What is the claim where Jesus says, “before Abraham came into being, I am” (John 8:58)?

What Is True?

In this question and answer post by Gerald Sigal, we find out whether Jesus is part of a tri-unity god, was Jesus there before Abraham came into being. Not clear? Read on to find out!

Is the author of the Gospel of John claiming that Jesus is part of a tri-unity god when he has Jesus say, “before Abraham came into being, I am” (John 8:58)?

Answer: John 8:56-58 states: “‘Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.’ The Jews therefore said to him: ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham came into being, I am.'”

Trinitarians argue that the Greek words ego eimi (“I am“), allegedly spoken by Jesus (John 8:58), indicate that Jesus is God (see also John 8:24, 28). They arrive at their contention by connecting the phrase “I am” with the words spoken by God in Exodus 3:14 and often translated: “I AM THAT I AM . . . . Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.” However, the literal and proper translation of this verse is: I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE. . . . Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: I WILL BE has sent me to you.”  Since the author of the Gospel of John utilized the Greek Septuagint translation of the Bible in his writings, it cannot be assumed that John’s Jesus is referring to the words in Exodus 3:14. Although Jesus actually spoke in Hebrew or Aramaic, not Greek, John recorded Jesus’ alleged words in Greek. Ego eimi (“I am“), used by John’s Jesus, is not the same as ho on (“The Being, The One Who Is“), which is used in the Septuagint’s rendering of Exodus 3:14: “And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am THE BEING; and He said, Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: THE BEING has sent me to you.” Even though ho on appears in the Gospel of John, it is never used as a title or name or exclusively as a reference to Jesus. In the Book of Revelation, also credited to John by Christian commentators, ho on appears five times (Revelation 1:4, 8; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5). Significantly, in each instance, it is used as a title or designation applied to God, not Jesus. Thus: “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is [ho on] and who was and who is to come; and from the seven spirits who are before His throne” (Revelation 1:4). That this verse refers to God and not Jesus is seen from the following verse, which continues the greeting by now including Jesus as one of those sending greetings. Hence, John says, in verses 4 and 5, that greetings are sent by God, the seven spirits, and Jesus.

In verse 8, John writes: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is [ho on] and who was and who is to come, the Almighty‘” (Revelation 1:8). This verse also speaks of God, not Jesus. In Revelation 4:8, ho on is applied to “the Lord God, the Almighty,” not Jesus, who, as the “Lamb” referred to in Revelation 5:6-7, comes to God, who is sitting on His throne. That they are two separate entities is seen from Revelation 5:13: “To the one sitting on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” In addition, ho on is applied to the “Lord God, the Almighty,” not Jesus, in Revelation 11:17 and Revelation 16:5. That ho on in Revelation 16:5 refers to God and not Jesus can be seen from verse 7, which, referring to the subject of verses 5 and 6, states: “And I heard the altar saying: ‘Yes, Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.'” These are further indications that ho on and ego eimi are not used as synonymous terms by John.

In John 8:56-58, John is expounding his belief that Jesus had a prehuman existence as an angelic being in heaven. John’s Jesus is proclaiming here that this prehuman existence began before Abraham was born: “Before Abraham came into being, I am.” The fact of the matter is that the text does not at all indicate how long Jesus supposedly lived before Abraham. In no honest way can John’s statement be taken to identify Jesus as God.

© Gerald Sigal