A response to

Jesus said 'I am' so he must be God

This site already provides a competent explanation of The "I AM" sayings (all of them) and this other site gives a scholarly exegesis of the one particular passage, John 8:58, that is the focus in section. Therefore, the only thing left to do in this article is to refute the author's diversion tactics and expose his errors.

Let us start with some remarks on the gravest of those errors and omissions. Towards the end of his section, we find Al-Kadhi making this outrageous statement:

If only the church had not felt it necessary to burn all of the original Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible.

But he does not give any reference for his accusation (we are nearly used to that by now). When did the Church supposedly do this? We are at a loss to connect this charge with anything. Al-Kadhi is guilty of slander since he does not present any evidence whatsoever. Neither for the supposed burning, nor for the alleged "feeling of necessity" for it.

We might in turn be allowed this question: Why did `Uthman find it necessary to burn the original manuscripts of the Qur'an? The Muslim sources do speak about this as a fact (Jam' al-Qur'an, Sahih Bukhari, Vol.6, #510). Al-Kadhi's claim about burning Hebrew manuscripts, however, does not even make historical sense (see below).

In the competition for the worst mistake, his ignorance regarding the textual history of the New Testament is heavily contested for first place by his ignorance of the Greek language. In the current section this is most clearly displayed in the statement:

The exact same Greek word (eimi {i-mee'}) is translated as "I" in Matthew 26:22: ...

Al-Kadhi does not even know that eimi is a verb, not a pronoun. eimi means "[I] am". The Greek contains the words "me:ti ego eimi kyrie" which means "Is it I, Lord?" [I will use "e:" to transliterate the Greek letter "eta", which is similar to a long "e"]. The pronoun "I" is the translation of the Greek word ego. This is another example that Al-Kadhi never learned even the first lesson of any textbook of the Greek language. He does not know the difference between a pronoun and a verb in Greek. We are not talking about complicated words here, but about the most basic words in any language: What word stands for "I" and what is the word "am". Further examples regarding Al-Kadhi's ignorance of the Greek language are found in section and a more detailed discussion of his translation of Matthew 26:22 is given below.

False claims are made easily, correcting them needs more work. To explain the errors committed by Al-Kadhi throughout his section to those of our readers who do not know Greek either, we need to insert a little lesson in Greek here. Bear with us, it isn't as bad as you might think. Since "I am" is one form of the present tense of the verb "to be", let us given the inflection table for the present tense indicative of the Greek verb corresponding to the English "to be".

1.eimi - [I] amesmen - [we] are
2.ei - [you] areeste - [you] are
3.estin - [he/she/it] iseisin - [they] are

We observe that the conjugation has different forms of the verb for each person and regarding singular and plural. In the English language "are" is used in most of the places and we need the pronoun to identify what person the verb goes with to distinguish for example whether "are" actually is a 1. person plural (we are) or a 3. person plural (they are) verb form.

In the Greek language this is not necessary and the subject pronoun is usually not repeated again in a pronoun as it is already included in the verb form, and this is clearly sufficient. However, the Greek speaker can add the pronoun to the verb and does so if he wants to make an emphatic statement.

The pronouns are given in the next table:

1.ego - Ihe:meis - we
2.sy - youhymeis - you
3.(autos) - he (autoi) - they

Note that "autos" is rarely used, the third person is usually elliptic.

The only phrase of interest in this section is what we can make of the upper left entry of the two tables, i.e. "eimi" and its emphatic version "ego eimi" both meaning "I am". Both of them certainly occured many times in conversations, as well as writings. No scholar of the New Testament would ever suggest that every occurence of "ego eimi" is a reference to the divine name. Al-Kadhi builds up the straw man as if anybody ever claimed that "ego eimi" can only refer to the divine name. But this is incorrect and as such he is shooting at the wrong target. The simple statement "I am" whether in emphatic form or not certainly does not qualify for a claim to deity. Al-Kadhi commits the fallacy that because he can find some other places in which "ego eimi" is used, therefore it cannot be a divine claim in John 8:58 either. This only reveals that he has never studied logic.

Please follow the first two links at the top of the page for a detailed study why Jesus' statement in John 8:58 does indeed constitute an application of the divine name to himself. But let me add a couple of remarks on this issue as well.

Why is John 9:9 just a simple emphatic "I am [he]" or "I am [the one]"? This is part of the record of Jesus healing a man who was born blind. Please read the all of John 9 to better understand the event in context. Since Al-Kadhi uses the King James Version, we quote the verses under question in this translation as well:

7  ... He [the man born blind] went his way therefore, 
   and washed, and came seeing. 
8  The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him 
   that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged? 
9  Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: 
   but he said, I am he. 

This is a natural place to use the emphatic form of "I am (the one)". This is exactly as we would expect the answer to be. No need to seek any extraordinary in it.

Al-Kadhi is correct so far: it would be ludicrous to suggest that this means the man is God. He is wrong imagining, however, that this detracts in any way from Jesus' own statement as we will see below.

The man is asked the question: Are you or are you not the one born blind? He emphatically responds: "I am!" obviously refering to the man that the people ask about. In Greek one does usually not add the word for "he" and instead uses the emphatic form. In English, however, such an elliptic way of stating it would not be natural but some kind of reference to the person in question is included in common English usage. Therefore the English translations read "I am he" (KJV), "I am the one" (NASB), or "I am the man" (NIV). Translations are made based on the principle of rendering the meaning in syntactically correct common language. There is no "cover up" on the part of the Bible translators.

Al-Kadhi seems to be trapped in a corruption and deception paranoia. Instead of asking for an explanation, he therefore quickly accuses others of dishonesty when either (a) it is simply his lack of understanding [giving him the benefit of the doubt] or (b) the great opportunity to discredit Christian scholarship with empty rethoric even though he knows better [and this is more likely given the large number of books by Christian scholars he has supposedly read on these topics]. I do not believe that Al-Kadhi is stupid enough for (a) which sadly leaves us with the conclusion that he falls under (b) and readily distorts for a paltry gain (Surah 2:79) of being cheered by the ignorant who love it when their prejudices are reinforced by his polemics.

Let us look at the second "counterexample" that Al-Kadhi presents. It follows the same pattern. He confidently claims:

Ridicule is so easy, Mr. Al-Kadhi. But it doesn't become the ignorant to ridicule the word of God. However, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). We have already commented above on the incredible blunder of confusing the verb and the pronoun. But there is more ignorance to be exposed in this passage.

Let me quote the relevant verses, Matthew 26:21-22, according to the translation of the NIV:

21  And while they were eating, he said, 
    "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me." 
22  They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, 
    "Surely not I, Lord?" 

As in the case of the blind man, here again we are confronted with a question of identification. Who among the twelve disciples present is the one to betray the Lord? Anxiously the disciples ask (in turn) "me:ti ego eimi kyrie". "kyrie" means "Lord", and we recognize "ego eimi" from our discussion of the last passage. It means basically the same here as in John 9:9. "I am (the one)" (in distinction to the others. But this time we find the additional extra word "me:ti" preceding our phrase. "me:ti" indicates two things. First it makes it a question instead of a statement, and second it indicates that a negative answer is expected or hoped for. The NIV translates this as "Surely not ... ?" The KJV quoted by Al-Kadhi explicitely only translates the "question part" of this word and takes it for granted that the reader will know that the questioner hopes for a negative answer.

The main point is as above, that we have the emphatic form because it is about a distinction between people, namely the stress on the distinction between the one who asks and all the others. The Greek expression is exactly the natural way to express it. That is how we would expect the disciples to react. Al-Kadhi is right, certainly nobody would infer that they are making a divine claim. He is wrong that this implies there is no such claim in John 8:58.

As a last point, let us show the extra dose of ignorance that Al-Kadhi weaves into his personal translation. Actually, he increases his error from the first to the second edition of his book. In the first (hard copy) edition he suggests to translate the verse "And they [the disciples] were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, I am?" which is, first of all, atrocious English.

In the Greek language, adding word "me:ti" turns a statement into a question but contrary to English, the statement itself does not change form. How does the English speaker turn the statement "I am he, Lord" or "I am (the one you are talking about), Lord" into a question? Remember, we need some referent pronoun or phrase in good English. We could for example say: "Am I (the one you are talking about), Lord?" but this is clumsy, and "Am I he, Lord?" is even worse. But "Is it I, Lord?" is good idiomatic English, and exactly this is the choice of the translators of the KJV. If one wants to not only make it a question but give a stronger indication that a negative answer is expected, then there are not many choices in good English other than "Surely (it is) not I, Lord?" Only this is a good and correct translation for the meaning of the Greek text.

Note that through the process of converting the statement "I am (the one)" to the question "Is it I?" the referent "the one" becomes "it" and the verb "am" becomes the verb "is". This will be important to keep in mind for the next step.

What did Al-Kadhi think the question "Lord, I am?" is supposed to mean? - "I am WHAT?" Are the disciples now asking whether they even exist? Al-Kadhi's alternative "honest and consistent translation" is only meaningless gibberish.

It is hard to believe, but Al-Kadhi was able to even increase the level of nonsense in the second edition of his book by suggesting the 'improved' (mis)translation, "And they [the disciples] were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I am?"

Why is this even worse? Because now Al-Kadhi translates the verb "eimi" twice! Above we have seen how turning the statement into a question changes the phrase "I am (the one)" into "Is (it) I?" The word "eimi" has already been translated by the verb "is" and he can't use it again to add another "am" into the sentence. Al-Kadhi certainly managed to improve the rethorical value from the first to the second edition, but added more error by doing so. This proves once again that he knows nothing about the subject he so eloquently discusses and only cares for the polemical effect, without the least concern for truth. Maybe it is too much to expect him to first learn Greek before he makes his own translations, but if he were concerned to say what is true, he could easily have found somebody with the knowledge of Greek and ask him to proofread and tell if his argument is correct. That he did not care to do so, is obvious.

At last, we are ready for the discussion of John 8:58. Please read all of this longer argument in John 8:12-59 to better understand the dynamic of this encounter and to know the context for the statement in verse 58. Jesus starts by making the following claim.

12  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 
    "I am the light of the world. 
    Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, 
    but will have the light of life." 

Compare this with the Qur'anic statement in Sura 24:35 "Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth" which is the basis of God's attribute to be "the Light" (Al-Noor) in Islamic theology. Muslims would protest if anyone today would claim that he is "the light of the world". Although indirect, this is a clear claim to deity. If Al-Kadhi would read this statement in Arabic he would probably understand this. But when he sees it in an English translation it doesn't mean this anymore. However, Jesus spoke to them in their own language and they clearly understood the implications. No wonder we read about the following reaction of by the conservative religious Jews:

13  The Pharisees challenged him, "Here you are, 
    appearing as your own witness; 
    your testimony is not valid." 

All of the discourse is concerned with the identity of Jesus and whether he has the authority to make the claim of verse 12. Some more excerpts:

23  But he continued, "You are from below; I am from above. 
    You are of this world; I am not of this world.
24   ...
25  "Who are you?" they asked. 
    "Just what I have been claiming all along," Jesus replied. 

Obviously Jesus thought that his claims were already clear enough for those who want to understand. Nevertheless, Jesus goes on to give them more statements about his own status and authority and they climax in the statement that is the topic of our section. Jesus among other things claimed that Abraham knew him (verse 56).

56  Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; 
    he saw it and was glad." 
57  "You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, 
    "and you have seen Abraham!" 

58  "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, 
    "before Abraham was born, I am!"

59  At this, they picked up stones to stone him, 
    but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. 

Remember, the whole discourse is not about the topic of Jesus' age. The issue is his identity. Jesus didn't want to tell them that he was older than Abraham, but he answered their question, "Who are you?", which dominated the whole discussion.

Had Jesus only wanted to state that he "existed before the birth of Abraham" then he had said "before Abraham was born, I (already) was." In Greek, "I was" would be "ego e:me:n"

But Jesus did not make a statement about the past, he made a statement about his (eternal) identity. Biblical theology does not have the understanding of pre-existence of prophets before their birth. Even the claim to his pre-existence would be an implicit claim to deity. But Jesus is no longer veiling his statements. He does not longer use implicit claims here. He uses the name by which God describes himself, the "I am" to make clear what he wants his listeners to understand. His statement is that he has the authority to claim to be "the light of the world" because he is the "I am". In the other two passages discussed we have seen the emphatic use was grammatically correct and natural because there was an identification of one out of several alternatives (Is this man born blind the same as you or is he somebody else? Is it I or one of the other disciples?)

However, in John 8:58, there is no question or necessity to make a distinction between alternatives. Jesus is not asked "Are you this one, or somebody else?" He is not asked to affirm or deny a certain choice. There is therefore no need to use the emphatic form of "I am". The reason for its use has to be another.

The Jews only protested verbally to his earlier implicit claims ("I am the light of the world", "you are from below but I am from above" and others) and questioned him how he dares to make such outrageous claims about himself. However, when he said "Amen, amen! before Abraham was born, I am!" Jesus had stepped over the line of tolerance. This was unambiguously clear and explicit. He has claimed the very name of God for himself and therefore - not believing his claim - they attempt to kill him by stoning which is the punishment for blasphemy. The exact connection of the "I am" to the divine name in the OT is explained in detail in in this article.

Jesus deliberately makes a syntactically incorrect statement to stress this point and to alert the listeners to the special meaning in which he uses the expression. This is what Al-Kadhi would have to explain if he wants to deny the implications. But both the context and the syntactical peculiarity are strong evidence that the common Bible translations and the orthodox Christian interpretation are correct.

Far from being unbiased and faithful, the following translations by Moffat and Powis Smith completely miss the mark and are mistranslations, hiding and distorting what Jesus actually said. Al-Kadhi shows himself again either supremely ignorant or, more likely, willing to endorse even gross and obvious falsehood to support his own agenda when he concludes:

None of the arguments brought forth by Al-Kadhi changes the fact that "eimi" is present tense and "I (have) existed" is past tense and therefore a mistranslation guided not by scholarship but by the purpose to deny the truth of Jesus' statement.

This is not the only place these translations are refered to by Al-Kadhi. We have already encountered and commented on Moffat and Powis Smith and their status as disbelievers even according to Muslim standards in the section on Isaiah's Messianic prophecy. There is no need to repeat this here in great detail. They deny the supernatural and miracles altogether. It is exactly this atheistic, anti-supernatural bias which leads them to mistranslate this passage, as well Isaiah 9:6, John 1:1 and many others. Mr. Al-Kadhi certainly would not want these gentlemen as translators of the Qur'an! It is sad to see that he again seeks out the company of those who corrupt the scriptures for a paltry gain.

The guilt of Moffat and Powis is greater because they have studied the Greek language on university level and they know very well that they mistranslated. They will have to answer God in the end. But since they most probably do not believe in a a last judgement they could care less about it. Al-Kadhi on the other hand as reason to fear his punishment for leading thousands of his readers astray and to reject God's truth because of the distortion in Al-Kadhi's writings, even though he might have done some of it with good intention. But fact is that he has spread much falsehood through his book in print and on the internet.

Let us now turn to Al-Kadhi's last example where he finds Moses saying "I am" as well...

If one might have hoped that Al-Kadhi as a native speaker of Arabic (a close relative of Hebrew in the Semitic language group) would do better when he discusses a passage from the Old Testament, then this is hope is quickly disappointed.

Al-Kadhi apparently doesn't know Hebrew any better than he knows Greek. It doesn't say "I am" in any form in Hebrew. The word is (hinne:niy), which literally means "behold me." The Septuagint translates it "Ti estin?" which means "What is it?" or "What do you want?" On the other hand the expression "I am" in Exodus 3:14, the passage God gives his name, is ('ehyeh), and the two expressions have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

Al-Kadhi certainly has never even once looked at those two verses in Hebrew but made an argument on the base of the English translation (of the meaning of the Hebrew text). This is astonishing hypocrisy given that he accuses me in various other places of discussing the Qur'an from English translations instead of the Arabic text and how silly it is that I would dare to critique the Qur'an on such a basis[*] The difference between the two of us is that I have my arguments usually checked by native Arab speakers before I publish them.

Side remark: Al-Kadhi's command of Arabic seems to be somewhat questionable as well. Or does he know better but is willing to bend the truth even when speaking about the Qur'an?

His claim about the burning of Hebrew manuscripts by the Church does not even make historical sense. Which manuscripts does he imagine? The Old Testament was at all times in the possession of the Jews as well, so the Christians could never have burned and destroyed it completely without the collaboration of the Jews. Given the hostility between the two for most of history, this takes a lot of gullibility to believe. On the other hand, the New Testament books were originally written in Greek. This is the broad consensus of NT scholarship, both conservative and liberal. How could the Church have burned something that never existed? Al-Kadhi only proves himself to be of a malicious character in allegiance with grave ignorance.

Furthermore, had Jesus' teachings been recorded in his mother tongue, the language of the manuscripts in question would not have been Hebrew but Aramaic! Aramaic was the language of the common folk in Israel at that time and Jesus spoke mainly to the common folk in his and their mother tongue.

It is a further erroneous statement that Jesus didn't speak Greek. Al-Kadhi is flat wrong about that. While we know that Jesus spoke Aramaic - there are explicit Aramaic phrases in His mouth in the gospels - we also know that Greek was the lingua franca of the day, and anybody who wanted to do trade had to know it. Virtually everybody was bilingual. I would love to know how he explained the Syrophoenician woman, the Roman centurion and all the other Romans Jesus talked to, since it is unlikely that they would have learned Aramaic. The article The languages of the New Testament provides further details on this topic.

At last, let us examine Al-Kadhi's introductory paragraph. He starts his section with these words:

This is a straw man argument. I do not remember any Christian ever saying that this is the same. But God has no duty to fulfil Al-Kadhi's demands before he could accept His Word. Obviously, a claim to be deity implies the duty to worship him, but he never directly orders worship of himself. We can agree on this. Why not? Because he desires for the spiritually perceptive to recognize it. Jesus purposefully left considerable mystery about his own person.

Al-Kadhi shows a grave lack in reading comprehension. Even just a casual glance at Proverbs 8 shows that it is not Solomon but God's wisdom is speaking. In most Bibles this chapter is titled "Wisdom's call" or similar. Interestingly, the early church has connected this very passage Proverbs 8:22-31 with the logos, the eternal pre-incarnate Word of God, spoken of in John 1:1-18. For details see this excerpt of Wayne Grudem's "Systematic Theology."

The passage about Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:1-3 is more complicated because of the generally very allegorical character of the letter to the Hebrews. Nevertheless this misunderstanding on Al-Kadhi's part is well explained by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum (short answer) or see our detailed response to Al-Kadhi's section 5.9 on Mechizedek.

Psalm 89:20 does not mention anything "before his birth". Is. 45:1 is a prophecy about what God will do in the future through king Cyrus, 61:1 is a prophecy about the Messiah and Jesus states they refer to himself (Luke 4:16-21). The passages do not say these people existed before they were born. God only gave prophecies of what he would do through some who would only be born much later. However, this is only infered because the people were not born yet at the time the prophecy was spoken. It does not speak explicitly about anything happening to them before their birth. 1 Sam. 24:6 is again speaking about a person present and not about "before his birth". Jer. 1:5 is the only one that actually speaks about choosing before birth. However, this only means that God has created him for a very special task which he had in mind even before he created the person. God knows all the future ahead of time, and it holds for all of us that he has plans for our lives. Only a few like Jeremiah are informed about it personally, though. It does not say that any of these people were pre-existent or eternal. God had their creation in mind before he created them, but they did not exist before their conception. Jesus in the contrary claims that Abraham knew him and that he was there before Abraham was even born. This is a claim for his real existence at that time. The comparison with these passages affirms that Jesus claim is indeed very different

Al-Kadhi concludes his section with these thoughts:

God does not have to justify himself or His word. The problem is not with Him, but with Al-Kadhi's approach. A true believer does not make demands on God. He humbly accepts what and how God decides to reveal himself or his will. Then seeks to the best of his knowledge to understand the revelation he is given, and obeys what he has understood.

Al-Kadhi on the other hand, has first decided that the Bible is not the Word of God because it would invalidate the Qur'an. Then he seeks for characteristics he thinks are absent in it, and as last step he then constructs criteria to make the Bible fail them. With this method one can make any book fail. But obviously, this is not a method of honest scholarship. No text is to be approached with pre-established outside criteria, but has to be read and understood on its own terms first. Al-Kadhi has failed on this count. He has not tried to understand the text and have seen that he actually worked hard to distort the plain meaning and to avoid what it clearly does say.

I do not expect any Muslim to accept the Bible without reading it and thinking about it. All honest questions are most welcome. I am willing to take all time and invest much effort to answer all honest questions. But I do expect that he will make an effort to understand what the text actually says and does not try to distort its meaning. I do not expect that he accepts its message as true even after he read it. This is between him and God alone. But I do hope that more Muslims will be honest about the actual content of the Bible and not try to distort it and spread falsehood about it.

Is that not a fair request?

The Rebuttal to "What Did Jesus Really Say?"
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