58.Before Abraham was. As unbelievers judge only from the appearance of the flesh, Christ reminds them that he has something greater and higher than human appearance, which is hidden from the senses of the flesh, and is perceived only by the eyes of faith; and that, in this respect, he might be seen by the holy fathers, before he was manifested in the flesh. But he uses different verbs. Before Abraham was, (249) or, Before Abraham was born, (250) I am. (251) But by these words he excludes himself from the ordinary rank of men, and claims for himself a power more than human, (252) a power heavenly and divine, the perception of which reached from the beginning of the world through all ages.
Yet these words may be explained in two ways. Some think that this applies simply to the eternal Divinity of Christ, and compare it with that passage in the writings of Moses, I am what I am, (Exo_3:14.) But I extend it much farther, because the power and grace of Christ, so far as he is the Redeemer of the world, was common to all ages. It agrees therefore with that saying of the apostle, Christ yesterday, and to-day, and for ever, (Heb_13:8.) For the context appears to demand this interpretation. He had formerly said that Abraham longed for his day with vehement desire; and as this seemed incredible to the Jews, he adds, that he himself also existed at that time. The reason assigned will not appear sufficiently strong, if we do not understand that he was even then acknowledged to be the Mediator, by whom God was to be appeased. And yet the efficacy which belonged, in all ages, to the grace of the Mediator depended on his eternal Divinity; so that this saying of Christ contains a remarkable testimony of his Divine essence.
We ought also to observe the solemn form of an oath, Verily, verily. Nor do I disapprove of the opinion of Chrysostom, that the present tense of the verb is emphatic; for he does not say, I was, but I am; by which he denotes a condition uniformly the same from the beginning to the end. And he does not say, Before Abraham was, but, Before Abraham was made; which implies that Abraham had a beginning.
(249) “Avant qu’ fust.”
(250) “Priusquam Abraham nasceretur.”
πρὶν Αβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγώ εἰμι. Our Author’ idea, to which he merely alludes, appears to be that, instead of saying,
ἐγὼ ἐγενόμνη, or,
ἐγὼ γίνομαι, Christ purposely said,
ἐγώ εἰμι, because the verb
εἰμῖ, standing contrasted with
γενέσθαι, would convey the idea of underived existence. — Ed