Further Thoughts on "I AM" in John 8:24
In the previous entry, I made the point that although the English Standard Version (ESV) claims to be a word-for-word translation, at times it add words without indicating that it has done so. This is a departure from the regular practice of the Authorized Version (AV) also known as the King James Version (KJV), the (British) Revised Version (RV), the American Standard Version (ASV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the New King James Version (NKJV), all of which use italics to indicates words added to the original text.
Even the New International Version (NIV) -- which is an attempt at a "dynamic equivalnce" or "meaning-for-meaning translation rather than a word-for-word translation -- sometimes indicates when it has added words to the original text (see its translation of John 8:24 and John 8:28), using brackets for that purpose. But the ESV -- although claiming to be a word-for-word translation -- makes no attempt to indicate that it has added a word not in the original text. For example, it translates "I am" in John 8:24 and John 8:28 as "I am he" when the word "he" is not in the original text.
The RSV may have been the first significant committee translation to depart from the practice followed by previous translations: viz., the AV, the RV, and the ASV, a practice that was continued by the NASB and the NKJV (and even -- albeit inconsistently - by the NIV!) of indicating added words.
Following the RSV on this, the ESV is (as far as I know) the first evangelical word-for-word translation to drop the practice of regularly indicating when words have been added to the original text. If the ESV claimed to be a "dynamic equivalence" or "meaning-for-meaning" translation, that would be easy to understand, but the ESV claims to be committed to word-for-word translation.
At this point, I am primarily concerned with the principles involved in translation without giving a detailed list of passages where words may have been added to the original text by the ESV -- you can do that yourself by, say, comparing the ESV with the NKJV -- but I did give one specific example (John 8:24) where, in my opinion, where, in my opinion, adding a word without indicating that such has been done may obscure somehing important (in this case, Christ's self-affirmation of His deity). (Incidentally, knowing some of the men involved with the ESV translation, I am sure that the result was unintenitonal on the part of the evangelical revisors of the RSV.)
Am I correct that John 8:24 contains a reference to the "I AM" of Exodus 3:14 (something that is conceded by most commentaries with reference to the statement of Jesus in John 8:58)? Well, following are a few commentaries that also see such a reference in John 8:24:
"For if you will not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins. ... This death in sins will be the result of not believing that I am he; literally , that I am (ego eimi), the predicate must be supplied mentally, as in 4:26; 6:20; 9:9; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 9. Basic to the expression are passages such as Ex. 3:14; Deut. 32:39; Is. 43:10. The meaning is: that I am all that I claim to be: the One sent by the Father, the One who is from above, the Son of man, the only-begotten Son of God, equal with Gopd, the One who has life in himnself, the very essence of the scriptures, the bread of life, the light of the world, etc. That fact that rejection of the Son -- failure to believe in him and to obey him -- results in everlasting death is expressed not only here in 8:24 but also in 8:36 (see on that verse), whiich may be viewed as an explanation of 8:24."
--William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Baker Book House, 1961), vol. II, p. 46.
"' ... 24 That is why I told you that you would die in your sins. Unless you come to believe that I AM, you will surely die in your sins.... 28 So Jesus continued, 'When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing by msyself....'.... Verses 23-24 explain the urgency of Jesus' insisting that, once he goes away, there will be no other possibility for delivering them from sin. He is the one from above who has come into the world to enable men to be begotten from above, and thus to raise them up to God's level from the sphere of what is below. When Jesus himself is lifted up (vs. 28) in crucifixion, resurretion, and ascension, he draws all men to him (xii. 32); and in that moment it will be clear to those who have the eyes of faith that he truly bears the divine name ("I AM") and that he has the power of raising men to the Father. But if men refuse to believe, refuse to see, then there is no other way (xiv.6) that leads above to the Father; and men will go to their graves without the gift of life. In v. 24, in stressing that men must believe that he comes from above with the power of life from the Father, Jesus says that men must believe that he bears the divine name 'I AM.'"
--Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Doubleday: Anchor Bible, 1966), pp. 346, 350.
"'Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins' (8:24). In other words, Jesus is saying, 'If you die and go to hell, it will only be because you have not believed "that I am he,".' The 'he' is added by our translators to make plain in English what the original 'I am' suggested to John's reders -- namely, that he is the divine Son, the living word of God (1:1, 14; cf. Exod. 3:14; Isa. 43:10)."
--Gordon J. Keddie, John (Evangelical Press, 2001), vol. 1, p. 332.
Although Leon Morris doesn't mention Exodus 3:14 in connection with John 8:24, he does mention "the style of deity" which he connects with "the style of deity" in John 8:58, and in his discussion of John 8:24 he does mention Isaiah 43:10 (whose language was probably influenced by Exodus 3:14):
"Therefore, when they die they will die in their sins. There is but one way of avoiding this fate, namely by coming to believe in Jesus. And this involves a right estimate of His person. It is important to believe 'that I am'. This espression is in the style of deity. There is no predicate expressed. The same Greek expression occurs in 6:20; 18:6, neither of which is difficult to understand (and, of course, it is found several times with a predicate; see 6:35). But it is not easy to see what predicate could be supplied here. The answer of the Jews shows some mystification. We should probably understand it along the lines of the similar expession in LXX, which is the style of deity (cf. Is. 43:10). Its use here involves the very highest estimate of Christ's Person (see further on v. 58).... It is impossible to have the kind of faith that John envisages without having a certain high view of Christ. Unless we believe that He is more than man we can never trust Him with that faith that is saving faith."
--Leon Morris, New International Commentary on the New Testament: Commentary on the Gospel of John (Eerdmans, 1971).
So my interpretation of John 8:24 is not some eccentric view held only by myself, but a common view held byReformed Protestant commentators like William Hendriksen and Gordon Keddie and Roman Catholic commentators like Raymond Brown.
Regardless, however, of whether my comments on John 8:24 can be sustained, the main point of what I'm saying is that as a regular practice the ESV does not indicate words that it has added in its translation, and that failure would seem to be a violation of its own expressed commitment to being a word-for-word translation. In following that apparent innovation of the RSV of omitting such information, the ESV deprts from the practice of the AV, RV, ASV, NASB, NKJV, and even (inconsistently) the NIV.
My personal opinion is that such the practice of indicating added words should be restored to the ESV. I would argue that something like the undistracting brackets of the NIV should be used rather than italics to accomplish this, since most people today take italics to represent emphasized words rather than omitted words (whereas everyone understands words in brackets normally to mean words not in the original text).