Before Abraham Was I Am – John 8:58
“Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”
Some say that the words “I AM” is the divine name of God of which Jesus attributed to himself. (John 8:58)
The words “I AM”
Now please understand that anyone can say the words, “I am,” and it does not mean that he is claiming to be God. Someone could say, “I am over here.” That is not claiming the divine name. Likewise, someone could say, “I am hungry” or “I am sick.” Neither example is claiming divinity because the use of the term, “I am,” in context clearly shows us that is not what is occurring.
FIRST: “I AM” Is Not A Name
The context of the passage for which Jesus was responding indicates that he was speaking about his existence not his name, which is in reference to the words “Before Abraham”. In addition, the statement would be meaningless if we were to use the phrase “I am” verbatim as it is written and claim it to be a name; it’s like saying “Before Abraham was, Tom”, the sentence structure is left incomplete.
SECOND: Jesus did not say “I am that I am”
Neither God nor Jesus told anyone that “I am that I am” or “I am” was their name. Exodus 3:14 reads as follows; “…thou say unto the children of Israel, I am hath sent me unto you”. As with any biblical passage the correct context is often hinged upon all of the subsequent passages. Many may want to ignore verse 15 but it exists and it is powerful. God did not tell Moses his name until we reach verse 15.
(Exodus 3:15) “And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD (H3068)[H3068 = Jehovah] God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this [is] my name for ever, and this [is] my memorial unto all generations.” (That would include today)
The word “LORD” which appears in all capital letters (KJV and others) is one of the instances where the Hebrew text was deliberately changed from YHWH, transliterated “Jehovah” in English. (The name “Jehovah” can only be used for God!) The change was marked by those who did it, and was said to be done out of reverence for the name of God, not out of a desire to deceive. Nevertheless, it does obscure the meaning of some of the verses.
Note: This information is common knowledge for most Pastors and found in various Biblical reference sources which are available in print and online. (See: Are There Two Lords? Prove It! (Jude 1:4))
It is this name alone (LORD = Jehovah) that is carried from that point throughout the KJV Bible as being the name of God. Once this word (LORD) is changed back to its original form, the verse becomes much clearer:
(Exodus 3:15) “And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, Jehovah [or YHWH] God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this [is] my name for ever, and this [is] my memorial unto all generations.”
Here, God’s name is clearly and explicitly revealed as Jehovah, or YHWH. He is referred to by this name numerous times in scripture. In short, this is how God’s name should be treated throughout scripture.
THIRD: None Of The Disciples Ever Bowed Down And Worshiped Jesus As God
Upon hearing those words in (John 8:58) none of Jesus disciples ever bowed down and worshiped Jesus as God; and this is very unlikely if they understood and believed Jesus to be identifying himself as God Almighty.
Many teach that Jesus “existed before John the Baptist…as God the Father”. The manner in which Jesus existed must also however agree with (John 8:28, 38) which indicate that Jesus and God are two separate beings.
(John 8:28) “Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.”
(John 8:38) “I speak that which I have seen with my Father:”
It should be clear from the preceding verses (John 8:28, 38) that the one thing Jesus Christ was NOT doing in (John 8:58), when he said “Before Abraham was I am”, was identifying himself as God.
He that cometh after me is preferred before me: FOR HE WAS BEFORE ME (John 1:15, 30)
Jesus did not physically exist until he was conceived in the womb of Mary. It is also clear that the name “Jesus” is never mentioned in the Old Testament as being God’s name. There is nothing that would indicate that Abraham ever knew God as Jesus, because Jesus did not literally exist, other than in the thought (logos) or mind of God (for lack of better wording), and was not manifested or begotten until hundreds of years later, after Abraham’s death. (See: The Bible’s Concept Of Time – How Individuals Existed Prior To Birth)
It is therefore vital that the context be understood correctly. Jesus did not literally exist prior, but was foreknown in the mind of God before Abraham physically existed. In other words when Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I am” it was more in the context of Jesus saying; “before Abraham existed, I was foreknown” (See: Man’s Perspective vs. God’s Perspective Of Time)
As the Apostle Paul puts it:
(Romans 8:29) “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”
This is the same manner of speech and context as found in (Revelation 13:8)
(Revelation 13:8) “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”.
We must concede that Jesus was not “literally” slain prior his existence (Revelation 13:8) but after his physical birth (or appearance upon the earth). Again we must look at all the scriptures and use a bit of common sense in our attempt to see how these phrases were meant to be taken allowing for sound doctrine and constant harmony. (See: The Bible’s Concept Of Time – How Individuals Existed Prior To Birth)
As the Apostle Peter puts it:
(1 Peter 1:19-21) “But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, 21 Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.”