john 8:58, greek and english

Before Abraham existed, I am!

john 8:58, greek and english
Yeshua said, “Before Abraham existed, I am!” This statement does not come out of the blue. There has been a dialogue between Yeshua and his high-level critics in Jerusalem. To best understand how and why Yeshua can say something so far-fetched, so seemingly deranged, we should trace the conversation:

John 8:58 and what led to it.

Yeshua to an audience of critics: “The truth [about me] will set you free!”
Yeshua’s critics: “As sons of Abraham, we are already free, so we don’t need this freedom you are offering.”
Yeshua: “Your cruel and monstrously greedy actions tell a different story: you are slaves of the sinful nature.”
Critics: “Nonsense, we are the sons of Abraham!”
Yeshua: “If that were true, you would act like him.”
Critics: “God is our one Father!”
Yeshua: “If that were true you would recognize when he is speaking with you.”
Critics: “You are a Samaritan! You have a demon!”
Yeshua: “It’s not a demon you are encountering, but rather, if you keep my word you will never die.”
Critics: “Everyone dies.”
Yeshua: “You will not, if you keep my words.”
Critics: “What? Do you think you are greater than our father Abraham?”
Yeshua: “I have true knowledge of God and so Abraham rejoiced to see my day.”
Critics: “You have not seen Abraham!”
Yeshua: “Before Abraham existed, I am!”

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  1. A great deal rests entirely on the true referents that Rav Yeshua invoked under the notions of “my day” and “ego eimi” (“I am”). What exactly did he think that Avraham rejoiced over? Was Avraham’s rejoicing a generic appreciation and hope of HaShem’s redemption of his descendants? Are we looking at the promises of Gen.22 here, in which the role of messiah ben-Yosef, as he would be identified much later, is implicit? When he invoked the notion of what existed before Avraham, was he referring to the fact that HaShem developed the notion that would become the messianic redeemer long before either Avraham or the rabbi Yeshua ben-Yosef existed? If these were the familiar Jewish notions with which he was challenging his interlocutors, then modern Jewish messianists must likewise challenge common gentile Christian presumptions derived from reading the phrases in ignorance of their background context.

    1. Good to hear from you, ProclaimLiberty.

      For readers to understand your comment more easily, let me summarize: You interpret Yeshua’s “before Abraham was, I am” to mean, “The concept of Messiah comes from before time; so I was here [conceptually] before time.”

      Let me know if I am missing something. Maybe you take the pre-existence of Messiah to be more than a concept, but think Messiah himself existed before time. Let me know.

      My problem is that Yeshua is answering the objection, “You never saw Abraham.” He counters with, “Yes I did.”

      Whatever John 8:58 means, Yeshua seems to have intended it to say, “I was here before Abraham.”

      1. What I’m saying is that it is a superficial reading to say that Rav Yeshua intended to claim physical existence before Avraham, or that he himself saw Avraham, neglecting a common rabbinic use of hyperbole to force his listeners to think about something differently than they had been doing. When the “pshat” doesn’t make sense, one must assume that it is deliberately so, and must therefore seek the intended meaning in a “remez”, a “drash”, or a more esoteric “sod”. It is very much like Rav Shaul’s statements to the Roman assemblies that not all Israel are of Israel. On a basic level, one cannot logically say that “A” is “non-A”. It is only when metaphorical or symbolic meanings of the terms are considered that one can derive sense from such a statement. So, then, likewise with Yohanan’s reportage of Rav Yeshua’s statements. The statements were not necessarily to be read (or heard originally) as self-centered. There is good reason to look for an oblique reference to HaShem, who identifies Himself in Ex.3 (in the LXX) as “ego eimi”. If, as is most likely, Rav Yeshua was speaking in Hebrew, he may very well have used the corresponding phrase “ehyeh”, with even stronger resonance. Effectively he would have been saying that it doesn’t matter whether he himself was there, to report what Avraham rejoiced about, because HaShem was there and He preserved the record of it by the hand of Moshe for all the generations of Israel.

        As for the question of locus in time, we can ask: “Does Messiah ben-David yet exist?” Or will it only be correct to say that he exists after he enters future history to enact the fulfillment of that role to establish his kingdom in Jerusalem to rule over all the earth. Certainly he exists already in the mind of HaShem the Timeless One, as a fully-developed future reality from our perspective. Similarly, Messiah ben-Yosef existed from the beginning, as just exactly such a conceptual plan in HaShem’s mind, even though Rav Yeshua did not exist to fulfill it until formed in a womb and born as a Jew and grown into a great master teacher (i.e., an “Admor”) and martyred as a symbolic sacrifice and resurrected as a “first fruit”. And, even though Rav Yeshua has already entered human space-time once as a physical embodiment of HaShem’s redemptive plan, he still only exists and serves his disciples as messiah ben-Yosef and a Melchitzedekian cohen — he does not yet exist as messiah ben-David except by anticipation.

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