Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sahidic Coptic John 8:58 and Sahidic Coptic Exodus 3:14

Does the similarity between John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14 in the Greek text or Sahidic Coptic version identify Jesus as the Second Person of the Trinity or as God?

Those who say Yes point to the rendering egw eimi, "I am" at both John 8:58 and the Septuagint Greek translation of Exodus 3:14.

But the Septuagint's version of Exodus 3:14 is not so much a translation of the Hebrew text's ehyeh asher ehyeh, as a philosophical interpretation of it. The LXX has egw eimi ho Wn as God's title: "I am the Being," or "I am He Who Exists." Moses is to tell the children of Israel that ho Wn, "He Who Exists" -- NOT egw eimi -- "I Am" -- is the one who is sending Moses to them to deliver them from Egyptian slavery. (Exodus 3:14, LXX)

So first of all, it is not as "I Am" that God identifies himself to Israel, but as "He Who Exists." Therefore, there is no correspondence between John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14. The fact that Jesus says "I am" -- egw eimi -- at John 8:58 does not identify him as the God who, in the LXX, titled himself ho Wn, not egw eimi.

Just a chapter later, in John 9:9, a formerly blind man also uses the expression egw eimi. It was just a normal way of saying "I am (he)," and is no marker of divinity. Otherwise, the formerly blind man would also be claiming Godship. Furthermore, at 1 Corinthians 15:10, the apostle Paul said "I am what I am," which resembles Exodus 3:14 in the Hebrew text. The King James and other versions translate this Hebrew phrase, ehyeh asher ehyeh, into English as "I am that I am." The mere use of a similar expression did not mean that Paul was claiming Godship.

Nor does the Hebrew text identify God as "I Am." The Hebrew word ehyeh is better translated "I will be," as even the King James Version does at Exodus 3:12. The following Bible translations (and others) render ehyeh properly as "I will be" or similar: The Anchor Bible (William H.C. Propp), The Five Books of Moses (Everett Fox), The Stone Tanach (Artscroll/Mesorah), The Five Books of Moses (Robert Alter), Rotherham's Emphasized Bible, James Moffatt's translation.

And what about John 8:58? "I am" is not necessarily the best translation of egw eimi in this verse, although that is literal, because it is preceeded by the Greek word prin. As Greek scholar Kenneth L. McKay has demonstrated, this construction, prin abraam genesthai egw eimi, represents an "extension from past" and is best translated into English as "I have been in existence since before Abraham was born." (A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek, pp. 41, 42)

Therefore, the context of John 8:58 is not a proclamation of Jesus' Godship, but an affirmation of his pre-existence in heaven before coming to earth.

The claim is made that Sahidic Coptic's anok pe petSoop at Exodus 3:14, which is a fairly literal translation of the Greek Septuagint's rendering, egw eimi ho Wn, identifies Jesus as God, since in the Sahidic Coptic of John 8:58, Jesus says empate abraHam Swpe anok TSoop.

Not so, because, like the Septuagint, the Coptic of Exodus 3:14 calls God "the Being," or "the One Who Exists." In the Coptic of John 8:58, Jesus says, "Before Abraham existed, I am existing." Or as Coptic scholar George W. Horner renders it, "Before Abraham became, I, I am being." In standard, contemporary modern English, it would be rendered, "I existed before Abraham existed."

Because the Coptic sentence begins with empate, ("before"), which corresponds to the Greek text's prin, when translated into English the significance is the same: "I existed before Abraham." This says nothing about Godship. It is a statement about pre-existence. Jesus was alive in heaven, as God's Word and Son (John 1:1-4) before Abraham was born.

In the Sahidic Coptic of John 8:58, Jesus does not call himself "THE Being," petSoop, as God does in the Coptic translation of Exodus 3:14, but merely someone existing or being in existence. Soop.

The Sahidic Coptic translators did not render the Greek egw eimi at John 8:58 by the usual way of saying "I am," i.e., anok pe. Rather, they used the word Soop prefixed by the Coptic first person personal pronoun T. This means they used the qualitative or stative form of the Coptic word that means "to come into existence," Swpe. In the stative from, Soop, this means "(is) in existence." This shows that the Coptic translators correctly understood that at John 8:58 Jesus is talking about (pre)-existence, not about ontological identification with God.

The title applied to God Almighty in the Sahidic Coptic Old Testament at Exodus 3:14, i.e. petSoop, means literally, "the (one) who exists." It may also be rendered as "The Existing One" or "The Being," corresponding to the Greek ho Wn. This title of God is also found in the New Testament book of Revelation in the Sahidic Coptic version, at Revelation 1:4, 8; 4:8; ll:17, accompanied with the additional specific designation, "the Almighty."

So, even in the Sahidic Coptic the correspondence is not the same, and the meaning is not the same. Sahidic Coptic Exodus 3:14, therefore, cannot be linked to Sahidic Coptic John 8:58 to state or imply that Jesus is God Almighty. Jesus is clearly subordinate to the Almighty. (1 Corinthians 11:3; 15:27, 28; John 14:28)