Jesus a.s. says “I am”
In the previous article of this series, it was discussed that when Christians are confronted with the question to provide evidence where Jesusas clearly claims to be God, they provide statements which are meant to imply that Jesusas is God. As such, Christians admit that there is no such statement of Jesusas where he explicitly and clearly claims to be God.
One example of such a statement was discussed in the previous article. Another example is that of statements where Jesusas uses the particular phrase, “I am”. As Josh McDowell and Bart Larson argue, God revealed the meaning of His name “Yahweh” in Exodus, chapter 3, and that meaning is also expressed by the phrase “I am”. (Josh McDowell & Bart Larson, Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity p. 22)
The incident recorded in this chapter of Exodus is that the angel of God appears to Mosesas in a vision where he sees a flame of fire out of a bush and approaches it. God speaks to him and tells him that his mission is to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of the land of Egypt to Canaan. (Exodus, 3:1-12.) Then, it says:
“But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you.”’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you” …’” (Exodus, 3:13-15)
While these verses from Exodus are the main ones Christians quote for this argument, there are other verses of the Old Testament where God uses the same phrase “I am” to refer to Himself. Christians point to such verses and compare them to the verses where Jesusas uses the same phrase and make the argument that those are claims to divinity.
One particular instance which is quite often quoted where Jesusas seems to have used the “I am” statement is very clearly recorded in John, 8:58. Addressing the Jews, Jesusas says, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Other instances where Jesusas has used the same phrase include John, 8:24, 28, 18:4-6. Christians point to these “I am” statements of Jesusas and make the argument that they are a reference to God’s name which Jesusas applies to himself.
In order to understand this argument properly, the first thing to note is that there are three terms for God used in Exodus 3:13-15 as quoted above. The Hebrew and Greek from which these terms are translated help us understand the words better. The phrase “I am who I am” is written in Hebrew like this: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (pronounced: aeie ashr aeie). In the Greek Septuagint, it is written in koine Greek like this: ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (pronounced: ego eimi ho on).
On the other hand, the real name for God used in the Old Testament is Yahweh written in Hebrew as יְהוָה (pronounced: ieue) or Yahweh (the Tetragrammaton) which is translated in English as “The LORD” (in capitals) or kurios in Greek. According to Harper’s Bible Dictionary, this is the most important name for God in the Old Testament and it occurs about 6,800 times, though the actual pronunciation of this word is lost. Over time, the sanctity attached to this term increased and the title ‘Adonai (Hebrew: “My Great Lord”) began to be pronounced in place of the Tetragrammaton. Respecting this sanctity, translators of the Bible replace this word with “The LORD”. (Names of God in the Old Testament, in Harper’s Bible Dictionary)
The thing to be noted here then is that there is no place in the entire New Testament where Jesusas clearly and unambiguously uses this sacred name of God – Yahweh – for himself. He may have used other words which can have connotations, but he never uses the sacred name itself, which is the most common name of God in the Old Testament.
Moreover, the phrase “I am” is simply the first person, singular, present simple form of the verb “to be”. The Greek Septuagint equivalent is ego eimi (I am) which is the first person, singular, present form of the verb eimi (to be) in Greek. What this means is that in and of itself this phrase is not significant at all. In fact, it is commonplace throughout the Bible.
What Christians have to do at this point is to pick and choose the places where they believe this phrase implies a claim to divinity and where it does not. To illustrate this, we can consider the examples of usage of the same Greek phrase in the following verses: Matthew 14:27, 22:32, 24:5, Mark 6:50, 13:6, Luke 21:8, 24:39, John 6:20, Revelation 22:16, Acts 26:28-29.
If these verses are studied in depth, it would be clear that the phrase “I am” is quite commonplace and its usage is very similar to English usage. It can either be used as an affirmation of who one is as in “I am God” or “I am the Messiah” or it is simply used in an emphatic sense to say that one really is who he or she is.
Hence, if the phrase “I am” had any significance on its own, the translation of many of the verses of the Bible including those listed above would have to be changed. The theological implication of that would be very great! It would have to be believed that the blind man, for instance, who was cured by Jesusas and who used this same phrase in John, 9:9, is also God. Similarly, it would be believed that Paul is God as he is quoted to be using the same phrase in Acts, 26:29.
The question is: If Jesusas uses the phrase “I am” and it is a claim to divinity, why does this not apply to other persons in the Bible who have used the same phrase? If a standard is set, it should be applied to all equally.
Therefore, the phrase “I am” in and of itself holds no significance and cannot be cited as Jesus’ claim to divinity.