Thursday, June 02, 2005

RB17935 - Rob #37: Final clarifications and answers 

(RB17935) - [Thu Jun 2, 2005 6:14 am ]Rob #37: Final clarifications and answers


I wrote a complete response to your last post, but I have decided not to post about half of that response due to its length. Instead, in this post I am going to offer some final comments on just a few select issues from that post, leaving aside such matters as your continuing to misunderstand or misrepresent my arguments. The issues that I will address here are those about which I think I have something fresh and instructive to say.


Your position earlier in the debate was that I and the many biblical scholars who have described EIMI in John 8:58 as ‘absolute’ were just plain wrong. In your opening post, regarding my citation of Robertson on this point in my book, you wrote:

He bases himself on A. T. Robertson, whose remark that eimi in the verse as “really absolute,” that is, without a complement in the sentence, is one of the rare foolish assertions Robertson makes. If this were the case, then what does one do with the prin clause? This is the problem with most translations of this passage. If “I am” stands by itself as some absolute statement by Jesus, then “before Abraham came to be” is not a part of the same sentence. But it is not a complete sentence in itself, so it must be part of the “I am” sentence and, of course, it forms part of the predicate of that sentence, as the adverbial clause modifying the “am.” Thus it is simply false to call eimi in any sense a predicate absolute. I really can’t imagine anything more obvious on the page of the text in front of us than that. (pp. 8-9)

Please note: your position was that “it is SIMPLY FALSE to call eimi IN ANY SENSE a predicate absolute”; nothing could be “more OBVIOUS ON THE PAGE OF THE TEXT in front of us than that”; and Robertson, though a renowned Greek scholar, made a “FOOLISH assertion” in saying that EIMI is absolute.

After I documented that describing EIMI in John 8:58 as ‘absolute’ is pervasive in Johannine scholarship and explained what it meant, you wrote:

So now, thanks to your good detective work, I must admit to a mistake since, as you point out, I had said that EGW EIMI was not "in any sense" a predicate absolute…. I should have said "in any sense relevant to the issues we are debating," since obviously we agree that it does not involve a predicate noun or adjective. So feel free to make any ground you can in your argument by celebrating my free admission that the main clause of John 8:58 does not contain a predicate noun or adjective. (p. 259)

As stated above, your position now is that EIMI is not ‘absolute’ in any sense relevant to the question of whether EIMI is a PPA, or more broadly to the question of how the verse should be translated. Later, though, you asserted that I didn’t even understand the meaning of the word ‘absolute,’ to which I replied by (among other things) quoting a neutral source, ancient Greek scholar Charles Kahn’s book on the Greek be-verb, whose definition agreed with my own. In response, you wrote:

You wrote:

It was unfair of me to say that you didn't understand the meaning of the word. What you don't understand is how calling EIMI an "absolute" by any of the definitions of that term you have cited fails to provide even the slightest support for your position.

However, this claim that my rather standard definition of ‘absolute’ doesn’t support my position is based on your caricature of my view as completely dissociating the main verb EIMI from the temporal dependent clause:

So then, Rob, what advance of your position does it make to use "absolute" in this sense, since such a use of the term does not disassociate the verb from its adverbial modification? I can't imagine how you thought this would help you.

I have answered this same old tired misunderstanding of my argument many times. I do not ‘disassociate’ EIMI from the dependent clause; I simply argue that the function of that clause is not to modify the verb EIMI in the way that you claim, namely, to modify it to express past action still in progress (the PPA).

You wrote:

Which brings us back to Robertson. I have pointed out how in your book you foisted your own assumption about what "absolute" means onto Robertson's terse statement that EIMI in John 8:58 is absolute, by claiming to provide what Robertson means by the term. Your reader would naturally assume that you derived that meaning from other things Robertson says about "absolute."

Maybe *you* would “naturally assume” that to be the case, but a better reader would have checked the endnote at the end of the sentence in which I defined what ‘absolute’ meant. There he or she would find that I explained that the major NT grammars (which of course would include Robertson) did not have a section specifically on absolute constructions, and that I cited in that endnote three representative secondary sources that offered a discussion of the absolute use of the verb (Appold, Barclay, and Brown).

You wrote:

What you go on to say about how you would now qualify what you said in your book is as illegitimate as the original statement. What Robertson means by "absolute" in reference to John 8:58 must have something to do with why he hesitates to identify it as a PPA, since that is the context in which he makes the reference. It would be nonsensical to say a verb is not a PPA because it does not have a subject complement. The presence or absence of a subject complement has nothing to do with whether a verb is or is not a PPA. One might suggest, then, that Robertson meant what Kahn means by "absolute," since Kahn's remark has to do with existential usages of EIMI and we know that Robertson construes EIMI in John 8:58 as an existential. But if he had the same definition of "absolute" as Kahn, this would not be a reason why the verb could not be a PPA, since Kahn says that his meaning of "absolute" includes temporal adverbial modification. So we are left with the only remaining possibility, that Robertson meant "absolute" in its general sense of completely unmodified, which as I have said, is a foolish claim to make about EIMI in John 8:58 and we must regard as a mistake on Robertson's part, influenced by the traditional translation which does indeed treat the verb as "absolute" in this sense, as completely unmodified.

I think you dismissed too easily the possibility that by ‘absolute’ Robertson meant the same thing, or essentially the same thing, as Kahn. Some sort of ‘temporal adverbial modification’ is consistent with Robertson’s point as long as it is not construed as modifying the tense from present tense to past tense. (‘Modification’ is quite a broad term.) It is surely an illicit procedure to argue that Robertson must have meant something foolish and obviously nonsensical in order to make sense of his statement.

The definition of ‘absolute’ given by Kahn is broader than excluding merely subject complements. Let me quote it again:

“By an absolute construction I mean that there is no nominal or locative predicate and no other complement such as the possessive dative, nor even an adverb of manner. An absolute construction may, however, admit adverbs of time” (Charles H. Kahn, _The Verb “Be” in Ancient Greek_, 240).

With this definition in mind, I think it will be helpful to advance the discussion by addressing further the relevance of the absolute use of EIMI in John 8:58 to the question of whether or not it is a PPA. Let’s review quickly the texts you have cited using a form of EIMI as grammatical parallels to John 8:58.

There is only one instance of EIMI or one of its forms being used in an absolute construction in the above texts: Psalm 89:2 LXX. I have already explained why EI is best translated here using the present tense “are.” Despite our disagreement as to whether EI is a PPA (you say yes, I say no), we agree that in this particular text the present tense EI is being used to express everlasting existence. Furthermore, to my knowledge no one (besides you) has ever translated SU EI in this verse as “you have been” (nor has the underlying Hebrew ever been translated that way; all of the English versions I checked, including the NWT, have “you are God”). So Psalm 89:2 LXX is not really any help in establishing your view of John 8:58; the more you press Psalm 89:2 LXX as a parallel, the better I like it.

Setting Psalm 89:2 LXX aside, then, not one of the other texts you have cited as supposed grammatical parallels to John 8:58 has a form of EIMI used in an absolute construction. These other texts all have subject complements (“friend,” Menander; “Jobab,” Testament of Job; “gorer,” Ex. 21:36) or adjectival complements (adjective, “fit,” Ex. 4:10; prepositional phrase, “with you/me,” John 14:9; 15:27; “in the darkness,” 1 John 2:9). The prepositional phrases fall into the category of “locative predicates” mentioned by Kahn. Now, why is it significant that none of these texts have EIMI used in an absolute construction? I think my answer, given in my book 16 years ago, is still on target:

“A study of the relevant passages [using the PPA in the usual, narrow sense] shows that none of them occur with predicate absolutes. Nor, apparently, _could_ a predicate absolute be a PPA, since a predicate absolute does not express an action or ongoing event, nor even an ongoing specific condition, but rather simply existence” (_Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John_, 107).

Note, not “SIMPLE existence,” but “SIMPLY existence”: that the existence is not ‘simple’ is evident from the adverbial clause, which makes Jesus’ present existence antecedent to and contrast with the coming into existence of Abraham. But the point is that the verb EIMI does not express a specific action, ongoing event, or condition. The sentence does not say that Jesus has been doing this or that, or that he has been located here or there, or that he has been in some condition or other, extending from the past into the present. The ‘absolute’ use of EIMI is a distinct verbal phenomenon and cannot be treated like any other present-tense verb.

Now, when one puts together the fact that the absolute use of EIMI in a PPA is both unprecedented and linguistically questionable with the fact that the dependent clause PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is not the usual sort of PPA temporal marker expressing extension from the past into the present, but instead marking a point in the past to which the state expressed by the absolute EIMI is denotatively antecedent, we have a very strong case against construing EIMI as a PPA, at least as usually understood.


We have had so much on the table to discuss over the past ten months that I have yet to bring up a point that so far has not been noticed. Several times in this debate you argued that EIMI in John 8:58 should be construed ‘existentially’ and for that reason the translation “am” is not
grammatically proper English. Modern English, you have insisted, requires us to say “I exist” rather than “I am” to express the existence of the subject. Toward the end of the debate, you suggested that I might construe EIMI copulatively but then I would have to add “he,” thereby abandoning the conventional translation. If I construe it existentially, though, you have argued that I still lose the debate because “am” is an improper rendering of EIMI used existentially; I should have to adopt “I exist” instead of “I am,” once again abandoning the conventional translation.

I have rejected the above dilemma and argued that “I am” is suitable for expressing the ambiguity of the original, in which both the copulative (“I am [he]”) and the existential (“I exist”) are possible connotations. However, here I wish to make a supplementary observation of some significance. The fact is that ‘have been’ is just a different tense form of ‘am.’ To be specific, it is the present perfect tense of ‘am,’ formed from the auxiliary verb ‘have’ and ‘been,’ the past participle form of ‘am’ (or of ‘be,’ the lexical form). If ‘am’ cannot be used to express existence, then neither can ‘have been.’ (The same applies to the verb ‘was,’ which is the simple past tense form of ‘am.’) And this leads me to the observation that the NWT rendering, “I have been,” would be just as faulty English in this respect as “I am.” In fact, your proposed translation, “I have been (since) before Abraham came to be” (_Truth in Translation_, 106; “…before Abraham was born,” our debate, pp. 216, 418), would also have to be judged defective in this respect.

Fortunately for both of our translations, the be-verb, including the forms “am” and “have been,” can be used to express existence in modern English. This usage is still treated as legitimate, non-archaic English in contemporary English references:

_The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language_, 4th edition (Houghton Mifflin, 2000), under ‘be,’ lists the following as its first definition: “To exist in actuality; have life or reality: _I think, therefore I am_” (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=be).

The _Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary_ under ‘be’: “*2 a :* to have an objective existence : have reality or actuality : LIVE ” (http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=be&x=19&y=15).

Both of these works under ‘be’ have another usage that they do identify as archaic, but not this usage.

Now, I suppose you could quibble with these two dictionaries. You might complain that both of them use the same example and that the example is in some respects archaic (which is what you said when I used the same example). But really, I think that’s a losing proposition. If these two contemporary English dictionaries list this usage as a legitimate modern usage (and again, in the same entry they mark out other usages, but not this one, as archaic), then I think we’ll have to give the NASB and NRSV and other modern English versions of the Bible a passing grade on this point of grammar.

On a related point, your claim that the conventional translation is poor English because it leaves “am” hanging without a complement actually applies equally to your proposed translation. You have argued that reversing the clauses, that is, having the dependent clause follow the main clause (“I have been” followed by “since before Abraham was born”), is essential to “comprehensible, good quality English” (_Truth in Translation_, 107, and
several times in this debate). You argue that translators follow this rule in other verses but because of theological bias “suddenly forget how to translate” (cf. _Truth in Translation_, 109). However, even assuming for the sake of argument that the function of the dependent clause PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is exactly what you have claimed all along, namely, as the temporal adverbial marker of EIMI as a PPA, reversing the clauses does nothing to keep “have been” from ‘hanging’ grammatically.

You may remember that toward the very beginning of the debate I pointed out that the temporal words and phrases that mark the PPA are in the NRSV (for example) often placed before the main verb rather than after. You had an answer to that point, which I will address shortly. But first, I think it will be helpful to expand on the point I had made. Below I list a number of verses that we agree use the PPA (and a few that I have disputed, just for good measure, which for sake of argument I will here treat as PPAs). In each case, we can translate the verse with the temporal marker of the PPA before or after the main verb and the sentence will be acceptable English in either case. In what follows, the first sentence places the temporal marker before the PPA verb; the second sentence places it after the PPA verb. While in some instances one word order may be more stylistically pleasing than another, in all of these examples the sentences are grammatically acceptable.

Jeremiah 1:5 LXX
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”
“I knew you before I formed you in the womb.”

Luke 13:7:
“Look, for three years I have been coming searching for fruit.”
“Look, I have been coming searching for fruit for three years.”

Luke 15:29:
“Look, all these years I have been serving you.”
“Look, I have been serving you all these years.”

John 5:6:
“Jesus...knowing that (for) a long time already he had been that way....”
“Jesus...knowing that he had been that way (for) a long time already....”

Acts 15:21:
“For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him.”
“For Moses has had from ancient generations in every city those who preach him.”

2 Corinthians 12:19:
“All this time, have you been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you?”
“Have you been thinking all this time that we are defending ourselves to you?”

2 Timothy 3:15:
“...and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings.”
“...and that you have known the sacred writings from childhood.”

2 Peter 3:4:
“For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have remained the same from the beginning of creation.”
“For all things have remained the same from the beginning of creation, ever since the fathers fell asleep.”

1 John 3:8:
“...from the beginning the devil has been sinning.”
“...the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”

When I gave a few examples like these from the NRSV early in our debate, you admitted that your criticism of the conventional word order for John 8:58 as worded in your book was flawed and explained that the problem applied particularly to sentences using the be-verb:

You have rightly pointed out that in my book I did not seem to note the general flexibility found in modern English in placing subordinate clauses relative to the main verb. I skipped right over that fact, although I shouldn't have, for the simple reason that it [sic] this general flexibility of placement of a subordinated predicate complement is not found in connection with the English be-verb. (p. 38)

However, if we ‘compare apples with apples,’ that is, if we look at putative PPA texts using the Greek be-verb and translated using a form of the English be-verb, we find the same “flexibility of placement” of the temporal marker of the PPA:

Exodus 4:10:
“Lord, in the past I have not been fit.”
“Lord, I have not been fit in the past.”

Exodus 21:36:
“But if it is known that the bull has been a gorer in the past....”
“But if it is known that in the past the bull has been a gorer....”

John 14:9:
“(For) so long a time I have been with you.”
“I have been with you (for) so long a time.”

John 15:27:
“And you testify, because from the beginning you have been with me.”
“And you testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

1 John 2:9:
“The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother up to now has been in the darkness.”
“The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother has been in the darkness up to now.”

Menander, _Dyscolos_ 615-16:
“For assuredly for a long time, even before I saw you, I have been your friend.”
“For assuredly for a long time I have been your friend, even before I saw you.”
“For assuredly I have been your friend for a long time, even before I saw you.”

Testament of Job 2:1:
“For before the Lord named me Job, I was Jobab.”
“For I was Jobab before the Lord named me Job.”

Notice that this flexibility applies even in Testament of Job 2:1, where the temporal marker “before the Lord named me Job” is exactly the same kind of grammatical unit (an aorist infinitive dependent clause of antecedent time) as found in John 8:58.

Where English truly does exhibit a lack of flexibility in word order in relation to the be-verb is when the be-verb is used as a linking verb or copula. Thus, using the above examples, the following sentences would obviously be ungrammatical:

Exodus 4:10:
“Lord, in the past FIT I have not been.”

Exodus 21:36:
“But if it is known that in the past the bull A GORER has been....”

John 14:9:
“(For) so long a time WITH YOU I have been.”

John 15:27:
“And you testify, because from the beginning WITH ME you have been.”

1 John 2:9:
“The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother up to now IN THE DARKNESS has been.”

Menander, _Dyscolos_ 615-16:
“For assuredly for a long time, even before I saw you, YOUR FRIEND I have been.”

Testament of Job 2:1:
“For before the Lord named me Job, JOBAB I was.”

All of these sentences are ungrammatical because the subject or adjectival complement improperly precedes rather than follows the verb. The position of the temporal adverbial is *not*, however, ungrammatical. Testament of Job 2:1, which you introduced into the discussion, nicely illustrates the point: placing “before the Lord named me Jobab” before the verb “was” is not ungrammatical, but placing “Jobab” before “was” clearly is ungrammatical. Thus, your correspondent’s description (which you endorsed) of the conventional translation of John 8:58 as “Yoda English” is incorrect (p. 53). The above sentences do sound like “Yoda English” because they place the subject or adjectival complement prior to the copulative be-verb. The placement of the adverbial words or phrases prior to the copulative be-verb, on the other hand, is not ungrammatical. Thus, in the sentence, “Before Abraham came into being, I am,” there is nothing grammatically wrong with placing the dependent clause prior to the main verb. Your mistake is in thinking that the dependent clause has the same sort of grammatical function as “Jobab” in Testament of Job 2:1, whereas of course the grammatical function of the dependent clause “before Abraham came into being” is instead identical to the grammatical function of the dependent clause “before the Lord named me Jobab.”

The only way to salvage your criticism of the word order of John 8:58 is to argue that “am” cannot be used existentially and must be followed by some sort of complement. This is precisely the claim that you made early in our debate:

The English be-verb, whether used as a copula or existentially, always has an explicit or implicit predicate complement that completes the idea of the verb. The English be-verb is incomplete without such a complement, whether it be a noun, adjective, or adverb. The English be-verb cannot stand alone without such an explicit or implicit complement as a self-standing meaningful expression, as far as I know. (p. 38)

Your statements here are mistaken in a couple of respects. Let me focus first on the use of the English be-verb as a copula. As the above examples illustrate, adverbials, and particularly adverbials of time such as “from the beginning” or “before the Lord named me Jobab” or “before Abraham came into being,” do not function as such complements of the English copulative be-verb. That function is performed by nouns, adjectives, locative prepositional phrases, and the like. When the be-verb is used copulatively, some such complement must be expressed, either explicitly in the sentence itself or implicitly in the immediately preceding context (“Is anyone here a doctor?” “I am.”). The fact is that such a complement is lacking both in the NWT rendering of John 8:58 and in the rendering you have proposed:

“Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”
“I have been (since) before Abraham was born.”

Moving “I have been” to the front of the sentence does not change the fact that “(since) before Abraham was born” does not function as the obligatory complement required if “have been” is understood to function as a copula or linking verb. That is, “before Abraham was born” is not linked or copulated to the subject by the verb “have been.” You can see this from the example of Testament of Job 2:1, as discussed above. Here are additional examples of English sentences that illustrate the point:

“I am at home today.” (okay)
“Today I am at home.” (okay)
“I am today.” (problematic)
“Today I am.” (problematic)

“Jason has been a member of this group for almost a year.” (okay)
“For almost a year Jason has been a member of this group.” (okay)
“Jason has been for almost a year.” (problematic)
“For almost a year Jason has been.” (problematic)

“I have been in California since the beginning of 2001.” (okay)
“Since the beginning of 2001, I have been in California.” (okay)
“I have been since the beginning of 2001.” (problematic)
“Since the beginning of 2001, I have been.” (problematic)

In each group of sentences, the first two sentences are both grammatically “okay” regardless of where the adverbial is placed in the sentence. The third and fourth sentences in each group are “problematic” because the sentences are formally incomplete: they are missing the obligatory complement that normally should follow the linking verb. This is just as true of the sentences in which the be-verb precedes the adverbial as it is of the sentences that end with the be-verb. Informally, of course, we use such sentences in ordinary speech when the complement is understood from what has immediately preceded. Thus, in answer to the question, “Are you working at home?” one may reply, “I am today” or “Today I am.” It is not the position of the adverbial (in this case, “today”) that is problematic; what is problematic is the fact that a linking verb has nothing to link to the subject (again, unless it is implied in the immediately preceding context, in which case the sentence is formally incomplete but informally acceptable). And here’s the point: This grammatical condition of being formally incomplete when such a complement is missing applies equally to the present perfect “have been” as it does to the present “am,” when either is used copulatively.

Now, what about the existential use of the English be-verb? You asserted that even when it is used existentially, the English be-verb requires an explicit or implicit complement. This is an odd assertion, given your other claim that the English be-verb in modern English cannot be used existentially. In any case, I see no evidence to support your assertion. When either “have been” or “am” is used existentially, there is nothing formally incomplete or ungrammatical about the verb occurring in a sentence without such an obligatory complement following it. The be-verb can come at the very end of the sentence when it is not functioning as a linking verb or copula. There is nothing grammatically wrong with such a sentence. I have documented this point from the two dictionaries quoted earlier, which give an example sentence fitting this description. Thus, both the NWT rendering (“…I have been”) and the conventional rendering (“...I am”) are perfectly correct from the standpoint of formal grammar, given that the function of the verb is existential rather than copulative.

In this section, then, I have shown that the existential use of “am” or “have been” in modern English is perfectly legitimate. If you say “am” cannot be used that way, then neither can “have been” (as it is so used in the NWT and your own proposed translation), but in fact either can be so used according to contemporary standard dictionaries. I have also shown that the placement of the adverbial clause prior to the main verb is perfectly acceptable grammar in modern English, whether the verb is a form of the English be-verb or not. Furthermore, I have shown that the adverbial does not function as an obligatory complement to the English be-verb, whether used copulatively or existentially. When the be-verb is used copulatively, some obligatory complement must be explicit or implied, and when it is explicit it must follow the verb. When the be-verb is used existentially, it does not require a complement, and any adverbial used with it may appear before or after the verb. Thus, your criticisms of the conventional English translation with regards to word order and the lack of any complement following “am” appear to be without merit.


You wrote:

Now let's return to an issue that you have made much of. In your post #17, you sought to justify your use of the term `absolute' by citing biblical scholars whose authority you contended was sufficient to prove your usage.

Things must be going badly for you if you find it either necessary or useful to repeat misrepresentations that have already been thoroughly refuted. I cited these biblical scholars only to refute your assertion that nothing could be more obvious on the page than that EIMI is not absolute, so that Robertson’s saying so was downright foolish. My citations of scholars were offered, not “to prove [my] usage,” but to prove your dogmatic assertion to be the overstatement of the debate.

You continued:

Two of the four you cited are obscure figures, while the other two were Philip Harner and Raymond Brown.

I cited (in addition to Robertson) Thatcher, Lincoln, Ball, Harner, and Brown. Of these, only Thatcher may be fairly described as obscure. Lincoln is a significant NT scholar, not an obscure one, despite your saying so. Ball is not a major NT scholar, but his published dissertation on the Johannine ‘I am’ sayings is already widely cited in Johannine scholarship and so in this context cannot be characterized as obscure.

You had written:

Brown, Harner, and Ball all buy into the great `I AM' nonsense (that Jesus is invoking Exodus 3:14 even when he says things like `Hi, it's me,' and `I'm the one you're looking for'), and this dictates their supposedly grammatical analysis."

I replied in my post #30:

“Absolutely false. All three writers relate some or many of Jesus’ EGW EIMI sayings in John to the ‘I am’ sayings of God in Isaiah. However, they nuance even this association, and they do not claim that Jesus is alluding to, let alone invoking, Exodus 3:14 in *any* of those sayings. Raymond Brown barely mentions Exodus 3:14 once in his appendix on the ‘I am’ sayings (Brown, _The Gospel according to John_, 1:533-38), and only part of the OT background to the sayings (536). He does not even mention Exodus 3:14 in his comments on John 8:58 (360, 367-68). In Philip Harner’s _The ‘I Am’ of the Fourth Gospel_, the primary OT source for Jesus’ sayings is identified as the ANI HU sayings in Isaiah (6-15). Regarding Exodus 3:14, Harner argues that it ‘can hardly be considered a direct source for an absolute use of _ego eimi_ in the Fourth Gospel,’ although ‘we should not entirely exclude the I AM of Exodus 3:14 as part of the more general background’ (17). Later, in his chapter discussing specific ‘I am’ sayings in John, Harner compares these texts to the sayings of God in Isaiah but does not even mention Exodus 3:14 (37-48). In his conclusion he comments that in the EGW EIMI sayings in John “we have not found any specific aspects of the phrase that would be especially reminiscent of Exodus 3:14” (60). In David Mark Ball’s 300-page book _‘I Am’ in John’s Gospel_, according to the index, he refers to Exodus 3:14 only once, in a brief comment about Harner’s view (34).

It might be a good idea to READ these scholars before accusing them of ‘nonsense’” (p. 368).

You attempt to defend your characterization of Harner and Brown (but not of Ball, about whom you say nothing). Regarding Harner, you write:

If you look back to the quote from Harner, page 17 that you supplied in your post #30, you will see that he uses precisely this all capitalized form "I AM" that treats it as a divine name. Of this all capitalized form you had said in your post #5, "I agree that the versions using such capitalization have tipped their hand" as to their "understanding" of John 8:58 in connection with Exod. 3:14 as a divine name. So we can see that by that criterion, Harner does indeed "buy into the `I AM' nonsense," even though you said it was "absolutely false" for me to say that he did.

Yes, let’s look back at the quote from Harner that I supplied in my post #30. I have already quoted it in context above. Here is the specific sentence to which you refer:

“Regarding Exodus 3:14, Harner argues that it ‘can hardly be considered a direct source for an absolute use of _ego eimi_ in the Fourth Gospel,’ although ‘we should not entirely exclude the I AM of Exodus 3:14 as part of the more general background’ (17).”
As anyone can see, when Harner capitalizes “I AM” in the quote above, he is referring directly and solely to Exodus 3:14, not quoting John 8:58. In fact, he is *denying* that Exodus 3:14 is “a direct source” for the wording of John 8:58 while allowing that it may be “part of the more general background.”

Of course, you made no attempt to refute my observation that when Harner discusses the specific EGW EIMI sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John, he compares them frequently to sayings of God in Isaiah but “does not even mentions Exodus 3:14 (37-48).”

So much for Harner, then. Your characterization of his position was just as wrong as I said it was.

You try a little harder with Brown. Again, you argue that Brown’s use of “I AM” in all quotes proves that he is associating Jesus’ words in John 8:58 with Exodus 3:14:

You should have stopped goading me about not reading them, Rob, because now I have gone down to the library and pulled Brown off the shelf. And of course I have found, in a consistent pattern we have seen throughout this debate, that you have misled us about what he says also. First of all, in your original citation from him, you listed the verses he cited in the category of the "absolute use": John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19. If you had actually quoted the verses as he gives them in this discussion (page 533), we all would have seen that in every case he translates "I AM" in all capitals, which you agreed back in your post #5 "tips (his) hand" as to associating the verse with "I AM" as a divine name supposedly given in Exod. 3:14. He uses the same all capitalized form, I AM, in the main body of his translation at 8:58 (page 354).

First of all, Brown’s capitalizing “I AM” in his quotations of these texts does not prove that he was associating John 8:58 with Exodus 3:14. In fact, that is not what he was doing. We know this because we have his whole commentary to consult, and we can see that he consistently associates these texts with the Isaianic sayings of God, not with Exodus 3:14. I will reiterate the evidence on this point shortly. As to what I said in post #5, here is what I actually wrote:

“The third ‘anomaly,’ namely, the use of unusual capitalization—‘I AM’ or ‘I Am’—applies to only a few English versions. Moreover, in this case one can hardly blame the KJV, since it does not employ such unusual capitalization at John 8:58. I agree that the versions using such capitalization have tipped their hand; or, to put it more neutrally, they have made their understanding of the text more explicit.”

In saying that the use of all capitals in these few English versions “tipped their hand” in that it “made their understanding of the text more explicit,” I said nothing about Exodus 3:14 per se. Some or all of those translators may indeed have had Exodus 3:14 in mind; I believe that one or two of them make that explicit with a cross-reference or note. But this doesn’t mean that everyone who uses all capitals when quoting or translating John 8:58 is connecting it with Exodus 3:14. Specifically, if you read Brown more carefully, you’ll see that he is not making that connection.

You wrote:

In his comment on this verse (page 367), he refers to "the divine name, `I AM'" and when we return to Appendix IV, from which you quoted, we see that there, too, he refers to "EGW EIMI employed as a divine name in the OT" (page 533).

There is a reason for the vagueness of your report as to what Brown actually said: “he refers to ‘the divine name’” is not the same thing as Brown equating or associating John 8:58 specifically with Exodus 3:14. I will demonstrate this fact below.

You wrote:

The analysis of various uses of "I am . . ." in the OT and in Jewish and pagan literature includes discussion of where the verb functions as a copula with a predicate, which Brown also regards as divine revelation, even though the pronoun and verb do not function as a name in these many cases. This leads him to discussion of the ANI HU passages, which he understands as "I am he," and so not a divine name, even though rendered in the LXX as EGW EIMI (page 536). He goes on to suggest that it was through the medium of the Greek of the LXX in Isaiah that EGW EIMI might have come to be seen as a title. He includes Exod. 3:14 in his discussion as "the all-important text for the meaning of `Yahweh'": its Hebrew meaning as `He who causes to be' is part of the background, and its LXX rendering as `I am the Existing One' part of the development of a shift or "tendency" in the reading of EGW EIMI away from identity in a copulative expression and towards a stress on "existence" (page 536). Thus to claim that Brown "barely mentions" the Exodus passage is at best shows a poor grasp of the significance it has in his discussion.

Again, you have danced around the text of Brown to try to salvage your misreading of his commentary, but it won’t work. I never denied that Brown saw Exodus 3:14 as figuring somehow in the history of the theological use of EGW EIMI in biblical literature. I said that Exodus 3:14 is barely mentioned (which is true) and that it recedes into the deeper background, with the Isaiah sayings of God coming forward as the primary Old Testament antecedents to the Johannine EGW EIMI sayings.

Let me give those who don’t have access to Brown’s commentary a better review of the relevant material in his appendix. Under the heading, “The Background of Johannine Usage” (of EGW EIMI), he dismisses in a paragraph the search for that background in paganism (535). He then says, “The OT offers excellent examples of the use of ‘I am,’ including the only good examples of the absolute use” (535). He reviews Zimmerman’s treatment of the “I am Yahweh” or “I am God” statement in the OT, “for the absolute use of ‘I am’ is a variant of this statement” (535). Next, he writes:

“A use that is more closely associated with revelation is where God promises, ‘You shall know that I am Yahweh…. This OT use offers interesting parallels for class (1) of the Johannine “I AM” statements. There Jesus says that men will come to know or believe that “I AM.” In John viii 24 this is related to God’s punishing judgment; in viii 28 it is related to the great salvific action of death, resurrection, and ascension” (536).

Note that the “I AM” sayings in John that Brown expresses using all capitals, specifically 8:24 and 8:28, are explicitly compared here, not to Exodus 3:14, but to other OT sayings of God of the type “you shall know that I am Yahweh.”

Next comes the only paragraph in the appendix to mention Exodus 3:14. Brown writes:

“The most important use of the OT formula ‘I am Yahweh’ stresses the unicity of God: I am Yahweh and there is no other. This use occurs six times in Deutero-Isaiah, as well as in Hos xiii 4 and Joel ii 27. The Hebrew _’anî YHWH_ in Isa xlv 18 is translated in LXX simply as _egô eimi_. In this use which stresses unicity a Hebrew alternative for _’anî YHWH_ is _’anî hû_ (‘I [am] He’), and the latter expression is always translated in LXX as _egô eimi_. Now, as the formula stands in the Hebrew text of Isaiah, it is clearly meant to stress that Yahweh is the only God. We pointed out in discussing the banal use of _egô eimi_ that it normally means ‘I am he’ or ‘I am the one,’ and so it is quite appropriate as a translation for _’anî hû_. Nevertheless, since the predicate ‘He’ is not expressed in the Greek, there was a tendency in LXX for the formula to stress not only the unicity of God but also His existence. We see this same tendency at work in LXX translation of Ex iii 14, the all-important text for the meaning of ‘Yahweh.’: If we understand ‘Yahweh’ as derived from a causative form (see F. M. Cross...), the Hebrew reads, ‘I am who cause to be,’ or perhaps more originally in the third person, ‘I am “He who causes to be.”’ But LXX reads, ‘I am the Existing One,’ using a participle of the verb ‘to be,’ and thus stressing divine existence” (536).

That is the only reference to Exodus 3:14 in Brown’s appendix. He devotes two sentences to Exodus 3:14, out of two and a half pages on the background of the Johannine sayings, and then only to mention that it illustrates the same tendency in the LXX as the Isaiah EGW EIMI sayings to use those words to express existence as well as the Lord’s unique deity. Thus, my comment that Brown “barely mentions” Exodus 3:14 in the appendix is quite justified, and what he does say about it cannot even begin to justify your claim that Brown (as well as Harner and Ball) was guilty of thinking “that Jesus is invoking Exodus 3:14 even when he says things like ‘Hi, it’s me,’ and ‘I’m the one you’re looking for’” (as you had claimed).

Brown goes on to write, “There is even evidence that the use of _egô eimi_ in LXX of Deutero-Isaiah came to be understood not only as a statement of divine unicity and existence, but also as a divine name. The Hebrew of Isa xliii 25 reads, ‘I, I am He who blots out transgressions.’ LXX translates the first part of this statement by using _egô eimi_ twice. This can mean, “I am He, I am He who blots out transgressions’; but it can also be interpreted, ‘I am “I AM” who blots out transgressions,’ a translation which makes _egô eimi_ a name. We have the same phenomenon in LXX of Isa li 12, ‘I am “I AM” who comforts you’” (536).

As you can see, Brown puts “I AM” in all capitals when he thinks it is being used as a ‘name,’ not necessarily with any reference to Exodus 3:14. He cites texts in Isaiah to illustrate this phenomenon, not Exodus 3:14. After citing additional evidence of this use of “I AM” as a ‘name’ (Isa. 52:6; he also mentions rabbinical evidence cited by Dodd and Daube), Brown writes:

“Against this background the absolute Johannine use of _egô eimi_ becomes quite intelligible. Jesus is presented as speaking in the same manner in which Yahweh speaks in Deutero-Isaiah” (537).

Brown then illustrates his point comparing John 8:28 to Isaiah 43:10 and by noting the implications of deity in John 8:58-59 and 18:5-8 (537).

Clearly, your original claim that Brown was guilty of thinking “that Jesus is invoking Exodus 3:14 even when he says things like ‘Hi, it’s me,’ and ‘I’m the one you’re looking for’” simply cannot be sustained. You claimed: “And of course I have found, in a consistent pattern we have seen throughout this debate, that you have misled us about what he [Brown] says also.” I suppose you get points for bravado, but your defense of this accusation fails abysmally. What an anticlimactic note on which to end your last post to this debate!


Your handling of Brown and Harner in the later part of this debate is consistent with the one-sided, partisan scholarship of your chapter on John 8:58 in your book _Truth in Translation_. It appears from the eight endnotes of that chapter (p. 112) that you are entirely dependent on one secondary source regarding John 8:58. That secondary source is Greg Stafford’s book _Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics_, 2d ed. (Huntington Beach, Calif.: Elihu Books, 2000). You cite Stafford in notes 3, 5, and 6 (referring to Stafford, 256-57, 268, 282). In note 5 you also refer to Stafford’s citation of Edwin Freed. Note 4 is a content note referring to a general comment about translation that you quoted from Bratcher (see pp. 106-107). Note 7 is a comment about the NASB. The other three notes are all references to K. L. McKay’s article on John 8:58 and his work on Greek verbal syntax (notes 1, 2, 8), and the same two works by McKay also figures prominently in Stafford’s treatment of John 8:58 (Stafford, 266-70, 272). In fact, the words that you quote from McKay in note 8 are also quoted by Stafford on one of the pages that you cited (Stafford, 268).

No other secondary sources appear in your chapter on John 8:58 other than a citation from Smyth’s _Greek Grammar_ as a general reference work documenting the PPA usage (p. 106). Harner’s book _The “I Am” of the Fourth Gospel_ is cited in your bibliography (p. 184) but not in the chapter on John 8:58. It is possible that you were indebted to Harner for your acknowledgment that God’s EGW EIMI sayings in the LXX of Isaiah are in the
background of Jesus’ EGW EIMI sayings in John (111), although you don’t refer to Harner there or anywhere in the chapter. If you did actually consult Harner when writing your book, it is peculiar that in our debate you have insisted on misrepresenting Harner with regard to the relation of John 8:58 to Exodus 3:14.

Thus, the secondary literature cited in your chapter on John 8:58 that actually deals directly with that verse consists of a book by a Jehovah’s Witness (Stafford) and works by two scholars (Freed and McKay) cited by that Jehovah’s Witness. The works by Freed and McKay have as their purpose to critique the conventional understanding of Jesus’ EGW EIMI sayings in John, which is of course why Stafford quotes them so much.

If your intent had been to give your readers an unbiased introduction to the translation issues pertaining to John 8:58, one would have expected, at least, that you would have cited works on both sides of the issue. Stafford himself would have led you to numerous such works, since in his treatment of the EGW EIMI sayings he makes an effort to interact critically with works reflecting a traditional view of those texts. But you didn’t even do that in your chapter on John 8:58.

In Christ's service,

Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Center for Biblical Apologetics

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