This is Stumper Question #22
The NWT translates the Greek words “ego eimi” as “I am” every time it appears (Jn 6:34, 6:41, 8:24, 13:19, 15:5, etc.), except in Jn 8:58 where it is translated as “I have been”. What is the reason for the inconsistency in this translation? If “ego eimi” was translated in Jn 8:58 the same way it is translated in every other verse in which it appears, how would Jn 8:58 read?
If the phrase had been translated, or more accurately – transliterated – as the questioner suggests, then the New World Translation would sound just as nonsensical as virtually every other translation. Thankfully, the New World Translation Committee has allowed common sense and good grammar to prevail.
When it comes to inconsistency Jehovah’s Witnesses should turn the tables on the Trinitarian and ask them to explain why at John 8:58 “ego eimi” is capitalized, when in virtually all the other places it appears it is not. (The original Greek did not use caps) What is the reason for capitalizing “am” when it is clearly a verb? And then ask them if “ego eimi” was expressed the same way it is in every other verse in which it appears, how would John 8:58 read? (Wait for them to reply)
When Jehovah’s Witnesses are confronted with this issue regarding “I Am” the best approach might be to simply have the person read John 8:58 aloud. You might have to have them read it out loud from their version of the Bible several times, just to let it sink in. But the point to drive home is that the verse, as it appears in all common versions of the Bible, is grammatically incorrect—it is an incomplete sentence. But surely Jesus spoke in coherent sentences.
To demonstrate the point, since Trinitarians have been led to believe that Jesus was taking to himself a title—true, a badly mangled version of what is recorded at Exodus 3:14 —but even supposing that “ego eimi” should be translated as a title and an alternative to the name Jehovah or the title God, then simply ask them to read the verse and instead of saying “I Am” substitute the word “God” or “Lord.” It might prove to be an enlightening experience for them. Provided that the person has even an elementary knowledge of sentence construction it ought to be evident to them that the sentence makes no sense. Have fun with it.
There is a saying that there is an exception to every rule. That is certainly the case when it comes to the expression found in the eighth chapter of John. It is true, in the original Greek the expression “ego eimi” is used at John 8:58. However, a true translation does not simply translate words. Rather, since words are used to express thoughts and thoughts may have various shades of meaning and tenses, a translator must take into consideration, at least as best as can be discerned, the question: what thought was being conveyed? And how can that thought be best translated into a particular language, given the limitations, nuance, and variations of sentence structure of each language? While a particular phrase may be understood by people in their own language, that same understanding may not be conveyed by a strict word-for-word translation.
Persons knowledgeable in the Greek language are aware of the fact that while “ego eimi” is most often properly translated as “I am,” if the action of the subject matter is in the past the phrase should be translated to reflect that. And that is certainly the case with John 8:58. Jesus was explaining that he existed—not in the present moment, which would have been obvious anyway and completely irrelevant in the context of his conversation with the Jews—but in the past, before Abraham was born. Keep in mind, the Jews had asked Jesus a direct question, if he had seen Abraham; who, at the time had been dead for approximately 2,000 years!
Jesus’ response was in keeping with the fact that he repeatedly stated that he had a pre-human existence. For example, just moments before Jesus stated that he had existed before Abraham, Jesus told the Jews: “You are from the realms below; I am from the realms above. You are from this world; I am not from this world.” This statement in no way implies that Jesus is God and certainly Jesus did not intend it to be understood that way. Jesus was simply stating the fact that he came down from the spirit realm to this world.
Therefore, to properly express what Jesus obviously intended to say at John 8:58, the translator must not blindly follow the supposed dictates of a hard and fast rule. No, the exception to the rule, the overall context and common sense itself, dictates that the phrase must be translated differently in this instance.
There are any number of ways that the verse could be translated to reflect the fact that Jesus was talking about his existence before Abraham. But the expression the New World Translation has chosen—“before Abraham came into existence, I have been”—is perfectly proper.
One might naturally wonder why Bible translators are seemingly oblivious to the fact that John 8:58 is grammatically incorrect. Apparently, since there is no verse in the entire gospel where Jesus Christ claimed to be God, Trinitarian translators are driven by sheer desperation to fabricate a verse that gullible people will grasp and hold on high as irrefutable proof that Jesus is the Great I Am. And that is all the “proof” a Trinitarian needs.
It is, of course, absurd and ridiculous. But virtually everything the churches teach is false. What’s one more lie in a mountain of lies? The irony is, Trinitarians have much more in common with the Jews who tried to stone Jesus for his claiming to have existed before Abraham than they would like to admit.