Have you ever heard someone talk about Jesus being ‘the great I AM’? And you may have wondered what is this all about. Talking about Jesus being the ‘I AM’ is essentially saying he is God, and even more precisely that he is the God of the Old Testament, YeHoVaH or Yahweh or Jehovah, himself. That is quite a claim. I recently decided to examine this further, as although I have heard this over the years, I never really took the time to determine where it comes from. It seems like Christian apologists and scholars make a big deal when Jesus says ‘I am’, but does he mean what they say he means? Well, let’s check it out.
Establishing some Statistical Facts
Despite many English bibles today, the bible was not written in English. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with some Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Koine Greek. There is also a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint (LXX). It is important to outline these various sources for us to understand what we are really talking about. It is really weird to talk about Jesus being the ‘I AM’ because that makes no sense in English. Also, when we search for the English expression ‘I am’ in a standard English bible translation like the King James Version (KJV), we realize that we would find fewer results than if we look for the Greek expression ‘ego eimi’. This is because translators seem to take a lot of liberty to translate the exact same expression in Greek as different expressions in English, even when the context and use is the same from passage to passage. This is something that I have observed. So, let’s look at the Greek and English to see what we can understand.
‘Ego’ is Greek for ‘I’, and ‘eimi’ is Greek for ‘am’, or more technically, it is the Greek for ‘I am’, as Greek doesn’t necessarily need to have the pronoun with the conjugated verb form. The expression ‘ego eimi’ or simply ‘eimi’ is found over 140 times in the Textus Receptus New Testament (TRNT). Most times it is used as part of a sentence, just like in normal every day speech in English. The first example of using ‘eimi’ by itself in the TRNT is in Matthew 3:11, where John the Baptist is speaking and he says:
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am [eimi] not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire
The first instance in which the full expression ‘ego eimi’ is used in the TRNT is in Matthew 8:9, where a Roman centurion speaking to Jesus says:
For I am [ego eimi] a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
As you can see in both of these examples, whether it is ‘eimi’ or ‘ego eimi’, they are used normally to express anything you want. There is nothing particularly special about the use of these words. There are about 143 different verses that use either ‘eimi’ or ‘ego eimi’ in the TRNT. Most times they are used in a sentence to say “I am… (something or some description)”, but there are a few times where we see the expression “ego eimi” all by itself. What is most interesting is that the translators sometimes translate this expression as “I am”, “I am he”, “It is I”, “Is it I” or even “I was”. Below is a table of all the instances in the TRNT where “ego eimi” can be found as its own expression:
|1||Matthew 14:27||But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.||Jesus walks on water and his disciples thought he was a ghost. So, he says ego eimi to identify himself. Notice that there is no word for ‘it’ in the Greek, and the verb form actually translates to “I am” and not “it is”. There are two other parallel accounts in Mark 6:50 and John 6:20.|
|2||Matthew 26:22||And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?||Here we have all the disciples saying “meti ego eimi”, which translates to “not I am”, or legitimately also can be “whether [possibly] I am”. Essentially, it is the disciples responding to Jesus making the statement that one of them will betray him.|
|3||Matthew 26:25||Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.||This is Judas’ specific answer to Jesus’ statement. See Note 2|
|4||Mark 6:50||For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.||See Note 1|
|5||Mark 13:6||For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.||This verse is an interesting case of the translator adding to the text, which clarifies instead of distorts. There is no “Christ” in the Greek for this text. The word “Christ” was added by the English translators. It is simply “ego eimi”. Notice that the translators did not write, “I am God”. They wrote, “I am Christ”, when it really should have just been “I am”. They knew precisely that in the parallel account in Matthew 24:5 that Jesus says, “ego eimi ho Christos”, which translates to “I am the Christ”. The third parallel account in Luke 21:8 also only has “ego eimi”. This is clear grounds to show that when Jesus is not identifying himself with “ego eimi”, he is using it to reference himself as “Christ”|
|6||Mark 14:62||And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.||Jesus was being interrogated just before his crucifixion. The high priest asked him directly if he was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed. Then he answered, “ego eimi”, and continued to assert that he was the “son of man”.|
|7||Luke 21:8||And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.||Note 5|
|8||Luke 22:70||Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, Ye say that I am.||Jesus answers the question of his accusers about whether he is the Son of God or not by affirming that they say he is. Before this they asked him if he was the Christ, and he answered that they will see the son of man seated at God’s right hand, basically referring to himself as the “son of man” and “Christ” in an indirect manner. This is a parallel account of Mark 14:62, but the dialog is worded differently.|
|9||Luke 24:39||Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.||ego eimi’ is translated as “it is I”. Here Jesus is just identifying himself after he was resurrected to his disciples.|
|10||John 4:26||Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.||This verse requires special attention. It is the first time chronologically that Jesus uses the expression “ego eimi”, and there is no context of identifying himself as present. He is speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, and she just told him in the previous verse that she knows that a Messiah is coming, which is called Christ, who will tell them all things. It is then Jesus responded to her “ego eimi ho lalon soi”, which is translated “I am the [one] speaking [to] you”. The translators making it seem as if there is no “ego eimi” there by splitting up “I” from “am he”, but it is clear that he is identifying himself as the Messiah or Christ by saying “ego eimi”.|
|11||John 6:20||But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid.||See Note 1|
|12||John 8:24||I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.||Jesus is debating with the pharisees and says, “…for if ye believe not that ego eimi, ye shall die in your sins”, then they proceed to ask him “who are you?”. Then in verse 28, he declares himself to be the “son of man” who they will lift up. In verse 28, again, he uses the expression “ego eimi” to state that he is the “son of man”, the prophetic title for the Messiah or Christ in the Old Testament scriptures.|
|13||John 8:28||Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.||See Note 12|
|14||John 8:58||Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.||This verse needs special notice. It is one of the verses used to say that Jesus is declaring himself to be ‘the great I AM of Exodus 3:14’ or God, or YeHoVaH or Yahweh or Jehovah. We will discuss this in more detail in the next section, but this verse 58 is said in the same context of verses 24 and 28 earlier in the same chapter. All Jesus is doing is re-stating that he is the Son of Man, the prophetic title of the Messiah, which is a synonym for Christ.|
|15||John 9:9||Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he.||Here, we have the formerly blind man, who Jesus healed by putting mud on his eyes and telling him to wash it off in the pool of Siloam. His neighbors were asking if he was the blind man, and his answer was, “ego eimi”.|
|16||John 13:19||Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.||This expression “I am he” is “ego eimi”. There is no prior reference in the chapter to what he means, but we know that Jesus says “ego eimi” as a declaration that he is Messiah several times in the gospels of John, Mark and Luke.|
|17||John 18:5||They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.||Here Jesus once again answers the question about his identity, just like the blind man he healed. His response is simply “ego eimi”. It seems very simple, and normal. Yet, trinitarians sometimes use this verse (along with verse 6) to show the ‘power’ in Jesus saying “I am” as a claim of being God. See Note 18|
|18||John 18:6||As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.||This is a simple reference to what Jesus said in the previous verse. Yet, some attach some supernatural power to what Jesus said because the men who came to arrest Jesus fell to the ground. However, I believe that these are the same men who were sent previously to detain Jesus in John 7:32, but they did not trouble him then because the people called him a prophet and the Christ, and they said then, “Never a man spake like this man”. I believe that they were terrified when they realize that it was this same man, because the scripture says in 1 Samuel 26:11, “YeHoVaH forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against YeHoVaH’S anointed [Christ, in the LXX]”|
|19||John 18:8||Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way:||See Note 17 and Note 18|
The above 19 verses are the only references that I could find among the 140+ references of “ego eimi” where it is used on its own without a direct object or predicate. It is a very common expression. Jesus was not the only person to use it, as you can see. Yes, trinitarian Christians insist that when Jesus said “ego eimi”, he was making a claim of being God or Deity. We will explore this further with special reference to John 8:58.
Comparing with the Old Testament “I AM”
In John 8:58, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Before Abraham was, I am [ego eimi]”. This expression is often touted as clear proof of Jesus claiming to be God or Deity. But, how is this the case? Well, the explanation for this references Exodus 3:14, which can be seen in the following:
|Hebrew Words||KJV English||Septuagint Greek|
|וַיֹּאמֶר [iamar]||And [he] said||kai eimen|
|אֱלֹהִים [elohim]||God||ho theos|
|אֶל־מֹשֶׁה [al mose]||unto Moses||pros Mōusen|
|אֶֽהְיֶה [ehyeh]||I AM||egō eimi|
|אֲשֶׁר [aser]||THAT||ho ōn|
|אֶֽהְיֶה [ehyeh]||I AM|
|וַיֹּאמֶר [iamar]||and he said||kai eimen|
|תֹאמַר [thamar]||shalt thou say||epeis|
|לִבְנֵי [lbeni]||the children of||tois uiois|
|אֶֽהְיֶהehyeh||I AM||ho ōn|
|שְׁלָחַנִי [shelachni]||hath sent me||apesalken me|
|אֲלֵיכֶֽם׃ [alikm]||unto you||pros humas|
In Exodus 3:14, God says to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM”, according the KJV English, but God told him to tell the children of Israel “I AM” sent you. It seems as though trinitarians use the English translation of “I AM” and correlate it to Jesus saying “I AM” in John 8:58, and then claim that this association means that Jesus is declaring himself to be God. The only problem with this is that although the English words match up, the Greek words do not. We certainly know that the Greek for “I am” is “Ego eimi”. So, at first glance, it would appear as if this is a fair claim for equivalence of terms. However, the New Testament is written in Greek, not English. The Greek translation of that verse does not use “ego eimi” to translate the “I AM” that God told Moses to declare to the Israelites. The Greek for that “I AM” expression is “ho on”, not “ego eimi”. And at no point did Jesus ever say “ho on”, nor did he ever declare himself with the entire expression “ego eimi ho on”.
To further complicate this issue, a number of other English translations of the bible will actually capitalize the expression “I am” in John 8:58, as a (not so) subtle suggestion that Jesus is making a reference to Exodus 3:14, and also many study bibles will actually add a reference in the margin or footnotes. There is a clear bias towards claiming Jesus as God (YeHoVaH, Yahweh, or Jehovah) from the Old Testament. Yet, what God told Moses to declare is “ho on”. What is “ho on” and what does it mean? Well, “ho” is the article “the” and “ōn” is the present participle of “eimi”. BDAG translates “ho on” as “the one who is”. So, we can see that the translators of the Septuagint (LXX) translated the Hebrew ehyeh aser ehyeh (I am that I am) to “ego eimi ho on” (I am the one who is). The KJV English translators translated it as “I AM THAT I AM”. The key is understanding how the translators of the LXX understood the “I AM” that God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites. They said, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM (ho ōn – the one who is) hath sent me unto you”. Can this be any clearer? How can this even be confused with “ego eimi”?
Sorting out the Confusion
There seems to be a lack of transparency in this forced equivalence of “I am” in John 8:58 with “I AM” in Exodus 3:14. By evaluating isolated “ego eimi” statements through the New Testament, we see that it is rarely translated as simply “I am”, but typically translated as “I am he” or “It is I”. If Jesus uses the term, he is either identifying himself, or saying that he is the Messiah/Christ/Son of Man. This is consistent with the stated summary purpose of the Gospel of John:
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
In John 8, Jesus says in verse 12, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”. He goes on to indirectly refer to himself as the “Son of Man” that the Jewish leaders will lift up (verse 28). He uses “ego eimi” in that sentence to point out that he is the “Son of Man”. Then in verse 58, as he continues to elaborate, he said that “Before Abraham was, I am (he) [ego eimi]”. He was saying that before Abraham was, Jesus was appointed to be the Messiah/Christ. This was prophetically confirmed through the Od Testament, and it is affirmed by the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:19-21:
19. But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
20. Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
21. Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.
I love the scripture that says, “God is not [the author] of confusion”, and I believe in the consistency of scripture. From everything I have already stated, I really cannot in good conscience say that I believe that Jesus is claiming to be God or Deity when he said, “ego eimi” in John 8:58. He is clearly saying that he is the Christ or Messiah. My faith and my hope is in God, and I know who God is. My God is Jesus’ God, and my Father is Jesus’ Father (John 20:17). May the Holy Spirit guide you in truth. God bless you all.
- “I am” AND “G1473” AND “G1510” Search Results – Blue Letter Bible – Site: https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/search.cfm?Criteria=”I+am”+G1473+G1510&t=KJV#s=s_primary_0_1
- “It is I” AND “G1473” AND “G1510” Search Results – Blue Letter Bible – Site: https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/search.cfm?Criteria=”It+is+I”+G1473+G1510&t=KJV#s=s_primary_0_1
- “I was” AND “G1473” AND “G1510” Search Results – Blue Letter Bible – Site: https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/search.cfm?Criteria=”I+was”+G1473+G1510&t=KJV#s=s_primary_0_1
- A Greek – English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. Third Edition. BDAG. Page 282. Revised and Edited by Frederick William Danker.
- John 8:58 All English Translations – Biblegateway.com – Site: https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/John%208:58