John 8:58
Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham was, I am.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(58) Before Abraham was, I am.—Better, Before Abraham was born, I am. (Comp. Note on John 1:6; and see another striking instance in Luke 6:36, “Become ye merciful as your Father also is merciful.”) Here they ask in wonder, not unmixed with scorn, if He was coeval with Abraham. The answer is that Abraham, like all men, came into being. There was a time when he was not. But there was never a time when the Son of God was not. In the time before Abraham, in the eternity before time (John 1:1), He still was. No word which expresses becoming can be used of His existence. He is the I AM, present equally in the human “was,” and “is,” and “is to come.”

8:54-59 Christ and all that are his, depend upon God for honour. Men may be able to dispute about God, yet may not know him. Such as know not God, and obey not the gospel of Christ, are put together, 2Th 1:8. All who rightly know anything of Christ, earnestly desire to know more of him. Those who discern the dawn of the light of the Sun of Righteousness, wish to see his rising. Before Abraham was, I AM. This speaks Abraham a creature, and our Lord the Creator; well, therefore, might he make himself greater than Abraham. I AM, is the name of God, Ex 3:14; it speaks his self-existence; he is the First and the Last, ever the same, Re 1:8. Thus he was not only before Abraham, but before all worlds, Pr 8:23; Joh 1:1. As Mediator, he was the appointed Messiah, long before Abraham; the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Re 13:8. The Lord Jesus was made of God Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption, to Adam, and Abel, and all that lived and died by faith in him, before Abraham. The Jews were about to stone Jesus for blasphemy, but he withdrew; by his miraculous power he passed through them unhurt. Let us stedfastly profess what we know and believe concerning God; and if heirs of Abraham's faith, we shall rejoice in looking forward to that day when the Saviour shall appear in glory, to the confusion of his enemies, and to complete the salvation of all who believe in him.Verily, verily - This is an expression used only in John. It is a strong affirmation denoting particularly the great importance of what was about to be affirmed. See the notes at John 3:5.

Before Abraham was - Before Abraham lived.

I am - The expression I am, though in the present tense, is clearly designed to refer to a past time. Thus, in Psalm 90:2, "From everlasting to everlasting thou art God." Applied to God, it denotes continued existence without respect to time, so far as he is concerned. We divide time into the past, the present, and the future. The expression, applied to God, denotes that he does not measure his existence in this manner, but that the word by which we express the present denotes his continued and unchanging existence. Hence, he assumes it as his name, "I AM," and "I AM that I AM," Exodus 3:14. Compare Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 47:8. There is a remarkable similarity between the expression employed by Jesus in this place and that used in Exodus to denote the name of God. The manner in which Jesus used it would strikingly suggest the application of the same language to God. The question here was about his pre-existence. The objection of the Jews was that he was not 50 years old, and could not, therefore, have seen Abraham. Jesus replied to that that he existed before Abraham. As in his human nature he was not yet 50 years old, and could not, as a man, have existed before Abraham, this declaration must be referred to another nature; and the passage proves that, while he was a man, he was also endowed with another nature existing before Abraham, and to which he applied the term (familiar to the Jews as expressive of the existence of God) I AM; and this declaration corresponds to the affirmation of John Joh 1:1, that he was in the beginning with God, and was God. This affirmation of Jesus is one of the proofs on which John relies to prove that he was the Messiah John 20:31, to establish which was the design of writing this book.

58. Before Abraham was, I am—The words rendered "was" and "am" are quite different. The one clause means, "Abraham was brought into being"; the other, "I exist." The statement therefore is not that Christ came into existence before Abraham did (as Arians affirm is the meaning), but that He never came into being at all, but existed before Abraham had a being; in other words, existed before creation, or eternally (as Joh 1:1). In that sense the Jews plainly understood Him, since "then took they up stones to cast at Him," just as they had before done when they saw that He made Himself equal with God (Joh 5:18).

hid himself—(See on [1814]Lu 4:30).

Some will have the meaning to be, that Christ was before Abraham’s time constituted Mediator; as he is said to be the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8: so 1 Peter 1:20. But thus it might have been said of any of the elect, that they were chosen before Abraham was. It is therefore undoubtedly to be understood of Christ’s eternal existence, as to his Divine nature; and this will appear, as from other arguments, so from the whole scope of our Saviour’s former discourse in this chapter, which was to assert his Divine nature and equality with the Father. Jesus said unto them, verily, verily, I say unto you,.... Whether it will be believed or not, it is certainly fact:

before Abraham was, I am; which is to be understood, not of his being in the purpose and decree of God, foreordained to sufferings, and to glory; for so all the elect of God may be said to be before Abraham, being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world: or that Christ was man, before Abraham became the father of many nations; that is, before the calling of the Gentiles; for nothing is said in the text about his being the father of many nations; it is a bold and impudent addition to it: and besides, Abraham was made the father of many nations, as Ishmaelites, Israelites, Hagarenes, &c. long before the incarnation of Christ; yea, he was so from the very promise in Genesis 17:5, which so runs, "a father of many nations have I made thee"; so that this appears a false sense of the text, which is to be understood of the deity, eternity, and immutability of Christ, and refers to the passage in Exodus 3:14. "I am that I-am--I am hath sent me unto you", the true Jehovah; and so Christ was before Abraham was in being, the everlasting I am, the eternal God, which is, and was, and is to come: he appeared in an human form to our first parents before Abraham was, and was manifested as the Mediator, Saviour, and living Redeemer, to whom all the patriarchs before Abraham looked, and by whom they were saved: he was concerned in the creation of all things out of nothing, as the efficient cause thereof; he was set up from everlasting as Mediator; and the covenant of grace was made with him, and the blessings and promises of it were put into his hands before the world began; the eternal election of men to everlasting life was made in him before the foundation of the world; and he had a glory with his Father before the world was; yea, from all eternity he was the Son of God, of the same nature with him, and equal to him; and his being of the same nature proves his eternity, as well as deity, that he is from everlasting to everlasting God; and is what he ever was, and will be what he now is: he is immutable, the same today, yesterday, and for ever; in his nature, love, grace, and fulness, he is the invariable and unchangeable I am.

Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I {y} am.

(y) Christ, as he was God, was before Abraham: and he was the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
John 8:58. Not a continuation of the discourse in John 8:56, so that Jesus would thus not have given any answer to the question of the Jews (B. Crusius); but, as the contents themselves, and the solemn ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λ. ὑμ. shows, an answer to John 8:57. This reply asserts even more than the Jews had asked, namely, πρὶν, etc., before Abraham became, or was born (not: was, as Tholuck, De Wette, Ewald, and others translate),[41] I am; older than Abraham’s origin is my existence. As Abraham had not pre-existed, but came into existence[42] (by birth), therefore γενέσθαι is used; whereas ΕἸΜΊ denotes being per se, which belonged to Jesus, so far as He existed before time, as to His divine nature, without having previously come into being. Comp. I. 1. 6; and see even Chrysostom. The Praesens denotes that which continues from the past, i.e. here: that which continues from before time (John 1:1, John 17:5). Comp. LXX.; Psalm 90:2; also Jeremiah 1:5. ʼΕγώ εἰμι must neither be taken as ideal being (De Wette), nor as being Messiah (Scholten), and transferred into the counsel of God (Sam. Crellius, Grotius, Paulus, B. Crusius), which is forbidden even by the use of the Praesens; nor may we, with Beyschlag, conceive the being as that of the real image of God,—a thought which, after John 8:57, is neither suggested by the context, nor would occur to Christ’s hearers without some more precise indication; nor, lastly, is the utterance to be regarded merely as a momentary vision, as in a state of prophetic elevation (Weizsäcker), inasmuch as it corresponds essentially to the permanent consciousness which Jesus had of His personal (the condition, in the present connection, of His having seen Abraham) pre-existence, and which everywhere manifests itself in the Gospel of John. Comp. on John 17:5, John 6:46; John 6:62. The thought is not an intuitive, conclusion backwards, but a glance backward, of the consciousness of Jesus (against Beyschlag). Only noteworthy in a historical point of view is the perverse explanation of Faustus Socinus, which from him passed over into the Socinian confession of faith (see Catech. Racov., ed. Oeder, p. 144 f.): “Before Abraham becomes Abraham, i.e. the father of many nations, I am it, namely, the Messiah, the Light of the world.” He thus admonishes the Jews to believe on Him while they have an opportunity, before grace is taken from them and transferred to the heathen, in which way Abraham will become the father of many nations.

[41] Also the English Authorized Version.

[42] This view, “factus est,” forms a more significant correlate to εἰμί than if γενέσθαι were taken as equivalent to nasci, which in itself would be also correct (Galatians 4:4; and see especially Raphelius on the passage).John 8:58. The misunderstanding of His words elicits from Jesus the statement: πρὶν Αβραὰμ γενέσθαι, ἐγώ εἰμι. “Before Abraham was born I am.” “Antequam Abraham fieret, Ego sum,” Vulgate. Plummer aptly compares Psalm 90:2, πρὸ τοῦ ὄρη γενηθῆναισὺ εἶ. Before Abraham came into existence I am, eternally existent. No stronger affirmation of pre-existence occurs, and Beyschlag’s subtle attempt to evade the meaning is unsuccessful.58. Before Abraham was, I am] Here our translators have lamentably gone back from earlier translations. Cranmer has, ‘Ere Abraham was born, I am;’ and the Rhemish, ‘Before that Abraham was made, I am,’ following the Vulgate, Antequam Abraham fieret, Ego sum. See notes on ‘was’ in John 1:1; John 1:6. ‘I am’ denotes absolute existence, and in this passage clearly involves the pre-existence and Divinity of Christ, as the Jews see. Comp. John 8:24; John 8:28; Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:8; and see on John 8:24.John 8:58. Πρὶν Ἀβραάμ γενέσθαι, ἐγὼ εἰμί, before that Abraham was brought into being, I am) The Jews are hereby refuted, who were denying, that Abraham even then could have seen that day. I was, saith Jesus, even then; therefore I saw Abraham, and Abraham saw My day: not merely did I not begin to be only afterwards [afterwards and not till then], but I was, before that he teas brought into being. The difference is to be observed between I am brought into being, and I am; Mark 4:22 [οὐ γάρ ἐστί (is) τι κρυπρὸν, ὁ ἐὰν μὴ φανερωθῇ· οὐδὲ ἐγένετο (has been made, or, become, viz. by design), ἀπόκρυφον, ἀλλʼ ἵνα εἰς φανερὸν ἔλθῃ]. Acts 26:29, “I would to God that—all—γενέσθαι, might become such as I am, εἰμι:” 1 Corinthians 3:18, “If any man seemeth to be wise—εἶναι—let him become a fool—γενέσθω.” Moreover, it is an abbreviated form of expression, in this sense; Before that Abraham was made, I was: and at this day, at so long an interval after the death of Abraham, I am. For John often expresses himself in such a way, that the Protasis and Apodosis mutually complete one another; John 8:28, “When ye have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall ye know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself:” John 8:38, “I speak that which, etc., and ye do that which,” etc. [do is to be supplied to the first clause, speak to the second]; ch. John 5:21, “As the Father raiseth up—and quickeneth, even so the Son quickeneth” (underst., and raiseth up) etc.; John 8:30, “I can of Mine own self do (supply, and judge) nothing; as I hear I judge” (supply, and do); ch. John 11:8, John 14:10, “The words I speak,—I speak not of Myself (supply, and the works I do, I do not of Myself) but the Father—doeth the works (supply, and speaketh the words); ch. John 15:27; Revelation 14:10, notes. Thus the particle before and the present I am, elegantly cohere; comp. also Colossians 1:17, He Himself is before all things. And yet Artemonius in Diss. iv., p. 618, calls this expression, after the daring example of Enjedinus, a barbarism; but the present is often so put, as that the past time is included; Luke 15:29, So many years (I have served and still) serve thee (τοσαῦτα ἔτη δουλεύω). In the same ch. John 8:31 (thou hast been) and art always with Me, as the Goth. Vers. renders it [πάντοτεεἶ]. Septuag. Psalm 90:2, πρὸ τοῦ ὄρη γενηθῆναι, σὺ εἶ [before the mountains were brought forth, thou art], where Artemonius can by no effort of his change the punctuation. Proverbs 8:25, πρὸ πὰντων βουνῶν γεννᾷ με, where, if only Artemonius be right in saying that there is some error, nothing [no correction] is nearer (for חוללתי) than γεννῶμαι, which is also present. I would like to see what device he would contrive to meet Jeremiah 1:5, πρὸ τοῦ με καταπλάσαι σε ἐν κοιλίᾳ, ἐπίσταμαί σε. Artemonius, with Socinus, thus explains the words; Before that Abraham is made the father of many nations, I am, to wit, the Christ: and also he takes I am in the same sense as at John 8:24, “If ye believe not that I am He;” John 8:28, “Then shall ye know that I am He;” ch. John 13:19, “That, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am He;” Mark 13:6, “Many shall come saying, I am (Christ).” I reply, 1) The Jews had objected that Abraham was deceased for more than fifty years before; Abraham was not regarded by them as about to belong to the New Testament. 2) This sentiment would not have borne that most solemn asseveration, Verily, verily, I say unto you. For in this sense even the Jews, who were then living, would have been before Abraham. 3) The word I am, in this colloquy, is employed concerning age and time, in antithesis to the inchoative to be brought into being [γενέσθαι]. Moreover, the reference of the words opposed is the same, and both verbs ought to be understood absolutely, as was is used; ch. John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word,” etc. However this absolute signification includes that other by consequence; before that Abraham was brought into being; He who speaks, was; and He was the same as He asserted to the Jews that He was.—πρἰν Ἀβραάμ γενέσθαι) Γενέσθαι is wanting in some of the old fathers, especially the Latin fathers; but the use of the adverb πρίν does not bear the omission. That indeed is certain, that those fathers had no thought of the Socinian perversion of the sense of the verb γενέσθαι, and so the perversion of this whole passage. [Dabc and Epiphanius omit γενέσθαι. But [237][238], Vulg. and Orige[239] I., 750 f, etc., have it.]

[237] the Alexandrine MS.: in Brit. Museum: fifth century: publ. by Woide, 1786–1819: O. and N. Test. defective.

[238] Cod. Basilianus (not the B. Vaticanus): Revelation: in the Vatican: edited by Tisch., who assigns it to the beginning of the eighth century.

[239] rigen (born about 186 A.D., died 253 A.D., a Greek father: two-thirds of the N. Test. are quoted in his writings). Ed. Vinc. Delarue, Paris. 1733, 1740, 1759.Verse 58. - The reply of Jesus to this taunt is one of the most surprising and baffling kind on any hypothesis of our Lord's consciousness being limited as that of all other of the sons of men. He gives the solemn emphasis of the Αμὴν ἀμὴν once more - Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was born (came into being), I am. Abraham came into existence by birth (the Vulgate translates, Antequam fierat Abraham Ego sum): I am. Numerous attempts have been made to explain this climacteric utterance on some humanistic theory. The contrast is very remarkable between γενέσθαι and εἰμι. Jesus Christ declared his own timeless existence to have been in his consciousness before Abraham came into being at all. The "I am" reminds us repeatedly, when used by Jesus, of the "I AM THAT I AM" of Exodus 3:14, and the "thou art" of Psalm 90. (89:2, LXX.); Psalms 102:28. His human consciousness gave utterance to the awful depths of the eternal Ego. Now, some critics have limited it in its meaning to "I existed in the counsel of God." But there are three objections to this interpretation: one is

(1) that the present tense, εἰμί, and not the past, η΅ν, was used by our Lord; and

(2) on this interpretation Abraham must have also equally pre-existed in the counsel of God; and

(3) such a statement would throw no light on the previous discourse. The Racovian Confession of Faith, based on the view of Socinus, explains, "Before Abram becomes Abraham, i.e. the father of many nations, I am it, the Messiah, the Light of the world." Not until my Messianic claims are acknowledged, and the many nations become children of Abraham, does Abraham really become Abraham, does his name derive its full meaning. This would be rabbinical trifling (J.P. Smith, 'Script. Test. to Messiah,' vol. 2). Beyschlag thinks that our Lord realized in his Person not a conscious pre-existence before Abraham, or before all worlds, but an impersonal principle, the image of God, which could only "be" in the eternal mind of God. There is a sense in which every man may realize such pre-existence as this, not merely "the Son of God," nor the new man in Christ, but every man whatsoever; but such a statement is entirely out of harmony with the whole passage that precedes. If the Jews had understood it in this sense, they would not have taken up stores to stone him, but, after their wont, would have said, "So also were we." "Ideas do not see one another." The first ἐγὼ εἰμί (ver. 12) brought out their angry unbelief, but this excites their murderous assault. We have to observe that this remarkable expression does not stand alone. St. John had reasons for saying "that the Word was with God, and was God. and was made flesh" (John 1:1, 3, 14). If Jesus, in his Divine consciousness, had never elsewhere spoken of having had a being before his manifestation (John 6:46, 62; John 17:5), of having taken part with the Father from the beginning (John 5:17), of being "one with the Father" (John 10:30, 33), of being greater than the temple or the sabbath, as being the Object of the eternal love in coming down from heaven, in laying down his life that he might take it again (John 10:17, 18); and if the language of the apostles (Hebrews 1:1, 2; Colossians 1:17; Revelation 1:18) had not entirely prepared our mind for the data on which such conclusions rested, a generation before this Gospel was reduced to form, we might join the effort to resist such a claim as that of eternal pre-existence. But the whole tenor of the Gospel and the entire New Testament teaching are seen, more and more, to turn upon this fundamental position - that in Christ dwells all the fulness of the Godhead, that he had life in himself, and eternity, and that the manhood has not only been lifted to the highest place in human remembrance, but to the midst of the throne. Was, I am (γενέσθαι, ἐγώ εἰμι)

It is important to observe the distinction between the two verbs. Abraham's life was under the conditions of time, and therefore had a temporal beginning. Hence, Abraham came into being, or was born (γενέσθαι). Jesus' life was from and to eternity. Hence the formula for absolute, timeless existence, I am (ἐγώ εἰμι). See on John 1:3; see on John 7:34.

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