VOLUME 1 --- ISSUE 2 --- July 1997
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE: The "Friends of the Nazarene" are a research group for better Bible understanding dedicated to the preservation and publishing of Christian writings which aid the Fathers Children to "follow the Lamb no matter where the Lamb goes." We are Unitarian Apologists dedicated to the defense of the truth that "God is One." The Bible is our credo and we wish to respect the views of our multitude of Christian brethren.
c/o Shawn Mark Miller
Inside this Newsletter:
1. DID JESUS CLAIM TO BE THE "I AM" OF EX 3:14?
2. IS JOHN 8:58 A QUOTE?
3. DO NOT JOIN THEM!
We have before us a text, John 8:58, which a sincere Christian friend with strong faith in the Trinity suggests proves the divinity of Christ. In Greek the later part of this verse reads: πριν Αβρααμ γενησθαι εγω ειμι. [PRIN ABRAAM GENESTHAI EGO EIMI] This text reads in English in the Greek-English Interlinear New Testament as: Before Abraham came into being, I AM. We note the "I AM" is capitalized. When we check other translations we note they tend to also capitalize this "I AM." We note first that these same translations do not do this in 8:28 where Jesus also said, "I am." This has us puzzled at first.
Our good friend has suggested that the "I AM" in verse 58 is a quote from Exodus 3:14 and so he believes with great fervor Jesus is making himself the Yahweh of the Burning Bush account where the Almighty God declares His Name. We turn to some translations and they do, indeed, have Exodus 3:14 as I am that I AM. (KJV) Since some capitalize both "I AM" in John and Exodus it would seem our friends idea has some validity on passing examination. How are we to know whether the Nazarene is lifting the "I AM" of Exodus 3:14 and applying this title to himself in John 8:58? What can this mean?
First, our rule is to check the context. One could go all the way back to 8:1 (or, 8:12 in some versions) and check this dialogue between the Nazarene and the Jewish scribes and Pharisees, but we note the immediate question at hand. Verse 58 begins, Jesus said to them, so he must be responding to a question. Sure enough, we note in the previous verse (57) these godly Jews asked, You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham? To which Jesus answers in verse 58, Before Abraham existed, I am. [NOTE: FIFTY YEARS OLD: "Why did they say 50 years when Jesus was only 33 years old? It is noteworthy that the ministers in the tabernacle ceased to minister at the age of 50. Important matters were left to the elders, thus, it might have been an implication that Jesus was not old enough to counsel them." (The Complete Biblical Library -- 1986)]
We discover that the English "am" is similar to the Greek eimi (ειμι) which, according to Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, page 222, means "as a predicate to be -- 1. be, exist." As in Shakespeare, "to be or not to be, that is the question." It would seem to a fair mind that the subject is, "How could you possibly have known Abraham?" To which the Nazarene simply answers, Before Abraham existed, I existed, or, I existed before Abraham existed. The pre-existence of Christ is something stressed only in the Gospel of John and it seems that this is what is being done here. It seems a strange way to go about claiming one is the Yahweh, or ElShad-dai of Exodus 3:14.
We remember that the Nazarene has already used the whole Greek expression ego eimi in 8:18, 23, 28 and the Jews did not seem to think Jesus was laying claim to being Yahweh there. We note first 8:17, 18 where Jesus does quote from Moses (Deuteronomy 19:15) using the rule of the testimony of two men is true. When checking out this verse in Moses we note it actually says, two or three! If Jesus believed in a triune view, or any other concept of "three," this would have provided an outstanding Trinitarian opportunity. However, instead of applying "three men" and their testimony, he only makes application of "two" when he goes on to say: I am (ego eimi) the one testifying about myself. Now, that makes "one person." Then Jesus adds, and the One having sent me, the Father, testifies about me. That makes, by Jesus own addition, "two." He either misses this opportunity to make some statement about "three," as Deuteronomy 19:15 would allow, or he has no such thought about "three."
Here, in 8:17, 18, when the Nazarene used "I am" (ego eimi) there was no confusion among the Jews: Jesus was some one other than the Father, who was another. That the Jews understood the Father to be God is shown in 8:41 and 8:54. So could not 8:17, 18 read: "I am the one testifying about myself and God who sent me testifies about me"? Jesus equals "one" and God equals "one" which adds up to "two witnesses" with no mention of a third.
The other occurrence of ego eimi is at 8:28 where Jesus says, When you lift up the Son of Man then you will know that I am. This comes in answer to the question in verse 25, Who are you? Is it fair to say the Nazarenes answer is, "the Son of Man"? This is an expression from Daniel 7:13 and had always been applied by the Jews to the Messiah or Christ. Here in verses 26-29 Jesus make a clear distinction between himself and the God who sent him, the Father. This designation from Daniel 7:13 is a true quote or allusion where the Messiah is ascending to the one called "the Ancient of Days."
Now, it seems to us that Jesus had clear opportunity to identify himself with "three persons" using Deuteronomy 19:15, but he does not. He has another opportunity when he is directly asked about his identity, but here his answer is, "the Son of Man."
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We are now wondering whether 8:58 and its ego eimi is a quote or allusion at all. First, we check Nestle-Alands Novum Testamentum Graece which faithfully identifies source words or quotes and to our surprise this excellent work does not list Exodus 3:14. We also check the New Jerusalem Bible which we have found to be reliable in its cross references to quotes and allusions. Even this work does not show Exodus 3:14 as a source of Jesus "I am."
How can we know if the ego eimi in John 8:58 is a quote or strong allusion to Exodus 3:14? We turn to Exodus 3:14, 15 in the Jewish Greek Septuagint. There, in answer to Moses question of God at the burning bush, ElShad-dai reveals to Moses His sacred name. Rendering this in English at the point of our interest, it reads: And the God spoke to Moses, saying, εγω ειμι ο ων (=ego eimi ho on; I AM THE BEING, LXXBagster); and He said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, ho On (= The Being) has sent me to you. ... This is my name for ever. Which part of the whole phrase ego eimi ho On does God take to be His name? Is it not ho On and not ego eimi. Here in Exodus 3:14 ego eimi is emphatic, meaning "I am . . . somebody."
Now, we remember that there is something interesting here in the account about the burning bush. The Nazarene alludes to it at Matthew 22:32 (see also Mark 12:18-27 and Luke 20:20-26) where Jesus seems to be referring to someone other than himself when he mentions, He is the God (not "I am God"), not of the dead, but of the living. Additionally, Peter alludes to Exodus 3:14 at Acts 3:13 and he seems to draw a clear distinction between The God of Abraham (=Yahweh) . .. . and His Servant-boy, Jesus.
We also remember that the dear apostle John himself in the Apocalypse uses ho On and applies it to someone other than the Lamb. Note Revelation 4:8 and ho On [HO ON. "The One Being." (RSV)] is the "Lord God Almighty" (the ElShad-dai of Ex 3:14) who sits upon the Throne and to whom the Lamb approaches to receive the Little Bible.
We also note in the process of checking the ego eimi of Exodus 3:14 (LXX) that the Greek is slightly different from the ego eimi of John 8:58. In Exodus it is emphatic (εγω ειμι) and in John 8:58 it is not. (εγω ειμί) Our good Christian friend has stressed the emphatic "I am" and we note that ego eimi is often used in such cases as "I am the Vine." Note the emphatic ego eimi Iesous ("I am Jesus") at Acts 26:15. Or, in the case of the blind man who uses the emphatic "I am ... " at John 9:9. That is, "I am .. . . someone (a blind man)." The Greek ego eimi is not emphatic in John 8:58, though it is in Exodus 3:14.
HOW DO TRANSLATORS RENDER JOHN 8:58?
In John 8:58 there is no suggestion of "I am . . . someone." It is simply, "I am." Though this is difficult to render in English, judging from what has been noted above, if Jesus were quoting Exodus 3:14 (in Greek) he would not have said ego eimi but rather ho On. If Jesus had respond to the question of the Jews, Before Abraham existed ho On a plausible argument might be presented that this is the Nazarenes quote of Exodus 3:14.
Since it is not, the suggested way to translate this unique case of ego eimi is admitted by A Translators Handbook on the Gospel of John (printed by the United Bible Societies): "In many languages it is impossible to preserve the expression I am in this type of context, for the present tense of the verb to be would be meaningless. To make sense, one must say, Before Abraham existed, I existed." This being the case we checked other translations: Lamsa: I was; Moffatt: I have existed before Abraham; Beck: I was before Abraham; Williams: I existed before Abraham was born; New World: before Abraham came into existence, I have been. So, it seems many translators do not render ego eimi as I AM but in harmony with the context show Jesus reply had to do with his confession of pre-existence, not his divinity.
Some other renderings are: 1869: "From before Abraham was, I have been." The New Testament, by G. R. Noyes. 1935: "I existed before Abraham was born!" The Bible-An American Translation, by J. M. P. Smith and E. J. Goodspeed. 1965: "Before Abraham was born, I was already the one that I am." Das Neue Testament, by Jörg Zink. 1981: "I was alive before Abraham was born!" The Simple English Bible.
Joseph Henry Thayer, a theologian and scholar who worked on the American Standard Version, stated simply: "The Logos was divine, not the divine Being himself." And Jesuit John L. McKenzie wrote in his Dictionary of the Bible: "John 1:1 should rigorously be translated . . . 'the word was a divine being.'"
BUT, WHAT ABOUT THE STONING?
Now, our friend has made much of verse 59, Therefore, they picked up stones to hurl them at him, but Jesus hid. Our friend feels that this stoning was in response to Jesus laying claim to the title "I AM." But, we have seen this ego eimi has already been used three times (8:18, 24, 28) without any objection on the part of the Jews. We note the Jews have been seeking to kill Jesus as early as John 5:18 (note also 7:1, 19, 20, 25, 32, 44, 45) where they were already stirred to stoning. So, it is not the Nazarenes remark in verse 58 which arouses their hatred. They were of this mind much earlier. Jesus has already given their reason in verse 40: But now you are seeking to kill me, a man (!!) that has told you the truth that I heard from The God. In this verse there is "a man" and The God (tou theou) consistent with the "two persons" of verse 17. [NOTE: Did any of the Apostolic Fathers use this argument?]
Finally, we check a Greek grammar, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research by A. T. Robertson: "The verb (ei-mi) . . . Sometimes it does express existence as a predicate like any other verb, as in (e-go ei-mi) Jo 8:58."
Our friend is extremely sincere and not for a moment do we doubt his undying faith in our Lord. We are quite willing to accept whatever identity the Bible places on Jesus the Nazarene. On the other hand, we cannot see John 8:58 anything other than Jesus stating his pre-existence before Abraham, something an angel could do also. We hope our friend does not judge (John 8:15; 12:47) us for believing Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah sent from The God above. We both rejoice at the indwelling Christ in the lives of all the Nazarene Saints!
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The later point in Luke 21:8 is a strong statement by the Nazarene and as rendered in the New Jerusalem Bible reads: Do not join them! Who was it our Lord warned "not to join"?
Do you take the direct warnings of the Nazarene seriously? What did he predict as part of a warning to The Elect, or the Chosen Ones? A comparison of the Synoptic Gospels in a compound paraphrase of all the Nazarenes prophetic warnings identifies the danger to any professing to be among the Elect today. These compound warnings include: Look out no one misleads you, for many will come using my name, saying, "I am the Anointed, or, I am he, or, the time is at hand." Do not join them! They will mislead man. And many false prophets will rise and mislead many. And then if ever anyone says to you: "Look! The Christ is here!" you should not believe it. For many pseudo-anointed and false prophets will rise up and they will give great sighs and portents, so as to mislead, if possible, The Elect. Look! I have foretold you everything! (Luke 21:8; Matthew 24:23, 24)
The above represents a combining of all those warnings of the Nazarene in the three Synoptic Gospels, including Jesus words in Matthew, Mark and Luke on the subject of the Sign of the Parousia. What can we learn from these?
Jesus prophetically foretells there will be persons or organizations claiming to be The Anointed (the Messiah; the Christ) or Gods "prophet." They are identified by five characteristics: a) claiming the authority of Christ; b) preaching, "The Time is at Hand"; c) claiming, "Christ is here"; d) pointing to various proofs of Gods backing in various "signs"; and, e) professing to be "the Anointed" as Gods unique and special channel.
The Nazarene makes two points very clear in his answer to the questions of his four Apostles: even the Son of Man does not know the appointed time of the Parousia, or "presence"; and, none of his personal disciples know the day and hour of the Kings Arrival. (Matthew 24:36, 42, 44; Mark 13:32, 33, 35)
Who could be so arrogant and presumptuous to claim to know the very date which the Nazarene says even he is ignorant of: the exact chronology of the foretold Return of the Messiah? Many are the present day religious organizations and evangelical preachers who assure their follows that "the appointed time is near," or, "the time is at hand," or, "the Kingdom of God is near." Regarding the so-called "end of the world" they use such words as "soon," or, "immediately ahead," or, "within our generation."
Would those who make such world-wide and international claims regarding the extreme nearness of the end be willing to divest themselves of their wealth and property in harmony with the Nazarenes commandment to the "little flock" at Luke 12:32, 33? If the end is so close what is their need of such riches as possessed in real estate and material things?
The Tension Between Ignorance and Expectation. As the year 1,000 AD approached in the Middle Ages, every kind of prophet and prognosticator appeared with predictions regarding the Return of Christ. Every natural and unnatural phenomenon was pointed to as proof of the emminent of the Second Coming. Every war, famine, earthquake, and plague was viewed as evidence "the last days" were upon the world. [NOTE: Jesus never uses the phrase "last days" or "time of the end."]
As a result millions of Christians, expecting the Return of Christ to Jerusalem, sold their worldly goods and made pilgrimages to that Holy City to await the parousia. A first, the Moslems welcomed their religious neighbors, but soon they grew tired of the intolerant Christians and persecution broke out. Hearing this, Christendom rallied to the defense of their brethren and thus began the "holy" Crusades. Some feel this war between Moslems land Christians still continues.
A similar spirit obtains now as we approach the year 2,000. [NOTE: see the work Apocalypse 2,000 AD!] Likely, this fervor will increases as the beginning of a new millennium approaches. These religious prophets have abounded following the French Revolution, but particularly from the mid-1800s. Today the print and electronic media are filled with predictions drawn from interpretations of Mathew chapter 24, Mark chapter 13, Luke chapter 21, as well as other verses in the Hebrew and Christian Bible. In the past many dates have come and gone without the appearance or revelation of Christ. Years have been pointed to as the "end of the world": 1820, 1844, 1874, 1884, 1914, 1915, 1918, 1925-6, 1945, 1975, 1985, etc. What should be the view of the Nazarene Saints as they draw nearer to the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third since the birth of Christ?
There is a strong tension between Christian ignorance of the foretold Parousia (Arrival) of Christ expectation of such a world-shaking event. On the one hand all Christians are ignorant of the exact timing of the Return of the Son of Man. The Nazarene made this clear when he said: But about that day and hour (of the Masters Return) no one knows, neither the angels of the heavens, nor the Son, but only the Father. Keep looking and stay awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is. You also, prove yourselves ready, because in an hour you are not expecting the Son of Man is coming. Therefore, you, stay awake, for you do not know when the Lord of the House is arriving --- whether late afternoon, or midnight, or at cock-crowing, or early morning. Otherwise, the Lord of the House, having arrived suddenly, might find you sleeping. But, that which I say t you I say to all: STAY AWAKE! (Matthew 24:42, 44; Mark 13:32-37)
That the Nazarene had in mind a brief period of twelve hours, or half a day, which would encompass his Return (Presence, Arrival) is shown by the language of Jesus in describing this brief period. Note above he refers to such a twelve hour period from late afternoon to early morning. Elsewhere he contrasts people obviously living in day time and night time: those in the field or at the mill versus those sleeping in bed. (Matthew 24:40, 41; Mark 13:34, 35) [NOTE: when christ visibly returns it will bed day and night on different parts of the earth.]
On a later occasion the Nazarene made it clear to his Apostles that it did not to them to get to know different "appointed times" or even the "season." Just before his ascension Jesus responded to his disciples question about the timing of matters, It is not for you to know times or appointed times which is within the Fathers own authority. (Acts 1:7) How could any "prophet" be so arrogance, ego-centric, and audacious to suppose he or she knew more than Christ and his Apostles and somehow calculated by the use of Daniel, Ezekiel, or Revelation to the intent that we are now living in that exact time when Christ has or will Return?
The Nazarene was well aware of Moses own warning about false prophets at Deuteronomy 18:21, 22: You may be privately wondering, "How are we to tell that a prophecy does not come from Yahweh (Jehovah)?" When a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh (Jehovah) and the thing does not happen and the word is not fulfilled, then it has not been said by Yahweh (Jehovah). The prophet has spoken presumptuously. You have nothing to fear from him. (NJB)
Jesus Christ said: a) do not believe them; and, b) do not join them. Any self-proclaimed "prophet" or "channel" -- or any group[ claiming to be "The Anointed" -- which also preach "The Time Is At Hand!" (Byington) should not be believed, followed, or joined. Certainly no economic support should be given what Jesus called pseudo-anointed or false prophets!
How to stay awake. Not knowing the exact day and hour of the Lords Return does not have to lead to a sleepy attitude regarding the Second Coming or Parousia of the Messiah. Ignorance (and thus some humility or lack of presumptuousness) need not destroy expectation and hope. All the Nazarene Saints hope their Lord will Return in their lifetime, but they are not authorized to go around predicting this will occur in "this generation." It may come in our life-time. It may not. So, what can we do? How do we remain awake as Jesus encouraged?
The Nazarene outlined several matters within the context of his answer to his disciples. [For details see the books The Seven Principles, or Apocalypse 2,000 AD!] At Luke 21:34-36 Jesus counseled: But, be praying attention to yourselves that some time your hearts might become heavy because of over-eating, drunkenness, and anxieties of life, and suddenly that Day (of the Kings Arrival, or Parousia) will rise as a (sudden and unexpected) snare. For that Day will come in upon all those dwelling upon the farce of all the earth. Keep awake, and in every season make supplication in order that you might be strong to escape out of all the things about to occur. It is noteworthy what Jesus has omitted from this injunction. He mentions those negative and deleterious things to avoid and encourages only prayer and an expectant heart.
From the parables that follow these words we also lea about our responsibility toward others. The parable of the "faithful and discreet slave" demonstrates the need to care physically for fellow Household "domestics." (Matthew 24:45-47) This is emphasized morel fully in the longer parable of the sheep and goats. There the Nazarene stressed the need to offer loving charity and hospitality to even the most humble or insignificant disciple as if it were done to Christ himself. (Matthew 25:31-46)
Note that in this parable there is no elaborate religious ceremonial requirements such as faithfully attending Mass or preaching to others. It is purely a matter of human decency and good manners. The goats are only so because they fail to act in positive care to "one of the least of these my brothers." This is all so consistent with the Nazarenes teachings elsewhere.
Observe the Commandment! The Nazarenes teachings with regard to an the expectant Heart, yearning for the Arrival of the King, is well summarized by the Beloved Apostle John: This is The Commandment: we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ; and, be loving one another. (1 John 3:23) This belief or faith will be characterized by speech, as Paul writes: I believed, therefore, I spoke. (2 Corinthians 4:13; Ro 10:9, 10) This love will be demonstrated in charity. (Luke 6:30-35; James 1:27; 2:15, 16; 1 John 3:16-18)
Let all the Friends of the Nazarene remain awake in faith and love as we live in expectation of our Lords Return.
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