In the debate between Iglesia ni Cristo minister Jose Ventilacion and Reformed Baptist apologist Dr. James R. White (Who is God? Trinity Debate https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5N61p_-XwG4&t=1506s), White appealed to the Lord Jesus’ “I Am” (Gr. ego eimi) statements in John’s Gospel to show how Christ took to himself one of the unique names that the Hebrew Scriptures ascribe to Yahweh God (cf. Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12; 51:6; 52:12). White argued that in using this expression, the Lord was basically claiming to be Yahweh God in the flesh.
White specifically connected the Greek version of Isaiah 43:10 (commonly referred to as the Septuagint [LXX]),
“Be my witnesses; I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and the servant whom I have chosen (exelexamen) so that you may know and believe and understand that I am (hina… pisteusete… hoti ego eimi). Before me there was no other god, nor shall there be any after me.”
With the words of our Lord in John 13:18-19:
“I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen (exelexamen); but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.’ From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He (hina pisteusete… hoti ego eimi).” New American Standard Version (NASB)
The verbal parallels are rather impressive, and strongly affirm White’s point that Christ was deliberately echoing the language of Isaiah for the purpose of identifying himself as the Incarnation of Yahweh God Almighty.
This explains why we find v. 19 rendered in the following manner:
“I am telling you this now before it happens so that when it happens, you will believe that ·I am he [LI am; Cthis may be an allusion to God’s (Yahweh’s) self identification as “I AM” in Ex. 3:14, or to God’s repeated claim that “I am he” throughout Is. 40—55; see John 8:24, 28, 58].” John 13:19 Expanded Bible (EXB)
“I tell you this now before it happens, so that when it does happen, you will believe that ‘I Am Who I Am.’” Good News Translation (GNT)
“I’m telling you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen, you may believe that I AM.” International Standard Version (ISV)
“From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM.” New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE)
“From now on I tell you before the occurrence that you may have emunah (faith) when it occurs, that Ani Hu. [YESHAYAH 41:4; 46:10; 43:10]” Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)
Ventilacion responded by quoting the New Living Translation (NLT):
“I tell you this beforehand, so that when it happens you will believe that I am the Messiah.[e]” John 13:19
Ventilacion capitalized on the insertion of the words “the Messiah” (even though they are not in the Greek text) to show that Christ wasn’t referencing Isaiah 43:10, and therefore wasn’t claiming to be Yahweh God. Rather, Jesus was simply telling the disciples that the fulfillment of his words would prove that he is the long awaited Messiah foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In this rebuttal we are going to demonstrate why the NLT’s rendering does absolutely nothing to help Ventilacion’s case against White’s compelling presentation that John’s “I Am” sayings serve the purpose of identifying Christ as the God of the OT that became flesh.
John’s Testimony to the Divine Prehuman Existence of Messiah
In the first place, Ventilacion didn’t bother to mention the footnote that is given in the NLT, which actually confirms Dr. White’s point:
e. 13:19 Or that the ‘I am’ has come; or that I am the Lord; Greek reads that I am. See Exod 3:14.
The note here not only affirms that the Lord was claiming to be God in the flesh but also references Exodus 3:14, which equates Christ with the very God who spoke face to face with Moses:
“One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro,[a] the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai,[b] the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. ‘This is amazing,’ Moses said to himself. ‘Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.’ When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ ‘Here I am!’ Moses replied. ‘Do not come any closer,’ the Lord warned. ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father[c]—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord told him, ‘I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live. Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.’ But Moses protested to God, ‘Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?’ God answered, ‘I will be with you. And this is your sign that I am the one who has sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God at this very mountain.’ But Moses protested, ‘If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,” they will ask me, “What is his name?” Then what should I tell them?’ God replied to Moses, ‘I am who I am.[d] Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh,[e] the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.’” Exodus 3:1-15
With that said, let us look at the immediate context of John 13 to see what Ventilacion conveniently ignored:
“Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had COME FROM GOD and would return to God (pros ton theon)… ‘I am not saying these things to all of you; I know the ones I have chosen. But this fulfills the Scripture that says, ‘The one who eats my food has turned against me.’ I tell you this beforehand, so that when it happens you will believe that I am the Messiah. I tell you the truth, anyone who welcomes my messenger is welcoming me, and anyone who welcomes me is welcoming the Father who sent me.’” John 13:3
John tells us that Christ had come from God who had sent him, and was going to return to him, employing the same exact phrase here that he did in his prologue to describe the eternal Logos or Word’s intimate communion with God. More on this point later.
Jesus himself tells his disciples that he had come down from the Father and entered into the world, and was going to leave the world in order to return to the Father:
“’I have spoken of these matters in figures of speech, but soon I will stop speaking figuratively and will tell you plainly all about the Father. Then you will ask in my name. I’m not saying I will ask the Father on your behalf, for the Father himself loves you dearly because you love me and believe that I came FROM GOD. Yes, I came FROM THE FATHER INTO THE WORLD, and now I will leave the world AND RETURN TO THE FATHER (pros ton patera).’ Then his disciples said, ‘At last you are speaking plainly and not figuratively. Now we understand that you know everything, and there’s no need to question you. From this we believe that you came FROM GOD.’ Jesus asked, ‘Do you finally believe?’” John 16:25-31
Pay close to attention to the fact that, as a result of Jesus no longer speaking figuratively, the disciples finally come to the realization that he indeed knows everything and doesn’t need anyone to question him to see if he does, having now been convinced that he in fact did come down from God. And seeing how Christ himself affirms that he is speaking plainly at this point, the INC cannot explain away his claims of having come down from the Father as figurative language.
Now compare this with John’s prologue:
“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God (pros ton theon), and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God (pros ton theon).” John 1:1-2
The fact that John employs the same preposition pros to describe the Word’s eternal communion with God and the return of the historical Jesus to God in heaven shows that Christ is the very Incarnation of the eternal Word. In other words, the Word that was with God in eternity is none other than the same One who was going to leave this world and return back to be with God. The only difference is that the Word who came down from God existed as Spirit initially, but then returned to heaven with a glorified, indestructible flesh and bone body:
“So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” John 1:14
“One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he replied, ‘I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.’ Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. ‘Peace be with you,’ he said. Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!’ ‘My Lord and my God!’ Thomas exclaimed. Then Jesus told him, ‘You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.’” John 20:24-29
“And as they were saying these things, He Himself stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. ‘Why are you troubled?’ He asked them. ‘And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself! Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ Having said this, He showed them His hands and feet. But while they still were amazed and unbelieving because of their joy, He asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and He took it and ate in their presence.” Luke 24:36-43 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
“But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip… Brothers, I can confidently speak to you about the patriarch David: He is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn an oath to him to seat one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing this in advance, he spoke concerning the resurrection of the Messiah: He was not left in Hades, and His flesh did not experience decay. God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this. Therefore, since He has been exalted to the right hand of God and has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He has poured out what you both see and hear.” Acts 2:24, 29-33 HCSB
“We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God.” Romans 6:9-10
“Jesus became a priest, not by meeting the physical requirement of belonging to the tribe of Levi, but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed… There were many priests under the old system, for death prevented them from remaining in office. But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf. He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven.” Hebrews 7:16, 23-26
With the said we are ready to proceed to the second part of our discussion where we will see further evidence for the eternal prehuman existence of the Lord Jesus.