Tuesday, 8 May 2012

"I am" and "I have been" in 1985

In the 1985 edition of The Kingdom Interlinear Translation it renders ἐγὼ εἰμί in John 8:58 as "I have been". In this edition there is a different footnote to the 1969 edition and it points to a new appendix item (click to enlarge):

page 451 of the 1985 Kingdom Interlinear Translation
page 1145 of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation

page 1146 of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation 

English translations from Syriac, Georgian and Ethiopic are not relevant
At the start of the appendix there is one reference to John 8:58 been translated to say "I have been" and four other translations to say "I was". These examples are quite interesting and reaching a bit. These translations are not from Greek, so I'm not sure why they are used to support the translation of the Greek text.

These translations are 19th century English translations of fifth and six century Syrian, Georgian or Ethiopian translations that came from possibly first or second century Greek. Agnes Smith Lewis' translation from the Syriac does say "I have been", but as the appendix points out others translate it to say "I was". Still again John Wesley's and John W. Etheridge's translations have "I AM". I have no idea about Syriac but it seems that there are differing opinions, and again, this has moved away from a Greek translation debate. I do not think that these translation cited in the appendix were influential on the original Greek because they all came a few hundred years after it!

Changing from a present to a perfect tense requires something to have BEGUN. John 8:58 is about something BEFORE
The appendix makes the same point as the footnote on page 451 above. It states some biblical support for the change from a first person singular present to a perfect, it says:
The action expressed in John 8:58 started "before Abraham came into existence" and is still in progress. In such situation εἰμί(eimi'), which is the first-person singular present indicative, is properly translated by the perfect indicative. Examples of the same syntax can be found in Luke 2:48; 13:7; 15:29; John 5:6; 14:9; 15:27; Acts 15:21; 2 Corinthians 12:19; 1 John 3:8
When it says "examples of the same syntax" it must not mean examples of εἰμί as only one of these verses contain εἰμί (John 14:9) and it can not mean examples of first-person singular present indicative as only two more of these examples contain one (Luke 13:7εὑρίσκω; Luke 15:29δουλεύω), but it must mean that present tense verbs regardless of number or person can be changed to a perfect regardless of number or person. The rules they cite for this grammatical change from G.B Winer and Nigel Turner's Greek books state that:
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;

The present which indicates the continuance of an action during the past and up to the moment of speaking is virually the same as Perfective, the only difference being that the action is conceived as still in progress...
The key things in this rule is that it has to do with something that has started and still continues in the present. In the examples cited above we see that some parents had been searching (and were up till now) (Luke 2:48); a tree had been three years without fruit (and still wasn't with fruit) (Luke 13:7); the son had been with the father many years (and he still was with the father) (Luke 15:29); a guy had been lying down for a long time (and still was lying down) (John 5:6); Jesus had been with Philip a long time (and still was with Philip to ask the question) (John 14:9); people had been with Jesus from the beginning (and they still were with Jesus) (John 15:27); Moses has been read from ancient generations (and was still read every Sabbath) (Acts 15:21);  Paul asked if they were thinking all along (and if they were still thinking it now) (2 Cor 12:19); and the devil had been sinning from the beginning (and still sins today) (1 John 3:8). In all these examples we can see that something had been happening and is still in progress.

In John 8:58 the key issue is if this version mentions an action that is still in progress. A direct word-for-word translation of John 8:58 says:
Said to them Jesus, truly truly I say to you, before Abraham was I am
The action in this verse is "before Abraham was". Here the action occurs before something, it is not something that has started and now continues. Jesus is making a claim before an action, before Abraham existed. If I speak of an event happened before something else, I am looking backwards in time, not continually or presently.

The translators rule in the appendix seems to be correct, but the application of it to John 8:58 isn't. Both translators do cite John 8:58 as an example where this rule can be used, but they do not mesh with lots of other scholars. Surprisingly, in the same Greek book by Winer, on page 130 he claims that Titus 2:13 grammatically may say that Jesus is the great God, but he doesn't think Paul was doctrinally convinced of this and that Jesus was just the great saviour (implicitly not God). Statements like that make me wonder if Winer also applies the same reasoning with John 8:58. Grammatically it could say "I am", but since it doesn't align with what he thinks Jesus' doctrinal convictions were, it would be better to say "I have been"...

"I am he" in 1 Chronicles 21:17 and "I am" in context of John 8:58
The appendix then says the phrase "I am" in Greek (ἐγὼ εἰμί) is not that divine as a man (David) used that phrase (originally in Hebrew) in 1 Chronicles 21:17. This is a strange defence. If someone asked you if you are reading this blog and you respond "I am", that doesn't mean you are claiming to be God; you are just owning up to having too much time on your hands.

The context of the phrase "I am" needs to always be considered. A quick search in the ESV shows that "I am" is mentioned 887 times which includes Abraham (Gen 22:11; 23:4), Esau (Gen 25:32; 27:1), Jacob (Gen 27:18; 19) etc...talking about themselves ("I am" is mentioned 18 times in these 5 chapters from Genesis). The point is, context is important.

In the context of John 8 Jesus had been making some outrageous claims and even called the Jews sons of the Devil. Even after Jesus calls them names, they did not want to kill Him, it was only after the Jews asked who He thought His was and replied saying that He was "I am" that they wanted to stone Jesus. It seems pretty clear from the context, that Jesus was claiming to be one with the Father, who they called God (8:54). The Father had sent Jesus (8:16, 42) and bore witness about Jesus (8:18). Jesus said what the Father had to say (8:28). Jesus had seen things with the Father (8:38). Jesus claimed to be the light of the world (8:12) and Jesus honours the Father (8:53). When responding directly to the question “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”, Jesus reply was based on His age, to which Jesus responds that he was not only older than Abraham, but He is eternal. He is the ever present I am, who was before everything

I have already previously dealt with how I AM in John 8:58 is a reference to Exodus 3:14, despite the 1985 appendix saying otherwise. I also think, like the last sentence in this Appendix section, that Jesus and the Father are different persons, but I also think that Jesus is one with the Father (John 10:30, 14:9). But that debate is bigger than the Greek of John 8:58.

Wrapping this up
I am not convinced of the translation of John 8:58 in The Kingdom Interlinear Translation. I think Jesus is claiming to be God and this is why the Jews wanted to kill Jesus (see also John 10:30-31). Exodus 3:14 does contain ἐγὼ εἰμί and the rules cited to justify a change in tense do not hold up as they are to do with actions that have begun and not before actions that have started.

No major English translation of John 8:58 has rendered Jesus to say "I have been". Either translators since Tyndale (1526) to today have been stuffing up this verse, or The Kingdom Interlinear Translation is wrong.


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