Jehovah and the Son

The Jews of Jesus’ time had a bone to pick with him, not because he claimed to be God the Father but because he claimed to be God the Son: “Jesus said…Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God” (Luke 18:19). To make himself out to be greater than Abraham, for example, was a way to imply his divinity. To the Jews, Abraham was one of the holiest men to live, he who obtained the great honor of being called the father of the chosen seed. Indeed it would have cut against their pride to be told, in essence, the chosen seed is not the race, per se, but a specific person: Jesus.

“Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
“Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
“Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
“Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:54 – 58, emphasis added).

The above passage is often cited by trinitarians as Jesus’ tacit announcement that he is in fact Jehovah, the Great I AM. But is this what was meant by Jesus’ statement or has it been unduly embellished by zealous translators? That the latter is the case can be demonstrated by a doctrinal and grammatical analysis. Firstly, the phrase in question is constructed in Greek as follows:

  • Greek: πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι, ἐγώ εἰμι.
  • Transliteration: Prin Abraam genesthai, egō eimi.
  • King James Version: “Before Abraham was, I am.”

In light of the doctrine of the pre-mortal life, that is the doctrine that all people born to this earth lived in the presence of God along with Christ, the usual translation of the Greek ἐγώ εἰμι (egō eimi “I am”) is unsupportable. Many translations prefer this rendering as it does away with the un-Christian notion that the spirits of men could have existed prior to physical birth on earth. As The Pulpit Commentary observes:

“Jesus Christ declared his own timeless existence to have been in his consciousness before Abraham came into being at all…. Now, some critics have limited it in its meaning to ‘I existed in the counsel of God.’ But there are three objections to this interpretation: one is that the present tense, εἰμί, and not the past, η΅ν, was used by our Lord; and on this interpretation Abraham must have also equally pre-existed in the counsel of God” (Spence-Jones, H. D. M. “John 8, verse 58”, The Pulpit Commentary [New York: 1893]).

Accordingly, those who subscribe to the traditional “I am” translation face a contradiction with God’s declaration in the Book of Abraham regarding the souls organized in the pre-mortal council that Abraham was shown in vision: “Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born” (Abr. 3:23).

The anti-doctrinal “I am” translation, though popular, is hardly universal; many translations of the Bible render a translation truer to the Greek rules of grammar that require the tense of the verbs being used in the πρὶν (prin “before”) comparison to agree, the latter verb typically providing the tense reference to which the former verb must conform (in this case present tense ἐγώ εἰμι [ego eimi “I am”]). With these rules in mind, a translation that provides for the doctrine of pre-mortality include the following:

Translation TitleJohn 8:58
​Unitarian – The New Testament (Boston, 1871)​”Before Abraham was born I was already what I am”
​The Twentieth Century New Testament (TCNT)​”I have existed before Abraham was born”
The Bible A New Translation (New York, 1935)“I am here – and I was before Abraham!”
​An American Translation (1935)“I existed before Abraham was born!”
Roman Catholic – The New Testament (Milwaukee, 1956)“I was before Abraham”
The New Testament in the Language of Today (St. Louis, 1963)“I was in existence before Abraham was ever born”
The Living Bible (Wheaton, 1979)​”I was in existence before Abraham was ever born!”
The Four Gospels and the Revelation (New York, 1979)​”I existed before Abraham was born”
The Simple English Bible (1981)​”I was alive before Abraham was born”
The New Testament in the Language of the People (Nashville, 1986)“I most solemnly say to you, I existed before Abraham was born.”

So the question must be asked, if Jesus had no intention of referring to his being Jehovah in the New Testament, who did he believe Jehovah to be? The answer may be found in bridging Jesus’ teachings on prayer with one of the most famous prayers recorded in this last dispensation.

Jesus taught to whom we must address our prayers and included special reference to keeping his name sacred: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9). This veneration for the name in prayer is of course a pattern utilized by David in his prayers recorded in the Psalms: “Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. And blessed be His glorious name forever; may all the earth be filled with His glory. Amen and amen” (Psalm 72:18 – 19, BSB).

And what is the name used by David that he says should ‘blessed’ forever? It is יְהוָ֣ה (Yah·weh, “Jehovah”). This is the same person addressed by Joseph Smith in prayer during the dedication of the Kirtland Temple as found in the Doctrine and Covenants:

“O Jehovah, have mercy upon this people, and as all men sin forgive the transgressions of thy people, and let them be blotted out forever….
“Deliver thou, O Jehovah, we beseech thee, thy servants from their hands, and cleanse them from their blood. O Lord, we delight not in the destruction of our fellow men; their souls are precious before thee; but thy word must be fulfilled. Help thy servants to say, with thy grace assisting them: Thy will be done, O Lord, and not ours” (D&C 109:34, 42 – 44, 78 – 80).

A week after this prayer, the messenger of the LORD (יְהוָ֣ה “Jehovah”), the savior Jesus Christ, appeared in the Kirtland Temple to manifest God’s acceptation of the house. As it is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Jesus Christ spoke with a voice “as” that of Jehovah, which made a rushing sound like roaring waters:

“The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened. We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber…. His voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying: I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father” (D&C 110:1 – 4).

Continuing, the Lord Jesus Christ then utilized the divine investiture of authority to speak the words of Jehovah, whom Joseph Smith had addressed in prayer a week prior:

“Let the hearts of your brethren rejoice, and let the hearts of all my people rejoice, who have, with their might, built this house to my name. For behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here; and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house” (Ibid., vv. 6 – 7, emphasis added).

In revelation, the divine investiture of authority allows angels to sometimes speak as though they were Christ and Christ to sometimes speak as though he were the Father. See the following examples:

“The angel said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place. Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.’
“I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, ‘Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!'” (Rev. 22:6 – 9, NIV).

“Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, the Great I AM, whose arm of mercy hath atoned for your sins…. Behold, I say unto you that I, the Lord God, gave unto Adam and unto his seed, that they should not die as to the temporal death, until I, the Lord God, should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption, through faith on the name of mine Only Begotten Son…. Behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten…. And now I declare no more unto you at this time. Amen” (D&C 29:1, 42, 46, 50).

In the first example an angel speaks as if he is Christ in midst of a dialogue that includes reference to himself as an angel, a “messenger,” in third person. Similarly, in the second example, a revelation to Joseph Smith started out by announcing the message as coming from Christ but then he also calls himself ‘the Great I AM,’ and after stating that he ‘atoned for your sins’ he later makes reference to ‘mine Only Begotten Son’ in third person.

This demonstrates that where identities are concerned, reliance to establish those identities upon revelatory dictation, or the tongue of angels, is not always possible; the only certainty ascertainable in those circumstances is the endorsement of such messages as having come from the quorum of the Godhead.

From Jesus’ perspective during his mortal ministry, Jehovah was God, the only good and perfect man, and Jesus considered himself as his only begotten son. Prayers by Jesus, David, and Joseph Smith were all directed to the sacred name of Jehovah.

One question remains for this study, which will be considered in the next post: is there more than one Jehovah?

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