There are three (or more?) explanations that claim John 8:56-58 offers evidence for Jesus' Deity. The most common explanation is tied to Exodus 3:14. A lesser known explanation is tied to Isaiah 41:4; 43:10; 46:4; 52:6. A relatively unknown explanation is based on Genesis 18. It is this last explanation that I think is the most likely. The only other person I know to independently come to essentially the same conclusion is Gunther H. Juncker (Assistant Professor of New Testament at Toccoa Falls College) who presented his paper "A Man Who Has Told You the Truth: Abraham and the Angel of the LORD in John 8:31-59" on November 17, 2004 at the 56th Annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society.
Did the Jews misunderstand Jesus' claim?
Contrast what Jesus said in verse 56 with how the Jews responded in
verse 57. Jesus said "Abraham rejoiced to see My day and he saw it" and
the Jews responded
Was this an unfounded presumption or did they correctly understand Jesus' true meaning? The answer to this question is key to our understanding what Jesus meant in verse 58.
Did Jesus next correct or confirm their presumption? Within the context
of Jesus saying "Abraham . . . saw" and the Jews' question 'have you seen?'
did Jesus respond by correcting their assumption, implying that the 'seeing'
was in only one direction ('Abraham . . . saw')? Or did his response confirm
the 'seeing' was bi-directional? Jesus' first words were "Truly, truly"
and added ". . . before Abraham was born, I am." This response would naturally
explain how he could have personally seen Abraham even though he did not
look old enough to have been there in Abraham's presence. But if his claim
meant nothing more than Abraham looked forward with no one looking back
then the reference to "
The following conclusions all hinge on whether Jesus' claim was a uni-directional 'seeing' (as many scholars claim) or whether it was a a bi-directional 'seeing,' that is, John 8:56 refers to an event where Abraham and Jesus met face-to-face.
What day would the Jews imagine Jesus meant when he said "my day?" Examine the life of Abraham looking for a prophetic day associated with gladness and with the miraculous appearance of a person. The only matching account seems to be in and . In Genesis 17 God appeared to Abraham and promised that his wife would bear a son. To this Abraham laughed. God further stated this birth would happen in the coming year. Certainly a day to look forward to with joy, the day when his promised son would be born.
Next, in Genesis 18 the Bible tells of three persons who visited Abraham. (one is identified as God and the other two persons are later identified as angels - see ). God promises in Genesis 18:10,14, that Sarah will give birth the following year ( ). To this Sarah then laughs. Abraham and Sarah are now looking forward to a miraculous day, about which they both felt great joy, when the promised seed, Isaac, would appear. Abraham lived to see that day and was glad. They named their son "Isaac," which name meant "laughter" in Hebrew (see ). What "day" better fits Jesus' reference to a day that Abraham looked forward to with gladness, a day that he lived to see along with seeing a person whose 'day' it was?
A paraphrase of Jesus' claim might be something like: 'As you know, your ancestor Abraham waited in great anticipation for the day of my appearance and when I arrived and we met, he was glad.' The Jews recognized this as an extraordinary reference to a very significant day in Abraham's life, the day of Isaac's foretold birth. They may have wondered if Jesus was claiming to be Isaac, the promised one. That would be consistent with the existing rumors heard among the Jews that Jesus might be some ancient prophet ( ). This would sound absurd, motivating them to to ask whether Jesus really believed he had met Abraham. Jesus then affirmed his statement as being absolutely true and then added another significant statement. He then asserted he had existed even before Abraham was ever born. By saying this it was clear to them that although he was indeed claiming to have met Abraham he was definitely not claiming to be Isaac. Then who was he claiming to be? If this special day was not Isaac's day, then whose day was Jesus saying it was?
Take a close look at the passages in Genesis 17 and 18. We see that the Speaker promised to return on the same joyous day of Isaac's birth. Who was this Speaker? In Genesis 17:1 the Speaker is identified as "Yahweh" (in Hebrew this is the Divine name of God) as well as "God" in verses 3,9,15,18,19,22 (compare Genesis 17:5 with Romans 4:17). He is repeatedly referred to as "Yahweh" in Genesis 18:1,13,14, ; ), and as "Lord" ( ), "Judge of all the earth" ( ), and "God" ( ). (That this person is "God" can be seen by comparing with and .) But the most outstanding reference is in Genesis 17:1 where the speaker is identified as "God Almighty". Since Jesus claimed to have been alive before Abraham's birth, he could not be claiming to be Isaac, he must have been claiming to be the Speaker who said he would return on a day the following year, that is, Yahweh, God, Judge of all the earth, God Almighty, the same one who appeared in Genesis 17, 18 and again in chapter 21 at the foretold day of Isaac's birth. The day of Isaac's birth, although a special day for Isaac, it was also God Almighty's day, the day He would fulfill his promise to Abraham and the day He would return. This was the day Jesus claimed as 'my day' and therefore he must have been claiming to be God Almighty. It was at that moment the Jews picked up stones to throw at Him.
But is it likely that the Jews in Jesus audience understood the "day" to which Abraham looked forward as being the day of the Lord's return to Abraham? Was that a common understanding of Jews in the first century?
In the first century around the time of Jesus, a Jewish writer Philo referred to the announcement of the birth of Isaac with these words (see The Works of Philo by Yonge, publ by Hendrickson. Book entitled "On Abraham" section 22 verse 110): "therefore, after having feasted, ... they bestow on him a reward beyond his expectation, the birth of a legitimate son in a short time, making him a promise which is to be confirmed by one the most excellent of the three; ... (section 25 verse 132) ... he [Abraham] speaks to them not as three persons, but as one, and says, "My lord, if I have found favour with thee, do not thou pass by thy servant." For the expressions, "my lord," and "with thee," and "do not pass by," and others of the same kind, are all such as are naturally addressed to a single individual, but not to many. And when those persons, having been entertained in his house, address their entertainer in an affectionate manner, it is again one of them who promises that he by himself will be present, and will bestow on him the seed of a child of his own, speaking in the following words: 'I will return again and visit thee again, according to the time of life, and Sarah thy wife shall have a son.' " (also see vs 121, 124, 131, 143)
About mid-second century A.D. a Christian by the name of Justin Martyr
discoursed with a Jew, Trypho, to persuade him of the Deity of Jesus. In
the course of that dialogue (chapter 56) Justin referred to the account
in Genesis 18 involving Abraham and the future time to which he looked
forward. He said this:
Justin then continues his argument attempting to show that this person who returned was in reality Jesus.
Since Justin expected Trypho to recognize this day to which Abraham looked as being the day when God would return, it seems likely that the Jews in Jesus' audience would also recognize it.
Now reflect back on verse John 8:40 where Jesus said "you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do." So what was it that Abraham did not do? Was his point that Abraham was not the kind of person who customarily killed people who spoke the truth? Not likely. From the above it would seem this was a specific reference to the event where he, Jesus, the Speaker in Genesis 17 and 18, told the truth to Abraham about the coming birth of Isaac and his return on that same day, his day. Did Abraham try to kill that Speaker of Truth at that time? No of course not. But the Jews were trying to kill Jesus who was speaking the truth to them - "this Abraham did not do."
Jesus was indeed claiming to be Yahweh, God Almighty, in the passage of John 8:40-58.
As a further reference, see the Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871)
This presentation is by far the most popular but I find it to be the
least persuasive. It attempts to tie John 8:58 to Exodus 3:14.
A very popular argument intended to support the Trinity doctrine connects with . The reasoning claims that in Exodus 3:14, in English, God reveals His name as being "I AM". This was in response to two questions Moses had asked in verse 13. The first question was what he expected the Israelites to ask him about God's name, the second was what he should say in response to them. God then told Moses what to say and in doing so, He revealed His name. Most English translations give the impression that God's name is revealed in verse 14 as "I AM" (Hebrew eh-yeh). (Actually ehyeh is "am" with the "I" being understood grammatically. The word for "I" is ani and does not appear here in the Hebrew text.)
Next, this argument continues, we find in John 8:58 (in most English translations) the account where Jesus was asked if he had seen Abraham and he replied ". . . before Abraham was born, I AM". Thus, some conclude, Jesus was quoting Exodus 3:14, claiming what appears to be God's name "I AM" and therefore claiming to be God.
There are many problems with this reasoning, so many that I do not recommend it. First, note the problems with the traditional presentation:
If you carefully read Exodus 3:14,15 and look for a reference to God's "name" you will find that it is revealed in verse 15, not verse 14. In English translations the name is usually missed since it is translated "LORD" in verse 15, which does not sound like a name to most readers. This is NOT the Hebrew word for "Lord" (as in Genesis 18:3) but it is the name "YHWH" (Yah-weh - ).
Note Exodus 3:14,15, as in the New Jerusalem Bible:
God reveals His name in verse 15 and adds that this name is for "all time". Therefore, whatever that name is we would expect that it would appear repeatedly throughout the Bible, all the time. But what do we find? I include here a list of all 55 occurrences of the Hebrew word (eh-yeh -) in the Old Testament as rendered in the New American Standard version (the text is from the ). (Interestingly there are only two occurrences where the Hebrew phrase "I am" ani ehyeh is found: ; ) Outside of Exodus 3:14 this word is never used as a name and is rarely translated "I am" (total of 8 times in the NAS). I do not see how this word could be the name of God ("for all time") nor does it seem that it's best translation is even "I am".
What seems strange about the assertion that Jesus was using the Divine
Name in John 8:58 is that the grammatical structure of the verse speaks
against the words "I AM" representing a name. If you assume that "I am"
is the equivalent to the Hebrew word ehyeh of Exodus 3:14 and functioned
as a name, then its meaning would be just as clear when substituting that
Hebrew 'name' into John 8:58 thus:
From this does it seem clear to you that the speaker is claiming to
have the name "ehyeh"? To illustrate how this sounds, suppose you overheard
one man say to another "You do not look old enough to have seen John F.
Kennedy." Then the other man replies "Before Kennedy was born, Bill." Would
you conclude that the second man was revealing his name to be 'Bill'? No.
Likewise what Jesus said had no reference to any name. He was simply saying
Some respond to this by noting that in John 8:59 the Jewish detractors picked up rocks to throw at Jesus. The argument is that the Jews would only have done this if they felt Jesus had been claiming to be God and he could only have claimed to be God by using the Divine Name. Sadly there is a problem with this reasoning. First it is not clear from the text exactly why they were going to stone Jesus, there were a variety of reasons why someone could be stoned ( ; ). Second, and more important, Jesus' claim to be God does not depend on using the Divine Name, which we see from above is "Yahweh" not "I am".
Starting about 300 years before Jesus' birth, there was a common practice among the Jews of hesitating to speak the Name "Yahweh" but would speak a substitute such as "Adonai" (Hebrew for "Lord"). [For example, in the Greek LXX at 1 Kings 1:11 (our 1 Samuel) Hannah makes a vow to "Yahweh" of hosts, yet in the LXX she makes a vow to "Adonai Kurie" of hosts. Thus the Divine Name was replaced with the transliteration of the Hebrew "Lord" ("Adonai") coupled with the Greek "Lord" ("Kurie"). Likewise in Judges 16:28 "Adonai Yahweh" is replaced in the LXX by "Adonaie Kurie."] Some also hesitated to write the name in non-sacred texts such as commentaries on the Bible but would substitute some other Hebrew word that was clearly distinctive but not quite as holy. This may have lead to a Greek substitute for the Divine Name. It is commonly known that the Divine Name is typically translated as "Kurios" (Greek for "Lord"), presumably because the Divine Name was first substituted by the Hebrew "Adonai" which would have been translated into Greek as "Kurios." However, there may be another Greek substitute used to identify God.
In the Hebrew OT there is a phrase that is only used of God,
Hu (), translated
"I (am) He" in English, and occurs in only these seven places:
We do not know for sure whether Jesus spoke Aramaic or Greek in John
8 but it seems most logical that he spoke Aramaic. Jesus may have fulfilled
his claim of making the Father's name known (
) by using the culturally acceptable substitute "Ani Hu."
We do not know for sure. If Jesus had used Ani Hu at
it would seem almost certain that the Jews would have immediately seen
the connection with
and understood him to be claiming to be God, but they did not. One wonders
what Jesus said there if he spoke Aramaic. If he spoke Greek (the NT shows
eimi) the connection to the Divine Name is not quite so clear so the
Jews may have wondered if this was an intended parallel to the LXX at
I AM - what does it mean?
Genesis 26:3;31:3; Exodus 3:12, 14; 4:12,15; Deuteronomy 31:23; Joshua 1:5; 3:7; Judges 6:16; 11:9; Ruth 2:13; 1 Samuel 18:18; 23:17; 2 Samuel 7:6,9,14; 15:34; 16:18,19; 22:24; 1 Chronicles 17:5,8,13; 28:6; Job 3:16; 7:20; 10:19; 12:4; 17:6; Psalm 50:21; 102:7; Proverbs 8:30; Song of Solomon 1:7; Isaiah 3:7; 47:7; Jeremiah 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 14:11; 34:24; 36:28; 37:23; Hosea 1:9; 11:4; 14:5; Zechariah 2:5; 8:8;
Genesis 26:3 "Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham.
Genesis 31:3 Then the LORD said to Jacob, " Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you."
12 "Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say."
15 "You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do.
Deuteronomy 31:23 Then He commissioned Joshua the son of Nun, and said, " Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you."
Joshua 1:5 "No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.
Joshua 3:7 Now the LORD said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.
Judges 6:16 But the LORD said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man."
Judges 11:9 So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "If you take me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the LORD gives them up to me, will I become your head?"
Ruth 2:13 Then she said, "I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants."
1 Samuel 18:18 But David said to Saul, " Who am I, and what is my life or my father's family in Israel, that I should be the king's son-in-law?"
1 Samuel 23:17 Thus he said to him, "Do not be afraid, because the hand of Saul my father will not find you, and you will be king over Israel and I will be next to you; and Saul my father knows that also."
2 Samuel 7
2 Samuel 15:34 "But if you return to the city, and say to Absalom, 'I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father's servant in time past, so I will now be your servant,' then you can thwart the counsel of Ahithophel for me.
2 Samuel 16
2 Samuel 22:24 "I was also blameless toward Him, And I kept myself from my iniquity.
1 Chronicles 17
1 Chronicles 28:6 "He said to me, 'Your son Solomon is the one who shall build My house and My courts; for I have chosen him to be a son to Me, and I will be a father to him.
Job 3:16 "Or like a miscarriage which is discarded, I would not be, As infants that never saw light.
Job 7:20 " Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, So that I am a burden to myself?
Job 10:19 'I should have been as though I had not been, Carried from womb to tomb.'
Job 12:4 "I am a joke to my friends, The one who called on God and He answered him; The just and blameless man is a joke.
Job 17:6 "But He has made me a byword of the people, And I am one at whom men spit.
Psalm 50:21 "These things you have done and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.
Psalm 102:7 I lie awake, I have become like a lonely bird on a housetop.
Proverbs 8:30 Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him,
Song of Solomon 1:7 "Tell me, O you whom my soul loves, Where do you pasture your flock, Where do you make it lie down at noon? For why should I be like one who veils herself Beside the flocks of your companions?"
Isaiah 3:7 He will protest on that day, saying, "I will not be your healer, For in my house there is neither bread nor cloak; You should not appoint me ruler of the people."
Isaiah 47:7 "Yet you said, 'I will be a queen forever.' These things you did not consider Nor remember the outcome of them.
Jeremiah 11:4 which I commanded your forefathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, ' Listen to My voice, and do according to all which I command you; so you shall be My people, and I will be your God,'
Jeremiah 24:7 'I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.
Jeremiah 30:22 'You shall be My people, And I will be your God.'"
Jeremiah 31:1 "At that time," declares the LORD, "I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people."
Jeremiah 32:38 "They shall be My people, and I will be their God;
Ezekiel 11:20 that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.
Ezekiel 14:11 in order that the house of Israel may no longer stray from Me and no longer defile themselves with all their transgressions. Thus they will be My people, and I shall be their God,"' declares the Lord GOD."
Ezekiel 34:24 "And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the LORD have spoken.
Ezekiel 36:28 "You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.
Ezekiel 37:23 "They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.
Hosea 1:9 And the LORD said, "Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God."
Hosea 11:4 I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love, And I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws; And I bent down and fed them.
Hosea 14:5 I will be like the dew to Israel; He will blossom like the lily, And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon.
Zechariah 2:5 'For I,' declares the LORD, 'will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.'"
Zechariah 8:8 and I will bring them back and they will live in the midst
of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God
in truth and righteousness.'
List of verses used:
List of verses used, sorted by book and chapter: