Part II – The Enhanced Public Debate Presentation
By Larry Acheson
A Response to Chuck Henry’s book
Trinity, Oneness, Duality, and Pre-Existence
kay, I must move on. John chapter 8. You really need to read the entire chapter and then read Chuck’s interpretation of what Yeshua meant when He said, “Before Abraham was, I am!”
Chuck Henry and I agree that Trinitarians (mistakenly) turn to John chapter 8 to prove that Yeshua is eternal, but that’s not what it says. In verse 56, Yeshua told the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw and was glad!” The Jews mocked Yeshua at this point. Let’s read the remaining portion of their discussion:
57 Then said the Jews unto Him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?
58 Yeshua said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham WAS, I am.
59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Yeshua hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
Note that Yeshua wasn’t claiming to be the Supreme Most High Yahweh, nor was He claiming to have existed from eternity. He was only stating that before Abraham was, He IS. When Yeshua stated, “Before Abraham WAS, the Greek word translated “was” is the Greek word “ginomai,” which means “to come into being.” It’s the same Greek word from which we get the word “Genesis.” So Yeshua stated, “Before Abraham came into being, I am.” The Jews understood precisely what He meant. Chuck, I’m sorry to say, does not. You can read Chuck’s conclusion of what Yeshua meant on page 419 of his book. He writes, “In John 8:58, Yeshua did not identify Himself as the Almighty, but as the prophesied-of Messiah, who existed in Yahweh’s plan from the beginning, before Abraham.” This interpretation is nothing short of an incredible, outlandish claim – a claim so bizarre that I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read it. But it’s there in his book and the above is a screen capture to prove it. As I’m sure you’ll notice, I couldn’t resist throwing in some commentary of my own.
It’s a mighty huge leap to claim that although Yeshua said, “Before Abraham was, I am,” what He meant was, “I’m the prophesied-of Messiah who existed in Yahweh’s plan from the beginning,” but it’s a leap that Chuck is willing to take. I’m not willing to join him. Please note that Chuck does not address Yeshua's specific answer to the Jews’ question. Their question was, “You are not yet 50 years old and you have seen Abraham?” What kind of an answer is, “Before Abraham was, I am the prophesied-of Messiah who existed in Yahweh’s plan from the beginning”?
I propose that we stick with what Yeshua actually said. What Chuck offers is a gross interpretational addition of words or as they say, “Putting words in Yeshua's mouth.” The Jews’ question had NOTHING to do with whether or not Yeshua was claiming to be the ‘prophesied Messiah.’ The question had to do with whether or not Yeshua had seen Abraham. What was Yeshua's answer?
Was it, “Before Abraham was, I was ordained to be the Messiah”? Or was it, “Before Abraham was, I am”?
If you read Chuck’s book, you cannot help but notice that every time there is an obvious reference to Yeshua having existed prior to His miraculous conception in Miriam’s womb, Chuck redirects the reader to 1 Peter 1:20, where we read that Yeshua was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times. And that’s what Chuck does with Yeshua’s answer to the Jews here in John chapter eight. In applying his interpretation of 1 Peter 1:20, Chuck reasons that Yeshua couldn’t have meant that He existed before Abraham because Yeshua was foreordained in Yahweh’s Plan before the foundation of the world. The Jews were supposed to “just know” that’s what He meant, even though they didn’t have access to Peter’s writing; in fact, Peter didn’t compose his writing until long after Yeshua’s resurrection. As I pointed out in chapter three, Chuck “redirects” readers to 1 Peter 1:20 at least seven times in his book. My ongoing response to this redirect is, “Are you saying Yeshua could not have possibly been present when He was ‘foreordained’?” As I pointed out in that same chapter, King David was foreordained to be king over Israel by the prophet Samuel, and he was alive for the foreordaining! He didn’t actually become king until at least 15 years later. So could Yeshua have been present when He was foreordained before the foundation of the world? Yes, absolutely! Chuck’s redirect, then, is nothing more than a red herring argument designed to take our focus off of Yeshua’s answer to the Jews’ question.
The bottom line is, when the Jews asked Yeshua if He had seen Abraham, it became incumbent on Yeshua to either indicate one way or the other. A straight, “Yes” or “No” would have been obvious, but He didn’t give them a straight answer. The Jews’ reaction tells the reader whether or not Yeshua indicated to them that He had seen Abraham. If He had indicated that He was the promised Messiah foreordained in the Almighty’s Plan, He would have been dismissed as another of the many quacks presuming to declare themselves the Messiah. Replying, “Before Abraham was, I AM!” goes beyond stating that He existed before Abraham. He identifies Himself as the very Angel who appeared to Moses at the burning bush, the Angel who identified Himself to Moses as the Elohim of Abraham, the Elohim of Isaac and the Elohim of Jacob. And THAT is why the Jews took up stones with the intent of killing Yeshua right there ON THE SPOT – He had identified Himself as Elohim!
Displayed below are some slides that I included with my debate presentation (I actually modified the last one in order to further drive home the point of John 8:57-59):
What Chuck does to John 8:58 reminds me of The Telephone Game. Have you ever played The Telephone Game? The first person in line whispers a message to the next person, then that person tells the next person. The message goes on down the line until the last person finally gets the message. By that time, the message has changed – often dramatically! The “final” message is usually hilarious and sounding something fairly close the original, but different enough in meaning that everyone is laughing when they find out what the original message was.
I would compare what Chuck does to Scripture with The Telephone Game, except for one huge difference: The “final” message Chuck comes up with is not hilarious or funny at all. In this particular situation, Yeshua throws a hint to the parties involved that He had seen Abraham. His fellow Jews are stunned. When they ask for clarification, Yeshua states, “Before Abraham was—before Abraham came into being—I AM.” That’s what Yeshua said. But by the time Yeshua’s message makes it to Chuck, he says we misunderstand what Yeshua said and what He meant. What Yeshua meant, according to Chuck, is “Before Abraham was, I am the prophesied-of Messiah, who existed in Yahweh’s plan from the beginning of time, before Abraham.” So according to Chuck, Yeshua didn’t mean for the Jews to understand that He literally existed before Abraham did; no, His existence was in a “Plan.” Let's just suffice it to say I don't recommend playing The Telephone Game with Biblical Unitarians.
Apart from the word “Uh” in the preceding illustration, here’s the only direct answer that Biblical Unitarians could possibly have Yeshua give to the Jews’ question: “No.”
If the Jews came away with Chuck Henry’s understanding of Yeshua’s answer, they would not have picked up stones to stone Him because He would have been just like them – having had an existence that didn’t begin until their physical births as flesh and blood human beings.
If there’s one thing all Bible believers have in common, it’s the fact that the Almighty has a Plan for all of us. We’re all in His Plan and we’ve been in that Plan since before the dawning of time as we know it. As such, any of us can boldly make the claim, “Before Abraham was, I am in the Plan!”
Some additional slides from my originally-planned presentation:
What follows are slides that were a part of my originally-planned presentation that took place with the “warm-up” debate I had with Chuck Henry on March 9, 2019 here in our home. As I have previously mentioned, most of my spare time prior to that debate was spent researching and compiling evidence. Very little time was devoted to assimilating and condensing my material into a 30-minute presentation. For some reason, right up to the final week I thought I would be able to accomplish that “minor” task – a huge miscalculation on my part. I even thought I would be able to do condense things in the hours prior to our scheduled start. However, shortly before Chuck’s arrival, I realized I had a time constraint dilemma that I was unable to resolve in time for the start of our debate. I knew I would only be getting warmed up by the time my 30 minutes expired. I didn’t want to leave anything out of my presentation, and Chuck graciously agreed to my last-minute request to change our opening presentations from 30 minutes to two hours – a total of four hours! As it turns out, two hours was still not enough time for me to present everything I had and this very topic – “Before Abraham Was, I Wasn’t” was left completely unaddressed.
For some reason, I completely forgot I had the following slides after our “warm-up” debate. I even forgot them when I originally composed this study in June 2020. It wasn’t until a couple of months later that I stumbled across them while reviewing my original PowerPoint presentation. Most of them speak for themselves:
Well, I’m glad I found my “forgotten slides.” Would they have persuaded a “dyed-in-the-wool” Biblical Unitarian? No, of course not. I know that now. But for everyone else, let’s face it: When the Jews queried Yeshua as to how He, a man who’s not even fifty years old, could have PHYSICALLY SEEN Abraham, Yeshua’s answer cannot be reasonably construed so as to mean He was telling them that He was already in Yahweh’s Plan before Abraham was born. That interpretation is best summarized with the word “gobbledygook.” By telling them, “Before Abraham was, I am,” He not only told them that He existed before Abraham was born, but He identified Himself as the One who instructed Moses to tell the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you”!
There is actually much more to cover in this study. I haven’t even addressed John 17:5, the one verse that, in and of itself, proves that Yeshua had a pre-carnal existence. That’s the verse where Yeshua said, “And now, Father, glorify Me with Yourself, with the glory I had with You before the existence of the world.” How do Biblical Unitarians interpret that verse? In John 1:15, John the Baptist stated, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me!” Sounds like it means John the Baptist’s successor outranks him because He was before him in time, but that’s not what Biblical Unitarians say John meant. These and other important passages validating Yeshua’s pre-carnal existence are reinterpreted in Chuck’s book Trinity, Oneness, Duality, and Pre-Existence, but time did not permit me to expound upon them in my debate presentation. I did manage to address them in my follow-up presentation, which I delivered a month later at the 2019 Unity Conference. I will cover those passages in Part III of this study. For now, it’s time to bring everything presented in this study together. Here’s what forms the conclusion of my debate presentation:
 In fact, this is precisely how John 8:58 is translated in The Interlinear Bible, A Literal Translation of the Bible, J. P. Green, Sr., General Editor and Translator, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 1985. It reads, "Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham came into being, I AM."
 According to the New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, Organizing Editor, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 1982, p. 920, the book of 1 Peter most likely wasn’t composed until around the years 63 or 64 CE.
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First Publication, June 28, 2020
Edited July 19, 2020
A Truth Seekers Publication
Plano, Texas 75074-6010
This is the name of our Creator, Yahweh, sometimes called the Tetragrammaton. It is given here in (A) the Phoenician script, (B) the Ivrit Kadum (Paleo-Hebrew) script, and (C) the Modern Hebrew script (a stylization of Aramaic).
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