Jesus Did Not Declare His Deity in John 8:58
Many Trinitarians try to connect the words "I am" in John 8:58 with the same words as found in Exodus 3:14, where God declares the divine name. From this possible connection, Trinitarians attempt to draw two conclusions:
1. Since Christ was before Abraham, Christ must have existed prior to his birth on earth.
2. Since Christ says, "I am," he must be alluding to the divine name, thereby in effect telling the Jews that he is "Very God".
As to the first conclusion, Christ's reference to Abraham was not to speak of his pre-existence. He was not claiming to be literally older than Abraham. This can be seen in a prior remark in verse 56, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw [it], and was glad." "Abraham, to whom the Gospel was preached (Gal. 3:8), saw the day of Christ through the eye of faith. Christ was 'foreordained before the foundation of the word, but manifested in these last times' (1 Pet. 1:20) He was foreordained in the divine purpose, but not formed. Similarly in the divine purpose he was the 'Lamb slain from the foundation of the world' (Rev. 13:8) but literally he was not slain until his crucifixion in the time of Pilate." Considering the above, it becomes clear that Christ was affirming his pre-eminence not his pre-existence.
As to the second conclusion, there is no proof that Christ was alluding to the divine name. In fact, there are some real questions as to how Exodus 3:14 should be translated. In the Tanakh, a recent translation of the Old Testament by The Jewish Publication Society, the Hebrew words "Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh" are not even translated into English because the meaning of the Hebrew words are uncertain. The translators say in a footnote the words are "variously translated: 'I Am That I Am'; 'I Am Who I Am'; 'I Will Be What I Will Be'; etc." If we can't be sure how the Hebrew words should be translated, how can we be sure that Christ was alluding to the divine name.
There's another way to compare the words of Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58. The Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek as found in the Septuagint were fluent in both languages. It is reasonable to assume that if they produced the same Greek words in Exodus 3:14 as found in the Greek of John 8:58 then there might be a connection.
In checking the Septuagint at Exodus 3:14 it can be seen that the Hebrew words "Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh" are translated into the Greek words "ego eimi ho ohn". These words translated into English mean "I am the Being". In the Greek New Testament the words "prin abraam genesthai ego eimi" or "before Abraham was, I AM" are found in John 8:58.
From the above comparison of the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament it can be seen the words don't quite match. "I am the Being" versus "I am". In fact, looking a little closer, the words in John 8:58 don't form a complete sentence. Those who would connect the words in Exodus 3:14 with the word found in John 8:58 would have Jesus responding to the Jews with an incomplete thought. There's a predicate missing.
It would seem that however you look at it, there's too much uncertainty about how the words should be translated in Exodus 3:14 to say they are connected with the "I Am" of John 8:58. There's strong evidence to indicate the most accurate translation of "Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh" is "I will be what I will be". This would make the connection even more unreasonable.
The 1851 English translation of the Greek Septuagint for Exodus 3:14 is: And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am (ego eimi) THE BEING (ho ohn); and he said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, THE BEING (ho ohn) has sent me to you.
Something else to consider about whether Jesus was alluding to the divine name in John 8:58. "For him to do so would be inconsistent with all he said in chapter 8. 'In John 8:16,26,28,29,38,40,42,50,54,55 Jesus repeatedly acknowledges the supremacy of the Father over himself and his own dependence upon the Father, and that the Father sent him, and that he does nothing of himself."
[PK added]: Trinitarians unfortunately yank Jesus' "I am" statements out of their context, for it is clear that Jesus is not God based upon his following statements:
John 8:28: "I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things." If Jesus is "Very God of Very God," and coequal with the Father, then why must Jesus be taught by the Father? If Jesus is God, then why can he not do nothing on his own authority? Must God wait on another person before He can do something?
John 8:40: "You are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God." If Jesus is "Very God of Very God," then does God hear God, seeing that Jesus said that he was "a MAN...that [has] heard from God"?
John 8:42: "I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me" (John 8:42). One can't "come from God" and "be sent by God" and at the same time be "Very God."
John 8:54: "Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me." If Jesus is coequal with God, then why is Jesus' honor described by himself as being "nothing," and why is the only honor worthy of mention is the honor that is bestowed by his Father? These "honors" don't sound very "equal"
if "God the Son" is coequal with "God the Father," as the Trinitarian Athanasian Creed claims.
Partial source: Phil Logan-Kelly