--"I am".
I think what I have said above also addresses the comments by Dr. Laurence Brown.
Again, thanks for your continuing dialogue and I look forward to your response:)