John 8:58 (I am, I have been, I was?)
Daniel L Christiansen
dlc at multnomah.edu
Thu Dec 23 20:59:56 EST 1999
I concur with Carl: this thread has been surprisingly amicable,
considering the possibilities inherent for theological bashing. I am
curious, however, that no-one has brought up the question of narrative
context in this discussion. Maybe this *has* been mentioned, and I
simply missed it . . . if so, my apologies for the repetition.
Any discussion of the possible/probable meaning or significance of a
term, must be based on the shared understanding of speaker/author and
listener/reader. Narrative texts, such as John 8, provide us with a
wonderful opportunity for determining just what that shared
understanding was. Members of the crowd ask Jesus a question, and he
responds to the question: it seems reasonable that his response is
intelligible (though not appreciated) in terms of the question posed.
Then, the crowd responds to his speech: I think it is safe to assume
that the crowd responds based on what Jesus' words meant to them. John
does not, in this passage, inform us that the crowd misunderstood Jesus'
intention; thus, we should understand Jesus' statements in the same
manner as did the crowd (though we should respond quite differently).
In John 8:57, Jesus claims ABRAAM . . . THN hHMERAN THN EMHN . . .
EIDEN KAI ECARH. Not only would this statement appear to refer to a
past-time event, grammatically, but the crowd's response removes any
doubt of this fact. They deny that Jesus could have ABRAAM hEWRAKAS,
since he is not old enough by hundreds of years. Then comes our verse
in question, in which EGW EIMI is clearly spoken as a refutation of the
crowd's denial of Jesus having seen Abraham. And this is all topped off
by the crowd wishing to stone Jesus in 8:59, because of his EGW EIMI
We can argue/discuss/shake apart (thanks, Carl) endlessly about
whether a given present is "historic," "perfective," etc; each has his
own favorite grammatical terminology to employ. However, And, if our
syntax is going to be descriptive, the description must be based on
use. And the context of this particular EGW EIMI appears to me to leave
no room for doubt: this particular present does refer to a past event or
state. Either that, or those who originally spoke/heard/read the
statement were as much in the dark about the boundaries of the Greek
present as are we.
Daniel L. Christiansen
Department of Bible
Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street
Portland, OR 97220
(Also Portland Bible College, Prof of Biblical Languages)
e-mail: dlc at multnomah.edu
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