The Most Famous Verse of Bible Is A Mistranslation Caused by the Septuagint
Exodus 3:14 --- ehyeh asher ehyey --- is often rendered "I am that I am." This is wrong.
As Wikipedia explains in "I am that I am," it reads:
It is one of the most famous verses in the Torah. Hayah means "existed" or "was" in Hebrew; "ehyeh" is the first person singular imperfect form and is usually translated in English Bibles as "I will be" (or "I shall be"), for example, at Exodus 3:14. Ehyeh asher ehyeh literally translates as "I Will Be What I Will Be", with attendant theological and mystical implications in Jewish tradition. However, in most English Bibles, in particular the King James Version, this phrase is rendered as I am that I am.
Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh (often contracted in English as "I AM") is one of the Seven Names of God accorded special care by medieval Jewish tradition.
The Pulpit Commentary (Funk & Wagnalls 1919) -- a fairly modern commentary -- states correctly that Exodus 3:14 literally is "I will be what I will be," but then insists no 'better' translation exists than "I am that I am." Umm. Let's fairly listen even though it errs by ignoring the literal text in favor of affirming God must have meant to affirm self-existence rather than omnipotence which "I will be what I will be" would signify:
Verse 14. - I AM THAT I AM. No better translation can be given of the Hebrew words. "I will be what I will be" (Geddes) is more literal, but less idiomatic, since the Hebrew was the simplest possible form of the verb substantive. "I am because I am" (Boothroyd) is wrong, since the word asher is certainly the relative. The Septuagint explains rather than translates, but is otherwise unobjectionable. The Vulgate, sum qui sum, has absolute exactness. The idea expressed by the name is, as already explained, that of real, perfect, unconditioned, independent existence. I AM hath sent me to you. "I am" is an abbreviated form of "I am that I am," and is intended to express the same idea. (Biblehub)
The reference to Geddes as the one who brought the literal meaning to light as " I will be what I will be" is Reverand Alexander Geddes, LLD (died 1802). Here is a screen capture of Exodus 3:14 from the original of his work:
You can see his translation yourself of "I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE" at page 102 in his work The Holy Bible, or the Books Accounted Sacred by Jews and Christians; Otherwise called the Books of the Old and New Covenants: faithfully translated / from Corrected Texts of the Originals / with Various Readings, Explanatory Notes, and Critical Remarks by The Rev. Alexander Geddes, LL.D., (London: J. Davis, 1792) Volume I.
Geddes was a Scottish theologian and scholar. Geddes did an English translation of the Roman Catholic Bible which he published between 1792-1797 which led to his excommunication and becoming a Reverand and Doctor of Divinity within the Protestant faith. See "Alexander Geddes," Wikipedia.
On page 102, Geddes did this footnote explanation for "I will be what I will be," as follows, and you can see he finds a sensible commonality with other passages about a future tense and God's being:
This seems to be the most plausible rendering of this most difficult passage. It is of little importance by what name I am known. I will, as I promised, be a God to them. See Gen. 18:8 [17:7] and cross-references.
Geddes is saying that God was correcting Moses in context. Moses kept up an exasperating set of questions of how anyone will be believe Moses has spoken to God. Thus, God deliberately does not give a name in response. Rather, God repeats His promises that He will be doing great things for His people, and that is what Moses must relay to Pharoah, not God's actual name (which is Yahweh). So God tells Moses to tell Pharoah "I will be what I will be."
God often uses a future tense with His being a God to others. It does not imply that God is not yet God, but rather that His manifestation as God of some peoples is for a future time. So for example, we read in Ezekiel:
My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Ezek. 37:27.
We likewise read in Genesis 17:7 (to which Geddes was referring as to as 18:8 in his differently chaptered edition) that God promises He "will be a God to you." We read in fuller context in Genesis 17:7: "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee."
Hence, the correct translation does not mean God is not yet God, but instead He will be a God to whomever He wishes whenever He wishes including these people. Geddes was correct, as the passage from Genesis he cited proves, and as Ezek 37:27 proves.
However, below, you will see a persistent desire to defend the Septuagint 257 BC mistranslation of "I am that I am" as preferable to "I will be what I will be" because the latter supposedly necessarily implies that God is not yet God. Yet, as Geddes said in 1792, that is not true, and God uses a future sense with His being many times and in many ways without implying He is not yet God.
Septuagint Error Is Cause of Persistent Erroneous Modern Translation
Where comes the desire to persist in this erroneous "I am that I am?" From the Septuagint translation in Greek from 257 BC -- ego eimi ho on -- which means "I am the one who is." As one commentator notes, the Septuagint Greek of 257 BC affirms "the concept of absolute existence" (see link), not absolute power.
As we have demonstrated in numerous places, the Septuagint is a horrible translation of the Original Hebrew Bible. See "Septuagint Translations" on Topical Index page.
The Septuagint is why the King James and then almost all subsequent English Bibles persist in this error.
However, now we found that two later Greek translations in the Christian era done by Jewish scholars correct this Septuagint error:
The versions of Aquila [100s] and Theodotion [died 200 AD] have ehyeh asher ehyeh and the ehyeh of 3:14b rendered into Greek as "esomai hos esomai" and "esomai" respectively, which in turn translate as "I will be who I will be" and "I will be". (See K.J. Cronin, The Name of God As Revealed in Exodus 3:14, link, citing W. Propp, Exodus 1-18, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible, (NY: Doubleday, 1998) at 225.)
Theodotion was a Jewish scholar who deceased near 200 AD, and lived near Ephesus. ("Theodotion," Wikipedia.)
Aquila of Sinope - a Gentile who converted to Judaism -- lived in the 100s at Pontus, and is "celebrated for a very literal and accurate translation of the Old Testament into Greek." ("Aquila of Sinope," Wikipedia.)
But Septuagint loyalists who ignore that Hebrew syntax does support Theodotion and Aquila's translation are dumbfounded how "I will be what I will be" has any meaning at all next to "I am that I am." Thus, they express their preference for the only translation that supposedly has meaning -- "I am that I am." So Cronin writes in criticism of Theodotian and Aquila:
With this translation, Aquila and Theodotion gave an entirely different meaning to Exodus 3:14, and brought to it most notably the connotation of temporal existence in place of the absolute existence connoted by the Septuagint version of the verse. They thus proposed an entirely different meaning for the revelation of Exodus 3:14 than that proposed by the Septuagint, and in so doing gave expression to a radically different understanding of how it is that God should be known by name, which is the import of the question Moses asks God in Exodus 3:13. However, even if they did not understand the question of Exodus 3:13 in this way, one can still only wonder how they thought the temporal connotation of 'I will be' could communicate any more meaningful an understanding of God than the absolute and eternal implications of 'I am'. Translating the absolute ehyeh as 'I am' does present considerable interpretational difficulty, but so too does translating it as 'I will be'. The crucial difference between the two is that whereas the words 'I am' standing alone can be reasonably understood as God's self-designation, the absolute declaration 'I will be' cannot. This is because in Judaism God is understood to be eternally immutable, and so He is understood to be in the present as He always was in the past and as He always will be in the future. If God were to designate Himself in absolute terms that refer to the future ('I will be'), that would imply that He is not yet God, or that He is God but is in a state of becoming somehow other than how He now is, both of which are absurd and unacceptable to the Mosaic monotheist (i.e one who adheres to the Monotheism of Moses, most notably Jews).
Thus, Cronin says that "I will be what I will be" somehow implies God is not yet God, while "I am that I am" is supposedly the only sensible meaning. With that false dichotomy of only two choices, who would not pick "I am that I am" because of the Septuagint translation?
However, "I will be what I will be" implies omnipotence. God can be whatever He wants to be at any moment. God can be God over whomever He wants to be, as Genesis 17:7 and Ezek 37:27 says. It is not that He is not actually God over them, but He can become God to them -- make Himself known and active over them.
The words "I will be what I will be" does not imply God is not yet God; rather it affirms He is God now, and has power to be "what I will be" at any moment.
Cronin clearly gave us a false set of choices. This is the fallacy of false dichotomy to try to win an argument.
Hence, "I will be what I will be" affirms a current existence that is all powerful. God can assert His Godhood in time and space any time He wishes over people, and He will do so!
Why Does The Truth About Exodus 3:14 Matter?
Then why is this important? Well, one can see the point of God's name is not simply self-existence. It is instead an expression of POWER, not self-existence:
I will be what I will be.
This means God can be at any time what He wants to be. He has absolute power in His hands to be God over anyone at any moment. He has chosen presently to wait, and work through us to invite and draw people to Him. But He shall be whatever He wants to be in relation to us if He so chooses.
Why Is The True Translation Obscured?
What explains the persistent refusal to recognize this was an imperfect tense, not a present tense? Or what explains Christians accepting the Name being shortened to simply "I Am"?
Well, Jesus gives seven present tense statements in the Gospel of John that begin I AM, such as "I am the Bread of Life." See this link for list.
From this, some argue Jesus was affirming deity. For example, Ed Rodgers as a guest writer for CBN Networks say these "I am" verses prove Jesus claimed deity. See link.
Alone, they are simply affirmations of Jesus' character. Only the verse where Jesus says "before Abraham, I am" can mean a claim to deity because this speaks of a pre-existence that even the Gospels affirm does not belong to the Man Jesus -- a man whose birth is recorded near the start of the 1st century. See John 8:58.
But because Jesus said "the father dwells in me" (John 14:10) -- which renders Jesus DIVINE (not Deity), then God's Word was speaking directly through Jesus unlike other prophets who heard visions alone. Indeed, the Words Jesus spoke were the Father's words, as Jesus repeatedly explains in John's Gospel. It would thus not be surprising the Father wished to affirm He was speaking to them through the man Jesus on the occasion of John 8:58. God spoke at the Temple too. God spoke from heaven in front of a crowd at Jesus' baptism and again at His transfiguration. If these voices said it was I AM, we would not confuse the cloud or the temple with God. We would see them as vessels of God, not as God.
Hence, the I AM version of Exodus 3:14 is held onto in order to sustain the argument of Jesus' deity from the seven "I am" verses in John. But Exodus 3:14 says "I WILL" if we shorten it. Thus, a favorite argument disappears if we translate Exodus 3:14 correctly. Rather than lose a single argument to support the Deity proposition, many Christians tolerate a mistranslation of Exodus 3:14 as "I am that I am" rather than "I will be what I will be."
The Septuagint influenced Jerome who rendered Exodus 3:14 the same way. Cronin notes:
The Vulgate of Jerome corresponds closely to the Septuagint in its Latin translation of ehyeh asher ehyeh and ehyeh as "ego sum qui sum" and "qui est" respectively, which in turn translate into English as "I am who am" and "He who is".'