Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Margaret Davies and the EGW EIMI Sayings in John's Gospel

Dear blog readers,

I would like to draw your attention to a scholarly work produced by Margaret Davies entitled Rhetoric and Reference in the Fourth Gospel (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992) which contains a discussion INTER ALIA concerning the Johannine EGW EIMI sayings. The section I have in mind runs from pp. 82-87. In these pages, Davies shows how the Wisdom writings have probably influenced the EGW EIMI pronouncements in John's Gospel, and she thinks the Johannine sayings should be read in the light of such texts as Prov. 8:12-21 and Sirach 24:3-31. The book also critiques R.E. Brown's treatment of the sayings and concludes that EGW EIMI (in Jn 8:58 and elsewhere in John) serves as a marker of self-identification. Davies' study assumes this position for a few reasons that I will briefly delineate.

(1) Davies argues that EGW EIMI in Jn. 13:19 identifies Jesus as the Messiah since it evidently refers back to Jn. 13:14 and 18, and I might add Jn. 13:13 where we read: "You address me, 'Teacher,' and, 'Lord,' and you speak rightly, for I am such."


"I am not talking about all of you; I know the one I have chosen. But it is in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, 'He that used to feed on my bread has lifted up his heel against me.'" (Jn. 13:18)

The context of Jn 13:19 thus suggests that Jesus is identifying himself as Lord, Teacher, and Messiah--the one who was foretold in Ps. 41:9 among other places in the Tanakh.

(2) Davies thinks that Jn 8:58 refers back to Jn 8:12
and that Jesus is ultimately identifying himself as
the light of the world, that is, the promised seed of
Abraham by means of whom all nations of the earth will
be blessed (Gn 12:3; 22:18). However she notes that
other scholars (Lindars 1972) think that Jn 8:58
actually points back to 1:5, which deals with the
light that apparently was shining prior to Abraham, the
father of all those having faith. But at this point, Davies asks:

"Is Jesus' remark, 'Before Abraham was, I am he' a
reminder that he is the eternal LOGOS?" (Davies 86).
She thinks that this reading of Jn 8:58 "is neither an
obvious nor a necessary reading." (86). The scholar
accordingly rejects the Jn 8:58/1:5 connexion since if John
wanted to highlight a thematic nexus
between the two texts, he would have used the
imperfect tense of the verb 'to be' at Jn 8:58 and not
the present. Since John does employ the present in
8:58, however, "The use of the present tense, 'I am',
connects with its use in Jn 8:12" (86).


Davies contends that Jesus (in Jn 8:58) is
answering a question about time, but does so by
identifying himself as the seed of Abraham (the light
of the world). She writes: "We should conclude,
therefore, that the Johannine Jesus' use of the 'I am'
form draws on Wisdom declarations from its Scripture,
and does not assert Jesus' divinity" (Davies 87).


JimSpace said...

Davies appears to be arguing in Socinian terms.

Jesus' statement in John 8:58 refers to verses 56-57, of when Abraham rejoiced at seeing the Messiah's day, and in response to his opponents' insulting question to have been contemporaneous with Abraham or not.

As we know, Trinitarianism takes εγω ειμι as a name (I AM), not as a statement as it really is. If it was a name, the verse in English would have to read as: "Before Abraham was, I was I AM." Now, I invite you to present how the Greek text would have to read if εγω ειμι I AM was a name, including the necessary preface "I was" or something similar, like "I existed as."

In other words, how would this sentence look in NT Greek: "Before Abraham was, I was I AM."

Other brothers provided me with the following examples:

πριν αβρααμ γενεσθαι (εγω) ἦμην ὁ εγω ειμι

The εγω in parentheses is not necessary in Greek.
ἦμην = I was
ὁ = article male, nominative singular. This word indicates, that the following is to be taken as predicate nomen instead of a sentence.

πριν αβρααμ γενεσθαι εγω ειμι εγω ειμι

πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ὁ ἐγὼ ἐγὼ εἰμί

"I [am] the I AM since before Abraham was."

Your brother,

Edgar Foster said...


I don't know much about the religious views of Davies, but I take her comments to be endavors to analyze John's grammar. The whole "I AM" argument starts with the mistaken premise that God's name is identified as "I AM WHO [THAT] I AM" at Exodus 3:14; so they assert that ἐγὼ εἰμί is just being used "absolutely" (neither as explicit nor as implied predicate) in Jn 8:58. Then the writers appeal to the LXX for examples of this absolute usage (Isa. 43:25; 51:12, and so forth). Hence, Trinitarian commentators insist that ἐγὼ εἰμί alone names God without any accompanying verb or other terms.

If the claim is true, then ἐγὼ εἰμί alone would suffice. However, if a verb needs to accompny the "I AM" title/name, then I too would say that ἤμην would be a good candidate.

JimSpace said...

Thank you!

Edgar Foster said...

You're welcome, my brother :)