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The Deity of Christ in light of Jesus’ I AM Statements

Sam Shamoun

In this article we are going to analyze Jesus’ I AM pronouncements in light of the OT scriptures where the I AM is used for Yahweh. This will help the readers to see how Jesus’ I AM declarations are some of the strongest and clearest proofs for his Deity.

All of the OT quotations will be taken from various English translations of the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, otherwise known as the Septuagint or LXX.

The I AM who exists

In several places the I AM is used in connection with Yahweh’s timelessness or his eternal existence, that he is the God who has been there from the very beginning and shall continue to be there till the very end:

“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

“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

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

Apparently this is how the translators of the LXX understood the meaning of the Hebrew phrase in Exodus 3:13-14, namely Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh (“I AM/WILL BE WHAT I AM/WILL BE”) since they translated it in the following manner:

“And Moses said to God, Behold, I shall go forth to the children of Israel, and shall say to them, The God of our fathers has sent me to you; and they will ask me, What is his name? What shall I say to them? And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am THE ONE WHO IS/THE BEING (ego eimi ho on); and he said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, THE ONE WHO IS/THE BEING (ho on) has sent me to you.”

The Greek word ho is the definite article “the,” while on is the present participle of eimi. The present participle in Greek expresses continuous or repeated action or state. And yet since both on and eimi are in the present tense they basically have the same meaning.

Thus, by using ho on the Jewish translators seemed to have understood Exodus 3:14 to be emphasizing God’s timelessness as well as stressing the fact that Yahweh is the necessary Being from which all other beings spring forth. After all, the Jews knew that their God is the One who simply is, being pure existence:

“Surely vain are all men by nature, who are ignorant of God, and could not out of the good things that are seen know him that is: neither by considering the works did they acknowledge the workmaster;” Wisdom 13:1

They realized that without the One who always is all other beings could never exist. As one renowned Bible commentator explained it:

EHEYEH asher EHEYEH. These words have been variously understood. The Vulgate translates EGO SUM QUI SUM, I am who am. The Septuagint… I am he who exists. The Syriac, the Persic, and the Chaldee preserve the original words without any gloss. The Arabic paraphrases them, The Eternal, who passes not away; which is the same interpretation given by Abul Farajius, who also preserves the original words, and gives the above as their interpretation. The Targum of Jonathan, and the Jerusalem Targum paraphrase the words thus: "He who spake, and the world was; who spake, and all things existed." As the original words literally signify, I will be what I will be, some have supposed that God simply designed to inform Moses, that what he had been to his fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he would be to him and the Israelites; and that he would perform the promises he had made to his fathers, by giving their descendants the promised land. It is difficult to put a meaning on the words; they seem intended to point out the eternity and self-existence of God. Plato, in his Parmenides, where he treats sublimely of the nature of God, says… nothing can express his nature; therefore no name can be attributed to him

IN this chapter we have much curious and important information; but what is most interesting is the name by which God was pleased to make himself known to Moses and to the Israelites, a name by which the Supreme Being was afterwards known among the wisest inhabitants of the earth. HE who IS and who WILL BE what he IS. This is a proper characteristic of the Divine Being, who is, properly speaking, the only BEING, because he is independent and eternal; whereas all other beings, in whatsoever forms they may appear, are derived, finite, changeable, and liable to destruction, decay, and even to annihilation. When God, therefore, announced himself to Moses by this name, he proclaimed his own eternity and immateriality; and the very name itself precludes the possibility of idolatry, because it was impossible for the mind, in considering it, to represent the Divine Being in any assignable shape; for who could represent BEING or Existence by any limited form? And who can have any idea of a form that is unlimited? Thus, then, we find that the first discovery which God made of himself was intended to show the people the simplicity and spirituality of his nature; that while they considered him as BEING, and the Cause of all BEING, they might be preserved from all idolatry for ever. The very name itself is a proof of a Divine revelation; for it is not possible that such an idea could have ever entered into the mind of man, unless it had been communicated from above. It could not have been produced by reasoning, for there were no premises on which it could be built, nor any analogies by which it could have been formed. We can as easily comprehend eternity as we can being, simply considered in and of itself, when nothing of assignable forms, colours, or qualities existed, besides its infinite and illimitable self.

To this Divine discovery the ancient Greeks owed the inscription which they placed above the door of the temple of Apollo at Delphi: the whole of the inscription consisted in the simple monosyllable EI, THOU ART, the second person of the Greek substantive verb… I am. On this inscription Plutarch, one of the most intelligent of all the Gentile philosophers, made an express treatise… having received the true interpretation in his travels in Egypt, whither he had gone for the express purpose of inquiring into their ancient learning, and where he had doubtless seen these words of God to Moses in the Greek version of the Septuagint, which had been current among the Egyptians (for whose sake it was first made) about four hundred years previously to the death of Plutarch. This philosopher observes that "this title is not only proper, but peculiar to God, because HE alone is being; for mortals have no participation of true being, because that which begins and ends, and is continually changing, is never one nor the same, nor in the same state. The deity on whose temple this word was inscribed was called Apollo… from… negative… and… many, because God is ONE, his nature simple, his essence uncompounded." Hence he informs us the ancient mode of addressing God was, "EI ‘EN, Thou art One… for many cannot be attributed to the Divine nature… in which there is neither first nor last, future nor past, old nor young… but as being one, fills up in one NOW an eternal duration." And he concludes with observing that "this word corresponds to certain others on the same temple, viz.,… Know thyself; as if, under the name EI, THOU ART, the Deity designed to excite men to venerate HIM as eternally existing… and to put them in mind of the frailty and mortality of their own nature."

What beautiful things have the ancient Greek philosophers stolen from the testimonies of God to enrich their own works, without any kind of acknowledgment! And, strange perversity of man! these are the very things which we so highly applaud in the heathen copies, while we neglect or pass them by in the Divine originals! (The Adam Clarke Commentary; underline emphasis ours)

This next Biblical expositor concurs:

And God said unto Moses, I am that I am
This signifies the real being of God, his self-existence, and that he is the Being of beings; as also it denotes his eternity and immutability, and his constancy and faithfulness in fulfilling his promises, for it includes all time, past, present, and to come; and the sense is, not only I am what I am at present, but I am what I have been, and I am what I shall be, and shall be what I am. The Platonists and Pythagoreans seem to have borrowed their (to on) from hence, which expresses with them the eternal and invariable Being; and so the Septuagint version here is (o wn): it is said, that the temple of Minerva at Sais, a city of Egypt, had this inscription on it,

“I am all that exists, is, and shall be.”

And on the temple of Apollo at Delphos was written (ei), the contraction of (eimi), "I am". Our Lord seems to refer to this name, (John 8:58), and indeed is the person that now appeared; and the words may be rendered, "I shall be what I shall be" the incarnate God, God manifest in the flesh: (The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible; underline emphasis ours)

As does the following scholar:

In spite of suggestions to the contrary, such a use of the verb haya to designate existence fully agrees with what we otherwise know of the Hebrew language. Here I offer some examples in which we observe that the verb ‘to be’ is negated, signifying that a distinction was clearly perceived between existence and non-existence.

No lion shall be [lo’ haya] there (Isa 35:9).

Would that I had died before any eye had seen me,

and were as though I had not been [lo’ haya] (Job 10:18-19)

… but better than both is he who has not yet been [lo’ haya] (Eccl 4:3)

There are others who are unremembered:

They are dead, and it is as though they had never existed [lo’ haya] (Sir 44:9)

Summary. What conclusions may we draw about the contents of “I Am” and “He Is” in Exod 3:14-15? It is of course a matter of which associations the two formulations actually conjured up; in this connection, one must take account of the time factors involved.

1. At the oldest stage of the tradition, it is likely that one heard in the “He Is” of the divine Name an assurance of God’s active and aiding presence; note, for example, the statement in Exod 3:12: “I will be with you” (Hebrew ’ehyeh ‘immak). It would be reasonable to see in v 12 a play on the name “I Am,” which God himself utters in v 14. Thus the theological content of the Divine name comes surprisingly close to the divine promise that is so frequently uttered in the patriarchal narratives: “I shall be with you.”

2. At the later phase of the tradition, around the time of the exile, there are reasons to believe the divine “I Am” was regarded as a qualified existential statement. At this time it was recognized that the divine name “He Is” had the character of a confession to the one true God: He Is–He, and no other! (Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God – The Meaning and Message of the Everlasting Names [Fortress Press, 2005], 2. The God Who Says “I AM”: The Riddle of the Name YHWH, What Does the Name Mean?, pp. 42-43)

In light of the foregoing it is evident that ho on in Exodus 3:14 and ego eimi in the above Isaiah texts convey the same idea since in these particular contexts the emphasis is on God’s uncreated and ongoing existence.

The NT carries over this idea of God’s eternal existence since it refers to him as the one who is, who was and who is to come, e.g. he is the God who always is:

“John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come (ho on kai ho en kai ho erchomenos), and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,” Revelation 1:4

“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come (ho on kai ho en kai ho erchomenos), the Almighty.’” Revelation 1:8

The Lord Jesus uses the expression I AM in the same way,

“Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me… Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, he will never see death.’ The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, as did the prophets; and you say, “If any one keeps my word, he will never taste death.” Are you greater than OUR father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you claim to be?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is MY Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God. But you have not known him; I know him. If I said, I do not know him, I should be a liar like you; but I do know him and I keep his word. YOUR father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham came into being/existence, I am (prin Abraam genesthai ego eimi).’ So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.” John 8:42, 51-59

Here the Lord affirms his prehuman existence since he mentions that he proceeded and came forth from God. We find Jesus speaking of his Divine prehuman existence all throughout this particular Gospel:

“No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.” John 3:13

“Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.’… Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst… For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.’… The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’” John 6:32-33, 35, 38, 41-42

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51

“Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?” John 6:62

“do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God?’” John 10:36

“for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” John 16:27-28

The Lord further contrasts his uncreated existence with Abraham’s creation, e.g. unlike Abraham who came into existence Christ always is! This explains how he could have actually seen Abraham even though the latter had been dead for roughly two thousand years, i.e. since Jesus has always existed he was there even before Abraham came into being!

The contrast between Abraham’s creation and Jesus’ uncreated existence is similar to what the Greek version of Psalm 90:2 says concerning Yahweh’s eternality:

Lord, you became a refuge to us in generation and generation. Before (pro) the mountains came into being (genethenai) and the earth and the world were formed, and from everlasting to everlasting you are (su ei). Psalm 89[90]:1-2

Even before the mountains came into being, before the world was formed, Yahweh is!

It should be pointed out that Psalm 90:2 LXX and John 8:58 both use the same prepositions and verbs to contrast Yahweh’s and Jesus’ eternal existence with the creation of the mountains and Abraham! Noted evangelical authors Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski do an excellent job of explaining the similarities between these two texts:

“At a bare minimum, and beyond any reasonable doubt, Jesus here claims to have existed before Abraham was born… Most biblical scholars agree, but go farther: Jesus’ statement in John 8:58 expresses not only existence prior to Abraham but also existence of a different order than that of Abraham. That is, they understand Jesus to be affirming that his existence antecedent to that of Abraham was the eternal preexistence of deity. John 8:58 contrasts Abraham, who ‘came into being’ (genesthai, translated ‘was’ in NRSV), with Jesus, who simply is (which Jesus states in the first person, ‘I am,’ ego eimi). The statement recalls a classic affirmation of the eternal being of God in the Old Testament: ‘Before the mountains came into being [genethenai, the passive form of genesthai] and the earth and world were formed, even from age to age, you are [su ei, the second-person equivalent of ego eimi]’ (Ps. 90:2 [89:2 in LXX]). The Greek sentence here reflects the same grammatical structure as John 8:58 and uses the same verbs to make the same contrast between that which is created and temporal and the one who is uncreated and eternal.” (Bowman & Komoszewski, Putting Jesus In His Place – The Case For The Deity Of Christ [Kregel Publications 2007: *], Part 2. Like Father, Like Son: Jesus Shares the Attributes of God, Chapter 8. Jesus Has Always Been There, p. 96)

Bowman says elsewhere in response to Jehovah’s Witnesses who seek to butcher the plain and explicit meaning of John 8:58,

“That the contrast between eimi and genesthai in John 8:58 is intended to express a contrast between created origin and uncreated existence receives impressive confirmation by the parallel statement in the Septuagint translation of Psalm 90:2 (translating literally): ‘Before [pro] the mountains were brought into existence [genethenai]… from age to age, you are [su ei].’ The parallels between this text and John 8:58 are remarkable.

“The word pro, like prin, means ‘before,’ and some manuscripts of the Septuagint actually have prin instead of pro. The verb introduced by these prepositions in both cases is ginomai: in Psalm 90:2 genethenai is the aorist passive infinitive of ginomai while in John 8:58 genesthai is the aorist active infinitive. The use of the active voice instead of the passive voice, of course, does not affect the parallel between the two texts in terms of the created-eternal contrast. These aorist infinitive phrases are then set in contrast to a present indicative main clause in each case: in Psalm 90:2 LXX it is su ei while in John 8:58 it is ego eimi. These two clauses are identical in terms and meaning except for the fact that the former is second person while the latter is first person; and again, this difference does not affect the parallel in question.

“Thus the tense-mood forms are identical, the syntactical relations between the two verbs in each passage are identical, and the verbs themselves used in each passage are identical. In other words, it is as if John (quoting Jesus’ words in Greek) had taken the relevant words from Psalm 90:2 LXX, perhaps substituted prin for pro, replaced ‘the mountains’ with ‘Abraham,’ and changed su ei from second person to first person and genethenai from passive to active. One could hardly ask for a more exact parallel, unless the passage itself were actually quoted. Since the parallel in question is fundamentally one of tense (since the issue is the significance in relation to time of the present tense eimi in John 8:58), and since none of the differences between the two texts affect that parallel, it would seem safe to conclude that eimi has the same force in John 8:58 that ei has in Psalm 90:2 LXX. In Psalm 90:2, the Septuagint rendering su ei is clearly intended to assert the eternal preexistence of Yahweh in contrast to the created origin of the mountains. That this text, even in its Hebrew form, teaches the eternality of Yahweh has been frequently observed by JWs themselves in their publications. To be consistent, then, they would have to admit that John 8:58 just as clearly affirms the eternality of Jesus.

“Once again, it must be understood that the position taken here is not original. A multitude of scholars have recognized the parallel between Psalm 90:2 LXX and John 8:58 and noted its significance as confirming that Jesus’ words connote eternality. Among these should be mentioned Barnes, Barret, Brown, Bultmann, Godet, Hengstenberg, Hoskyns, Lindars, Milligan and Moulton, Plummer, Robertson, Shnackenburg, and Winer. Not one known Biblical scholar has ever disputed the parallel or denied that it confirmed the traditional interpretation. Unless some important considerations have been overlooked, this exegetical conclusion would seem to be as well established as any could be.” (Bowman, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ, & The Gospel Of John [Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, MI 1989], Part Two. Jesus as Jehovah in John 8:58, 8. “I Am” as the Words of Jehovah, John 8:58 and Psalm 90:2, pp. 117-119)

In another reply to JWs Bowman writes,

“In this context Jesus does not merely claim to be older than Abraham. Gabriel or any of the angels, or even the devil, could have claimed as much. Are we really to believe that Gabriel or the devil could say, ‘Before Abraham came into existence I am’? The truth is that this statement was a claim to be eternal, to exist without beginning. This fits the context in which Jesus was claiming to be greater than Abraham (vv. 52-57). It also fits the precise language used, which contrasts ‘came into existence’ with ‘am’. This same contrast, using even the same words, is found in the Septuagint translation of Psalm 90:2, which says to Jehovah: ‘Before the mountains were brought into existence… from age to age you are.’ As JWs recognize that in Psalm 90:2 the langue used indicates that Jehovah is everlasting, so too they ought to recognize that Jesus’ language in John 8:58 indicates the same thing about himself.” (Bowman, Why You Should Believe In The Trinity – An Answer To Jehovah’s Witnesses [Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, MI 1989], 7. Jesus Christ is God, “I Am”, pp. 100-101)

That Bowman’s analysis is correct can be seen from the Gospel itself since Jesus claims to have existed and shared in the same Divine glory with the Father before the world was created:

“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before (pro) the world existed (einai).” John 17:5

The Evangelist even starts off his Gospel by affirming that Jesus is the eternal Word who existed with God before creation sprang into being:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men… He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” John 1:1-4, 10, 14

Thus, like Yahweh Jesus was there long before the mountains came into existence and the world was made since he is from eternity!

The Sovereign I AM who knows

According to the Hebrew Bible Yahweh as the I AM has complete and total control over the entire creation. This is seen from the fact that Yahweh can give or take away life without anyone being able to deliver out of his hand or power:

“Behold, behold that I am he (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 (kai ouk estin hos ekeleitai ek ton cheiron mou).” Deuteronomy 32:39

Yahweh also announces the future to his servant Israel so that when it happens just as he said it would they will know and believe that he is the sovereign I AM:

“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 chosenthat you may know, and believe, and understand that I am he (on exelexamen hina gnote kai pisteusete kai suneta hoti 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 (kai ouk estin ho ekton cheiron mou): I will work, and who shall turn it back?” Isaiah 43:9-13

In a similar manner, the Lord Jesus reveals the future to the disciples he has chosen so that they may believe that he is the I AM:

“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen (exelexamen). But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’ I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I AM (hina pisteusete hotan genetai hoti ego eimi).” John 13:18-19

And like Yahweh, the Lord is able to give eternal life to his sheep with no one being able to deliver them out of his sovereign hand of protection!

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand (kai ouch harpasei tis auta ek tes cheiros mou). My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand (kai oudeis dunatai harpazein ek tes cheiros tou patros mou). I and the Father are one.’ The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.’” John 10:27-33

No wonder the Jews accused him of blasphemy since they could clearly see that he was making himself out to be God and equal to the Father in power and majesty!

The I AM who forgives sins

Yahweh is the I AM who pardons the transgressions of his elect for his own sake:

“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

Again, Jesus is like Yahweh in that he expects people to believe that he is the I AM, otherwise if they do not then they will die in 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, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I AM.’” John 8:23-24

Thus, one must believe that Jesus is the I AM in order to be forgiven.

Jesus also taught that remission of sins comes in and through his name, with the NT affirming that a person is forgiven for the sake of Christ:

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” Luke 24:44-47

“To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:43

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,” Philippians 1:29

However, the OT says that forgiveness comes from and in the name of Yahweh!

"For thy name's sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great." Psalm 25:11

"Save me, O God, by thy name, and vindicate me by thy might." Psalm 54:1

"Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name; deliver us, and forgive (atone for) our sins, for thy name's sake!" Psalm 79:9

In other words, just as individuals must believe that God is in order to be saved:

“And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he is (estin) and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

They must also believe that Jesus is, i.e. the eternal I AM, otherwise they will die in their sins.

The One whose name is I AM

In some of the Isaiah passages the title I AM clearly functions as a Divine title or name for Yahweh. For example, Isaiah says a day will come when God’s people will know his name and realize that he is the I AM who speaks:

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

Yahweh is also the I AM who comforts his people:

“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

And as the I AM Yahweh is the only God and Savior there is:

“Thus says the Lord who made the heaven–this is the God who displayed the earth and made it; he himself marked its limits; he did not make it to be empty but to be inhabited: I am, and there is no other… If they will declare it, let them draw near so that they may know together who made from the beginning these things that are to be heard. Then it was declared to you, I am God, and there is no other besides me; there is no righteous one or savior except me. Turn to me, and you shall be saved, you are from the end of the earth! I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:18, 21-22

In this passage the words “I am, and there is no other” has basically the same meaning as the phrase, “I am God and there is no other/none besides me.” In other words, to say that Yahweh is the I AM is to say that he is God, which shows that the I AM can function as a name for the true God.

That the I AM can function as a name for God can be seen more clearly from the following reference:

“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, you luxurious one, who are 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 you suddenly in one day, the loss of children and widowhood shall come suddenly upon you, for your sorcery, for the strength of your enchantments, for your trusting in wickedness: for you said, I am (ego eimi), and there is not another: know you, the understanding of these things and your harlotry shall be your shame; for you said in your heart, I am (ego eimi), and there is not another.” Isaiah 47:1, 8-10

The reason why Yahweh is angry at Babylon for using the I AM is obvious. By making itself out to be the I AM Babylon was essentially claiming to be God!

We even find evidence from specific Jewish sources that this is how some of the Jews treated and understood the phrase I AM, namely as a Divine name or substitute for the Tetragrammaton (YHWH):

“During the celebration of the Passover, a particular liturgical narrative of the exodus from Egypt was read aloud in the homes; this was the so-called Passover Haggadah. The narrative quotes, among other things, Exod 12:12: ‘For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born…; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute the judgments: I am the Lord.’ The short commentary on this passage, which contains the proclamation of the Name, twice uses the formula ’ani hu’. However, the oldest textual witnesses to the Haggadah lack this section, and it is most probably a later addition to the account; this does not rule out the possibility that it may be an ancient tradition.

“The other Jewish festival of importance in this connection is the Festival of Booths. By necessity we have to reconstruct the way this festival was celebrated on the basis of the Mishna. Every day during the course of the festival there was a procession around the altar, on which occasion the following words from the Psalter were recited: ‘Save us, we beseech thee, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech thee, give us success!’ (Ps 118:25). In order to avoid pronouncing the Name, the worshipers cited the passage in the form, ‘’ani wehu’! save us we pray! ’ani wehu’! save us we pray!’ (m. Sukka 4:5). In other words, we find the formula ’ani hu’ here in the slightly altered form ’ani wehu’. We know from Jewish sources that it was usual to ‘swallow’ the name YHWH (cf. b. Qidd. 71a). That is, out of respect for the sacredness of the Name the priest avoided pronouncing it in the correct manner. It is presumably for the same reason that the Old Testament Revelatory formula was changed from ’ani hu’ to ’ani wehu’. The latter form of the expression maybe translated ‘I and he,’ although the quotation shows that in reality the formula functioned as a divine name; it has replaced the name YHWH in the quotation.” (Mettinger, In Search of God – The Meaning and Message of the Everlasting Names, 2. The God Who Says “I AM”: The Riddle of the Name YHWH, What Does the Name Mean?, pp. 44-45)

And yet Jesus uses the I AM as his own name! For instance, Jesus says that people will know that he is the I AM when he is lifted up, i.e. after he is glorified in the presence of his Father,

“So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me.’” John 8:28

In another context, Jesus asked those who had come to arrest him whom they were looking for. When they answered that they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth Christ replied by saying I AM, a response which sent them reeling backwards to the ground!

“Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I AM.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When he said to them, ‘I AM,’ they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I AM; so, if you seek me, let these men go.’” John 18:4-8

It is hard to escape the conclusion that in these examples (as well as in places such as John 8:24 and 13:19) the I AM functions as a title revealing Jesus’ Divine identity.

With that in mind it is clear from our examination that the Lord Jesus uses the I AM in the same way that the OT uses it for Yahweh God. The reason Jesus could do this is because he is the eternal Son of God who bears the very name of his glorious and blessed Father, a name which has been his from eternity:

"Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the NAME of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," Matthew 28:19

"IN THE beginning [before all time] was the Word [Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. [Is. 9:6]" John 1:1 Amplified Bible

"I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?" John 5:43-44

“And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled.” John 17:11-12

Biblical Scholarship on Jesus’ I AM statements

When we consult the writings of critical Biblical scholars we see that, even though they tend to deny the historicity of John’s Gospel, they nonetheless admit that the I AM speeches are intended to portray Jesus as God since they are modeled after and drawn from OT texts which refer to Yahweh as the I AM. The following is an example of a liberal critic of the Bible who has no hesitation admitting that John’s I AM pronouncements are intended to depict Jesus as God:

Jesus and Yahweh

Jesus’ “I Am” Pronouncements Besides associating Jesus with the Hebrew principle of eternal Wisdom, John’s “I am” speeches also express an important aspect of his Christology. They echo Yahweh’s declaration of being to Moses at the burning bush (Exod. 3:14), in which God reveals his sacred personal name. In the Hebrew Bible, only Yahweh speaks of himself (the “I am”) in this manner. Hence, Jesus’ reiterated “I am … the bread of life” (6:35), “the good shepherd” (10:11), “the resurrection and the life” (11:25), or “the way,” “the truth,” and “the life” (14:6) express unity with God, the eternal “I am” (see Box 10.5).

John attributes much of “the Jews’” hostility toward Jesus to their reaction against his apparent claims to divinity. When Jesus refers publicly to his prehuman existence, declaring that “before Abraham was born, I am,” his outraged audience in the Temple attempts to stone him (8:56-59). Most scholars doubt that Jesus really made such assertions. In John’s double vision approach, the attempted stoning represents Jewish leaders’ response to the preaching of John’s group, which made extraordinary claims about Jesus’ divine nature. (Stephen L. Harris, The New Testament: A Student’s Introduction [McGraw-Hill Higher Education, January 1, 2006 Fifth Edition], Chapter 10. John’s Portrait of Jesus – Divine Wisdom Made Flesh, pp. 233, 235; underline emphasis ours)


Yahweh’s declaration of being as the immortal “I am” in Exodus 3 and Lady Wisdom’s assertion of her cosmic role in Proverbs 8 and the deutero-canonical books of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus provide a biblical model for John’s “I am” speeches. In Hellenistic culture, the closest parallel to these Johannine statements occurs in hymns honoring Isis, an Egyptian mother goddess who, in John’s time, was recognized as a universal deity throughout the Greco-Roman world. One text from the first and second century CE pictures Isis asserting her divine preeminence:

I am Isis the mistress of every land …
I gave and ordained laws for men, which no one is able to change …
I am she who findeth fruit for man …
I divided the earth from the heaven.
I showed the path of the stars,
I ordered the course of the sun and moon …
I made strong the right …
I broke down the governments of tyrants.
I made an end to murders.
I ordained that the true should be thought good …
With me the right prevails …

Although the exact form of the Johannine declarations “I am the …” does not occur in this hymn, it does appear in another fragmentary Isis text, where she affirms her eternity: “I am the deity that had no beginning … I am the truth, I am the creator and the destroyer.” (Compare John 14:6, where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”) (Ibid, Box 10.5, Isis and the “I Am” statements in John, p. 235; bold emphasis ours)

And this is what the late liberal Catholic NT scholar Father Raymond E. Brown, considered by many to be the premier modern Johannine scholar, wrote concerning John’s I AM statements,

“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)

The following scholar notes that:

“When Jesus proclaims his ‘I AM,’ he is unambiguously playing on a formula that recalls the Old Testament text about the revelation of the divine Name. In other words, when a reader of the Bible puts himself in the vantage point of the New Testament ‘I AM’ expressions and looks backwards to the Old Testament, he sees a line of tradition that goes back to Exod 3:14. But, there is another kind of flashback to Isaiah 40-55…

“In brief, the absolute ‘I AM’ expressions of Jesus have a double background (see Fig. 6). On the one hand, they point to the divine Name of Exod 3:14. On the other hand, they reflect certain expressions in Isaiah 40-55, where we find the formula ’ani hu’. The latter ‘I AM’ formula (’ani hu’) apparently played a role in Jewish cultic celebrations in the time of Jesus, above all in the celebration of the Festival of Booths. The Jewish materials show that Jesus may well have employed the Hebrew revelatory formula; they also show what reaction was to be expected if he had done so. For those who did not accept Jesus’ claims, he would in so doing have infringed upon the sacredness of the divine Name. He would have committed blasphemy.” (Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God – The Meaning and Message of the Everlasting Names [Fortress Press, 2005], 2. The God Who Says “I AM”: The Riddle of the Name YHWH, The New Testament: When Jesus Says "I AM," pp. 44-45)

He also does an excellent job of tying Jesus' I AM statements with the Jewish festivals which were taking place:

“The ‘I AM’ expressions that we have just cited come from John 8. We shall now examine John 8 in its wider context of chapters 7-9. These chapters are to be read against the background of the Jewish Festival of Booths (cf. John 7:2, 10). (See Fig. 7) For our purposes three elements of this cultic celebration are particularly important: (1) Every morning of this week-long festival the ritual of water libation took place. The water was fetched from the Pool of Siloam and poured out on the altar; the rite itself seems to have anticipated the advent of the harvest rains. (2) The festival was also characterized by a grand Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) in the forecourt of the women, in the course of which the golden candlesticks were lit and the participants danced joyfully with torches in their hands. (3) Furthermore, there was a procession around the altar, in the course of which there was the divine proclamation – ’ani wehu’. On the last day of the festival this feature was repeated seven times.”

“Even a cursory reading of John 7-9 reveals a number of details that appear in special relief when beheld against the background of the Jewish festival. First, Jesus presents an alternative to the Jewish water libation with the words, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:37-38). Jesus speaks these words of the Spirit. Second, Jesus palpably recalls the Jewish Festival of Lights when he heals the man born blind (9:1-12) and proclaims, ‘I am the light of the world’ (8:12; 9:5). These correspondences naturally lead us to wonder what Jesus has made of the rite in which this formula ’ani wehu’ is employed? The answer is quite simple: the formula repeatedly finds its counterpart in Jesus’ several ‘I AM’ expressions (cf. John 8:24 and 28 above). (Ibid., pp. 46-47)


“One detail needs special attention. As we have seen, in Isaiah the formula is ’ani hu’, ‘I (am) he,’ a phrase which was varied in the context of the Jewish Festival of Booths to ’ani wehu’, with the meaning ‘I and he.’ In John 8, we find yet another expression that provides a factual counterpart to the Jewish formula in all its multiplicity. The Greek text of 8:16 may be translated as follows: ‘Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone that judge, but I and he who sent me.’ Here the words ‘I and he who sent me’ look like yet another reference to the divine proclamation that took place in the Jewish Festival of Booths (cf. also John 10:30).

“Yet another passage in John 8 reads: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:58). Here, too, one suspects that it is the ’ani hu’ formula of the Prophet of Consolation and the divine ‘I AM’ of Exod 3:14 that form the background. Once this is acknowledged, the Jews’ reaction becomes intelligible: ‘So they picked up stones to stone him’ (8:59). Note what the law of Moses commands: ‘He who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him’ (Lev 24:16). Thus, when Jesus uttered the Semitic revelatory formula that underlies the Greek ego eimi (‘I AM’) his Jewish listeners felt that he had gone too far; he had profaned the Name and deserved to die.

“Thus we now must deal with the arrest of Jesus in John 18. When the emissaries announce that they are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus proclaims his ego eimi (v 5), which could well mean, “I am he” (cf. John 9:9). The continuation, however, shows that here the formula also serves as a formula of self-revelation: ‘When he said to them, “ego eimi ,” they drew and fell to the ground’ (v 6). The event takes place during the last week of Passover that occurred during Jesus’ earthly life. We are reminded of what the Jewish texts say about the Day of Atonement: when the priests and the people hear the high priest call out the divine Name, they fall to their knees with their faces turned towards the earth (m. Yoma 6:2).” (Ibid., pp. 47-48)

To say that this is amazing would truly be a wild understatement!

It is therefore evident to both conservative and liberal Biblical scholarship that Jesus’ I AM pronouncements serve the purpose of revealing his Divine identity since they are intended to present him as Yahweh God in human flesh (even though he is not the Father or the Holy Spirit). This means that Muslims must find some other way of dealing with Jesus’ I AM sayings since denying that such statements depict Jesus as God does absolutely nothing to refute the massive amount of Biblical data which shows that these declarations do indeed affirm the absolute Deity of Christ. Muslims are going to have to resort to attacking the historical reliability of John’s Gospel, which is what they often do when they cannot honestly handle or deal with the evidence.

However, even that won’t solve the problem for the Muslims since, as we are about to see in our excursus, John didn’t invent Jesus’ I AM sayings. The evidence suggests that these pronouncements are derived from very early Christian tradition, indeed from Jesus himself.

We conclude our discussion by including the following table which is taken and modified from Robert M. Bowman Jr. & J. Ed Komoszewski’s book, Putting Jesus in His Place – The Case for the Deity of Christ, p. 178, since it clearly brings out the connection between Jesus’ I AM statements and the I AM passages of Isaiah.


Isaiah (LXX)


I am he, the one who is speaking” (52:6)

ego eimi autos ho lalon

“I am the one who is speaking to you” (4:26)

ego eimi ho lalon soi

“When you pass through the waters… Do not be afraid, for I am with you” (43:2, 5)

me phobe hoti meta sou eimi

“I amdo not be afraid” (6:20)

ego eimi me phobeisthe

(Note: Jesus walks on the waters of the sea to meet the disciples’ boat, vv. 16-19)

“… so that you may know and believe and understand that I am he… I am God, and beside me there is no one to save… But you have stood in your sins and in your iniquities… I am, I am the one who blots out your transgressions” (43:10-11, 24-25)

hina gnote kai pisteusete kai sunete hoti ego eimi…. en tais hamartiais sou

“… for unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins … then you will know that I am he” (8:24)

ean gar me pisteusete hoti ego eimi apothaneisthe en tais hamartiais humon… tote gnosesthe hoti ego eimi

“… my servant whom I have chosen [exelexamen], so that you may know and believe and understand that I am” (43:10)

hina gnote kai pisteusete kai sunete hoti ego eimi

“I am not speaking of all of you; I know the ones I have chosen [exelexamen] … I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that you may believe when it does occur that I am.” (13:18-19)

hina pisteusete hotan genetai hoti ego eimi

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