Sunday, August 22, 2010

Does Sahidic Coptic John 8:58 Say Jesus is God?

Koine Greek text: πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί


ΜΠΑΤЄ = "It expresses a present based description of the past in terms of what has not happened up to now and expresses the expectation that it can or will eventually occur; 'before.'" -- Bentley Layton, A Coptic Grammar, p. 261

ϢШΠЄ = "To become, come into existence." -- Thomas O. Lambdin, Introduction to Sahidic Coptic, p. 315

ϢΟΟΠ = "(Is) in existence." -- Ariel Shisah HaLevy, Coptic Grammatical Chrestomathy, p. 248

The standard concept is that the Greek text's ἐγὼ εἰμί, “I Am,” is a reference to Exodus 3:14, where according to the Latin Vulgate and many English versions, God says “I am what I am.” Of course, this is not what the Hebrew text says, or what the Greek Septuagint says. The Hebrew is better translated to say “I will be who I will be,” signifying purpose rather than ontology. The Septuagint says “I am the Being,” which is not a literal translation of the Hebrew text, but a philosophical one. The ancient Greek translations of Aquila and Theodotion restored the meaning of the Hebrew text by using ἔσομαι, “I will be,” rather than εἰμί at Exodus 3:14.

The Koine Greek of John 8:58 literally says “Before Abraham to become, I am.”

The Sahidic Coptic of John 8:58 literally says, “"Before Abraham comes into existence, I (am) in existence.”

Since the Coptic text of John 8:58 closely mirrors the Greek text, what Greek scholar Kenneth L. McKay says about the syntax of the Greek text applies also to the meaning of the Coptic. The Coptic itself indicates this by not leaving ἐγὼ εἰμί to merely say, “I am,” but “I (am) in existence.”

McKay sees the construction of John 8:58 as representing an “extension from past”: “When used with an expression of either past time or extent of time with past implications…the present tense signals an activity begun in the past and continuing to present time.” McKay would thus render ἐγὼ εἰμί at John 8:58 to say: “I have been in existence before Abraham was born.” -- A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek, p. 42

This is not really new. The ancient Syriac/Aramaic translators, who used a language similar to that of Jesus himself, also rendered the ἐγὼ εἰμί of John 8:58 with past reference:

"Before Abraham was, I have been." -- Sinaitic Palimpsest

"Before ever Abraham came to be, I was." -- Curetonian Version

"Before Abraham existed, I was." -- Peshitta Version

"Before Abraham was born, I was." -- George M. Lamsa’s English version

But many people existed before Abraham did.

By specifically indicating that existence was implied in the Greek of John 8:58, the Sahidic Coptic version’s ΑΝΟΚ ϯϢΟΟΠ , “I (am) in existence” puts matters in the proper perspective:. The question asked of Jesus was not, if he were God, but whether he had seen Abraham. (John 8:57) Jesus replied that he pre-existed Abraham, as God’s Son in heaven. Neither in Greek nor in Coptic does he say “I am God.”