DOES THE “I AM” STATEMENT OF JESUS IN JOHN 8:58 PROVE THAT HE IS GOD? IS HE THE GOD WHO SPOKE IN EXODUS 3:14?
— Bro. Joe Ventilacion 🇮🇹
Defenders of Christ-is-God theology cite John 8:58 as one of their biblical bases in proving their belief that Jesus Christ is God. Let’s take a look at the verse:
Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (NKJV)
Although there is no explicit statement from Christ in this verse that He is God, His statement is being understood by those who believe in His alleged deity as an indication and affirmation of His divinity. Why did they come up with this line of reasoning that Jesus is God? Simply because Christ uttered, “I am” and God also made the same statement in Exodus 3:14:
And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”. And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM’ has sent me to you’ ” (NKJV)
God declared “I AM” when He introduced Himself to Moses. Using the concept of parallelism, Trinitarians conclude that Jesus is God simply because Christ spoke the same terms uttered by God. This type of reasoning was utilized by Josh McDowell and Bart Larson, two defenders of the alleged divinity of Christ, in their book Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity, that Christ’s use of the term is a claim to deity:
On several occasions, Jesus used the term ego eimi of Himself as it can be used only of God. The clearest example is when the Jews said to Jesus, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, ‘I AM’ (Greek: egō eimi). Therefore, they picked up stones to throw at Him (John 8:57-59). The Jews sought to kill Him for the presumption of that claim to deity.” (p.22)
Josh McDowell and Bart Larson also proposed a concept that Jesus is the Almighty God. They claimed that:
He took to himself the Old Testament names and titles for God and also allowed others to call Him by the same names and titles … this Galilean teacher was claiming to be Almighty God. (ibid., p. 21)
Moreover, they maintained that Jesus claimed for Himself the name of God which was most revered by the Jews, a name considered so sacred that the Jews would not even utter it:
YHWH (Ibid., p.22).
McDowell and Larson postulated a concept that Jesus is the Almighty God of the Old Testament. The same idea is shared by some Christian apologists who even went further in saying that Jesus was the Jehovah or the God who spoke to Moses in Exodus 3:14. Typical of these is Geisler’s reasoning in his book Christian Apologetics, wherein he alleges that:
Perhaps the strongest and most direct claim of Jesus to be Jehovah occurs in John 8:58 where he said to the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am”. The Jews’ reaction left no doubt as to how they understood his claim. They knew he had claimed not only preexistence before Abraham but also equality with God … Jesus had clearly claimed to be the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14 that refers to Jehovah alone. (p. 331)
Is Jesus the God who said “I AM” in Exodus 3:14?
The answer is NO! And when Jesus said “I AM” (Greek,egō eimi) in John 8:58, was He indicating His alleged divinity? Definitely not!
What was He affirming in this verse? That He was before Abraham. How is He before Abraham when He was born later? It must be remembered that Abraham is His ancestor and therefore, came into existence before He [Christ] was born. However, He is before Abraham because He was foreordained by God even before the foundation of the world (1st Peter 1:20). It is in this sense that He was before Abraham.
In the context of John chapter 8 it should be noted that Jesus and the Jews were having an argument about Abraham and Jesus’ authority. There is nothing we can glean from the chapter that Jesus was claiming to be God. Rather, He told the Jews that He is “a man” telling them the truth which He heard from God (John 8:40). Jesus was not telling the Jews that His name is “I AM.” Likewise, He never told them, “I am God.” If Jesus were God, He would have plainly told them so. On the contrary, Jesus clarified to them that He came from and was sent by God (John 8:42).
It is true that Christ uttered the statement egō eimi, and God also spoke the equivalent of those words in Hebrew in Exodus 3:14. But does it prove that He is the same God who spoke in the Old Testament? No. Christ was not the only one who have uttered these words. The truth is, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, there were others who used the same words. In fact, in Judges 13:11 of The Septuagint with Apocryha: Greek and English by Sir Lancelot Brenton, it is stated:
“And Manoa arose and followed his wife, and came to the man, and said to him, Art thou the man that spoke to the woman? And the angel said, “I am.””
The angel said to Manoa, “I am”. Now, would our Trinitarian friends accept that the angel is also God for the reason that he uttered the same statement? Aside from that angel, who else uttered the same terms? In John chapter 9 verse 9, the formerly blind man emphatically stated, egō eimi! Does that make him or qualify him also as the God of the Old Testament because he uttered what God declared in Exodus 3:14? Let our Trinitarian friends answer that question.
One could not notice immediately that Jesus and the formerly blind man had uttered the same statement egō eimi because most English translations rendered John 9:9 differently. Below are a few of the English translations of the Greek term egō eimi, spoken by the formerly blind man:
• “I am he” (King James Version)
• “I am he” (New King James Version)
• “I am the one” (New American Standard Bible)
• “I am the man” (New International Version)
• “I am the man” (New Revised Standard Version)
• “I am the man” (Today’s English Version)
• “I am the same man!” (New Living Translation)
The addition of the words “he” or “the man” in these translations somehow conceal the fact that Jesus and the formerly blind man spoke the same words in the Greek New Testament.
Is it true, as Geisler alleges, that Jesus is the Jehovah who spoke in Exodus 3:14? It must be noted that the term Jehovah is another English translation of the Tetragrammaton – YHWH, one of God’s names in the Old Testament. If this allegation that Jesus were the same God who uttered the statement “I AM” in Exodus 3:14 were true, then our Trinitarian friends would have to accept that aside from having a Jesus who is Jehovah, there is another Jesus, the servant of Jehovah. Why? Going back to Exodus, chapter 3, Jehovah or YHWH, in English, Lord, introduced Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in verse 15. However, in the New Testament, the same God or Jehovah, was introduced by Peter as the One who glorified Jesus, His servant. This is his testimony as it is written in Acts 3:13:
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. (NKJV)
Now consider these scenarios: if Jesus were the God who spoke to Moses in the burning bush, then who would be His servant by the name of Jesus in Acts 3:13? Are we prepared to accept that there are two Jesuses, one who is the God of Abraham and one who is called the servant of the God of Abraham? Is there such a thing in the Bible as “Jesus who is the servant of Jesus”? There is none! The Jesus who is the servant of God is truly different from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus is not the Jehovah of the Old Testament as Geisler and his co-apologists avow.
Moreover, Apostle Paul teaches that Jesus is the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). How could Jesus be the seed of Abraham and at the same time his God (Matthew 22:32)? Therefore, serious theological implications would result if we accept the Trinitarian’s view that Jesus was the YHWH or God who spoke to Abraham in Exodus 3:14.
THE THREE-WORD NAME OF GOD IN EXODUS 3:14: EHYEH-ASHER-EHYEH
Aside from the four-letter name of God, YHWH, technically called Tetragrammaton, which is commonly translated into English as “Yahweh” or “Lord” in some modern English versions and “Jehovah” in some older English versions of the Bible, the Hebrew Bible mentions of God’s various names such as “Elohim” (Gen. 1:1), “El Elyon” (Gen. 14:18), “El Shaddai” (Gen. 17:1), and the three-word name of God “EHYEH-ASHER-EHYEH” in Exodus 3:14 is translated as “I AM WHO I AM” in most English versions of the Old Testament.
Although the majority of the English versions of the Bible render the three-word name of God “EHYEH-ASHER-EHYEH” in Exodus 3:14 as “I AM WHO I AM,” it must be noted also that this is how the translators perceived it as a translation of God’s name. However, is “I AM WHO I AM” the most precise English translation of the Hebrew name of God? Rabbi Joseph Telushkin answers:
At one point, Moses says to God: “When I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me, What is His name? what shall I say to them? God answers: ‘Ehyeh-asher-ehyeh’. Thus you shall say to the Israelites, Ehyeh sent me to you.” The three- word name God gives Himself is not easy to translate. The most precise rendering is ‘I shall be what I shall be’, although it sometimes is translated as ‘I am that I am’. The 1962 Jewish Publication Society translation of the Torah despaired of coming up with an accurate rendition, and just left the words in their Hebrew original.” (Jewish Literacy, pp. 47-48)
To a Jewish scholar like Telushkin, the most precise rendering of ehyeh-asher-ehyeh is “I shall be what I shall be.” And he is not alone in this view. Wayne Grudem, a Protestant theologian, translated God’s name similar to Telushkin’s understanding. He reasons:
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”. It is also possible to translate this statement “I will be what I will be”. (Systematic Theology, p. 161)
Furthermore, in the footnotes of several English translations of the Bible, we could find their difficulty in translating God’s name. Below are several examples:
• “Since it seems related to the word translated ‘I am’, it may mean ‘I am the one who is’ or ‘I will be what I will be’ or ‘I am the one who brings into being’.” (Contemporary English Version)
• “Or I will be what I will be.” (NIV)
• “I am: or I will be what I will be.” (New Revised English Bible)
• “Or I am what I am or I will be what I will be.” (NRSV)
One could notice that the translators had a difficult time getting a possible translation into English of God’s name in Exodus 3:14. Nobody for sure is certain as to how God’s three-word name should be translated into English.
In view of these things, there is no parallelism between John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14. Although Jesus uttered the Greek terms egō eimi, there is no concrete proof that He is the same God who said this term in the Hebrew Bible. We can say that there is a deception involved on the part of some Christ-is-God apologists when they tried to equate Jesus’ words in John 8:58 with God’s statements in Exodus 3:14.
In the final analysis, there is no parallelism between God’s statement in Exodus 3:14 and Jesus’ statement in John 8:58. His utterance of the Greek term egō eimi is not a proof of His alleged divinity.
Brenton, Lancelot Cd., The Septuagint With Apocrypha: Greek and English. Peabody, Maryland, USA: Hendrickson Publishers, n.d.
Geisler, Norman L., Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Baker Book House, 1976.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter- Varsity Press; Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.
Joseph, Telushkin. Jewish Literacy: – The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History. New York, USA: Wiliam Morrow
and Company, Inc., 1991.
McDowell, Josh and Bart Larson. Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity. San Bernardino, California, USA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1983.