by Hiram R. Diaz III
Sound Doctrine Permeates the Totality of Scripture
The Gospel of John is nearly universally recognized as the Gospel which most clearly teaches the pre-existence and deity of the Son of God. From its opening declaration that “the Word was God,” to its final declaration that Jesus Christ is “God” and “Lord,” the text unambiguously teaches that the Savior Christ was, is, and will always be the co-equal, co-eternal divine second Person of the Trinity. Due to their clarity, these “deity passages” are useful proof-texts for the doctrine among scholars and non-scholars alike.
In response, anti-trinitarians attack either the interpretation, translation, or both, of each proof-text, as if the doctrines of Christ’s deity and pre-existence were entirely dependent on these fragments of the Scriptures. Biblical theological and systematic theological concerns are largely, if not completely, ignored, a method contrary to the interpretive practices of the Son of God and his apostles. God the Son reveals that the Scripture cannot be broken. His Word is a divinely unified and, therefore, unbreakable set of true propositions.
The “deity passages” in John 1:1 and 1:18, for example, find corroboration in passages of the same book which are not directly, although they are perhaps laterally, concerned with teaching the personal pre-existence and deity of Christ. This is due to the fact that these doctrines are the foundational presuppositions upon which the text of John’s Gospel has been built, clearly evidencing this in several places. The most striking text in this category is John 8:40, where Christ implies his deity and personal pre-existence in the short sentence: “This is not what Abraham did.”
It is a text which is often overlooked, with John 8:58 being given the more prominent role as a proof-text for the doctrines of Christ’s deity and personal pre-existence. The clarity of Christ’s assertion - viz. “Before Abraham was, I AM” - renders the passage a very useful proof-text, as well as a favored target among anti-trinitarians. By ignoring John 8:58’s biblical theological and systematic theological contexts, anti-trinitarians can muddy the interpretive waters enough to make their dismissal of truth at least seem plausibly justifiable. When understood in its canonical and immediate contexts, however, John 8:58 is an explicit declaration of what Jesus has already implied in John 8:40.
Hence, the importance of John 8:40’s implied teaching. Jesus’ short statement about what Abraham did not do to him implies what “I AM” in John 8:58 explicitly states - Jesus is Yahweh, the everlasting I AM. In what follows this will be demonstrated by an analysis of the text in in its canonical and immediate contexts.
John 8:40 is part of the second of Christ’s three discourses with the Jews in John’s Gospel. While these discourses vary with regard to their narrative content, they share a “loose structure” wherein the increasing blindness of the Jews is thrown into relief by increasing clarity of Christ’s self-identification as Yahweh. The equal and opposite increases in blindness and clarity occur in the individual pericopes, as well as in the three texts collectively (i.e. consecutively read).
More narrowly, our focus will be on John 8:30-47, which reads:
As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
This discourse contains several antitheses which may be diagrammed as follows.
3. Children of Abraham
3. Children of the Devil
The overarching thematic antithesis is that of the children of Abraham (i.e. believers) and the children of the devil (i.e. unbelievers).
What one’s genetic relationship to Abraham signifies is a salient theme of the entire New Testament and the Gospel of John in particular. As early as John 1:11-13, John explicitly reveals that physical ancestry does not determine one’s spiritual status. A child of God, i.e. a true Israelite/son of Abraham, is one who believes in Jesus Christ. Nicodemus learns this when he is taught by the Son of God that only those who are born again (i.e. spiritually reborn) will see and enter the kingdom of God. The woman at the well in John 4, likewise, is taught that her Samaritan heritage does not exclude her from entering the kingdom of God by faith in Christ. For, Jesus says, “the hour is coming…when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”
Genetic ties to Abraham do nothing for one’s spiritual condition. Christ’s preaching undermined the Jewish tendency to locate spirituality in one’s genetic ties to Abraham, a tendency so strong, in fact, that the Jews sought to discredit Christ by claiming that he was “a Samaritan and [had] a demon.” Conflict between Christ and the Jews in John’s Gospel seems to be grounded in the two contrary doctrines of (1.)the spiritual impotency of being physically related to Abraham and (2.)one’s spirituality being genetically inherited.
Genesis/John & Creation/Redemption
Scholars have long noted the relationship between John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1, both of which begin with the phrase “In the beginning.” The relationship between these two texts is deeper, however, as the seven day schema of Gen 1-2 is paralleled by John’s “deliberate, if somewhat artificial, […] seven day schema in John 1:19-2:11,” paralleling even some of the finer details of the creation narrative. With this in mind, Jeannine K. Brown analyzes thecreation/re-creation thematic paralleling of Genesis and John in her essay “Creation’s Renewal in the Gospel of John,” deepening the roots of John’s text in Genesis by drawing attention to Christ’s role as the Last Adam, as well as Creator of a new humanity made in his image.
Most importantly, for our present purposes, we find that the first articulation of the seed of God and the seed of the devil is given in the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15. This critical passage of Scripture succinctly describes the whole of human relationships throughout history in two ways. Firstly, humanity is ultimately divided into only two classes, viz. the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. As Thomas Davai notes, “the ‘seed’ [of the woman] refers to godly human descendants of Eve…[whereas the seed of the serpent are the] ungodly human descendants of Eve, who characterise the serpent.” Secondly, the seed of the woman are in perpetual conflict with the seed of the serpent. “The enmity is progressive…strife between the descendants of the woman and the serpent itself…The multitude of descendants on both sides will struggle [until the serpent’s head is crushed].”
The importance of the toledot structure of Genesis, found in its emphasis on the promised seed of the woman, is a special point of emphasis in the New Testament. The primeval history of man unfolds, its genealogical focus gradually becoming narrower and narrower until Christ Jesus is born of a woman. Matthew and Luke explicitly connect Christ to the genealogies of Genesis as the Son of Abraham and Son of God through whom God would bring salvation to the Gentiles, i.e. the entirety of the non-Jewish world, a theme which, as we have already noted, is given prominence in John’s Gospel.
The Seed of Promise vs. The Seed of the Flesh
John’s overall paralleling of many significant themes found in Genesis, we note, sets the broader immediate context in which we find John 8:40. The conflict between Jesus and the Jews is rooted in his denial of their self-ascribed titles of “sons of Abraham” and “sons of God.” Christ states that they are indeed the physical offspring of Abraham, but this physical relation does not make them free from slavery to sin, i.e. sons of God. Those who are truly the children of Abraham, he reveals, are those who do the works that Abraham did, viz. believing the Gospel of the promised Seed and living in accordance with one’s professed belief. The Jews were seeking to kill Jesus, a man who has told the truth, and this is not what Abraham did. Therefore, these Jews were not truly children of Abraham, but were children of the devil.
Here is where Christ implies his deity and personal pre-existence. He asserts that the Jews are not children of Abraham because they are seeking to do what Abraham did not seek to do, viz. kill him. Exegetically, the word this (τοῦτο) can only be cogently interpreted as referring back to the actions of the Jews,viz. trying to kill Jesus. Some commentators have unconvincingly argued that the assertion is either a Hebraism, or an oddly phrased reference to Abraham’s actions toward men who spoke the truth in general. Others believe that Jesus is here alluding to Gen 18, as well as 1st century traditions surrounding Abraham as the exemplar of Jewishness.
Contextually, however, the word this points backward to a very specific action: Abraham did not seek to kill Jesus, the man who told him the truth. The grammatical structure of the text demands this interpretation, as do the central themes of this chapter. Specifically, Christ explains that he has been revealing his identity “from the beginning,” a phrase which he uses again in reference to the devil’s lying and murdering of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, clearly placing himself in Genesis, as John himself does in his Gospel’s prologue, and in conflict with the serpent.
Moses’ use of the toledot structure brings the Seed/Serpent conflict into relief, as the broader “generations” narrow down to the generations of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Specification of the lineage of the Seed of the Woman comes into view as Abraham is introduced to the reader and given the initial covenantal promises by Yahweh himself. This is followed by the record of Abraham’s attempt to fulfill God’s promise to him in Genesis 16, an attempt which ends with “the son of the slave woman” being cast out.
Jay Hess, along with Gunther Juncker, believes that Christ’s response to the Jews alludes to Gen 18, convincingly arguing that the Jews assumed Abraham’s seeing of Christ was a literal, personal encounter. These authors argue that Christ is one of the three men who meets Abraham and reveals his plans for Abraham, Sarah, and Sodom and Gomorrah, a traditional interpretation of the text that is historically rooted in the early post-apostolic era. Their identification of Gen 18 as the point of allusion, however, does not explain how Abraham did not seek to kill Christ. Thematically, the connection between Jesus’ words and Gen 18 is lacking. While Yahweh tells Abraham “what he is about to do,” and specifically mentions Abraham’s moral character and its connection to his offspring, what is lacking is what has been identified above as the seed conflict.
The only passage in which such a conflict comes into view, in fact, is found in Gen 17. There Yahweh “appeared to Abram” and revealed that he wouldestablish his covenant between himself and Abraham and his offspring after him throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to Abraham and to his offspring after him. Having appeared to Abraham and made this promise, he then goes on to declare:
“As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Upon hearing these words,
Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”
Abraham’s desire to see his physical offspring receive the covenant blessings, however, is met with God’s reply:
“No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”
God flatly denies Abraham’s request to have the child born of the slave-woman, Hagar, receive the blessings of the covenant.
God’s choice of Isaac, the child of promise, is not based on physical descent, for if that were the case then Ishmael would be the recipient of covenant blessings. Instead, God tells Abraham that those who are the recipients of the blessings of the covenant are the seed of promise, not the seed of the flesh. Ishmael, though the physical son of Abraham, is not the true son of Abraham, as God later implies.
Despite having had his request regarding Ishmael’s placement in the covenant denied, despite having been told that his own flesh and blood would not be a partaker of the covenant, “Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him.” His response to God’s declaration that his own flesh and blood was rejected from the covenant was not anger, disbelief, or embitterment but faith and obedience to God’s command.
The dual lineage of Abraham, itself a narrowing of the dual lineage of believers/unbelievers mentioned in Gen 3:15, could have issued from Abraham a response of unbelief and antagonism toward Yahweh whoappeared to him. However, Abraham, unlike his physical descendants millennia later, humbly accepted God’s declaration that, in effect, not all who are Israel are Israel. Unlike his descendants, according to the flesh, Abraham did not seek to kill Yahweh who revealed this hard truth to him.
While John 8:40 is not the grand-finale of Christ’s revelation of his deity, it is nevertheless an important stop along the way. Jesus has been revealing himself “from the beginning,” i.e. since the creation, from the beginning of the books of Moses - from the book of Genesis. This is not merely in prophetic revelation, but in the very appearances of Yahweh recorded therein. Yahweh appeared to Abraham and emphatically declared that the children of the covenant were not those who were physical descendants of Abraham but those who believed Yahweh’s Word and lived in light of that belief. This is the truth that Abraham was told: Not all Israel is Israel. This is the same truth which the Jews would later want to kill Yahweh for implying: “Neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” This is the point of conflict between Jews and Gentiles that is addressed throughout the New Testament subsequent to Jesus’ ascension.
Understandably, Abraham desperately desired to see his son Ishmael receive the promises of the covenant. Yet Abraham did not do what his physical descendants sought to do millennia later. Abraham, rather, submitted himself to Yahweh. He served Yahweh, the man who told him the truth, in fact, providing him with food, a foot-washing, and a place to replenish himself as he continued on his journey to bring judgment to Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as salvation to his elect. Unlike their physical progenitor, the unbelieving Jews fail to do these things for God the Son as he passed through their land on his way to judge the world and save his elect.
John 8:40, in its canonical and immediate contexts implies that what Abraham did not do is seek to kill Christ, Yahweh the Man who told him the truth. The implicit nature of this revelation does not diminish its importance, for this demonstrates that it is foundational to the structure of the book of John, pointing forward to Christ’s explicitly stated grand finale in 8:58:
Before Abraham was, I AM.
 This is the consensus among Christian and non-Christian scholars. Non-Christian scholars postulate a progressive deification of Jesus that reaches its pinnacle in the so-called “high Christology” of the Gospel of John and the Pauline epistles. For example, see Bart D. Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation Of A Jewish Preacher From Galilee(New York: HarperOne, 2014). Christian scholars find the doctrine throughout the Scriptures, demonstrating this via exegesis and biblical and systematic theological analysis. See, for example, Robert M. Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski’s Putting Jesus In His Place: The Case For The Deity Of Christ (Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2007).
 John 1:1; cf. 1:18.
 John 20:28.
 Ed L. Miller succinctly relays the nearly universal consensus among scholars regarding the unequivocal “deity-passages” in the New Testament:
Out of these eight [unequivocal] passages, three are found in John. Of these three, everyone acknowledges John 20:28 to be an unequivocal ‘deity-passage,’ even the otherwise sceptical Taylor who calls it the ‘one clear ascription of Deity to Christ.’ John 1:18 has always been clouded by a textual problem, but most scholars now correctly take monogenes theos (‘only God’) rather than monogenes huios (‘only Son’) to be the original reading. In addition to being the lectio difficilior, it is supported by a long list of MSS., Fathers, and Versions, including Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and now also P66 and textual problem is thus decided, this verse too becomes an unambiguous proof-text for the deity of Jesus.
“‘The Logos Was God’,” in The Evangelical Quarterly 53 (1981): 65–77.
 John 10:35.
 See, Ps 19:9; 119:142, 151, 160; Prov 30:5; Rom 3:4.
 Similarly, the Synoptic Gospels and John were composed by men who already believed that Jesus Christ had fulfilled the Messianic prophecies regarding his life and death and resurrection. Their texts, therefore, explicitly and implicitly reflect their beliefs. The Gospel writers often retroactively assess their previous bafflement at Jesus’ teaching (e.g. Mark 6:52, 9:32; Luke 2:50, 9:45; John 8:27, 10:6, 12:16 & 20:9), indicating that their texts were composed with a more mature understanding of what they had experienced and what they were taught.
 Briefly, we may consider a curious explanatory remark made in John 6:6. The people following Jesus are hungry and without any bread. They had seen him exercise power over sicknesses and demons, thereby establishing his credentials as a man from God, blessed by God, and sent to lead and save God’s elect people. Parallels between this scenario of God’s hungry people following God’s miracle working deliverer Moses are clearly intentional. The comparison between Moses and Jesus is even hinted at in the words of the people who declare that “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (6:14b, itself alluding to Deut 18:15-19).
Where the comparison is broken, however, is in the attribution of testing to Jesus. After having displayed his power to save his people, his power over the natural forces of creation as well, God tells Moses that his intended purpose in sending them manna from heaven is to “...test them, whether they will walk in [his] law or not” (Exo 16:4). God is testing the people to see if they believe him and will, consequently, obey his law. John’s record, however, identifies Jesus as the One who is present in leading his people, who are hungry for bread, in order to see what they will do. John demonstrates that Jesus, unlike Moses, is fully in control of the situation. Jesus, unlike Moses, is the one who is testing the professing believers. Jesus is testing Israel, just as Yahweh tested Israel in the wilderness. He will provide bread for Israel, just as Yahweh provided bread for Israel.
Implied by John is that Jesus is doing what only Yahweh does: He is testing the faithfulness of his people, of those who claim to love him and know him. Jesus’ intention is to test his followers’ faith and obedience to himself, just as Yahweh’s intention was to test his followers’ faith and obedience to himself.
 For a more in-depth treatment of these three passages, see Urban C. Von Wahlde’s “Literary Structure and Theological Argument in Three Discourses With The Jews in The Fourth Gospel,” in Journal of Biblical Literature 103/4 (1984), 575-584.
 cf. Matt 3:7-10, 8:5-13; Rom 1-3, 9 & 11; Gal 3-4.
 Like Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-9 (spec. vv.5-9), or Nathanael in John 1:45-51. Regarding Nathanael’s status as a “true Israelite,” see Trudinger, Paul L. “An Israelite In Whom There Is No Guile: An Interpretive Note On John 1:45-51,” in The Evangelical Quarterly 54.2 (1982), 117-120.
 John 3:1-9.
 John 4:23.
 John 8:48. (emphasis added)
 Trudinger, Paul L. “The Seven Days of the New Creation in St. John’s Gospel: Some Further Reflections,” in The Evangelical Quarterly 44 (1972), 154.
 See Trudinger, “The Seven Days,” 156-158.
 The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 72 (2010), 275-290.
 Brown, “Creation’s Renewal,” 279-282.
 Brown, “Creation’s Renewal,” 282-283. See also, Frayer-Griggs, Daniel. “Spittle, Clay, and Creation in John 9:6 and Some Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Journal of Biblical Literature 132, no. 3 (2013): 659–670.
 “Analysis of ‘Enmity’ in Genesis 3:15,” in Melanesian Journal of Theology 28-1 (2012), 85.
 Davai, “Enmity,” 90.
 For more on this, see Derouchie, Jason S. “The Blessing-Commission, The Promised Offspring, and the Toledot Structure of Genesis,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 56/2 (2013), 219–247.
 cf. Matt 1:1-17 & Luke 3:23-38.
 John 8:39-40.
 John 8:41-42.
 John 8:37.
 John 8:31-36.
 Mike R. Burgos Jr. explains:
νῦν δὲ ζητεῖτέ με ἀποκτεῖναι ἄνθρωπον ὃς τὴν ἀλήθειαν ὑμῖν λελάληκα ἣν ἤκουσα παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ· τοῦτο Ἀβραὰμ οὐκ ἐποίησε (John 8:40)
And now you are seeking to kill me, a man who spoke truth to y’all which I heard from God. This Abraham did not do. (Burgos’ translation)
The continuative conjunction δὲ (and) is intended to mark the continuation of Jesus’ argument against his interlocutors. These Jews are slaves to sin (v. 34), and despite being biological children of Abraham, they are seek Jesus’ death. In v. 38 Jesus announces that his words are what he has seen with his Father. The phrase παρὰ τῷ πατρὶ (with the Father) is one that demands from the reader recognition that Jesus is claiming to have been with (i.e., in the presence of) the Father presumably before his human birth. παρὰ with the dative noun is the same exact construction that is used twice in John 17:5 and many other places in Johannine literature. In fact, if I can recall, every single time παρὰ is with the dative it is indicative of someone being in the presence of someone else (e.g., John 1:39; 4:40; 14:17; 14:23; 14:25).
δὲ with the adverb νῦν signs that Jesus is dropping a bomb in this portion of his argument. You are a slave to sin (v. 35), and you are seeking to kill me because you don't like what I say (v. 37), and I have been with the Father and say what he tells me to say (v. 38), and now (νῦν δὲ) y’all are seeking to (ζητεῖτέ is a second person plural) to kill (ἀποκτεῖναι – normally used for murder) me, a man who spoke the truth. Here Jesus is alluding backward to those other men who spoke the truth and were likewise objects of murder by “Abraham’s children” (cf. Matt 21:33-46; 23:34ff; Luke 11:47ff). Jesus reiterates his identity as a prophet-- a man speaking words given to him from God precisely so that he can show that these Jews are in good company among the rest of the prophet murderers from time past. The last sentence is the bomb— this (τοῦτο—neuter demonstrative pronoun) Abraham did not do.
The pronoun here is being used as a substantive, and when used this way it either points to an antecedent or a postcedent. In this context, it is clearly pointing backward and the antecedent is Jesus’ claim the Jews wanted to kill him.
J.C. Ryle does this in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John.
 Including, but not limited to: Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible. More contemporary resources follow suit. See Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991), 351-352; Ridderbos, Herman. The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997), 312.
 See Kostenberger, Andreas J. John (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2004), 264-265.
 8:25. (emphasis added)
 See Gen 12:1-9 & 15:1-6.
 cf. Gal 4:22-31.
 See “What was Jesus' claim in John 8:56-58?,” Biblical Answers, accessed September 8, 2016. http://www.biblicalanswers.net/john8.html.
 In his article “Christ as Angel: The Reclamation of a Primitive Title” in Trinity Journal 15:2 (Fall 1994):
221–250, Gunther Juncker explains:
Unknown to many, the early church fathers often referred to Jesus as an Angel. And they gave him this appellation long before the (alleged) distortions of Constantine, the Controversies, the Councils, and the Creeds. Due to its antiquity, its longevity, and the claim to being a primitive, if not an apostolic, Christological title. 
…Hippolytus, Clement, Origen, Cyprian, Novatian, Victorinus, Eusebius, Athanasius, Hilary, Epiphanius, the Apostolic Constitutions: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrote martyrdoms, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of heretics, quenched the violence of fire, turned to flight the armies of the demons. And these all referred to Christ by the title Angel (suggesting the paradoxical possibility that they still await the perfecting of our historical theology). 
 cf. Gen 18:17.
 cf. Gen 18:18.
 Gen 17:6-7.
 Gen 17:15-16.
 Gen 17:17-18.
 Gen 17:19-21.
 See Gen 22:1-2.
 Gen 17:23.
 cf. Rom 9:6.
 cf. John 5:39-47.
 Gal 6:15.
 cf. Gen 18:1-8.
 cf. Luke 7:44-50 & Matt 25:31-46.