HOUSMAIL HM#047 - WHEN JESUS SAID "I AM" 26 November 1999 ________________________________________________________________________
It has long been claimed by Trinitarians that in John 8:58 Jesus used the words "I AM" to appropriate the Divine Name to Himself, in order to claim that He is God. However as we shall see, that is a misuse of the passage which falls far short His real intention.
To set the background for what follows, we note first that the whole of John's Gospel must be understood in the context of John's stated purpose in Ch 20:31. John did NOT write to convince us that Jesus is God! Rather His purpose is that we should believe that Jesus is the Christ, (MESSIAH), the SON of God. And that identity is to be understood in terms of the many Old Testament prophecies to which the Gospels point us. (Luke 24:45-46) There we find Jesus clearly identified, neither as God, nor as an already existing person, but as the FUTURE human Son of God, who will rule for ever over the Kingdom of God on earth.
Also the relationship between Jesus and His Father must be understood
alongside Jesus' own ABSOLUTE statement that his Father ALONE is the ONLY
true God, and that He himself is NOT God, but the SON of God. (John
17:3) It would indeed be a glaring contradiction if, in other
parts of the same Gospel, Jesus was using the words "I AM" to claim the
Divine name for Himself as God!
USE OF THE WORDS IN ENGLISH
If someone came into a room where I and several others were present, and asked "which one here is Allon?", I would put my hand up and say ..... "I AM".
No one would ever assume from that answer, that I was claiming to be God!
A couple of generations ago the "grammatically correct" answer would have been "I AM HE". However, in our time, the common usage of our language no longer requires the word "HE" to be spoken aloud. We all know that it is implied, and we make the necessary mental adjustment as we listen to what is said.
In other circumstances, the words "I AM" would be quite meaningless without specific additional spoken words. e.g. To introduce myself to someone who does not know me, I would need to say "I AM ..... ALLON". To convey additional information about myself I would need add other words. (e.g. "I AM ..... A CHRISTIAN").
The Koine Greek of the New Testament is like that. The words "I AM" appear repeatedly in the Greek text, with "extra words" which indicate their meaning. And on the other occasions when they do stand alone, the translation into English requires the insertion of the necessary IMPLIED extra words which give us their proper meaning in context ..... words that Greek speakers of the first century KNEW were implied!
The Greek words for "I AM" are "egw eimi". (letters "egw eimi" in the English alphabet )
Using the search facility in the Interlinear Greek "Online Bible", I found some 24 places where they appear in John's Gospel. Then I used the RSV Interlinear Greek-English New Testament to check each of those, to see how the words were used. If you are interested enough, you can check it out for yourself. (Hey it's not that hard! Our Sunday School students ages 7-12, have all been able to memorise the Greek alphabet, and most of them can also write it!).
On 15 of these occasions they appear with other words following. e.g.:
John 4:26 "I ..... who speak to you ..... AM HE"
(Translated from Greek which literally says "I AM, the [one] speaking to you")
John 6:35 "I AM ..... the bread of life". John 8:12 "I AM ..... the light of the world".
John 8:18 "I bear witness to myself".
(Translated from Greek which literally says "I AM ...... the [one] witnessing
John 11:25 "I AM ..... the resurrection".
In John's Gospel, the words "egw eimi"appear standing alone, on NINE occasions. (John 6:20, 8:24, 8:28, 8:58, 9:9, 13:19, 18:5, 18:6, & 18:8)
SIX of these are translated "I AM HE". (John 8:24, 8:28, 13:19, 18:5, 18:6, & 18:8) ONE is translated "IT IS I" (John 6:20) ONE is translated "I AM ..... the man" (John 9:9) Spoken by the blind man healed at the pool of Siloam. And ONE is simply rendered as "I AM". (John 8:58)
On EIGHT of those occasions the translators have recognised that something needed to be added after the words "I AM", to make the meaning clear ..... AND THEY HAVE DONE SO!
In John 6:20, 9:9, 18:5, 18:6, & 18:8, they are used in exactly the same way as we would in English, to identify the speaker to others. There is no suggestion at all that Jesus was using the Divine name or claiming to be God. And it goes without saying, doesn't it, that the blind man was most certainly NOT claiming to be God.!
In John 13:19, Jesus uses the words "I AM", to identify Himself to the disciples present at the Last Supper, as the one spoken of in the Messianic prophesy in Psalm 41:9. In the Psalm, Jesus is clearly NOT God (the LORD). He is the one who prays to God. His impending betrayal by Judas, and His death and resurrection, are all clearly mentioned there. He said that He was reminding the disciples of it in advance, so that when it did happen they would be able to believe His claim that "I AM [HE]", the promised Messiah, who fulfilled the prophesy when He was betrayed by Judas.
That leaves us with the THREE remaining references in John Chapter 8.
In John 8:24, 8:28, the translators have seen fit to add the word "HE", because it is clearly required by the context. When Jesus says "I AM [HE]", He is using it in a similar way to what we have just seen in John 13.
In V12 He has just said "I AM .... the light of the world". In V16 & 18 His claim to be sent by the Father, (who alone is truly God) clearly separates between Himself and God. In V23 He again claims that He is "from above". (i.e. that the authority by which He has been sent, is not from any mere earthly human source - like theirs - but has been received from God.)
Thus it should be abundantly clear that when Jesus says "I AM" again in V58 (in the very same conversation) He is NOT using the Divine name of Himself. Instead, He clearly means the same "HE" already identified only a few verses earlier. And it ought to be translated as "I AM HE", giving it the same meaning, as it clearly has in the other places in the same chapter. _______________________________________________________________________________________
Dare we suggest that it is only theological bias which has perpetuated the "grammatical monstrosity" created by the translators, when they TRANSLITERATED "egw eimi" as "I AM" instead of TRANSLATING it as "I AM [HE]"?
Properly viewed, Jesus has NOT claimed the Divine name for Himself. Nor has He claimed to have been alive before Abraham. Rather, the overall message of the chapter is that the place of Jesus in the PROPHETIC PLAN of God, was fixed and spoken of, long before the time of Abraham. That dates back to the Garden of Eden, where both the Kingdom Of God, and the Future Saviour are first mentioned. (Gen 1:26 & 3:15)