[B-Greek] John 8:58 and Gen 17:1 (LXX)

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Sat Feb 19 15:20:00 EST 2005

At 2:09 PM -0500 2/19/05, Mike Sangrey wrote:
>On Fri, 2005-02-18 at 16:46 -0500, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>> At 11:11 AM -0800 2/18/05, Doug Hoxworth wrote:
>> ><doug>
>> >i didn't really think it was. i only noted it because
>> >Gen 17.1 had ABRAM while John 8 had ABRAAM. and i
>> >noticed that here was his name change. so i thought it
>> >may be a bit significant though not central.
>> >
>> Yes, and evidently Mike Sangrey felt it was very important, inasmuch as he
>> put a special twist of interpretation on PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI as "before
>> Abram was born as/became Abraham." That's very clever indeed, but I really
>> don't find it any more convincing than the linkage generally between Gen 17
>> and Jn 8.
>Isn't PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI a weird way of saying in Greek what we mean
>when we say, "Before Abraham was born"?
>I just spent some time going through L&N; and under the semantic domain
>of "birth, Procreation (23.46-23.60)" they don't list GINOMAI.  So, it's
>not a common word for referring to 'birth'.  That is NOT to imply that
>GINOMAI was not closely associated with birth, but when it was used of
>birth the emphasis was on where the person came from and not just a
>statement of the fact of birth (cf Gal. 4:4  ECAPESTEILEN hO QEOS TON

The "all-purpose" English equivalents of GINOMAI are "come to be" and "come
about", but the normal way in which a human beings 'comes to be' is by
birth.I find GINOMAI in L&N s.v. 13C "EXIST", and I find our passage cited

13.80 GINOMAI: to come into existence - 'to be formed, to come to exist.'
PANTA DI' AUTOU EGENETO 'everything came into existence through him' Jn
1:3; PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI EGW EIMI 'before Abraham came into existence, I
existed' Jn 8:58.

>In other words, I'm thinking of the fact that a writer chooses words and
>chooses to not use other words.  I'll grant you that it's not generally
>all that conscious an activity; however, it seems to me that Jesus here
>in John 8:58 decided to choose a rather unusual way to say, "Before
>Abraham was born."  Taking Mat. 1:18 as the jumping off point, it
>appears that PRIN hH GENESIN ABRAAM would be the more natural way to
>state the meaning.

I suppose you mean PRIN THN GENESIN ABRAAM, except that PRIN normally takes
an infinitive and an accusative subject, as in that very verse Mt 1:18
which you cite, PRIN H SUNELQEIN AUTOUS ('before they had intercourse').

The definition #1 in BDAG for GINOMAI is "1. to come into being through
process of birth or natural production, be born, be produced "

>Earlier, Carl had asked:
>> Wouldn't that have to be PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI TON ABRAM?
>But isn't PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI also an elipsis when considered from a
>Greek point of view?  Couldn't I argue that the text as we have it is
>eliptical when either interpretation is considered?  In other words,
>accepting the normal interpretation, shouldn't the full rendering be

I really don't see anything elliptical about PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI; PRIN
meaning "before' is most commonly followed by a subject-accusative and an

>More grammatical, lexical, and interpretive analysis needs to be done.
>Definitely!  I think what would be convincing is setting two things side
>by side.  On the one side:  An analysis that weaves the concept of the
>pre-existence of Christ into Jesus' argument for his identity and also
>the identity of the Jews, each coupled with the topic of Isa 43.  Some
>of this would come from John 8:23.  And the other side would do the same
>but with the various features of the Abrahamic covenant as mentioned in
>Gen. 17.  The whole question of whose children ARE the Pharisees and
>their blamelessness fits in here.
>In other words, the development of two semantic networks arising out of
>an analysis of John 8:21-59, Gen. 17, and Isa. 43.  I'll not pursue this
>further here; I'm stating it so people know where I'm coming from (and
>NOT coming from).  And who knows, maybe someone will do the analysis and
>publish something.

As I tried to indicate previously, there is almost infinite latitude for
speculation regarding the precise intent of Jesus or of the author of GJn
in Jn 8:58. The opinions we have expressed in the current thread are
unlikely to resolve the issues because the Greek text itself doesn't open
to any single definitive resolution. Certainly no single attempt at
resolution of the issues has been successful in convincing everyone.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/

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