You hear a lot about the “I AM” statements of Jesus, particularly in John. Honestly, though, I don’t think the phenomenon is taught clearly and therefore loses it’s impact. Or maybe I look at it a little bit differently. (Surprise!) What follows is something I fiddled with in church. (I’m unrepentant — it was germane to the sermon).
I’ve attached a PDF of all the places in the NT Gospels where ἐγώ εἰμι occurs.
Some are in question formulas or are in the mouths of other people and aren’t the focus. Many of them don’t have any special significance (and here’s my trajectory) because there is a predicate noun or predicate adjective with the phrase that completes the phrase. For example, “I am the bread of life” (“bread (of life)” is the predicate nominative in the genitive phrase that completes the clause). For sure the saying is important (trace it back to the OT), but what I’m really interested are those places where it’s just ἐγώ εἰμι — where it’s sort of disconnected from other elements; that is, where it’s an assertion that, if translated literally, seems awkward — until you understand what the two words signify.
In the PDF, I’ve highlighted the places where ἐγώ εἰμι is in “isolation” as described above. ESV sort of cheats by rendering these something like “it is he” (to make ἐγώ εἰμι in isolation comprehensible — but again that’s my point — it’s supposed to stand out). Here’s the short list (where Jesus is the speaker). I’ve changed the ESV to make “I AM” stand out like it does in the Greek text (i.e., not complemented by predicate noun or adjective). The results are interesting (both for what’s left and what doesn’t appear – most of the familiar ones aren’t here). Go and look up the contexts for them and think about the implications in context (immediate and the wider context of Christology / Yahweh incarnate).
Just an interesting exercise. Sort of the “naked” I AM statements.
But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart. I AM. Do not be afraid.”
for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart. I AM. Do not be afraid.”
Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I AM!’ and they will lead many astray.
And Jesus said, “I AM. And you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I AM!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.
So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I AM.”
Jesus said to her, “I AM — the one speaking to you.”
But he said to them, “I AM. Do not be afraid.”
I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins.”
So Jesus said to them, “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 just as the Father taught me.
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I AM.
They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I AM.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.
When Jesus said to them, “I AM,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
Jesus answered, “I told you that I AM. So, if you seek me, let these men go.
Seems a 2cd temple Jew would think Jesus is claiming to be YHWH, yet, many theologians argue otherwise.
Many of those will know what the statements mean (it ain’t hard), but will insist they are later insertions into the gospels, put into Jesus’ mouth as it were.
I have struggled for a while to reconcile YHWH as Jesus. Ps.110:1 e.g. seems to make YHWH to be the Father. Thus, would not the OT appearances of the Father be through an “angel of YWHW”? I am reluctant to read back into the OT the identity of Jesus as being the I AM and would prefer to read forward instead, but this does not, I admit, explain the I AM statements of Jesus as you have listed them. Puzzled!
The Angel of YHWH material creates a “double existence” for YHWH in the OT (two persons who are the same but also aren’t — and I’d say “same in essence” given the name / presence resides in the Angel via Exod 23:20-23, Deut 4:37). That means Jesus can be identified with Yahweh and / or the Angel without cancelling the other out. The Angel of YHWH (YHWH in human form) is a conceptual precursor to the more dramatic idea of incarnation later.
Is the correct translation of Sh’mot 3.14 ‘I am who I am? Or is it ‘I am that will be?
I read Dr. Heiser’s reply before sending this one. In the OT (English translations) not every “angel of the LORD” is designated as “THE angel of the LORD”. “The” Angel does and says things, and has attributes and characteristics, identifying him with and as the Deity. He interacts directly with Man. He seems to be the LORD himself and also the messenger of the LORD. Veiled revelation of one Deity and two (of the three) Persons of said Deity – distinct but not separate.
This matter is complicated by the fact that the use of the definite article (“the”) in Greek may be absent in that language even when the writer is alluding to the Hebrew phrase “the Angel of the Lord” (i.e., it’s not a consistent thing between languages). The Hebrew construct phrase mal’ak-YHWH is definite (“the angel”) because YHWH is an inherently definite noun. (Sorry for the Hebrew and Greek grammar-spasm, but for those who know a bit of both, that will be decipherable).
In Luke 21:8 are the false prophets claiming, in the name of Christ, to be god?
I think these false prophets are ones who proclaim Jesus is the Christ, yet lead many astray through self-serving,incorrect,pop culture teaching, by tickling the ears of the hearers.
Believing Jesus is the Son of God is the start, but not the end of the race. I’ve met many people who claim to ‘believe in God’, but live like the devil. We must know Him and obey His word, enter into a covenant with Him and thereby establish a relationship.
Many will claim to have done great works, yet the Lord will say, “I never knew you”, casting them out into the outer darkness. This is evidence of a lack of relationship. Seems that Jesus knowing you is more vital than you believing He is the Christ while you wield spiritual power.
Deception has to contain some truth in order to deceive. Not many could be led astray if a minister proclaimed to be Christ. Many will be led astray since they do not know scripture and live in unbelief.
As soon as I started reading this the song I AM(Mark Schultz lyrics)starting playing in my head. What a combination!
Exodus 3:14,15 The seminal passage. In v.14 God says for Moses to tell Israel that “I am that/who I am” sent him. As I understand this is 1st person singular. In verse 15 God says for Moses to tell them that ” he is”, or Yahweh, has sent him. As I understand this is 3rd person singular, and a contraction of the repetitive indicative verbal phrase “hayah aser hayah” in verse 14.
Lord Jesus of course uses first person singular but without the repetitive “I am that I am”.
MSH, your thoughts on change from 1st to 3rd person in Exodus? Secondly, your thoughts on why Lord Jesus did not repeat the identity phrase “I am that/who I am”?
My thoughts are it’s natural. When God is speaking in the passage it’s natural to have him using first person. When others speak about him, third person is natural.
That said, in other places you have third person references to Yahweh / God by Yahweh. This is a phenomenon known as illeism. It’s basically still self-referential. See:
These sorts of things are part of the two powers discussion among the rabbis, but the larger focus = passages like Exod 15:3 and Daniel 7, which isn’t about illeism.
Dr. MSH, I recently found your website and was impressed with your article this about Jesus’ use of the phrase, “I am” in the Greek without the added words in translations. It inspired me to embark on the process of learning Greek. I have started by learning the alphabet and am now learning the diacritical marks and pronunciation applicable to the Biblical period, so I can learn to sight read the words and read it out loud…to be followed by taking courses to learn the grammar and vocabulary. I take it that Greek is a pronoun-dropping inflected language so that to simply say, “I am” one would normally need only to say “eimi” without adding the pronoun “ego” – and to use the pronoun AND the conjugated verb which incorporates 1st person singular within the verb, acts to intensify and augment the meaning of the phrase, in context? As in Spanish, where one would say “Soy” or “estoy” both of which mean “I am”…but if one says “Yo soy” it intensifies the fact that you are referring to oneself in a special way….
eimi is a first person verb form. Like most other languages, you don’t need a stated noun or pronoun as subject of a verb form, though either is frequently present. The verb form itself can indicate a subject via the grammatical person and number. In that respect your Spanish analogy is on target. Generally, addition of the pronoun can be viewed as indicating “emphasis” (and so ego eimi could be rendered “I myself am”). However, “emphasis” gets jabbed by Greek students as being a catch all explanation for “we really don’t know why an author might or might not employ a pronoun or not.” Note what my colleague Steve Runge says in his discourse grammar:
This chapter provides an overview of the ways emphasis can be signaled in the Greek NT. Let me make it clear from the outset that what most grammarians mean by emphasis is quite different from my use of the term here. I define emphasis as taking what was already the most important part of a clause and placing it in a position of prominence in order to attract even more attention to it. The key element of this definition is “what was already the most important.” NT grammarians tend to use emphasis to refer to most any kind of prominence, essentially as a synonym. The concern here is the process of drawing extra attention to what was already the most important information in a given context.
Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2010), 269.
I like Runge’s approach here (and it is informed by cross-linguistic analysis — that’s the point of his whole grammar). Applying this, the presence of the redundant pronoun would be to remind the reader of who/what was prominent in the context already (in the case of the I AM statements, that would be Jesus). So the pronoun is a “reminder” or “thing used to keep focus.”