John 8:56-59 reports the following conversation between Jesus and a group of Jews: “56 ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’ 57 So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ 58 Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (ESV)

The vast majority of Bible translations agree that John 8:58 should be rendered substantially like this: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. [Greek: ego eimi]’”

In contrast, the Watchtower Bible renders that verse: “Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, before Abraham came into existence, I have been.’”

 Why is this important? Because in Exodus 3:14 quotes Jehovah as saying to Moses, “God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

On page 417 of its book Reasoning from the Scriptures, the Watchtower indicates that it understands fully what is at stake: “[The versions that read “I am”]… endeavor to connect the expression with Exodus 3:14, where, according to their rendering, God refers to himself by the title ‘I Am.’”)

In other words, Jesus’ calling himself “I am” was a claim to be God.

That’s why the Watchtower changed the wording.

On page 418, the Watchtower defends its version as follows: “Which rendering agrees with the context? The question of the Jews (verse 57) to which Jesus was replying had to do with age, not identity. Jesus reply logically dealt with his age, the length of his existence. Interestingly, no effort is ever made to apply ego eimi as a title to the holy spirit.”

The context

In saying this, the Watchtower ignores the context of Jews’ question from verse 53: “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”

So Jesus’ identity was the topic under discussion.

The Jews’ taking up stones to stone him (verse 59) shows that they understood him to be claiming to be God. Of course, they could have been mistaken, so let’s look a little deeper.

 The Watchtower’s John 8:58 rendering

In rendering ego eimi “I have been,” the Watchtower contradicted the interlinear portion of its own Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. That translates John 8:58 word for word as follows: “Said to them Jesus Amen amen I am saying to YOU Before Abraham to become I am.”

The Watchtower’s new Exodus 3:14 rendering

Even after acknowledging the connection between the “I am” of John 8:58 and the “I am” statement of Jehovah in Exodus 3:14, the Watchtower felt it advisable to change its rendering of Exodus 3:14.

Now it has that verse reading as follows: “So God said to Moses: “I Will Become What I Choose to Become.” And he added: “This is what you are to say to the Israelites, ‘I Will Become has sent me to you.’”

 A footnote gives an alternate rendering:I Will Prove to Be What I Will Prove to Be.”

Very convenient. Now no one reading Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58 in the Watchtower Bible would see any possible connection between the name God gave Moses and the identity claim Jesus made to the Jews, as reported by the apostle John.

But the fact is that they are connected.

 The Greek versions of Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58

Although the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, during Jesus’ day there was a well known Greek translation called the Septuagint with which Jesus, John, and the Jews would have been familiar.

How did those verses read in the Greek?

The Septuagint version of Exodus 3:14 says that God said to Moses “ego eimi…”

The Greek New Testament says in John 8:58 that Jesus told the Jews, “Before Abraham came into existence, ego eimi.”

In other words, in reporting Jesus’ declaration to the Jews, John used exactly the same Greek words as God used in referring to himself in Exodus 3:14 in the Septuagint.

And in verse 59, the Jews immediately took up stones to stone Jesus. Why? Because when asked who he claimed to be he used the exact words God had used with Moses in Exodus 3!

If John wanted his readers to believe that the Jews misunderstood Jesus’ claim, why would he have reported the exact correspondence of Greek words without adding any sort of disclaimer or explanation?

 Jesus’ Use of “I am”

 In fact, in the book of John, Jesus made eight astonishing declarations concerning his identity, each containing the words “I am.”

 “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)

  • “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12)
  • “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
  • “I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7)
  • “I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10:11)
  • “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)
  • “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
  • “I am the true vine.” (John 15:1)

 The Watchtower translates them all as “I am” except for John 8:58.

 Stay focused on Jesus

As a reminder, the Watchtower finished its defense of its rendering with this statement: “Interestingly, no effort is ever made to apply ego eimi as a title to the holy spirit.”

We’ve seen them use this technique before.

When they discussed Jesus’ statement that he didn’t know the day or hour of his return, but only the Father, they brought up the topic of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t let statements like this distract you from the topic at hand and the focus of the passage—the identity of Jesus.