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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"I AM" - Part 2

"I Came Into Existence"
The information found on pp. 84, 91, 100, and 106 of Marshall's New Testament Greek Primer (Zondervan) and pp. 87-88, vol. 3 of Moulton's Grammar of New Testament Greek shows that another honest rendering of Jn 8:58 can be: "before Abraham is coming into existence [genesthai - 'to become'], I am (coming  into existence)."

In other words, since eimi is often used as an auxiliary verb (e.g. Jn 3:28; 19:41; etc.), and since the a'orist infinitive clause "before Abraham came into existence" sets the time in the past, and since a verb which has been introduced earlier may be understood (though actually absent from the text) to be in a following clause or sentence, then it could be that a form of the Greek verb for "came into existence" (see #194, Marshall; and p. 219, #552, Machen) may be understood as following the auxiliary verb eimi: "before Abraham came into existence I am (coming into existence)."

Noted Baptist New Testament language scholar A. T. Robertson also admits,

"Sometimes indeed the predicate merely has to be mentally supplied from the preceding clause [6].... It may be that the [understood] verb would be slightly changed in form [from the form used in the preceding clause]" - pp. 393-394, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, Broadman Press.

And trinitarian NT scholar Dr. Ralph P. Martin makes a similar observation concerning Phil. 2:5 -

"There is no verb in the second part of the sentence, and some recent commentators supply ... the same verb as in the first part [cf. Beck] .... and since the Greek is cryptic with no verb in the second half, it becomes an important exegetical issue to know what verb to supply." - p. 99, Philippians (Rev.), 'Tyndale New Testament Commentaries', Eerdmans Publ., 1991 printing.

Examine Matt. 14:19 (“gave them” - Mounce; NASB; NIV; ESV; NRSV; NAB; HCSB; ISV.)
The first example of this that I see in the Gospel of John is at John 1:6-8. Bible translators agree that there is a verb missing in the last clause of John 1:8 (lit. “… but that he might witness concerning the light,”). The KJV translators decided the missing verb should be a repetition of a form of “sent” as found in verse 1:6 ( “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” - KJV). So, it renders John 1:8 as “He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.” (Italics here are from KJV itself to indicate words added by the translators.)

Most modern translators, however, have decided that the missing verb to be repeated in verse 8 is from verse 7 (“He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him.” - NASB.) And so most modern Bibles render John 1:8 as “He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light.” - NASB.

This interpretation of John 8:58 showing (by an understood repeated verb) that Jesus came into existence at a certain time in the distant past is in agreement with John's further testimony at Rev. 3:14 ("the beginning of God's creation") that Jesus was created by God. - See the BWF study. (Cf. Huparcho - PHIL 9-11.)

                                         "Absolute" I AM
Some trinitarians point out that "ego eimi" at John 8:58 has no predicate complement stated. That means that the "I am" is at the end of the sentence or clause (in its English rendering, at least) and there is nothing added that further completes the statement - it stands alone - "I am." But then they say that it is therefore "absolute," and that absolute be verbs (which include am, is, are, was, were, etc.) show the eternal pre-existence of the person or thing being described.

But if it is truly 'absolute,' there will be nothing more stated or even implied (or 'understood') to complete that stand-alone verb. In that case, eimi ('am') will truly mean 'exist' (but certainly not eternally exist)!

If there is more implied (such as "I am [the Messiah]," or "I am [coming into existence]," etc. as noted above), then it is not really an 'absolute' verb at all.

For example let's examine this statement: "James was the mayor long before I was." "I was" has no further predicate stated so we can interpret it as an 'absolute' "I was." In that case we would be saying: "James was the mayor long before I existed."

Or, we could interpret it as not being 'absolute' at all, but, instead, as having an understood ending. With that interpretation we would be saying "James was the mayor long before I was [the mayor]."

So, the most probable interpretation would be that it is not 'absolute' at all and that an understood verb, adjective, or noun was implied (probably 'the mayor')! And even if we insisted on the interpretation that "I was" is 'absolute,' we certainly would never get away with saying it somehow means an eternal existence: "James was the mayor long before I eternally existed."!

Certain trinitarians can insist all they want that John 8:58 is 'absolute,' but that doesn't make it so. And they can insist all they want that being 'absolute' causes a be verb to show eternal existence, but that certainly does not make it so!

To show how foolish this trinitarian interpretation really is, look at Rev. 17:10 for the 'absolute' "one is" (heis estin) where the 'be' verb (estin, 'is') probably really is 'absolute' - but certainly doesn't mean eternally exists!

there are seven kings: five have fallen, one is [estin] the other has not yet come. - Rev. 17:10.,

Also examine Rev. 1:19 and Rev. 17:8.[7]
"God is love; .... because in this world we are [absolute esmen] as he is [absolute estin]." - 1 Jn 4:16, 17, NEB; REB : Whether this is saying 'Christians are as God is' or 'Christians are as the glorified Jesus is' should make no difference to trinitarian scholars. In either case we have a truly absolute be verb applied to God (or 'God the Son') and to Christians. This alone, according to the 'absolutarians' own teachings, must mean that Christians, but not others, have been eternally existent! And, to make it even more "certain," there is a direct comparison in this scripture to the absolute be verb (estin - 'is') applied to God and the absolute be verb (esmen - 'are') applied to Christians!

Look again at John 9:9 where the ex-blind man says ego eimi in the Greek NT manuscripts. (Although context suggests otherwise, I could insist that this is 'absolute' just as easily as trinitarians do for John 8:58.) Obviously if there were really anything to the trinitarian "absolute" ego eimi invention, it would never have been used for anyone but God alone! Every Jew would have been aware of the tremendous significance of this phrase and would have never used it for himself! This is clearly not the case.

Look at the 'absolute' "I AM" of King David in the Greek Septuagint at 2 Kings (2 Samuel 15:26 in most English Bibles): "Behold, I AM"! And Isaiah identifies himself in the same manner at Is. 6:8, Septuagint. (Context suggests neither is truly absolute, but they are written in the same manner as John 8:58.)

In fact, if we examine every NT use of the "absolute" ego eimi (trinitarians often list Jn 6:20; 8:24; 8:28; 13:19; and 18:5-8), we find that it NEVER means eternal pre-existence but nearly always shows identification by means of an understood predicate noun ("Jesus," "Christ," etc.).[8] There is simply no reason to infer some "Godlike" meaning for an "absolute" be verb (even if it is really absolute as in Rev. 17:10 and 1 Jn 4:17 above)!

Although there are a few quotations of John 8:58 in the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, these earliest Christians of the first through the third centuries A. D. never show any understanding of ego eimi there other than that of existence. We see no connection with the words of John 8:58 meaning that Jesus is the so-called “I Am” (YHWH) of the OT.

Why, just look at the writings of the Christians who wrote after the NT writings were completed. You will find the use of the "absolute" I AM applied by the faithful Christian writers to themselves.

For example see "The Discourse to the Greeks" where the Christian writer of the late 2nd century A.D. (190 A.D.?) concludes his treatise to Greek non-Christians attempting to persuade them also to become Christians by applying the absolute I AM to himself:

"Come, be taught; become as I am, for I ... was as you are." - pp. 161, 272, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, Roberts and Donaldson, Eerdmans Publ., 1993 printing.

Obviously the first Christians never understood I AM as a name, title or description of God or they would never have used it as they often did! (Can you imagine any of them referring to themselves as "The Most High," "Jehovah," "The Heavenly Father," or, even, "Jesus Christ"?)

Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.) is considered by much of trinitarian Christendom to be the best of trinitarian scholars and "the greatest of the Fathers of the Church"! To show Saint Augustine's conception of the absolute foolishness of the "absolute" and therefore "eternally pre-existent" argument we can look to p. 41 of On the Two Cities where Augustine says about himself:

"I am most certain that I AM ['absolute'], that I know it, and that I delight in it." And, "certainly I am not deceived in this knowledge that I AM ['absolute']." - On the Two Cities - Selections from The City of God, F. W. Strothmann (ed.), Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., New York, 1957. [Emphasis mine - RDB]

Here again we see a truly 'absolute' "I am." Since there is no further predicate (complement) either literal or implied, then "I am" really does mean "I exist"! But there is no thought here by Augustine of implying that he has eternally existed!

Now Augustine wrote this in Latin, but he knew both Latin and Biblical Greek and knew very well that Jesus said "I am" at John 8:58 in both the earliest Greek manuscripts and the Latin translations.

No reasonable person today would believe that St. Augustine, the trinitarian's trinitarian, was either claiming a title or name of God for himself or proclaiming his "eternal pre-existence" by this somewhat unusual (to us today) usage of the "absolute" I AM ! Furthermore, this greatest of trinitarian scholars (from a time when Koine Greek was much better understood) actually proves, by his use of the 'absolute I Am' term for himself, that 'I Am' simply could not mean what modern trinitarians want it to mean![9]

Perfect Indefinite Tense
Some trinitarians try to make a great fuss about the New World Translation's footnotes to John 8:58. (Most insistent here is Dr. Walter Martin - as in his commercial cassettes "Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus Christ and the Trinity"; cf. KOTC, p. 88.)[10] They often "quote" the first (1950) edition as saying that ego eimi is in the "perfect indefinite tense" and that later editions (see 1969 Interlinear, for example) say that ego eimi is in the "perfect tense."

Here is the actual quote from the 1950 NWT footnote:

"I have been = ... (ego eimi) after the a'orist infinitive clause ['before Abraham came into existence'] and hence properly rendered in the perfect indefinite tense. It is not the same as ... (ho ohn, meaning 'The Being' or [improperly rendered] 'The I Am') at Exodus 3:14 LXX [Septuagint]." (As usual, emphasis is mine - RDB)

First, anyone should be able to see that the Watchtower Society is not saying ego eimi is in the Greek perfect tense (certainly any language scholar would know this). It clearly says it should be rendered (or translated into) an English perfect indefinite tense! It is common practice for all Bible translators to make changes in tense when rendering the New Testament Greek into English!

Even the very trinitarian New American Standard Bible (NASB) notes some of these instances in its preface and speaks of present tense Greek verbs "which have been translated [rendered] with an English past tense." (For example, "He says" in the literal Bible Greek is often translated "He said" in the NASB - and most other translations.)

Second, (although the real point is that Jesus was not calling himself by a title that belonged exclusively to God, whether you render it in perfect tense - "I have existed" - or in past tense - "I was" - or show it in some other way, such as non-capitalization, to differentiate it from Exodus 3:14) the accusation sometimes made (most stridently by Dr. Walter Martin and his imitators), that the Watchtower Society invented a non-existent "perfect indefinite tense" and then, when trinitarian scholars discovered their "dishonesty," they changed it to a "perfect tense" is provably false.

An indefinite tense (whether "perfect," "past," etc.) is a tense which does not specify whether it is referring to an action or state that stopped at some time or is one that is still continuing - it is not known, hence, unspecified or indefinite.

Although this grammatical term ("indefinite") as used for English verbs is unfamiliar to many Americans, it is not difficult to look up. For example, the Thorndike Barnhart Advanced Junior Dictionary (for junior high school children) says:

"Indefinite .... 3. not specifying precisely. An indefinite adjective, pronoun, etc., does not determine the person, thing, time, etc., to which it refers" - p. 415.

But more precisely, the authority on American word meanings, which is available in any good public library, Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary (p. 1147 of the 1962 edition), says:

"Indefinite.... (3) of a verb form or set of verb forms in French.... (4) of a verb form or set of verb forms in English.... ('saw' in 'I saw the show' is the past [indefinite] of see)."

It further explains that this grammatical term ("indefinite") when used with a verb form (past tense, perfect tense, etc.) signifies that such a verb may or may not (indefinite) show an action or state of being that has been completed. Hence, it may be understood as still continuing. In contrast, the perfect tense alone is usually considered as one that

"expresses an action or state completed at the time of speaking or at a time spoken of." - p. 1677, Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary, 1962 ed.

And the recognized world authority for English word meanings confirms this:

"Indefinite .... 3. Grammar .... b. Applied to those tenses or inflexions of verbs which merely denote an action taking place at some time (past, present, or future), without specifying whether it is continuous or complete" - The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1933 through 1961 printings.

In other words, the perfect indefinite tense (which has the same wording as the perfect tense: "I have run," "I have existed," "I have been," etc.) differs from the perfect tense only in the fact that the action or state of being may be understood as continuing in the perfect indefinite tense (which would obviously be the case with the existence of Jesus!), whereas it is usually understood to have been completed in the perfect tense. Therefore, whether it is called "perfect tense" or "perfect indefinite tense" makes no difference whatsoever to the wording: it's still "I have been" - NWT; "I have been" - The New Testament, G. R. Noyes; "I have been" - alternate reading in earliest editions of NASB; and "I have existed" - Moffatt.[11]

Dr. Walter Martin, the much-heralded trinitarian "cult-buster," has been quoted as publicly declaring that

"there is no rule or precedent in Greek syntax to allow a present [tense] to equal a perfect [tense]." (Cf. KOTC, p. 89.)

However, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, by J. H. Moulton, Vol. III (by Nigel Turner), p. 62, Edinburgh, 1963, comments specifically on this meaning at John 8:58:

"The present [tense] which indicates the continuance of an action during the past and up to the moment of speaking is virtually the same as perfective [perfect tense], the only difference being that the action is conceived of as still in progress.... It is frequent in the NT: Lk 2:48, 13:7... John 5:6, 8:58 (eimi), 14:9 ... 15:27" - T and T Clark, 1963.

G. B. Winer ("the great Greek grammarian of the 19th century" - Wallace) also tells us:

"Sometimes the Present includes also a past tense (mdv. 108), viz. when the verb expresses a state which commenced at an earlier period but still continues, - a state in its duration as, Jno. xv. 27 [Jn.15:27]..., viii. 58 [Jn 8:58]." - A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament, Andover, 1897, p. 267.

Blass and Debrunner also list the following as NT instances of present tense verbs indicating the duration of an act up to and including the present: Lk 13:7; 15:29; Jn 8:58 (eimi)[12] 15:27 (este); 2 Cor. 12:19. - p. 168 (#322), A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Press, 1961.

Also see Brooks and Winbery’s Syntax of New Testament Greek, pp. 84-85, “Durative Present,” University Press of America, 1979.

Trinitarian A. T. Robertson also agrees with this understanding of the Greek present tense. He calls it "The Progressive Present" and tells us that such a present tense verb often

"has to be translated into English by a sort of 'progressive perfect' ('have been')..." - p. 879, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research.

Even A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament by trinitarians Dana and Mantey confirms this understanding:

"b. The present [tense] approaches its kindred tense, the perfect, when used to denote the continuation of existing results [D&M's emphasis in italics]. Here it refers to a fact which has come to be in the past, but is emphasized as a present reality, as we say, 'I learn that you have moved' (that is, information has come to me in the past which I now possess). ....

"To say that this use is 'present for perfect' (Gildersleeve: Syntax, p. 87) is not accurately representing the case. It does approach quite closely the significance of the perfect [tense], but stresses the continuance [D and M's emphasis] of results through present time which the perfect [tense] would not do, for the perfect stresses existence of results but not their continuance. [The 'perfect indefinite tense' in English, however, as we have seen, does allow for such an understanding of continuance - RDB.] To say [manthano auton elthein], 'I learn that he has gone,' has a force which is approximated only by ... 'I have learned that he has gone'.

"c. Sometimes the progressive present [tense] is retroactive in its application, denoting that which has begun in the past and continues into the present. For the want of a better name, we may call it the present of duration. This use is generally associated with an adverb of time [as 'from the beginning' in Jn 15:27 and 'before Abraham came into existence' in John 8:58 which both act as 'adverbs of time' - RDB], and may best be rendered by the English perfect. [Examples of this usage as given by Dana and Mantey are Jn. 15:27 (literally in the NT Greek: 'from beginning with me you are' and usually rendered into English as: 'you have been with me from the beginning' - RSV); Lk. 13:7; 2 Cor. 12:9 - RDB]." - pp. 182, 183, The Macmillan Company, 30th printing, 1965. [material in brackets has been added by me.]

Another NT scholar who verifies this is Kenneth L. McKay.

[["Kenneth L. McKay graduated with honours in Classics from the Universities of Sydney and Cambridge. He has taught Greek in universities and theological colleges in Nigeria, New Zealand, and England. Mr. McKay retired from the Australian National University in 1987, after teaching there for 26 years. His articles on ancient Greek syntax in various journals and his book on classical Greek Attic, Greek Grammar for Students, have helped draw attention to the aspectual functions of the verb in Greek from the time of Homer to well beyond that of the New Testament."-back cover of the book A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek, An Aspectual Approach.]]

McKay said in his book, A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek, An Aspectual Approach:
"Tense...4.2.4. Extension from Past. When used with an expression of either past time or extent of time with past implications (but not in past narrative, for which see 4.2.5), the present tense signals an activity begun in the past and continuing to the present time: Luke 13:7...Lu 15:29....Jn 14:9 [Tosouton chronon meth humon eimi]..have I been with you so long...? ; Ac 27:33...Jn 8:58 [prin Abraam ego eimi], I have been in existence since before Abraham was born...."

Perhaps even more surprising is this admission by hyper-trinitarian NT Greek scholar, Daniel B. Wallace:

A. Extending-from-Past Present (Present of Past Action Still in Progress)

1. Definition

The present tense may be used to describe an action which, begun in the past, continues in the present. ....

.... It is different from the progressive present in that it reaches back in time and usually has some sort of temporal indicator, such as an adverbial phrase [such as 'before Abraham came into existence'], to show this past-referring element. Depending on how tightly one defines this category, it is either relatively rare or fairly common.

2. Key to Identification

The key to this usage is normally to translate the present as an English present perfect. [And the presence of a 'temporal indicator, such as an adverbial phrase, to show this past-referring element.'] Some examples might not fit such a gloss, however. [Wallace's examples include Luke 13:7; Luke 15:29; John 5:6; 1 Jn 3:8.] - pp. 519-520, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Zondervan, 1996.[13] [As in all other cases, bracketed material and emphasis are added by me.]

So, the "perfect indefinite tense" (since it more properly allows for the understanding that Jesus' existence "has begun in the past and continues into the present") at John 8:58 would be a technically more accurate term in describing the meaning of "I have been" in the NWT or "I have existed" in Moffatt's translation. (In the same way, the "past indefinite tense" would more accurately describe the intended meaning of "I existed" in CBW; Beck (NT); and AT quoted above).

To use trinitarian Dana and Mantey's own definition for similar present tense NT Greek verbs (it began or came to be in the past) we could, again, see Jn 8:58 honestly rendered - "Before Abraham came into existence, I have come into existence."

But, possibly because of the ignorant (or hypocritical) clamor raised by a few trinitarian "scholars," the Watchtower Society has now chosen to call its rendering of ego eimi at John 8:58 by the better-known term, "perfect tense," rather than by the less well-known term, "perfect indefinite tense."

I believe I have found a close parallel to that of John 8:58 in the ancient Greek Septuagint at Proverbs 8:25. This passage (like John 8:58) quotes someone's exact words (understood by most professing Christians from the time of Justin Martyr [100-165 A. D.], at least, to be Jesus speaking as the personified "Wisdom" at Proverbs 8:22-31). This passage (as, possibly, Jn. 8:58 also) deals with Jesus coming into existence in the far indefinite past.

This speaker is also speaking of his long ago creation and using a present tense Greek verb (following a clause which acts as an 'adverb of time' and sets the time in the past: a 'temporal indicator') which must be properly rendered into English in the past or perfect tense.

Instead of the literal translation of the Biblical Greek at Prov. 8:25 in the Septuagint: "Before the mountains to be settled [a clause which acts as an 'adverb of time' and sets the time in the distant past] ... he [God] begets me" - Zondervan's Septuagint Version (Bagster), it is apparent that it is better rendered "before the mountains are (or were) settled ... he has begotten me (or 'he begot me')."

There are other instances in the New Testament where eimi (usually rendered "I am" in English translations) has the clear meaning of "I have been" or "I was." An excellent example is John 14:9 where eimi clearly means "I have been." Whether this is rendered in the English question form ("Have I been?") as in some translations, or as "I have been," as in the New American Bible (1970); TEV; GNB; The Bible in Living English (Byington); The New Testament in the Language of Today, 1964 (Beck [NT]); ETRV; or the Living Bible (The Book), it is still rendered in the perfect tense in every trinitarian Bible I have examined! (Also compare the present tense "are" in the NT Greek of John 10:8 - Moffatt renders it in the perfect tense and NEB; REB; NIV; NAB; LB; ETRV; and Beck (NT) render it in the past tense. And the present tense "are" in the NT Greek of John 15:27 is rendered in the perfect tense in KJV; NKJV; NIV; NASB; RSV; NRSV; NEB; REB; NAB; Moffatt; Phillips; JB; NJB; NLV; LB; etc.

Also note the use of ego eimi in the ancient Septuagint at Judges 16:17 where the trinitarian translators of the Zondervan (Bagster) edition render it: "I have been [ego eimi] a holy one of God from my mother's womb" - 1970 ed. This is a clear example of a present tense "I am" being properly rendered into English as a perfect indefinite tense "I have been." Note the 'adverb of time': 'from my mother's womb.'

Obviously, those trinitarian "scholars" who complain of the "dishonest" rendering by the NWT of ego eimi do not also accuse the trinitarian translators' similar renderings of John 14:9; Judges 16:17; and others as being dishonest. Therefore, there is no reason to consider it dishonest to do the same thing at John 8:58, and, in fact, there is excellent evidence (as we have seen) to consider the perfect tense rendering of trinitarian Oxford professor Dr. James Moffatt (called "perhaps the greatest biblical scholar of our day"); the perfect tense rendering of Dr. Noyes in his New Testament translation; and the perfect tense rendering of the NWT as the proper renderings of John 8:58.

It should be noted that, regardless of the precise grammatical reason for rendering a Greek present tense verb into an English past or perfect tense (and there are a number of them, including the Historical Present[14]), examples such as John 14:9, 15:27, and 10:8 clearly show Jesus' quoted speech using a Greek present tense verb in the sense of a past or perfect tense English verb exactly as shown in the NWT; Moffatt's; Noyes'; the earliest editions of the NASB; at John 8:58 !

(Click here for Part 3)
"I AM" - Part 2


Anonymous said...

‘I AM, and there is none besides me.' (Isa. 47:7) on the mouth of the city Babylon

Anonymous said...

I haven't been able to sign in to my own blog this evening! - Elijah.

The Greek word used at Isaiah 47:7 in the Septuagint is 'esomai' (“I will/shall be”).

And the Hebrew word there is 'ehyeh' ("I will/shall be"). - see NASB, NRSV, NJB.

tigger2 said...

Aha! Is. 47:8 is what you quoted. Yes ego eimi is used there in the Septuagint.