Sunday Morning Greek Blog

June 5, 2011

The “I Am” Statements of Jesus

These last two weeks have been challenging to say the least. I have moved into an apartment, and my body is stiff and sore from carrying my stuff up two flights of stairs several times a day. I went to Illinois last weekend to see my kids—we had a great time in Chicago attending a damp but entertaining Kane County Cougars baseball game (single A team for the Royals), then waited two hours in a thunderstorm to get into Shedd Aquarium the next morning. We were wetter than the aquatic creatures by the time we got in there. I am also in the process of switching second jobs, which has taken considerably more time than I anticipated. And as I have come to the heart of John’s gospel with the seven “I am” statements of Jesus, Satan has ramped up his attacks on me, and some days, I have been too tired to think spiritually enough to resist. But I praise God that he has strengthened me in the past few days, and I’m feeling a renewed vigor and resolve to press forward.

Overview of “I Am” Statements in John

Some of you may already know that Jesus makes seven key “I am” statements about himself in John’s gospel. They usually take the form “Ἐγω εἰμι [predicate nominative case definite article and noun] [(genitive case definite article and noun translated “of X”) or (predicate nominative case definite article with adjective) or, in the absence of the latter two, (one or more additional nominative case noun descriptions]. (Nominative case is the “subject” case in Greek; predicate nominative means it comes after the “to be” verb; genitive case implies possession or source.) In some cases, the “I am” statements are repeated in various forms. Jesus makes other “I am” or “I am not” statements in John’s gospel that I will address below, but to begin, here are the seven main “I am” statements of Jesus, giving the first occurrence of each if there are multiple similar statements (taken from Nestle-Aland Greek NT, 27th edition, with McReynold’s Interlinear):

John 6:35

Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς

egō eimi ho artos tēs zōēs

I am the bread of the life

(see also 6:41, 48, 51)

John 8:12

Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου

egō eimi to phōs tou kosmou

I am the light of the world

John 10:7

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θύρα τῶν προβάτων

egō eimi hē thyra tōn probatōn

I am the door of the sheep

(see also 10:9)

John 10:11

Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός

Egō eimi ho poimēn ho kalos

I am the shepherd the good (= “the good shepherd”)

(see also John 10:14)

John 11:25

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή

egō eimi hē anastasis kai hē zōē

I am the standing up (= “resurrection”) and the life

John 14:6

ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή

egō eimi hē hodos kai hē alētheia kai hē zōē

I am the way and the truth and the life

John 15:1

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινὴ

Egō eimi hē ampelos hē alēthinē

I am the vine the true (= “the true vine”)

(see also John 15:5).

Background

I need to mention one bit of grammatical background here: Greek verbs are “parsed” (that is, their spelling changes) depending on the “person” and “number” of the subject of the verb. As such, if the subject of the verb is a simple pronoun (first person: I, we; second person: you, y’all; third person: he, she, it, they), then Greek does not typically require an actual pronoun to accompany the verb. The subject is implied by the way the verb is spelled. So if I wanted to say “I am a sinner” in Greek, I would render it Εἰμί ἁμάρτωλος. When a pronoun is used as the subject of the verb, then it is considered emphatic. So if I said Ἐγώ εἰμί ἁμάρτωλος, I would be saying in effect, “I myself am a sinner.” So the fact that Jesus uses ἐγώ here means that he is calling attention to himself in a special way. He is not just saying, “I am hungry” or “I am thirsty.” He is making people sit up and take notice about who he really is.

The most obvious significance of Jesus making these “I am” statements is the direct connection to Exodus 3:14, where God reveals his name to Moses. In Hebrew, that name is usually rendered יְהוָ֞ה (yəh WAH, or commonly rendered in English as Yahweh /YAH way/, with the vowels corresponding to the Hebrew word for Lord, adonai, which Jews often spoke in its place because speaking the actual name Yahweh is considered taboo to them; NOTE: “Jehovah” is not a proper Hebrew or English rendering of this word). The Septuagint (LXX = Koine Greek translation of the OT) uses Ἐγω εἰμι to translate the Hebrew in Exodus 3:14, but whenever the Tetragrammaton (fancy name for the four Hebrew letters of Yahweh) appears in Hebrew, the LXX usually translates it κύριος (kyrios /KOO ree oss/ ‘lord’). In English texts, the name is printed with an initial full capital and small caps: LORD. All this background is necessary to understand that when Jesus says “I am” in these contexts, he is making theological truth claims about his very nature.

The Other “I Am” Statements

John’s gospel has ten “I am” statements apart from the ones mentioned above that usually serve as identifiers (“I am he”) in response to a question (e.g., 4:26) or that say something about his purpose or person (e.g., 13:19). The most significant of these, and one that could arguably be added to the seven statements above, is John 8:58: “Before Abraham was, I am.

John also records six “Where I am” statements of Jesus. They either say something to the effect that “Where I am, you cannot come” (7:34), but later change to a promise (14:3; “That where I am you may also be”) and a prayer (17:24). Four additional times, Jesus indicates where he is and is not from: “I am from above, I am not of this world” (8:23). He repeats the last half of that in 17:14, 16.

Conclusion and a Promise

As is usually the case, time has passed by quickly here and I am not able to start unpacking the “I am” statements this morning. However, in the days and weeks to come, I will dedicate subsequent posts to unpacking each of these “I am” statements as time allows. These statements are so crucial to John’s Christology, and they always come at the appropriate point in the text to make the greatest impact on the conscientious reader. Have a great Sunday morning in worship, and have a great week to come. Rest in the promise of Jesus from Matthew 28:20: “I am with you always.”

Peace!

Scott Stocking

This post was updated 11/8/2011 to add hyperlinks to the “I Am” Scriptures for the respective blog posts on those Scriptures.

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3 Comments »

  1. God Bless you, man. This is great, thank you for doing some great leg work for us laymen Christians. Supremely elevates who Christ is and how directly he comments about himself.

    Comment by Steven Doroff — January 3, 2012 @ 8:10 pm | Reply

    • Glad I could help out. Holidays kept me busy with my kids, so I haven’t posted anything new for awhile, but hopefully will have something by the end of the week. Peace to you, and happy new year!

      Comment by Scott Stocking — January 3, 2012 @ 11:30 pm | Reply

    • You are welcome (x2) :-)

      Comment by Scott Stocking — January 3, 2012 @ 11:31 pm | Reply


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