The Jehovah's witness' version of the bible the NWT translates these verses as:

58 Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, before Abraham came into existence, I have been.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid and went out of the temple. (emphasis added)

KJV,ESV,NIV,NRSV,NASB all translate the bold section in v58 as "I am", (source) which on the surface, seems to be a direct reference to the way God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush:

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” - Ex 3:14-15 NIV (emphasis added, cf. v14 in different versions)

As such, it would seem logical for the Jews to want to stone Jesus for (in their eyes) blasphemy.

This Q&A on the biblical hermeneutics site addresses which translation of those particular words is preferable, so I don't wish to re-hash that ground, but to ask, given the sense imparted by the following verse (i.e. that the Jews regarded what Jesus was saying as blasphemous) how can it be logically maintained that Jesus was not referencing the name (or title, or description - that particular distinction should be irrelevant) of God as revealed to Moses at the burning bush and applying it to himself?


4 Answers 4


I actually do not see a problem here. The Jehovah's Witness group teaches that God the Father created Jesus first (source), then Jesus created everything else (source). So they do believe that Jesus existed before his incarnation.

To the Jews, this is an irrelevant distinction. It is blasphemous either way.

  1. "Jesus is God" = blasphemy - stone him
  2. "Jesus was created by God before everything else" = blasphemy - stone him.

Anything about "I am" being in reference to God the Father, explicitly, is simply denied and translated accordingly in their New World Translation. Whether their translation is valid or not is a question for the Hermeneutics site.

  • 3
    I know 2. is JW doctrine, but can you explain a little more clearly: a) how the Jews would have got that exact sense from what was said and b) why they would have regarded it as blasphemous rather than just crazy - I just don't see how that follows. Jun 30, 2014 at 23:01
  • 2
    @bruisedreed The JW's don't need to explain that. Whether you equated yourself with God the Father, just called yourself a god (as the JW's would submit that Jesus did here), or called another human a god (as was the case with the newly founded Roman Imperial Cult) is irrelevant, really, because they are all blasphemy. You cannot tell how the Jews understood the statement by their actions to stone him. All scenarios would lead to that.
    – user3961
    Jul 1, 2014 at 4:08
  • 3
    2. would be like the "two powers in heaven" heresy that got rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah renamed to Acher (the other guy). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisha_ben_Abuyah Jul 9, 2014 at 3:45

Many honest people who know Greek can explain it easily without having to force the ego eimi with God's name in the burning bush passage, and we don't have to be a Jahovah's Witness for this belief. Ouk Ego Eimi Jahovah's Witness (I am not a JW).

which on the surface, seems to be a direct reference to the way God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush

Your question hinges on a number of presuppositions and ignorance of the original language. The main reason behind relating the two "I am" claims is by comparing two English translations, and concluding that somehow "I am" means God's name, even though that is not what the divine name YHWH means. The "I am" of Exodus 3:14 is actually in Greek LXX ὁ ὢν ἀπέσταλκέν με πρὸς ὑμᾶς. This "ho on" means "The Being" or "who is", as it is translated in LXX Brenton as, "And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am THE BEING; and he said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, THE BEING has sent me to you." This ho own refers to the omnipresent actual name of God, that is ascribed to Jesus a number of times in book of Revelations, e.g. 1:8 Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ Ἄλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ, λέγει κύριος ὁ θεός, ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος, ὁ παντοκράτωρ. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Also, to Jesus in Rom 9:5, and to the father in 2Cor 11:31

The phrase "I am" is never a code for God's name or for anything unique or enigmatic, it means the same thing in English as it refers to in the Bible. Thus, ho on is more likely to be used as God's name, as it is literally his actual name, rather than the self-referent verb phrase. Wikipedia states on the ego eimi tradition under Other views:

This assumption is questioned by those who point out that in the Septuagint and in Philo's Life of Moses Greek ho on "the being", not ego eimi "I am", carries the greater part of the meaning.[12][13] Also that ho on "who is" occurs in Revelation 1:4,8 4:8, 11:17, 16:5.

A great analogy to explain the semantic fallacy of comparing two similar looking phrases in a common translation would be to equate 1Cor 15:10 Paul's claim "I am who I am because of God’s grace"(Voice), to God's name in Exodus 3:14, or by mistranslating it as "I AM WHO I AM", when the original language shows no similarity between the two. A proper and honest exegesis shows neither Paul nor Jesus, were claiming to be God in any of those phrases. Of, course, the implication of various Jesus' claims were Messianic, thus, indirectly divine claims, however, none of those are direct and explicit YHWH name in any case. Thus, we need to interpret the text beyond the surface, and not fall for any fallacy by quick jumping to conclusions without evidence.

As such, it would seem logical for the Jews to want to stone Jesus for (in their eyes) blasphemy ....
how can it be logically maintained that Jesus was not referencing the name (or title, or description - that particular distinction should be irrelevant) of God as revealed to Moses at the burning bush and applying it to himself?

A proper exegesis reveals that the logic for the blasphemy charge was his Messiah claims, that is what the agenda of John's narrative. The "I am the one" unique phrases in John refers to his identification with the expected Messiah. His Messianic claims were worthy of blasphemy to those who rejected him (John 5:18, 10:33), he was making himself "equal to God", by claiming to be the (divine) Messiah. In this context of John 8, where he claimed to be older than Abraham, it was an explicit Messiah claim. There is only one being who is greater than the patriarchs, above all, that is the Messiah, and he was considered equal to God.

Some Pre-New Testament Jewish commentaries on the Messiah found in the Jewish records:

  • Targum Jonathan ( 4th Century ) gives the introduction on Isa. 52:13:”Behold, my servant the Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high and increase and be exceedingly strong…“

  • Gersonides (1288-1344) on Deut. 18:18: “In fact Messiah is such a prophet, as it is stated in the Midrasch on the verse,’Behold, my servant shall prosper…’ (Isa. 52:13).”

  • Midrash Tanchuma: “He was more exalted than Abraham, more extolled than Moses, higher than the archangels” (Isa.52:13).

  • In the Midrash Tanhuma, parasha Toldot, it says: “Who art thou, O great mountain?” (Zechariah 4:7) This refers to the King Messiah . And why does he call him the “great mountain?” Because he is greater than the patriarchs, as it is said, ” My servant shall be high, and lifted up, and lofty exceedingly .” He will be higher than Abraham who said, “I raise high my hand unto the Lord” (Gen. 14:22), lifted up above Moses, to whom it is said, “Lift it up into thy bosom” (Numbers 11:12), loftier than the ministering angels, of whom it is written, “Their wheels were lofty and terrible” (Ezekiel 1:18). And out of whom does he come forth? Out of David.

  • Yalkut ii: 571 (13th c.) says: Who art thou, O great mountain (Zech. iv. 7.) This refers to the King Messiah . And why does he call him “the great mountain?” Because he is greater than the patriarchs, as it is said, ” My servant shall be high, and lifted up, and lofty exceedingly” — he will be higher than Abraham, . . . lifted up above Moses, . . . loftier than the ministering angels.

To suggest that these Messianic commentaries among the anti-Messianic Jews have been created after Jesus would be laughable, just as the "I AM" mistranslations or interpretations in John's Gospel. We should be careful in our interpretation by not blindly following any tradition of men driven by emotions.

  • 1
    Fantastic academic exposition - you have my upvote
    – Js Witness
    Apr 4 at 12:48

The opposing Jews wanted to stone Jesus for claiming that he had “seen Abraham,” although, as they said, Jesus was “not yet 50 years old.” (John 8:57)

The following quotes are taken from the NWT study notes on John 8:58:

Jesus’ response was to tell them about his pre-human existence as a mighty spirit creature in heaven before Abraham was born. The argument that the Greek expression used here, ἐγὼ εἰμί / ego eimi (rendered “I am” in most Bible translations), is an allusion to the Septuagint rendering of Exodus 3:14 and that both verses should be rendered the same way. Exodus 3:14 declares God's name, for Moses asked what's the name of God. In the context for John 8:58, however, the action expressed by the Greek verb eimiʹ started “before Abraham came into existence” and was still in progress. It is therefore properly translated “I have been” rather than “I am,” and several ancient and modern translations use wording similar to “I have been.”

Imagine God would have said something slightly different to Moses. Imagine he would simply have said "Yahweh". Do you suggest Jesus would have said to the Jews "Before Abraham was, Yahweh"? That wouldn't make any sense.

Also, if ego eimi was such a trigger term, then why did the Jews act completely differently, when a few verses later, the blind man who got cured by Jesus made himself known to them by saying exactly the same words : ego eimi (I am he) in John 9:9? Did the Jews pick up stones to kill this man, whom they knew to be previously blind, for this claim?

At John 14:9, the same form of the Greek verb ei·miʹ is used to render Jesus’ words: “Even after I HAVE BEEN with you men for such a long time, Philip, have you not come to know me?” Most translations use a similar wording, showing that depending on the context there is no valid grammatical objection to rendering ei·miʹ as “have been.” (Other examples of rendering a present tense Greek verb using a present perfect tense verb are found at Luke 2:48; 13:7; 15:29; John 15:27; Acts 15:21; 2 Corinthians 12:19; 1 John 3:8.)

Also, Jesus’ reasoning recorded in John 8:54, 55 shows that he was not trying to portray himself as the same ontological being as his Father. On the contrary, in John 8:17,18 Jesus refers to Jewish law: "In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” In John 5:31 Jesus said: "If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true." Jesus thus made it very clear that there is an ontological difference between himself and the Father. Otherwise, the testimony about Jesus being the Son of God would not have been acceptable evidence according to Jewish Law (established by God I might add).

Possible reasons for the Jews to pick up stones, and attempt to kill Jesus

According to Deuteronomy 18:20-22, anyone who claims to be a prophet of God should be condemned to death if they proclaim something false in the name of God. Both criteria fit the case at hand: Jesus directly and repeatedly claimed to speak in the name of God. Let's look at the following examples (all taken from John’s gospel):

7:16: My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.

7:28: I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true

8:16: the Father who sent me.

8:18: the Father who sent me bears witness about me.

8:26: He who sent me is true

8:28: I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things

8:40: [I am] a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God

8:42: I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me.

This list makes it clear that Jesus openly claimed to be a prophet, someone who speaks in the name of God. And immediately before Jesus uttered the words of verse 58, Jesus was accused of the fact that Abraham could never have seen him, because Jesus was not yet 50 years old, while Abraham had already been dead for many centuries.

Jesus' answer that he had already existed before Abraham's birth could be used as an excuse to say that Jesus had said something false in the name of God. For it seemed clear to everyone that Jesus could not have been that old. And thus, according to his opponents, he had spoken a word in the name of God that was false, thus fulfilling the characteristic of a false prophet from Deuteronomy 18. This did not require Jesus to make a "claim to divinity".

But there are even more reasons to stone Jesus. Anyone reading the words from John 8:48-52 today is inclined to misunderstand them. There Jesus is accused of being possessed by a demon and of being a Samaritan. While today we associate "Samaritan" with the parable of the Good Samaritan, the accusation of being “possessed by a demon” sounds like "you’re a lunatic”. Both are misleading.

According to John 8:20, the discussion took place in the treasury of the temple, which in turn was located in the so-called court of the women. According to Exodus 15:31, a person who was ritually unclean and came into the temple (apart from the court of the Gentiles) was punished with death. Although there was no direct commandment that a possessed person was unclean, this was a possible excuse that the presence of a possessed person desecrated the temple.

Furthermore, possession can be attributed to someone being a spiritualist, this connection is obvious. And according to Exodus 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:10-12, this was again a crime punishable by death. The accusation: "You have a demon!" was therefore also an attempt to find an excuse to kill Jesus.

It was similar with the accusation: "You are a Samaritan!" This was not an accusation that accused Jesus of mercy. What we find in the "Jewish Antiquities" section XVIII.2.2 of Flavius Josephus is interesting. According to the description there, Samaritans crept into the temple about twenty years before Jesus' appearance and deliberately defiled it with parts of corpses. From the account, we can conclude that Samaritans were obviously not allowed in the temple (otherwise they would not have had to sneak in) and, moreover, they were known from that time onwards for trying to desecrate the temple.

It was also common knowledge that Jesus was a Jew from Galilee. Anyone who accused him of being a Samaritan automatically accused him of apostasy from the Jewish faith. This was also a pretext that was enough to stone someone who came to the temple. Decades later, when a lynch mob tried to kill Paul in the temple, one of the accusations according to Acts 21:28 was also apostasy; and the accusation there also ended with an attempted murder of Paul.

The above is a possibility and I cannot claim that it must have been so with 100% certainty. However, in the context of Jesus' claim to speak as God's representative, these accusations result in another obvious attempt to portray Jesus as a false prophet.

It is clear that a prophet of God is guided by the Holy Spirit. This rules out the possibility of the same person being possessed by a demon at the same time. So anyone who accused Jesus of being possessed was also accusing him of claiming to speak in the name of God, since a possessed person cannot be God's prophet.

And of course a prophet had to be an Israelite. The Bible contains no examples of Jehovah sending a message to his people through a non-Israelite. When Jesus is referred to as a Samaritan, it is again denied that he could be a true prophet. As in chapter 7:52, the Jewish elite even denied that a prophet could come from Galilee (which is obviously wrong, since according to 2 Kings 14:25 Jonah came from Gath-Hepher in Galilee), although they only said this out loud "in the inner circle". Obviously, in their opinion, a prophet could much less come from Samaria. So if a Samaritan claimed to be sent by God, then in the opinion of the Jewish elite he must obviously be a false prophet.

Therefore, both accusations definitely served to portray Jesus as a false prophet; and that was a reason to stone him.

Did the Pharisees even understand Jesus?

Furthermore, reread the whole account starting in John 8:12 - Did the Pharisees understand Jesus in any way or grasp what he was saying? They repeatedly misunderstood Jesus - in fact, there was not a single thing they got correct, as is clear from the below list of questions/comments they uttered (all from John's gospel again):

8:19: Then they said to him, "Where is your Father?

Obviously they had not understood that Jesus was talking about God, otherwise they would hardly have asked the question in this way.

8:22: Then the Jews said, "Surely He does not want to kill Himself by saying, 'Where I am going, you cannot come?

Here, too, they had not understood what Jesus was talking about; the assumption of suicide was possibly wishful thinking, but had nothing to do with Jesus' intentions.

8:25: Then they said to him, "Who are you?

Jesus had already pointed out several times that he was a prophet, but they did not want to/could not understand this.

8:27: They did not recognise that he was speaking to them about the Father.

An unmistakable statement

8:33: They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been anyone's slaves. How do you say: You shall be free?

They do not understand what kind of freedom Jesus is talking about.

8:39: They answered and said to him, "Abraham is our father.

8:41: They said to him, "We were not born through fornication; we have one Father, God.

It took them three attempts to understand what Jesus was accusing them of. Incidentally, this is the only point where we can say with some certainty that they understood Jesus (in the end).

8:48: The Jews answered and said to him, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?

8:52: The Jews therefore said to him, "Now we recognise that you have a demon.

These accusations are obviously false and are based on the fact that they (want to) misunderstand Jesus.

8:53: What are you making of yourself?

This question shows that nothing Jesus has said up to this point has been understood.

8:57: Then the Jews said to him, "Are you not yet fifty years old and have you seen Abraham?

This question also stems from a misunderstanding. Jesus thus far had not claimed to have seen Abraham.

Jesus was even so frustrated with them that he said „Why do I speak to you at all?“ (John 8:25 - NRSV) When they asked him why he said he saw Abraham, as he wasn’t even 50 years old, he said „ego eimi“ - guess what might have happened? They misunderstood him again!

So the majority understanding of John 8:58 is that the Pharisees who did get Jesus wrong the whole time, all of a sudden had an epiphany and suddenly understood him correctly by him claiming to be God, only by him saying „ego eimi“ - you recognize how absurd that argument appears to be? It shows me what is often true - the majority isn't always right!

Going even further into the whole context of John 8, you'll see that they (the Pharisees) continuously felt their authority being questioned, and they became more and more exposed by Jesus for their false reasonings. It could have been this, that caused the Pharisees to lose it and attempt to stone Jesus, as by stating that Jesus had seen Abraham, because he was older than him, he claimed even higher authority than Abraham.

Seniority was a very important aspect of granting authority in Jewish culture (Job 12:12). For the Pharisees, Abraham was the highest human authority, and they understood Jesus to claim higher authority than themselves, which was unacceptable insubordination - they hated him for it! This happened on numerous occasions, and they wanted to find an excuse to kill Jesus (Mark 11:18; Mark 14:1; John 7:30,32,44,45; Luke 19:47; 20:19)

So, it wasn't their fear of God that caused them to perceive Jesus' word as sinful! It was their selfish pride that caused them to act in utter outrage because Jesus had dared to question their authority repeatedly and established that his authority was higher than theirs.


I think you missed the point of why they wanted to stone. Here is the reason:-

NWT John 8:57 "Then the Jews said to him: “You are not yet 50 years old, and still you have seen Abraham?”

The Jews wanted to stone him because he said he has seen "Abraham" (a claim any of the Angels can also make) which he confirmed by says he had existed before Abraham in vs 58 which has noting to do with being God as the following shows:-


The Living Bible: “The absolute truth is that I was in existence before Abraham was ever born!”

The New Testament in the Language of Today, 1964 ed., William F. Beck: “I was in existence before Abraham was ever born”

New Believers Bible, New Living Translation, (1996): “Jesus answered, “The truth is, I existed before Abraham was even born!”

The Concise Gospel and The Acts, C.J. Christianson, (1973): “I existed even before Abraham was born.”

New Simplified Bible: “Jesus said, I tell you the truth, I existed before Abraham was born.”

An American Translation, Smith and Goodspeed, (1939): “Jesus said to them, “I tell you, I existed before Abraham was born!”

The New Testament in the Language of the People, Charles B. Williams, (1937): “Then Jesus said to them, “I most solemnly say to you, I existed before Abraham was born.”

Cotton Patch Version, (1970): “To this Jesus replied, I existed before Abraham was born.”

New Testament, Noli, M.F.S., (1961): “Jesus answered them: Well, well, I tell you, I existed before Abraham was born.”

The Original New Testament, H.J. Schonfield, (1956): “I tell you for a positive fact, I existed before Abraham was born.”

The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, George Swann, (1947): “Jesus said to them, verily, verily I say unto you, I existed before Abraham was born.”

The Clarified New Testament, P.G. Parker: “Jesus answered, before Abraham existed, I existed.”

A Translators Handbook to the Gospel of John, Nida: “Before Abraham existed, I existed, or I have existed.”

The Documents of the New Testament, G.W. Wade, (1934): “Jesus said to them, in very truth I tell you, before Abraham came into being, I have existed.”

The Complete Gospels Annotated Scholars Version, Miller, (1992): “I existed before there was an Abraham.”

The Bible, A New Translation, Dr. James Moffatt, (1935): “Truly, truly I tell you,” said Jesus, “I have existed before Abraham was born.”

The New Testament Or Rather the New Covenant, Sharpe, (1881): “I was before Abraham was born.”

The Worldwide English New Testament Bible: “Jesus answered, I tell you the truth. I already was before Abraham was born.”

Good News for the World, (1969): “Jesus answered, I tell you the truth. I already was before Abraham was born.”

International English Version, (2001): “I was alive before Abraham was born.”

International Bible Translators, (1981): “Jesus said to them, I am telling the truth: I was alive before Abraham was born!”

The Simple English Bible, (1978): “Jesus said to them, I tell you the truth: I was alive before Abraham was born.”

The Four Gospels and Revelation, Richmond Lattimore, (1979): “Truly, truly I tell you, I am from before Abraham was born.”

New Covenant, J.W. Hanson, (1884): “Jesus said to them, truly, truly, I say to you, I am before Abraham was born.”

A Literal Translation from the Syriac Peshito Version, James Murdock, D.D., from 5th century manuscripts, (1896): “Jesus said to them: Verily, verily I say to you, That before Abraham existed, I was.”

Twentieth Century New Testament: “In truth I tell you,” replied Jesus, “before Abraham existed I was.”

The New Testament According To The Eastern Text, George Lamsa Translation, (1940): “Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham was born, I was.”

The Curetonian Version of the Four Gospels, Burkitt, from 5th century manuscripts, (1904): “Before Abraham came to be, I was.”

The Old Georgian Version of the Gospel of John, P. Blake, M. Briere, in Patrologia Orientallis, Vol. XXVI, faxcicle 4, Paris, from 5th century manuscripts, (1950): “Before Abraham came to be, I was.”

Ethiopic-Edition: Nouvum Testamentum Æthiopice, T.P. Platt, revised by F. Praetorius, Lepzig, (1899: “Before Abraham was born, I was”

The New Testament, Curt Stage, (1907): “Before Abraham came to be, I was.”

The New Testament, Kleist & Lilly, (1956): “I tell you the plain truth. replied Jesus, I am here - and I was before Abraham.”

New American Standard Bible, 1963 and 1971 editions alternative rendering: “I have been”

The New Testament, George Rh. Noyes, D.D., “Professor Of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages and Dexter Lecturer on Biblical Literature in Harvard University”, (1869): “Jesus said, truly I tell you, from before Abraham was, I have been.”

“The Four Gospels” According to the Sinaitic Palimpsest, Agnes Smith Lewis, from a 4th-5th century manuscript, (1886): “He said unto them, 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I have been.”

The New Testament in Hebrew, Franz Delitzsch, 1937 edition: “Before Abraham was, I have been.”

The Unvarnished New Testament, Andy Gaus: “Truly, truly I tell you, Before Abraham was born, I have already been.”

The New Testament (in German), Friedreich Pfaefflin, (1949): “Jesus: Before there was an Abraham, I was already there.”

The New Testament in Hebrew, Isaac Salkinson and David Ginsberg, 1941 edition: “I have been when there had as yet been no Abraham.”

Translation of New Testament, Wakefield, G., (1795): “Jesus said unto them: Verily verily I say unto you, before Abraham was born, I am He.”

Ledyard, G.H. New Life Testament, (1969): “Jesus said to them, for sure I tell you, before Abraham was born, I was and sum and always will be.”

The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Southern Dialect, George William Horner, (1911): “Before Abraham became, I, I, am being.”

The New Testament, James A. Klist, S.J., and Joseph L. Lilly, C.M., (1954): “I am here - and I was before Abraham.”


  • @Sola Gratia Many scholars will not agree with you these days as the falsehood of the trinity is now exposed.
    – user43190
    Feb 1, 2019 at 19:27
  • Keyword being 'now'/novelty. Only now is the Trinity rejected by innovators reinterpreting the Bible. But alas, 'scholars' don't define Greek. The meaning of the word ειμι is not disputed, is it? By which scholar? adding the referent "εγω" doesn't change the meaning of a verb... or do you think it does? This has zero to do with the Trinity. Feb 1, 2019 at 19:57
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    Even if the trinity were false, Jesus still said QUOTE "εγω" (which is a pronoun meaning 'I') and QUOTE "ειμι" (which is a verb in the present tense meaning "I am"). The verb you're really looking for was ην which isn't used here, as it is in John 1:1 which proves Jesus "was [being]" before the creation/time. Feb 1, 2019 at 19:57

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