By Spencer D Gear PhD
Did Jesus really say anything while he was on earth about his being God? Yes, he did, in John 8:58, which reads: ‘Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am”’ (ESV).
R C H Lenski, a Greek exegete, provides this explanation of this verse, that in my understanding of the original language, gives an accurate explanation of the NT Greek:
58) Not only does Jesus affirm what the question of the Jews asks, with the solemn formula of verity and authority he affirms vastly more. Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I am. The aorist genesthai (prin with the infinitive after a positive verb, R. 977, 1091) marks the historical point of time when Abraham came into existence as against the time prior to that point when Abraham did not exist. this aorist is in contrast to eimi [I am]; which Jesus predicates of his own person (ego), here a finite verb not the mere copula (R. 394). As the aorist sets a point of beginning for the existence of Abraham, so the present tense “I am” predicates absolute existence for the person of Jesus, with no point of beginning at all. That is why Jesus does not use the imperfect emen, “I was”; for this would say only that the existence of the person antedates the time of Abraham and would leave open the question whether the person of Jesus also had a beginning like that of Abraham (only earlier) or not. What Jesus declares is that, although his earthly life covers less than fifty years, his existence as a person (ego) is constant and independent of any beginning in time as was that of Abraham. For what Jesus here says about himself in comparison with any other man, no matter how far back the beginning of that man’s existence lies. “I am”=I exist. Thus with the simplest words Jesus testifies to the divine, eternal pre-existence of his person.
To speak of an “ideal” existence before the days of Abraham is to turn the solemn assurance of Jesus into a statement that means nothing. Unacceptable are also all other efforts to empty out this divine “I am” and to substitute for the fact and reality of existence before Abraham something merely mental, whether this occurred in the mind of Jesus or in that of God. Yet this “I am” is nothing new: by means of two tiny words it states only what Jesus has testified and continues to testify of himself in many other words in other connections. Thus, too, it forms the parting of the ways for faith and unbelief.
Yes, Jesus has seen Abraham – the deduction of the Jews is right in every respect, only it should go much farther.
59) As Jesus had made his meaning clear to the Jews in the first place, so also he did in this final word. they understand its full import, namely that, if the existence of the person of Jesus antedates that of Abraham in absolute continuation, he declares himself to be God. To them this is rank blasphemy. They took up stones, therefore, in order to throw at him; but Jesus was hidden and went out of the Temple. (Lenski 1943:670-671).
Note the R in this quote from Lenski refers to A. T. Robertson’s, fourth edition of his massive Greek grammar (Robertson 1934).
This explanation of the Greek from Lenski is technical, but it demonstrates from the NT’s original language that Jesus was confirming that he is eternally God and he did not stop being God when on earth, according to John 8:58. To the Jews of Jesus’ day that was a statement of blasphemy for which He needed to receive capital punishment – so they wanted to stone him.
They knew what Jesus meant by these words. He was claiming to be God and they wanted him executed.
At no time before, during, or after Jesus’ coming to earth did Jesus ever cease being God. He is an eternal member of the Trinity. To say that Jesus was not God while on earth declares a fundamental denial of a core Christian teaching – the Trinity.
Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (special limited edition from Augsburg Fortress).
Robertson, A T 1934. A grammar of the Greek New Testament in the light of historical research. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 26 August 2017.