Commentary on

The "I AM" sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel

by Robert Nguyen Cramer


In the Fourth Gospel, which is traditionally known as the "Gospel According to John," there is special significance in the many times that Jesus' is found saying, "I am." In most English versions, many of the "I am" saying are easily recognized, such as those below. In each of Jesus' "I am" sayings below, you can properly substitute "I have timeless being" or "I have timeless being as..." for "I am." This will be explained further below.

There are other "I am" sayings that most English translations make unrecognizable, such as those in the left-hand column below.

In some of Jesus' I AM sayings, though some translators add "he" after "I am," the NAB correctly literally translates the phrase simply, "I AM." Due to the Greek vocabulary and construction of that phrase and its relation to Exo 3:14, the nuanced meaning is "I have timeless being that coincides with God" -- as compared with being a mere temporally created mortal. As Barclay Newman and Eugene Nida describe it in A Translator's Handbook on the Gospel of John (NY: UBS, 1980, page 124), "In those passages in John's Gospel where Jesus uses "I am" in an absolute sense, he is identifying himself with God."

The Greek pronoun translated "I" is ego, and the Greek verb translated "am" is eimi. Even without the pronoun, eimi is still translated "I am." Eimi means to be or to exist eternally or to have timeless being. In the Fourth Gospel, eimi is often contrasted with the Greek verb ginomai, which can also mean to be, but has more of an emphasis on to become or to be created or to happen, in a time-bound, temporal sense.

More than any other writing in the Greek New Testament, the Fourth Gospel can most appropriately be read with two layers of meaning, the historically literal and the symbolic. Though Jesus spoke both Aramaic and Greek, it is generally assumed that he addressed his disciples primarily in Aramaic. The Fourth Gospel, written in Koine Greek, was written with very obvious awareness of the symbolism and significance of its phrasing in the Koine Greek language. In comparison with the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), the Fourth Gospel may thought of as more of a painting of Jesus' life and teachings -- a painting that is subjectively intended to bring out and highlight the texture and underlying meaning of Jesus' life and teachings. The synoptic gospels are more like photographs that somewhat objectively record events but with less opportunity to interpret.

In each of the verses from the Fourth Gospel quoted below, Jesus is found using the Greek verb eimi. In some of the verses he uses the phrase Ego eimi, which directly corresponds with the wording in Exodus 3:14. There, where the KJV translates the Hebrew into English as, "I AM THAT I AM" and other versions translate "I AM WHO I AM," the Greek Septuagint text of the Old Testament (completed about 132 BC and used as "the Bible" by the First, Second, and Third Century Christians) translates the Hebrew into Greek as, "Ego eimi ho on", which would be translated into English as "I am the Being." Early Jewish Christians were certainly familiar with the Septuagint's epoch making pronouncement, "Ego eimi ho on," and likely would not have missed the symbolism of the Gospel of John's use of "Ego eimi," when spoken by Jesus in the Greek text of John.

Seen in the light of Genesis 1:26 and 27, where God created man in his "image" and "likeness," Jesus' words representing the "I am" take on very significant meaning. The Fourth Gospel's insights into the character and message of Jesus shed great light on the entire New Testament, where Christ Jesus is several times referred to as the "image" or "likeness" of God in 2Co 4:4, Col 1:15, and Heb 1:3 -- and where through Christ "we" also are referred to as the image of God in Rom 8:29, 1Co 15:49, 2Co 3:18, and Col 3:10.

Below is a list of the Fourth Gospel's verses that contain Jesus' "I am" sayings, which in the Greek are either "Ego eimi" or simply "eimi." Considering the nuances in Greek, in each case below where "I am" appears, the translation could also be "I have timeless being" or "I have timeless being as..." (or "I eternally exist" or "I eternally exist as...").

Peter's denial, using a negative "I am" formula

It is also worth noting that in the Fourth Gospel, Peter three times denied Jesus. The KJV and others most appropriately translate Peter's denial as, "I am not." In the Greek, and consistent with the linguistic symbolism used throughout the Greek Fourth Gospel, Peter's responses, "I am not," can also be accurately and meaningfully translated, "I do not have being." (See John 18:17, 25) This may be best understood as a dual denial: (1 - historically literally) "I deny being a follower of Jesus," and (2 - symbolically) "I do not have being in Christ as the image and likeness of God, who is The Being." This, too, seems to further illustrate the two layers of meaning found throughout the Gospel of John.

More details on I AM THAT I AM in Exodus 3:14

To further explore the Exodus 3:14 pronouncement of God as the I AM, browse the following webpage article:

To explore Christ Jesus as reflecting God, as the image and likeness of God, see:

Some of the many commentaries on ego eimi by noted biblical scholars

C.K. Barrett (The Gospel According to St. John, Second Edition, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978, page 98, 291-292, 342). Barrett comments:

Colin Brown, editor (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 2, translated by Coenen et al, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976, pages 278-283)

Raymond Brown (The Gospel according to John I-XII, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966, pages 269, 533-538).

Rudolf Bultmann (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, translated by Beasley-Murray et al, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971, pages 225-227)

Gerhard Kittel, editor (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 2, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964, pages 352-354 on ego eimi; 398-400 on eimi). Regarding Joh 8:58 ("before Abraham was, I am") but applicable to all of the Fourth Gospel's consistent use of eimi, Buchsel, the actual author of Kittel's article on eimi, comments:

Barclay M. Newman and Eugene A. Nida (A Translator's Handbook on the Gospel of John, New York: United Bible Societies, 1980, page 124).

Rudolf Schnackenburg (The Gospel according to St. John, Volume 2, translated by Hastings et al, New York: Seabury Press, 1980, pages 79-89)

Daniel B. Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996, page 327). Wallace comments:


Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer