Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog


Trinitarian or Henotheistic in Nature? Pt. 8

Sam Shamoun

In this section we are going to take a look at the “I AM” sayings of Christ and compare them with statements from the OT.


The Eternally Subsisting I AM 

There are places in the Hebrew Bible where Jehovah speaks of himself simply as “I AM” in specific contexts which point to his absolute sovereignty and transcendence over all creation. 

The “I AM” phrase is a translation of the Hebrew words anoki or ani hu, which the Greek version renders as ego eimi. Since the NT documents were written in Koine Greek, we are going to be quoting from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible in order to draw a connection between the “I AM” sayings employed by Jehovah and Jesus’ “I AM” statements. 

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Jehovah uses the “I AM” to show that he not only controls life and death but that there isn’t anyone in all creation who is capable of stopping him from accomplishing his sovereign purposes:

“Behold, behold that I AM (ego eimi), and there is no god beside me: I kill, and I will make to live: I will smite, and I will heal; and there is none who shall deliver out of my hands.” Deuteronomy 32:39 LXX 

Jehovah as the “I AM” is also the only God and Savior who is able declare the end from the beginning and who by his great power makes sure that everything he says comes to pass:  

“All the nations are gathered together, and princes shall be gathered out of them: who will declare these things? Or who will declare to you things from the beginning? let them bring forth their witnesses, and be justified; and let them hear, and declare the truth. Be you my witnesses, and I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and my servant whom I have chosen: that you may know, and believe, and understand that I AM (ego eimi): before me there was no other God, and after me there shall be none. I am God; and beside me there is no Saviour. I have declared, and have saved; I have reproached, and there was no strange god among you: ye are my witnesses, and I am the Lord God, even from the beginning; and there is none that can deliver out of my hands: I will work, and who shall turn it back?” Isaiah 43:9-13 LXX

And as the “I AM”, Jehovah is always present with his people throughout all generations to sustain them since his existence transcends the bounds of time and space:  

“Who has wrought and done these things? He has called it who called it from the generations of old; I, God, am first, and to all futurity, I AM (ego eimi).” Isaiah 41:4 LXX

“Hear me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of Israel, who are borne by me from the womb, and taught by me from infancy. Until your old age I AM (ego eimi), and until you shall have grown old I AM (ego eimi); I bear you, I have made, and I will set free, I will take up and save you.” Isaiah 46:3-4 LXX

“Hear me, O Jacob, and Israel whom I call; I am the first, and I am (ego eimi) forever/into eternity.” Isaiah 48:12 LXX

These particular usages of the “I AM” may explain why in certain verses the translators of the Greek OT treated ego eimi as a divine name, even using it to translate the name Jehovah. For instance, ego eimi is used to render the Hebrew words ani YHWH in the following passage:

“Thus saith the Lord that made the heaven, this God that created the earth, and made it; he marked it out, he made it not in vain, but formed it to be inhabited: I AM (ego eimi), and there is none beside. I have not spoken in secret, nor in a dark place of the earth: I said not to the seed of Jacob, Seek vanity: I AM, I am the Lord (ego eimi ego eimi kyrios), speaking righteousness, and proclaiming truth.” Isaiah 45:18-19 LXX 

Here is an English rendering of the Hebrew version:

“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am the LORD (ani YHWH), and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain. I the LORD (ani YHWH) speak the truth; I declare what is right.’”

Thus, not only is Jehovah the ego eimi, he is also the ego eimi ego eimi kyrios!

The following is another example:

“Therefore shall my people know my name in that day, for I AM (ego eimi) is the one that speaks: I am present,” Isaiah 52:6 

It seems evident from the context that the name which God’s people will come to know Jehovah by is the “I AM”, e.g. on that day the Israelites will come to know that Jehovah’s name is I AM!

What makes this even more interesting is that the translators go so far as to render anoki anoki hu as ego eimi ego eimi (I AM I AM)! 

I am [the] I AM (ego eimi ego eimi) that blots out your transgressions for mine own sake, and your sins; and I will not remember them.” Isaiah 43:25

I am [the] I AM (ego eimi ego eimi) that comforts you: consider who you are, that you were afraid of mortal man, and of the son of man, who withered as grass.” Isaiah 51:12

In these particular texts, God’s people will come to know that Yahweh is the” I AM” who forgives their sins and comforts them.

That the “I AM” functions as a divine name or epithet is further confirmed in the following references:

““Come down, sit on the ground, O virgin daughter of Babylon: sit on the ground, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for you shall no more be called tender and luxurious… But now hear these words, thou luxurious one, [who art] the one that sits [at ease], that is secure, that says in her heart, I am (ego eimi), and there is not another; I shall not sit a widow, neither shall I know bereavement. But now these two things shall come upon thee suddenly in one day, the loss of children and widowhood shall come suddenly upon thee, for thy sorcery, for the strength of tine enchantments, for thy trusting in wickedness: for thou saidst, I am, and there is not another: know thou, the understanding of these things and thy harlotry shall be thy shame; for thou saidst in thy heart, I am (ego eimi), and there is not another.” Isaiah 47:1, 8-10 LXX 

This is the scornful city that dwells securely, that says in her heart, I am (ego eimi), and there is no longer any [to be] after me: how is she become desolate, a habitation of wild beasts! every one that passes through her shall hiss, and shake his hands. Zephaniah 2:15 LXX

Jehovah will bring judgment upon the Babylonians and Assyrians for their arrogance in claiming that they are the “I AM” and that there is none besides them, the very words that Jehovah uses to identify himself as the only God that exists! 

Thus, the fact that the use of the “I AM” by the Babylonians and Assyrians raises the ire of Jehovah and brings about his wrath upon them seems to be a pretty strong indication that the phrase is being employed as a divine name.



When we come to the NT writings, specifically the Gospel of John, we see the Lord Jesus employing the “I AM” phrase in the same way that Jehovah does.


The I AM Who Saves and Foretells

For instance, Jesus informs his opponents that they must believe that he is the “I AM” who came down from above if they wish to be forgiven of their sins: 

“He said to them, ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins (en tais hamartiais humon), for you will die in your sins (en tais hamartiais humon) unless you believe that I AM.’” John 8:23-24

Christ also informed his followers that they will know that he is the “I AM” when his words come to pass:

“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen (exelexamen). But the Scripture will be fulfilled, 'He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I AM (hina pisteuseete hotan geneetai hoti ego eimi).” John 13:18-19 

Now compare these texts with what Isaiah says concerning Jehovah:

“Be you my witnesses, and I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and my servant whom I have chosenthat you may know, and believe, and understand that I AM (on exelexamen hina gnote kai pisteuseete kai suneeta hoti ego eimi): before me there was no other God, and after me there shall be none… but you did stand before me in your sins (en tais hamartiais sou), and in your iniquities. I am I AM that blots out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and your sins; and I will not remember [them].” Isaiah 43:10, 24-25 LXX

The words here are virtually identical, and therefore must have been deliberately chosen for the express purpose of identifying Jesus as Jehovah.


The I AM Who is Sovereign Over the Entire Creation

Christ is also the “I AM” who has supreme authority over creation. For instance, Christ as the “I AM” walks on the sea in order to come to the aid of his people: 

“Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum. It had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. Then, when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened. But He said to them, ‘I AM (ego eimi); do not be afraid.’ So they were willing to receive Him into the boat, and IMMEDIATELY the boat was at the land to which they were going.” John 6:16-21 – cf. Mark 6:45-52; Matthew 14:25-33

Jesus’ mastery over the natural elements echoes the OT depiction of Yahweh trampling over the waves and winds as a display of his power over all things: 

It is God who removes the mountains, they know not how, When He overturns them in His anger; Who shakes the earth out of its place, And its pillars tremble; Who commands the sun not to shine, And sets a seal upon the stars; Who alone stretches out the heavens And tramples down the waves of the sea; Who makes the Bear, Orion and the Pleiades, And the chambers of the south; Who does great things, unfathomable, And wondrous works without number. Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him; Were He to move past me, I would not perceive Him. Were He to snatch away, who could restrain Him? Who could say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’” Job 9:5-12

“By awesome deeds You answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation, You who are the trust of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest sea; Who establishes the mountains by His strength, Being girded with might; Who stills the roaring of the seas, The roaring of their waves, And the tumult of the peoples. They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs; You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.” Psalm 65:5-9

“The waters saw You, O God; The waters saw You, they were in anguish; The deeps also trembled. The clouds poured out water; The skies gave forth a sound; Your arrows flashed here and there. The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook. Your way was in the sea And Your paths in the mighty waters, And Your footprints may not be known. You led Your people like a flock By the hand of Moses and Aaron.” Psalm 77:16-20

It is also similar to what the Psalmist says concerning Yahweh hearing the cry of people in ships for help from the raging seas and storms:

“Those who go down to the sea in ships, Who do business on great waters; They have seen the works of the LORD, And His wonders in the deep. For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, Which lifted up the waves of the sea. They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; Their soul melted away in their misery. They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, And were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, And He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, So that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet, So He guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! Let them extol Him also in the congregation of the people, And praise Him at the seat of the elders.” Psalm 107:23-32

It even echoes Jehovah’s promise to be with his people through all their tribulations:

“And now thus says the Lord God that made you, O Jacob, and formed you, O Israel, Do not fear: for I have redeemed you, I have called you [by] your name; you are mine. And if you pass through water, I am with you; and the rivers shall not overflow you: and if you go through fire, you shall not be burned; the flame shall not burn you. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, that saves you: I have made Egypt and Ethiopia your ransom, and [given] Soene for you. Since you became precious in my sight, you have become glorious, and I have loved you: and I will give men for you, and princes for your life. Do not fear; for I am with you: I will bring your seed from the east, and will gather you from the west… Be my witnesses, and I [too am] a witness, says the Lord God, and my servant whom I have chosen: that you may know, and believe, and understand that I AM (ego eimi): before me there was no other God, and after me there shall be none. I am God; and beside me there is no Saviour.” Isaiah 43:1-5, 10-11 LXX

It therefore seems reasonably certain that this specific miracle is meant to be an unveiling of Jesus’ divine identity, a divine self-disclosure so to speak. As the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary explains:

“The miracle, like the introduction, is narrated from the disciples’ perspective. There is no advance notice that Jesus is walking across the sea until the disciples see him (v. 19; cf. Matt 14:25; Mark 6:48). The Fourth Evangelist does not explain their fear (v. 19b) by saying that they thought they saw a ghost (so Matt 14:26; Mark 6:49). Rather, as v. 20 will confirm, the disciples are afraid because they ‘are awe-struck by the miracle of the manifestation of the divine.’   

“Jesus’ words in v. 20 are the key to understanding the miracle of 6:16-21. The words ‘I am [ego eimi]; do not be afraid’ are found in all three accounts (Matt 14:27; Mark 6:50) and hence belong to the common fund of oral tradition, but they have a particular meaning in the christological context of the Fourth Gospel. A good case can be made that ego eimi should not be translated as a simple identification formula (‘It is I,’ NIV and NRSV), but should be translated as an absolute ego eimi saying, ‘I am’… As Jesus walks across the water, he identifies himself to his disciples with the divine name, ‘I AM.’ The background for this use of the divine name can be found in the LXX of Second Isaiah (Isa 43:25; 51:12; 52:6). The Fourth Evangelist portrays Jesus as speaking the way Yahweh speaks in Second Isaiah. This reading of ego eimi is supported by Jesus’ second words to his disciples, ‘Do not be afraid.’ These words, too, are spoken by Yahweh in Second Isaiah. They are the words of the salvation oracle, words of comfort spoken to end the distress of God’s people (e.g., Isaiah 43:1; 44:2, 8). ‘Do not be afraid’ is also a standard element of theophanies (e.g., Gen 15:1; Matt 28:5; Luke 2:10). Jesus’ words in v. 20 confirm that his walking on water is a theophany and that this ‘manifestation of the divine’ is the source of the disciples’ fear.

“The story comes to an end quickly in v. 21 with the sudden arrival of the boat at the shore. This sudden sea crossing is a second miracle: Jesus provided safe passage for his disciples. This miracle, too, is theophanic, because it recalls the safe passage God provides those in distress (e.g., Ps 107:30). The Fourth Gospel does not narrate the stilling of the storm (cf. Matt 14:32; Mark 6:51) because John 6:16-21 is not a nature miracle, a demonstration of Jesus’ power over the forces of nature. It is a miracle of theophany, of the revelation of the divine in Jesus.

“The theophanic focus of this narrative is confirmed by the density of OT allusions and images in this passage. In addition to the echoes of Second Isaiah in v. 20, the story builds on a variety of OT texts that describe God as the one who walks upon the water (Job 9:8 LXX) and who makes a path through the sea (Isa 43:2, 16; Pss 77:19; 107:23-32). God’s dominion over the waters of chaos is a symbol in the OT of God’s sovereignty and care, and in John 6:16-21 that symbolism is applied to Jesus. This story thus illustrates the truth of John 5:19-20: Jesus shares in God’s work and identity. Many of the sea allusions in the OT texts that form the background of vv. 16-21 also contain allusions to Israel’s safe crossing of the Reed Sea at the exodus (e.g., Isa 43:2), and those exodus allusions are appropriate for the setting of this miracle in John 6. (The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes [Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN 1995], Volume IX. Luke-John, p. 596; bold emphasis ours)

And as the “I AM” Jesus has total control over his circumstances, even over the time of his death.

“So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered Him, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said to them, ‘I AM.’ And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So when He said to them, ‘I AM,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” John 18:4-6

The reaction of the guards shows that there is a lot more to Jesus’ “I AM” than a simple reply that he is the one they came to arrest. This event confirms his words that no one can take his life away unless he voluntarily gives it up, something which he has chosen to do out of his own free will in order to save his flock:

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” John 10:14-18

We have a lot more say concerning Jesus’ use of the “I AM” in the next part of our analysis.