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.
|.||Easily recognizable "I am" sayings in most English translations|
|Joh 6:35||I am the bread of life|
|Joh 8:12||I am the light of the world|
|Joh 14:6||I am the way, and the truth, and the life|
There are other "I am" sayings that most English translations make unrecognizable, such as those in the left-hand column below.
|.||English version with non-recognizable "I am" sayings||English version of same verse with recognizable "I am" sayings|
|Joh 8:16||It is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me||I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me|
|Joh 17:16||They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.||They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.|
Jesus said to them, "I am he," they stepped back and fell to
[Most translators add "he," though it is not in any Greek text.]
|When he said to them, "I AM," they turned away and fell to the ground.|
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.
[To further explore this, browse a very relevant webpage article on SOUL at http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/soul.htm.]
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...").
26 I am he, the one who is speaking to you. [The "he" is added to the English text by the translators, but it is not in the Greek text.]
John 6:35, 41, 48,51
35 I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. [NRSV]
41 I am the bread that came down from heaven. [NRSV]
48 I am the bread of life. [NRSV]
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. [NRSV]
John 7:28, 29, 34, 36
28 You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. [NRSV]
29 I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me. [NRSV]
34 You will look for me but not find (me), and where I am you cannot come. [NRSV]
36 "What does he mean by saying, 'You will search for me and you will not find me' and 'Where I am, you cannot come'?" [NRSV]
John 8:12, 16, 18, 23, 24, 28, 58
12 I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. [NRSV]
16 I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me. [NAB]
23 He said to them, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. [NRSV]
24 That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins. [NAB - In the NRSV and other versions, the "he" is added to the English text by the translators.]
28 When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me. [NAB - In the NRSV the "he" is added to the English text by the translators.]
58 Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am. [NRSV]
John 9: 5, 9
5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. [NRSV]
9 Some said, "It is," but others said, "No, he just looks like him." He said, "I am." [NAB - This was spoken by the man who had been blind from birth and whom Jesus healed, "so that God's works might be revealed in him." (Joh 9:3, NRSV)]
John 10: 7, 9, 11, 14, 36
7 I am the gate for the sheep.[NRSV]
9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. [NRSV]
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [NRSV]
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [NRSV]
36 I am God's Son [NRSV]
25 I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, [NRSV]
26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. [NRSV]
John 13:13, 19, 33
13 You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. [NAB]
19 From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM. [NAB - Note that the "I am" in "I am telling" is not based upon the Greek eimi and is not part of Jesus' I AM sayings.]
33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' [NRSV]
John 14: 3, 6, 10, 11, 20
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. [NRSV]
6 I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [NRSV]
10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. [NRSV]
11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. [NRSV]
20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. [NRSV]
John 15: 1, 5
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. [NRSV]
5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. [NRSV]
32 I am not alone, because the Father is with me. [NRSV]
John 17:11, 14, 16, 24
11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. [NRSV]
14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. [NASB, Revised]
16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. [NASB, Revised]
24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. [NRSV]
John 18: 5, 6, 8
5 He said to them, "I AM." Judas his betrayer was also with them. [NAB - In the NRSV and other versions, the "he" is added to the English text by the translators.]
6 When he said to them, "I AM," they turned away and fell to the ground. [NAB - In the NRSV and other versions, the "he" is added to the English text by the translators.]
7 So he again asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" They said, "Jesus the Nazorean." 8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I AM. So if you are looking for me, let these men go." [NAB - In the NRSV and other versions, the "he" is added to the English text by the translators.]
17 The woman said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not." [NRSV]
25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not." [NRSV]
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:
http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/image.htm - "Man (Gen 1:26,27) and Christ as the 'image' of God"
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:
Ego eimi without complement (see also [Joh 8] vv. 28, 58, and 13.19) is hardly a Greek expression, and it is therefore natural to look into its Jewish background... (p. 342)
The eimi.. is properly continuous tense, implying neither beginning nor end of existence. (p. 342)
Jesus is the obedient servant of the Father, and for this reason perfectly reveals him. Ego eimi does not identify Jesus with God, but it does draw attention to him in the strongest possible terms. 'I am the one - the one you must look at, and listen to, if you would know God.' (p. 342)
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:
The verse ascribes to Jesus consciousness of eternity or supra-temporality. (p. 399)
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:
All agree that ego eimi is a theological motif in John. (p. 327)
Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer