Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog



Sam Shamoun

There seems to be somewhat of a consensus amongst Biblical that the “I AM” sayings of John are deliberate echoes of the “I AM” statements of Jehovah that are found in Deuteronomy and Isaiah. We will be citing some of these scholars for the benefit of our readers. We start off with the statements made by the late Dr. Raymond E. Brown, considered by many to be the leading Johannine scholar of the last century.

“The Johannine Gospel offers lucid examples of precreational christology. The opening verses (1:1-2) of the hymn that serves as a Prologue makes clear that not only through the Word (who is the Son; see 1:18) were all things created but also the Word existed in God’s presence before creation. If in Gen 1:1 ‘In the beginning’ means in the beginning of creation, in John 1:1 ‘In the beginning’ means before anything was created. That in John’s mind the preexistence of Jesus as God’s Son is not merely hymnic figurative language or poetic license is clear from 17:5 where the Johannine Jesus speaks literally and consciously of having a glorified existence with the Father before the world began (see also 16:28; 3:13; 5:19; 8:26,58).

“A particular facet of Johannine precreational christology appears in the use of ‘I am’ by Jesus. The corresponding Greek ego eimi can be simply a phrase of common speech, equivalent to ‘It is I’ or ‘I am the one.’ However, it also has a solemn or sacral use in the OT, the NT, Gnosticism, and pagan Greek religious writings. Of most importance for our quest is John’s absolute use of ‘I am’ with no predicate, which I shall distinguish by capitalizing. Thus, 8:24: ‘Unless you come to believe that I AM, you will die in your sins’; 8:28: ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM’; 8:58: ‘Before Abraham even came into existence, I AM’; 13:19: ‘When it does happen, you may believe that I AM.’

“There is a natural tendency to feel that these statements are incomplete; for instance, in John 8:25 ‘the Jews’ respond by asking, ‘Well then who are you?’ Since this usage goes far beyond ordinary parlance, all recognize that the absolute I AM has a special revelatory function in John. The most common explanation is to associate this Johannine use with ‘I AM’ employed as a divine name in the OT and rabbinic Judaism. The OT offers excellent examples of the use ‘I am,’ including impressive examples of the absolute use. Let us begin with the statement, ‘I am Yahweh/God,’ since the absolute use of ‘I AM’ in the OT is a variant of it. In Hebrew the statement contains simply the pronoun ‘I’ and the predicate ‘Yahweh’ or ‘God’ without a connecting verb. This formula is revelatory in a limited way, expressing divine authority and giving reassurance and a reason for trust (Gen 26:24; 28:13; Exod 6:6; 20:2, 5; Lev 18:5; Ezek 20:5). In particular, where God promises, ‘You shall know that I am Yahweh’ (Exod 6:7; cf. 7:5), we come close to John 8:24,28 cited above. The most important use of the OT formula ‘I am Yahweh’ stresses the unicity of God: I am Yahweh (or I am He) and there is no other, e.g. Deutero-Isaiah, as well as in Hosea 13:4 and Joel 2:27. The Hebrew for ‘I Yahweh’ or ‘I He’ is translated in the Greek OT simply as ‘I am’ (ego eimi); and since the predicate is not expressed, that translation puts added emphasis on existence.

“There is even evidence that the use of ego eimi in the Greek of Deutero-Isaiah came to be understood not only as a statement of divine unicity and existence, but also as a divine name. The Hebrew of Isa 43:25 reads, ‘I, I am He who blots out your transgressions.’ The Greek translates the first part of this statement by using ego eimi twice. This can mean, ‘I am He, I am He who blots out your transgressions’: but it can also be interpreted, ‘I am ‘I AM’ who blots out your transgressions,’ a translation that makes ego eimi a name. Isa 51:12 is similar. The Hebrew of Isa 52:6 states, ‘My people shall know my name; in that day (they shall know) that I am He who speaks’; but the Greek can be read, ‘that ego eimi is the one who speaks,’ so that ‘I AM’ becomes the divine name to be known in the day of the Lord.

“Against this background the absolute use of ‘I AM’ by the Johannine Jesus becomes quite intelligible; he was speaking in the same manner in which Yahweh speaks in Deutero-Isaiah. For instance, in John 8:28 Jesus promises that when the Son of Man is lifted up (in return to the Father), ‘then you will know ego eimi’; in Isaiah 43:10 Yahweh has chosen Israel, ‘that you may know and believe me and understand ego eimi.’ The absolute Johannine use of ‘I AM’ has the effect of portraying Jesus as divine with (pre)existence as his identity, even as the Greek OT understood the God of Israel.” (Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology [Paulist Press; Mahwah, NJ 1994], pp. 136-139; bold emphasis ours)


204. There are many references to the divine name that Jesus bears. In his ministry Jesus made known and revealed the Father’s name to his disciples (17:6,26). He came in the Father’s name (5:43) and did his works in the Father’s name (10:25); indeed, he says that the Father has given him the name (17:11,12). The great sin is to refuse to believe in the name of God’s only Son (3:18). In Acts and Paul (e.g., Philip 2:9-11) the name given to Jesus at which every knee should bend is kyrios or ‘Lord’ – the term used in the LXX to translate ‘YHWH’ or ‘Adonai.’ It is possible that John thinks of ego eimi as the divine name. (Ibid, p. 139; bold emphasis ours)

Biblical expositor J. Ramsey Michaels agrees with Brown. Here is what this Evangelical scholar states right after mentioning the use of ego eimi in texts such as Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10-11, 25; 45:18-19, 22; 48:12; 51:12 and 52:6:

“From this brief summary, it is clear that the formula in the Greek Bible as in the Hebrew is interchangeable with ‘I am the LORD,’ or ‘I am God.’ Occasionally, when the Hebrew repeats the first-person pronoun ‘I’ for emphasis (as in Isa 43:25 and 45:19), the Greek treats ‘I am’ as the divine name, yielding the construction 'I am, I AM' (as in Isa 43:25 and 51:12), or ‘I am, I AM, the LORD’ (in Isa 45:19; see n. 149). The use of 'I AM' as a name is reminiscent of Exodus 3:14 (even though the Hebrew is rather different), where ‘God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”’ (NIV)…” (Michaels, The Gospel of John (New International Commentary on the New Testament) [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI 2010], pp. 534-535)

149. Gr. ego eimi ego eimi kyrios. (Ibid, p. 534)


“… The fulfillment of his prediction will serve as a testimony to his disciples, ‘that I am.’ In the immediate context, ‘I am’ could simply mean, ‘I am the one who speaks in this psalm’ (like the ‘me’ and the ‘I’ and the ‘my’ in the psalm citations in 2:17, 15:25, and 19:24 and 28). But more likely, the expression has a wider, more explicitly christological application, as it does elsewhere in the Gospel (see 4:26; 8:24, 28; and, above all, 8:58)… Even God’s own authority is vindicated in the same way, for God can summon the nations, asking, ‘Which of them foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, “It is true.” You are my witnesses, declares the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he’ (Isa 43:9-10a, NIV), and can claim, ‘I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is still to come’ (Isa 46:9-10a, NIV). Jesus presses in much the same way his own claim to know the future, and the readers who remember him saying ‘before Abraham came to be, I am’ (8:58) can scarcely mistake the import of his words. Like the God of Israel, he not only knows, but reveals himself, in things yet to come to no less than in things past and present.” (Ibid, pp. 743-744)

Another NT scholar writes:

“The movement from Messiah to unity with God occurs again, albeit more subtly, in Jesus' dialogue with the Samaritan woman. The Samaritan woman first identifies Jesus as ‘a prophet’ (4:19)–probably thinking, as we have already seen, of the prophet like Moses of Deuteronomy 18:18. Then after Jesus answers the classic problem she raises about whether the Samaritans or the Jews have the right physical location for the temple, she comments that when the Messiah comes, ‘he will explain everything to us’ (4:25). Jesus responds to this with the simple phrase, ‘I am–the one who is speaking to you’ (4:26, aut.).

“It is possible that the two words ‘I am’ (ego eimi) mean nothing more than ‘I am the Messiah.’28 The LXX uses precisely this phrase, however, to refer to the God of Israel.29 ‘Behold! Behold! I am [ego eimi] and there is no God besides me’ says Deuteronomy 32:39, and ‘I am [ego eimi], and there is none beside,’ says Isaiah 45:18. The phrase seems to be used as a personal name for God in several passages in Isaiah, echoing God's revelation of his name to Moses as ‘i am’ in Exodus 3:14.30 For example, the Lord can say through the prophet, ‘I am “I AM” [ego eimi ego eimi] who speaks righteousness and proclaims the truth’ (Isa. 45:19 LXX), or ‘I am “I AM” [ego eimi ego eimi] who comforts you’ (Isa. 51:12 LXX).31

“In light of all this, Jesus is moving the Samaritan woman beyond merely identifying him with the Messiah to seeing him as one with the God who revealed his identity to Moses as the God of Israel.32 In the same breath Jesus identifies himself with the Messiah of the woman's expectations and takes her beyond these expectations to identify himself with God.” (Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 2005], One. Gospels and Acts, 6. John: Faith in Jesus as the Means to Eternal Lifepp. 157-158)

31. All translations from the LXX are my own. It is possible, as Brown observes, John I–XII, 536, that the phrase should be translated “I am he” in these passages, but the Hebrew lying beneath the Greek translation is (rendered literally) “I, I am he” (Isa. 43:25; 51:12) and “I am YHWH” (Isa. 45:19). If the translator(s) had not taken ego eimi to be a name in each instance, he (they) would have more naturally rendered the phrases ego autos eimi and ego kyrios. For the second expression, see Isa. 44:24; 49:23, 26; 60:16; 60:22. (Ibid, p. 157; bold emphasis ours)

34. Cf. Brown, John I–XII; Moloney, John, 203; Smith, John, 150. Pace Barret, St. John, 28, and Carson, John, 275, both of whom cite 9:9 as proof that ego eimi formula does not always have connotations of a theophany in John. In 9:9, however, the formerly blind man is answering questions about whether he is the one who used to sit and beg (9:8). The normal way to answer such questions in Greek is ego eimi. In the Vitae Aesopi G 29.20 and the Vitae Adam et Evae 17, for example, to the question “Are you the young man?” Aesop answers, “ego eimi” and to the question, “Are you Eve?” Eve answers, “ego eimi” (cf. Matt. 26:22, 25; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:70). In neither John 4:26 nor 6:20, however, is this the situation. In 4:26 Jesus is not responding to the question, “Are you the Messiah?” but is claiming to be the Messiah of whom the Samaritan woman has just spoken in 4:25. Had Jesus merely intended to tell the woman that he was the Messiah, he would have said “ego eimi houtos” (“I am this person”; cf. Ando-cides, Orat. Myst. 126.5) or “ego eimi ho Messias” (cf. Plato, Phaed. 115.c.7 where Socrates says, “ego eimi Sokrates”; cf. Luke 1:19). Similarly in 6:20, Jesus is not answering a question about his identity but simply announcing, ego eimi, “I am.” Had he meant only “it is I,” he probably would have said what he does in Luke 24:39, “ego eimi autos” (“It is I myself”). The use of the phrase in Mark 6:50 (cf. Matt. 14:27; Mark 13:6; Luke 21:8) probably only means that Mark understood it in much the same way that John did. (Thanks to the TLG for locating these texts). (Ibid, p. 158; bold emphasis ours)

The New Interpreter’s Bible also agrees:

4:26. Jesus’ response to the Samaritan woman’s traditional eschatological affirmations is simple and bold… The NRSV and the NIV translations play down the boldness of Jesus’ remarks by supplying a predicate (“he”) for the “I am” saying that is not present in the Greek. When the predicate is supplied, the meaning of Jesus’ words becomes, “I am the Messiah you expect.” The “I am” of v. 26, however, is not simply Jesus’ messianic self-identification. When Jesus speaks the “I am” in v. 26, these words make explicit connections with the divine name of Exod 3:14. Jesus thus makes an absolute “I am” here, with no predicate (6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:6), in order to identify himself as the one in whom God is known (1:18). The absolute “I am” confirms the words of the Prologue, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). Jesus thus fulfills the Samaritan woman’s messianic expectations at the same time he transcends them. (The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes [Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN 1995], Volume IX. Luke-John, p. 568; underline emphasis ours)

8:24. Jesus reiterates his words of 8:21 (“I told you”). The plural “sins” (hamartiai) is not a significant change from v. 21; it reminds the “Jews” that the only central sin underscored earlier can nonetheless be manifested in individual actions (cf. 3:19-21). The only alternative to dying in sin is to believe that “I am” (v. 24b). The NRSV supplies a pronoun as a predicate (“I am he”) and the NIV offers a paraphrase (“I am the one I claim to be”) but these ignore or alter the use of an absolute ego eimi saying in Greek… Jesus makes a bold claim for himself here, and he sets very high stakes for faith. He identifies himself with the divine name (see Exod 13:14 [sic]; Isa 43:25; 51:12; 52:6 LXX) to testify that he and God are one (1:1; 10:30). To move from death to life, the Jews must recognize Jesus as the incarnate Logos of God (cf. 8:19). (Ibid, p. 634)

8:58. Jesus’ response to the Jews makes clear that the deciding issue is not one of overlapping life spans. Rather, Jesus is making a significant claim about his relationship with God. The “very truly” (amen, amen) with which Jesus’ words begin mark them as introducing a new teaching. In this case, it is the culminating teaching of the whole debate. The core of Jesus’ pronouncement resides in the absolute “I am” (ego eimi) saying (i.e., with no predicate nominative supplied), which is used in two ways.

First, the contrast between “was” and “am” recalls the opening verses of the Prologue and their claims for the pre-existence of the Word (1:1-3). As in the Prologue, the pivot of the verb use is the contrast between the time-bound and the eternal. The verb translated “was” in v. 58 is the Greek verb genesthai, and could be translated literally as “became” or “came into being.” As in the Prologue (cf. 1:3, 10, 14), the verb relates to the created order, to that which is limited by time. Abraham’s time was finite and time-bound. When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” therefore, he is pointing to his pre-existence with God beyond the bounds of time.

Second, the use of the absolute ego eimi echoes 4:20 [sic]; 6:20; and 8:24, 28… As in those verses, the absolute ego eimi here is to be understood as Jesus’ identifying himself with the divine name, “I AM”… These words express Jesus’ unity with God and restate another claim of the Prologue (1:1). Jesus’ words prove the ironic truth of the Jews’ words in 8:53; Jesus is greater than Abraham because Jesus is one with God. (Ibid, p. 646; bold emphasis ours)

“The centerpiece of vv. 5-6 is the ‘I am’ (ego eimi) with which Jesus responds to the soldiers in v. 5a. The NIV and the NRSV both supply a predicate nominative (‘he’) that is not present in the Greek text and translate Jesus’ words as a simple formula of self-identification (cf. 9:9). Yet the repetition of the ego eimi in v. 6a and the description of its effect on the soldiers in v. 6b show that these words are much more than a formula of self-identification. They should be interpreted, like the ego eimi at 4:26; 6:20; and 8:28, as another instance of Jesus’ use of the absolute ego eimi formula… That is, with these words Jesus identifies himself, not simply as the one for whom the soldiers seek, but with the divine name ‘I AM’ (Isa 43:25; 51:12; 52:6 LXX). Even at Jesus’ arrest, he reveals himself to be the incarnate Logos of God. That Jesus’ words are to be interpreted as a theophany is confirmed by the soldiers’ response. To fall prostrate on the ground is a conventional response to a theophany (e.g., Ezek 1:28; Dan 10:9; Acts 9:3-4; Rev 1:17). The soldiers’ response may also be a reminder of their powerlessness before the power of God (cf. Pss 27:2; 56:9).” (Ibid, p. 802; bold emphasis ours)

The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels says:

"... There are at least four texts where the use of ego eimi seems incomplete and the words have assumed the form of a title: John 8:24... John 8:28... John 8:58... John 13:19... In each case the verse seems truncated. In 8:58 before Abraham what was Jesus? The text gives no predicate. But as we shall see, John no doubt wishes for us to recall the sacred divine name unveiled in the OT and well known in Rabbinic Judaism... The most important use is found in Exodus 3. In Exodus 3:6 God introduces himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai [sic] saying, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.' Feeling that this is insufficient, Moses inquires further about God's name (Exodus 3:13-14) to which God responds, 'I am who I am.' This becomes the truly personal name of God in Israel's faith. YHWH (the Hebrew consonants, used throughout the OT for the Divine name) originated with the Hebrew verb 'to be' and thus the LXX translated Exodus 3:14 ego eimi ho on ('I am the one who is'). This became the covenant name of God and was used on its own as a title (Deut 32:39). This is especially true in Isaiah where the Greek text makes ego eimi a consistent title for God, 'I am, I am he who blots out your sins' (Is 43:25; cf. 51:12; 52:6)... The Septuagint is not the only source which shows a unique interest in the 'I am' as a code name for Yahweh; the same appears to be true of post-biblical Judaism. 1 Enoch (108:12), Jubilees (24:22) and even Philo (commentary on Exodus 3:14) all show a marked interest in the name... Keeping the disciples in 'the name of the Father' is similarly important (17:11-12). Just as in the OT, the revelation of Yahweh always includes the disclosure of his covenant name. Jesus is carrying on this historic pattern... The Son is not simply representing the Father here but in some sense bearing the Father's presence to the world... This is the remarkable new step taken by the Fourth Gospel. Jesus is the Lord incarnate, and thus he himself bears this divine name. He is not simply a courier of revelation like Moses. He is revelation. Jesus' own name has power and significance (1:12; 2:23; 3:18; 14:26), and thus prayer uttered in his name will witness results (14:13; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26). But the power of prayer in Jesus' name resides in the fact that, as 14:13 shows, the Father himself is being glorified through Jesus. In fact, it is the Father himself who is present in Jesus. Thus, in the immediately preceding section (14:8-11) Philip is told that he sees the Father when he looks at Jesus. The Father and the Son share an intimate reciprocity and to glorify one is to glorify the other... The principal theological contribution of the 'I AM' sayings is therefore christological. It buttresses Jesus' divine status by showing he can work, speak and act in the Father's stead. He is no mere human. He is the Word (see Logos) of God dwelling in human flesh. But as such, he is also the Father's emissary-and more-and the 'I AM' title he bears is simply one more of his many credentials.

"This christological development linking the Father to Jesus is not unusual in the Fourth Gospel. For example, in John 5 when Jesus is accused of violating the Sabbath, his defense turns on his connection with the Father. Since the Father works on the Sabbath giving life, so must the Son (5:19-24). Jesus' works are justified not because some day the Father will vindicate them, but because Jesus is doing the Father's work directly; and any perceptive observer should recognize this. Thus, to dishonor the Son in this situation is to offend the Father as well.

"In the many 'I AM' sayings Jesus is publicly applying the divine name of God-and God's authoritative presence-to himself. No prophet or priest in Israelite history would ever have done this. For Judaism it is the most severe christological affirmation of all, leading audiences in the Gospel either to believe in Jesus or accuse him of blasphemy." (Ibid, pp. 355-356; bold emphasis ours)

Reformed theologian Robert L. Reymond writes:

“But perhaps the greatest assertion among all of His claims to eternal pre-existence is found in His ‘I am’ sayings of 8:58. Most of Jesus’ ‘I am’ sayings He supplied with a subjective complement of some kind…

“But I agree with D. A. Carson that ‘two are undoubtedly absolute in both form and content … and constitute an explicit self-identification with Yahweh who had already revealed himself to men in similar terms (see especially Isa. 43:10-11).’109 The two instances Carson refers to are in John 8:58 and 13:19, but there could be other instances as well, such as His ‘I am’ usages in John 6:20, 8:24, 28; 18:5-8. In John 8:58, standing before men who already regarded Him as demoniac and who had told him as much, Jesus declared, ‘Before Abraham, was, I am.’ Thus, He not only invoked the phrase that Yahweh in the Old Testament had chosen as His own special term of self-identification, but He also claimed a preexistence appropriate only to one possessing the nature of Yahweh. Unbiased exegesis of these words, Henry Alford reminds us, ‘must recognize in them a declaration of the essential pre-existence of Christ.’110 His meaning was not lost on His audience, for ‘they took up stones to stone Him’ (8:59). ‘They understood that Jesus ascribed divine existence to himself and made himself equal with God.’111 After His ‘I am’ in 13:19 Jesus Himself explicated His unity with the Father and in turn His own Yahwistic identity when He declared, ‘He who receives Me receives Him who sent Me’ (v. 20). In 6:20, by His ‘I am, be not afraid’ saying, Jesus admittedly might have been simply identifying Himself to His terrified disciples, yet, as Carson notes, ‘Not every “I” could be found walking on water.’112 Then in 8:24, following immediately as it does His declaration that He was ‘from above’ and ‘not from the world,’ Jesus’ ‘I am’ statement, ‘if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins,’ surely carries with it divine implications. Finally, consider John’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ arrest in 18:5-8: As soon as Jesus uttered, ‘I am,’ His would-be captors ‘drew back and fell to the ground.’ It is difficult not to conclude that John’s readers were to recognize in Jesus’ acknowledgment that He was the one whom they sought also His implicit self-identification with Yahweh.” (Reymond, Jesus Divine Messiah: The New Testament Witness [Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Philipsburg, NJ 1990], 2. Jesus’ Self-Witness, pp. 93-94; bold emphasis ours)

109. D. A. Carson, “‘I Am’ Sayings,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p. 541. Carson goes on to say in the same article that “these two occurrences of the absolute ‘I am’ suggest that in several other passages in John, where ‘I am’ is formally absolute but a predicate might well be supplied from the context (e.g., 4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28; 18:5, 6, 8), an intentional double meaning may be involved” (ibid). I personally believe that, with the exception of the single occurrence in 4:26, all of the other ‘I am’ statements Carson cites, because of some detail(s) in the context, should be regarded as absolute in form and content, reflecting Jesus’ ascription of Deity to Himself through using the great Old Testament ‘I am’ language. Cf. Dodd, Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, p. 345 on 6:20; p. 95 on 8:28 (cf. see also Isa. 43:10 LXX). Cf. Morris, Gospel According to John, p. 447 on 8:24; pp. 743-744 on 18:5, 6, 8. Cf. also G. C. Berkouwer, Person of Christ, p. 168 on 8:24. For another general discussion of the “I am” sayings, cf. Raymond E. Brown, Gospel According to John I-XII, pp. 533-38.

110. Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell and Co., 1868), p. 801

111. Berkouwer, Person of Christ, p. 165.

112. Carson, “‘I AM’ Sayings,” p. 541. (Ibid)

NT scholar Richard Bauckham adds:

“… The Gospel of John understandably makes a different choice when it places on the lips of Jesus during his ministry another of the characteristically Deutero-Isaianic declarations of unique divine identity. The Johannine choice is the concise statement ‘I am he’; in Hebrew 'ani hu’; usually translated in the Septuagint Greek as ego eimi (‘I am’), the form in which it appears in John's Gospel. This sentence occurs as a divine declaration of unique identity seven times in the Hebrew Bible: once in Deuteronomy, in one of the most important monotheistic passages of the Torah, and six times in Deutero-Isaiah.59 It serves to declare, in the most concise of forms, the uniqueness of God, equivalent to the more common ‘I am YHWH’. On the lips of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, its ambiguity, in contexts where it need not be recognized as the uniquely divine self-declaration, enables it to identify Jesus with God, not in a blatantly explicit way which, even in the Fourth Gospel, would be inappropriate before Jesus’ exaltation, but in a way which becomes increasingly unambiguous through the series of seven absolute ‘I am’ sayings (John 4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 26, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8). It is certainly not accidental that, whereas in the Hebrew Bible there are seven occurrences of 'ani hu’ and two of the emphatic variation 'anoki 'anoki hu' (Isa. 43:25; 51:12), in John there are seven absolute ‘I am’ sayings, with the seventh repeated twice (18:5, 6, 8) for the sake of an emphatic climax (thus seven or nine in both cases). The series of sayings thus comprehensively identifies Jesus with the God of Israel who sums up his identity in the declaration ‘I am he’. More than that, they identify Jesus as the eschatological revelation of the unique identity of God, predicted by Deutero-Isaiah.” (Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament's Christology of Divine Identity [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids MI 2008], 1. God Crucified, 3.3. Christological monotheism in three examples of the Christian reading of Isaiah 40-55, pp. 39-40; bold emphasis ours)

59. Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10, 13; 46:4; 48:12; 52:6. (Ibid, p. 40)

The late A. T. Robertson, considered to be one of the greatest Greek NT scholars that ever lived, wrote the following concerning John 8:24 and 58:

For except ye believe (ean gar me pisteusete). Negative condition of third class with ean me and ingressive aorist active subjunctive of pisteuo, "For unless ye come to believe."

That I am he (hoti ego eimi). Indirect discourse, but with no word in the predicate after the copula eimi. Jesus can mean either "that I am from above" (verse 23), "that I am the one sent from the Father or the Messiah" (7:18,28), "that I am the Light of the World" (8:12), "that I am the Deliverer from the bondage of sin" (8:28,31,36), "that I am" without supplying a predicate in the absolute sense as the Jews (Deuteronomy 32:39) used the language of Jehovah (cf. Isaiah 43:10 where the very words occur hina pisteusete--hoti ego eimi). The phrase ego eimi occurs three times here (8:24,28,58) and also in 13:19. Jesus seems to claim absolute divine being as in 8:58. (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament; bold emphasis ours)


Before Abraham was (prin Abraam genesthai). Usual idiom with prin in positive sentence with infinitive (second aorist middle of ginomai) and the accusative of general reference, "before coming as to Abraham," "before Abraham came into existence or was born."

I am (ego eimi). Undoubtedly here Jesus claims eternal existence with the absolute phrase used of God. The contrast between genesthai (entrance into existence of Abraham) and eimi (timeless being) is complete. See the same contrast between en in 1:1 and egeneto in 1:14. See the contrast also in Psalms 90:2 between God (ei, art) and the mountains (genethenai). See the same use of eimi in John 6:20; 9:9; 8:24,28; 18:6. (Ibid; bold emphasis ours)

Amazingly, even a radically skeptic scholar admits that Jesus’ I AM statements identify him as God!

“Jesus does not preach about the future kingdom of God in John. The emphasis is on his own identity, as seen in the ‘I am’ sayings. He is the one who can bring life-giving sustenance (‘I am the bread of life’ 6:35); he is the one who brings enlightenment (‘I am the light of the world’ 9:5); he is the only way to God (‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me’ 14:6). Belief in Jesus is the way to have eternal salvation: ‘whoever believes in him may have eternal life’ (3:36). He in fact is equal with God: ‘I and the Father are one’ (10:30). His Jewish listeners appear to have known full well what he was saying: they immediately pick up stones to execute him for blasphemy.

“In one place in John, Jesus claims the name of God for himself, saying to his Jewish interlocutors, ‘Before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:58). Abraham, who lived 1,800 years earlier, was the father of the Jews, and Jesus is claiming to have existed before him. But he is claiming more than that. He is referring to a passage in the Hebrew Scriptures where God appears to Moses at the burning bush and commissions him to go to Pharaoh and seek the release of his people. Moses asks God what God’s name is, so that he can inform his fellow Israelites which divinity has sent him. God replies, ‘I Am Who I Am … say to the Israelites, “I Am has sent me to you”’ (Exodus 3:14). So when Jesus says ‘I AM,’ in John 8:58, he is claiming the divine name for himself. Here again his Jewish hearers had no trouble understanding his meaning. Once more, out come the stones.” (Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We don’t Know About Them) [HarperOne, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 2009], Three. A Mass Variant Views, p. 80; bold emphasis ours)


We conclude by quoting from Justin Martyr, a second century Christian apologist, who wrote that the Jehovah God whom the OT patriarchs and prophets saw was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ in his prehuman existence.

Chapter 56. God who appeared to Moses is distinguished from God the Father

Justin: Moses, then, the blessed and faithful servant of God, declares that He who appeared to Abraham under the oak in Mamre IS GOD, SENT with the two angels in His company to judge Sodom BY ANOTHER who remains ever in the supercelestial places, invisible to all men, holding personal intercourse with none, whom we believe to be Maker and Father of all things; for he speaks thus: 'God appeared to him under the oak in Mamre, as he sat at his tent-door at noontide. And lifting up his eyes, he saw, and behold, three men stood before him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the door of his tent; and he bowed himself toward the ground, and said . . .' Genesis 18:1-2 'Abraham went up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the Lord: and he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrha, and toward the adjacent country, and beheld, and, lo, a flame went up from the earth, like the smoke of a furnace.'

And when I had made an end of quoting these words, I asked them if they had understood them. And they said they had understood them, but that the passages adduced brought forward no proof that there is any other God or Lord, or that the Holy Spirit says so, besides the Maker of all things.

Justin: I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things—above whom there is no other God—wishes to announce to them.

I quoted once more the previous passage.

Justin: Do you think that God appeared to Abraham under the oak in Mamre, as the Scripture asserts?

Trypho: Assuredly.

Justin: Was He one of those three whom Abraham saw, and whom the Holy Spirit of prophecy describes as men?

Trypho: No; but God appeared to him, before the vision of the three. Then those three whom the Scripture calls men, were angels; two of them sent to destroy Sodom, and one to announce the joyful tidings to Sarah, that she would bear a son; for which cause he was sent, and having accomplished his errand, went away.

Justin: How then does the one of the three, who was in the tent, and who said, 'I shall return to you hereafter, and Sarah shall have a son,' Genesis 18:10 appear to have returned when Sarah had begotten a son, and to be there declared, by the prophetic word, God? But that you may clearly discern what I say, listen to the words expressly employed by Moses; they are these: 'And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian bond-woman, whom she bore to Abraham, sporting with Isaac her son, and said to Abraham, Cast out this bond-woman and her son; for the son of this bond-woman shall not share the inheritance of my son Isaac. And the matter seemed very grievous in Abraham's sight, because of his son. But God said to Abraham, Let it not be grievous in your sight because of the son, and because of the bond-woman. In all that Sarah has said unto you, hearken to her voice; for in Isaac shall your seed be called.' Genesis 21:9-12 Have you perceived, then, that He who said under the oak that He would return, since He knew it would be necessary to advise Abraham to do what Sarah wished him, came back as it is written; and is God, as the words declare, when they so speak: 'God said to Abraham, Let it not be grievous in your sight because of the son, and because of the bond-woman?'

Trypho: Certainly; but you have not proved from this that there is another God besides Him who appeared to Abraham, and who also appeared to the other patriarchs and prophets. You have proved, however, that we were wrong in believing that the three who were in the tent with Abraham were all angels.

Justin: If I could not have proved to you from the Scriptures that one of those three is God, and is called Angel, because, as I already said, He brings messages to those to whom God the Maker of all things wishes [messages to be brought], then in regard to Him who appeared to Abraham on earth in human form in like manner as the two angels who came with Him, and who was God even before the creation of the world, it were reasonable for you to entertain the same belief as is entertained by the whole of your nation.

Trypho: Assuredly, for up to this moment this has been our belief.

Justin: Reverting to the Scriptures, I shall endeavour to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things—numerically, I mean, not [distinct] in will. For I affirm that He has never at any time done anything which He who made the world—above whom there is no other God—has not wished Him both to do and to engage Himself with.

Trypho: Prove now that this is the case, that we also may agree with you. For we do not understand you to affirm that He has done or said anything contrary to the will of the Maker of all things.

Justin: The Scripture just quoted by me will make this plain to you. It is thus: 'The sun was risen on the earth, and Lot entered into Segor (Zoar); and the Lord rained on Sodom sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven, and overthrew these cities and all the neighbourhood.' Genesis 19:23

The fourth of those who had remained with Trypho: It must therefore necessarily be said that one of the two angels who went to Sodom, and is named by Moses in the Scripture Lord, is different from Him who also is God and appeared to Abraham.

Justin: It is not on this ground solely that it must be admitted absolutely that SOME OTHER one is called Lord by the Holy Spirit BESIDES HIM who is considered Maker of all things; not solely [for what is said] by Moses, but also [for what is said] by David. For there is written by him: 'The Lord says to my Lord, Sit on My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool,' as I have already quoted. And again, in other words: 'Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever. A sceptre of equity is the sceptre of Your kingdom: You have loved righteousness and hated iniquity: therefore God, even Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your fellows.' If, therefore, you assert that the Holy Spirit calls SOME OTHER ONE God and Lord, BESIDES the Father of all things and His Christ, answer me; for I undertake to prove to you from Scriptures themselves, that He whom the Scripture calls Lord is not one of the two angels that went to Sodom, but He who was with them, and is called God, that appeared to Abraham.

Trypho: Prove this; for, as you see, the day advances, and we are not prepared for such perilous replies; since never yet have we heard any man investigating, or searching into, or proving these matters; nor would we have tolerated your conversation, had you not referred everything to the Scriptures: for you are very zealous in adducing proofs from them; and you are of opinion that there is no God above the Maker of all things.

Justin: You are aware, then, that the Scripture says, 'And the Lord said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I truly conceive? For I am old. Is anything impossible with God? At the time appointed shall I return to you according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.' Genesis 18:13-14 And after a little interval: 'And the men rose up from thence, and looked towards Sodom and Gomorrha; and Abraham went with them, to bring them on the way. And the Lord said, I will not conceal from Abraham, my servant, what I do.' Genesis 18:16-17 And again, after a little, it thus says: 'The Lord said, The cry of Sodom and Gomorrha is great, and their sins are very grievous. I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to their cry which has come unto me; and if not, that I may know. And the men turned away thence, and went to Sodom. But Abraham was standing before the Lord; and Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt You destroy the righteous with the wicked?' Genesis 18:20-23

And so on, for I do not think fit to write over again the same words, having written them all before, but shall of necessity give those by which I established the proof to Trypho and his companions. Then I proceeded to what follows, in which these words are recorded:

Justin: 'And the Lord went His way as soon as He had left communing with Abraham; and [Abraham] went to his place. And there came two angels to Sodom at even. And Lot sat in the gate of Sodom;' Genesis 18:33, Genesis 19:1 and what follows until, 'But the men put forth their hands, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door of the house;' Genesis 19:10 and what follows till,

And the angels laid hold on his hand, and on the hand of his wife, and on the hands of his daughters, the Lord being merciful to him. And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that they said, Save, save your life. Look not behind you, nor stay in all the neighbourhood; escape to the mountain, lest you be taken along with [them]. And Lot said to them, I beseech [You], O Lord, since Your servant has found grace in Your sight, and You have magnified Your righteousness, which You showest towards me in saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountain, lest evil overtake me, and I die. Behold, this city is near to flee unto, and it is small: there I shall be safe, since it is small; and any soul shall live. And He said to him, Behold, I have accepted you also in this matter, so as not to destroy the city for which you have spoken. Make haste to save yourself there; for I shall not do anything till you have come there. Therefore he called the name of the city Segor (Zoar). The sun was risen upon the earth; and Lot entered into Segor (Zoar). And the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrha sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and He overthrew these cities, and all the neighbourhood. Genesis 19:16-25

Justin: (After another pause.) And now have you not perceived, my friends, that one of the three, who is both God and Lord, and ministers to Him who is in the heavens, is Lord of the two angels? For when [the angels] proceeded to Sodom, He remained behind, and communed with Abraham in the words recorded by Moses; and when He departed after the conversation, Abraham went back to his place. And when he came [to Sodom], the two angels no longer conversed with Lot, but Himself, as the Scripture makes evident; and He is the Lord who received commission from the Lord who [remains] in the heavens, i.e., the Maker of all things, to inflict upon Sodom and Gomorrha the [judgments] which the Scripture describes in these terms: 'The Lord rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrha sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.' (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew)

Justin Martyr’s statements confirm that the early Church believed that Jesus and Abraham actually saw each other since they were convinced that the God who appeared visibly all throughout the OT period was none other than our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Related Articles