Before Abraham was, I Am – John 8:58

Before Abraham was, I Am.   These are among the most powerful words Jesus spoke, as reported in the Gospel of St. John.  They were said to a group of Pharisees and scribes in the Treasury inside the Temple at Jerusalem.  The location is the Temple as rebuilt during the time of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah after the return from exile in Babylon and as modified and expanded under Herod.

NotMadeByHands-Icon-GreekAs I’ve noted in the on-going Bible Study videos on the Gospel of St. John, this phrase marks the climax of a series of conversations at different locations but with essentially the same audience that begin in Chapter 6 with the start of the “I Am the Bread of Life” conversation (John 6:30-49).  All the several uses of the Greek ego eimi (I Am) were like a galvanic shock to the audience, because, whether they were willing to admit it or not, they knew quite well that in this choice of words Jesus meant to remind them of God’s answer to Moses’ question regarding the identity of God.  Ego eimi is the Greek equivalent of eyheh asher eyheh, or I Am that I Am, or I Am the Existing One from the Greek Septuagint text of Exodus 3:14, 15.

The illustration is a 15th C Russian Orthodox icon, Not Made With Hands, based upon a 4th C. linen burial mask from the region of Edessa.

Through the prolonged series of conversations the topics were the contention of the Jews that they were children of their father Abraham and their confusion and rejection of Jesus’ use of “Father” to mean God, His Father.  Through the exchange they ask at two different points:  Who Are You? and “Who Do You Make Yourself Out to Be?”  The answer in the first case was I Am who I told you from the beginning (meaning in the multiple uses of ego eimi (I Am).  This, of course, they were not prepared to admit and finally Jesus accuses them of being spiritual children of the devil whose work they do and not of obedient Abraham.

Then we get to verse 56:  “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” (8:56).  And they willfully continue to deny His divinity.  “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham” (8:57).

And then the galvanic shock, to which they reacted exactly the same as frogs on a lab table.  What He said to them was not the wandering, lengthy expository explanation preferred by many modern translations.  BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS, I AM!

John relates in verse 59 another miracle that goes mostly unnoticed in the modern world:  “Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus HID HIMSELF and WENT OUT OF THE TEMPLE, GOING THROUGH THE MIDST OF THEM.” (8:59).  This does not mean He slipped out via a window or the back door.  By His Divine power he vanished from their midst.

In Episode 33 of the You Tube video I continue after verse 8:59 with Part 1 of 2 in “I Am the Door…” and ‘I AM the Good Shepherd” with explanations of the meaning of “door” and “shepherd.”

New Testament – Episode 32

This week I uploaded to You Tube a new episode in the New Testament course.  Episode 32 picks up where Episode 31 left off, in the middle of the dialogue which followed the “I Am the Light of the World” saying in John 8:12.  The encounter described by St. John takes place in the Treasury in the Second Temple (built after the return from Babylon; greatly expanded, or built over or built upon, by Herod; destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.   Famous phrases in this encounter are “I Am from above” (8:23) and  “Who are You?” (8:25) and “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (8:44). To keep each Episode under 22 minutes, I stop with Jesus’ accusation of their disbelief in 8:44.

As in earlier episodes I have stressed the strange avoidance of the true meaning of ego eimi (I Am) in the Western Church.  In this episode I demonstrate that in the 1st Millenium, in both the Eastern and Western Church, there was agreement that ego eimi was the Greek equivalent of God’s words to Moses in Exodus 3:14, 15:  in Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh, or I Am the Existing One (SAAS Septuagint

Ambrose - Mosaic2-late 4th C

I cite three early Bishops or scholars.  The first is St. Ambrose of Milan (4th Century) (Exposition on the Christian Faith), shown in a mosaic thought have been made during his lifetime.


The second is our patron saint, John Chrysostom, Bishop of Antioch and Constantinople (late 4th, early 5th Century) (55th Homily on the Gospel of St. John), shown in a modern Eastern Orthodox icon.


The third is The Venerable Bede, author of the first history of the Church in England and composer of the Ascension Day hymn, A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing, in the 8th Century.  Bede is shown in a 1902 painting by J. D. Penrose now in the British Musuem collection.

All three argued that the Pharisees and scribes who were the audience in the Treasury could not possibly have misunderstood the connection between “I Am the Light of the world” and “I Am from above” and the Old Testament identification of the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob.

In Episode Thirty-three I will repeat 8:44, 45 and carry the dialogue, according to St. John’s first hand witness, to its natural conclusion: Before Abraham was, I Am” (8:58) and on to ” I Am the Door” and I Am the Good Shepherd.

New Testament – Episode 31 Now Available

The War on Christianity continues worldwide, but the church still lives in the hearts of believers.  Our online Bible Study courses offered on our You Tube channel (and via MP3 podcasts hosted by are intended to provide reliable teaching incorporating the valuable ideas of the Eastern Church expressed in Western Church language written for the average lay person.  The most recent offering is Episode 31, which I posted to You Tube on 9/10 A.D. 2014.

Light_of_the_World-Hunt-Painting  There is not much in Scripture to equal St. John’s unique use of the Greek ego eimi (I AM), used as a title or name of God in his Gospel.  In Episode 31 I focus on three of the I AM declarations:  The Bread of Life (6:35, 48), the Living Bread (6:48) and The Light of the World (8:12).  Not every use of “I am” in St. John’s account is based on ego eimi, but there are dozens of examples in which the meaning is the same as in Exodus 3:16, in which God spoke to Moses.  The phrase was deliberately used in John’s eyewitness account to leave no doubt that the person speaking is the same God who spoke to Moses.

Since so many Western Church translations overlook the importance of ego eimi/I AM and many do not translate them that way, I’ve focused several episodes of my New Testament course on the I AM sayings.  In Episode 31 I have connected “I AM the Light of the World” to what I label as the theological “declarations” which John offered in his opening chapter in his Gospel on the linkage of Christ to Light and the issue of Light vs Darkness.  I quote John 1:4, 5, 7, 8, 9; John 9:5; Revelation 21:23, 24 and also from Luke 1:72, 73 (Benedictus) which touches on the same topic.

Icons used in this episode are from the 6th and 15th centuries, plus maps from the early 20th Century.  The picture included with this posting is The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt, which is based on Revelation 3:21 (letter to the Church at Laodicea).  I used it in Episode 8 in the Revelation course, but did not use it in Episode 31 in the New Testament series.

The next episode (Episode 32) in the New Testament series will continue the discussion of “Light of Life” (John 8:12) and take the conversation through John 8:58, when Jesus boldly declares to the doubting Pharisees and scribes: “Before Abraham was, I AM.”  I will move through all the remaining major I AM statements and several of the lesser I AM usages and show viewers cases in which the Divine I Am is not what was intended by St. John.

The MP3 podcast versions of the AIC digital archives can be heard via iTunes or at our Podbean site