Also posted on my Facebook Page
BRISBANE, Australia. Tuesday 28 April 2020
𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗴𝘂𝗮𝗴𝗲 𝗱𝗶𝗱 𝗝𝗲𝘀𝘂𝘀 𝘀𝗽𝗲𝗮𝗸?
Prior to the discovery that the great majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls (c 250 BC-68 AD) were composed in Hebrew, the accepted view had been that 1st Century Jews spoke Aramaic and that Hebrew was used in written form only by the scholarly class. However, since the adoption of Modern Hebrew as the official language of the State of Israel, it has become increasingly clear to scholars with a knowledge of spoken Hebrew that the Scrolls not only reflect its widespread use in the 1st Century but also that sections of the Greek Gospels we now have are so full of Hebrew idioms, thought patterns, literary devices, syntactical structures and transparent transliterations that they can only be based on Hebrew originals or notes taken down in Hebrew (believed to be the sacred language). These sections are mainly those which record the words of Jesus and those of his opponents.
𝗪𝗵𝘆 𝗱𝗼𝗲𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗺𝗮𝘁𝘁𝗲𝗿?
It matters because certain words and phrases have been stripped from their 1st Century AD Israelite linguistic and cultural context and used to justify a host of un-Biblical teachings such as the Virgin Conception/Birth, the Incarnation and the Trinity. For example, the much-quoted text of John 8:58 has been used to justify the “deity” of Jesus. Let’s take a closer look:
"Jesus said unto them, Verily (𝘈𝘮𝘦𝘯), verily (𝘈𝘮𝘦𝘯), I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” (KJV). We can be certain that Jesus spoke in Hebrew because the Hebrew word 𝘈𝘮𝘦𝘯 has been doubled in typical Hebraic style. (This doubling of 𝘈𝘮𝘦𝘯 occurs an impressive number of times in John.)
It is asserted by doctrinal advocates that by using the words translated into English as “I am”, Jesus was making a specific claim to deity and identifying himself with the God of the burning bush who allegedly spoke the words of Exodus 3:14 mainly translated into English as “I am who I am”.
Unfortunately for these advocates, this assertion runs headlong into three roadblocks.
Firstly, Exodus 3:14. Scholars, sages and rabbis have argued for over two millennia about the precise meaning of the enigmatic Hebrew phrase 𝘌𝘩𝘺𝘦𝘩 𝘈𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘌𝘩𝘺𝘦𝘩 spoken at the burning bush. In many cases, these arguments were driven by philosophical or theological considerations. However, without going into tedious detail about verb forms, most Jewish scholars and translators today would agree that the words should be rendered into English as “I will be what I will be” (see Notes below). To state categorically that these words spoken at the burning bush should be translated into English as “I am that I am” or as “I am who I am” is deceptive.
Secondly, what words did Jesus actually speak in John 8:58? Well, it would have been impossible for him to have spoken the the words translated from the Greek 𝘦𝘨𝘰 𝘦𝘪𝘮𝘪 into English as “I am”. Why? Because the simple copulative present tense forms of the verb “to be”, such as the English “am”, “are” or “is”, are absent in Hebrew and cannot be spoken or written (see Notes for example). These words are just added in translations to conform with the demands of other languages. The words Jesus would have spoken here are the Hebrew 𝘢𝘯𝘪 𝘩𝘰𝘶 (I, he). The translators of the majority of English versions know these were his original words because they capture the sense of the Hebrew and accurately render his similar statements into English as:
Many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he, (𝘦𝘨𝘰 𝘦𝘪𝘮𝘪) and will deceive many (Mark 13:6 ESV).
And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ (𝘦𝘨𝘰 𝘦𝘪𝘮𝘪 ) and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them” (Luke 21:8 ESV). See also John 4:26; John 6:20.
Yet in John 8:58, in an attempt to identify Jesus with the words allegedly spoken at the burning bush, the majority ignore the sense of the original Hebrew and render the same Greek phrase (𝘦𝘨𝘰 𝘦𝘪𝘮𝘪) incompletely into English as “I am” instead of “I am he”, as they do elsewhere.
Thirdly, even if we ignored all that and pretended that Jesus could have spoken the words translated into English as “I am”, it would not make a shred of difference because it was not God but an “angel of the Lord” who appeared to Moses in flames of fire from within a bush (Exodus 3:2). In his speech to the Sanhedrin, Stephen confirmed Exodus 3:2 and stated that it was not God but an “angel of the Lord” who appeared to Moses and added that the angel spoke to Moses with the “voice of the Lord” (Acts 7:30-35).
So, it was not God but an “angel” who spoke to Moses with the “voice of the Lord”. The assertion that Jesus was making a specific claim to deity and identifying himself with God based on John 8:58 turns out to be nothing more than farcical. I think Psalm 2:4 sums up the situation nicely.
According to the Bible, God does not “speak” directly to humans - it is always through intermediaries such as “angels” (messengers), prophets, and of course through Jesus himself. The assertion that the “angel of the Lord” who appeared to Moses, Abraham, Hagar and others is the “pre-incarnate Christ” is of course utter nonsense.
There is no tense correspondence between Biblical Hebrew and English. In brief, English tenses are related to time, Biblical Hebrew tenses are related to action. The words spoken at the burning bush were 𝘌𝘩𝘺𝘦𝘩 𝘈𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘌𝘩𝘺𝘦𝘩. 𝘌𝘩𝘺𝘦𝘩 is the 1st person singular imperfect form of the verb “to be”. 𝘈𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘳 is a relative pronoun. The two 𝘌𝘩𝘺𝘦𝘩 here are in the imperfect form meaning that the action may have begun in the past but will be completed in the future, or will continue in the future. 𝘌𝘩𝘺𝘦𝘩, being in the imperfect form, is more correctly translated as “I will be”.
Check that statement of faith known as the 𝘚𝘩𝘦𝘮𝘢 𝘐𝘴𝘳𝘢𝘦𝘭 in Deuteronomy 6:4 where the “is” has been added to the English: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD (is) one”.
The priestly establishment opposed to Jesus claimed that their descent from Abraham and then Moses conferred upon them the authority to pronounce judgement on him because they had been divinely appointed according to Scripture. They picked up stones to stone him because he was claiming a greater authority than Abraham and Moses. The only person who would be presumed to have a greater authority than either men would be the Messiah at his advent so this response by Jesus is a proclamation that he is the Messiah and that he has arrived. Since it was commonly believed that the promise of a Messiah existed from the “beginning”, from before the time of Abraham, Jesus quite rightly claims that Abraham was able to look forward and see his “day”, the day of his advent.