What is the Significance of the Phrase, “I AM?”

by Jeff Dominguez

Before we study the seven “I AM” statements of Jesus, we need to look first into the background of the phrase, “I AM.”

In our daily communication, we use the phrase “I AM” very commonly. In fact, this is a very basic English phrase. However, that is not the case for the Jews. For them, this phrase is of utmost importance. To further understand why, let’s revisit some very significant events in the Bible. The first one is when Jesus got in trouble with the Pharisees for using this phrase.

In John chapter 8, Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees argued over the concept of being the descendants of Abraham. First, Jesus made a claim that He is the Son of God (v16), and that He will set them free (v32), and He can help them escape death (v51). To this the Scribes and Pharisees responded in anger and disbelief. According to them, they are “Offspring of Abraham.” Since Abraham was a free man, there is nothing to free them from (v33). But the argument reached its climax when they questioned Jesus about His claim over death. Since Abraham died, how can He, a mere man in their sight, overcome death?

“The Jews said to Him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”

Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’But you have not known Him. I know Him. If I were to say that I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and I keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to Him, “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, I AM.” 
So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” – (v52-59)

From this passage, it is interesting to note that after Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” the Scribes and Pharisees started to throw stones at Him. Now, this is not a simple matter of losing temper. The Scribes and Pharisees threw stones at Jesus because what Jesus said was very significant. When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” He is not saying that He existed before Abraham. Because if that is what He meant, then grammatically, He should have said, “Before Abraham was, I WAS.” But because He used the phrase, “I AM,” what Jesus basically said was He was God, and by that He exists eternally (therefore, before Abraham indeed).

Now, how did the phrase “I AM” became a claim to deity?

First of all, yes, the phrase “I AM” is equated to God in the Jewish context. This originated from one of the most important moments in Jewish history: when God appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush.

This moment is very important in Jewish history for this is when God commissioned Moses to release the Israelites from the slavery of Pharaoh. But aside from that, this moment is also important for this is the moment when God revealed His Holy Name. When Moses asked His name, God said:

“Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel 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 said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:13-14

There, that is God’s name.

In the original Hebrew text of Exodus, “I AM” is translated as “YHWH.” But in the Greek text in which John is written, “I AM” is translated as “EGO EIMI.” This translation is a direct reference to YHWH. That is why when Jesus used this phrase to identify Himself, the Scribes and Pharisees immediately understood that He was claiming to be God. And since they do not believe Him, they saw this action as a form of blasphemy upon which the punishment is death by stoning (Leviticus 24:13-16).

However, the real question is this: WAS JESUS REALLY BLASPHEMING? OR WAS HE TELLING THE TRUTH?

According to John, the purpose why he wrote his gospel is that the readers: “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [they] may have life in His name” (John 20:31). In short, John is trying to prove that Jesus is truly the Son of God. He is indeed “I AM.”

This is the significance of the phrase, “I AM;” And the 7 “I AM” statements of Jesus is a form of elaboration. The 7 “I AM” statements enables us to know Jesus more and His ministry to us. How exciting to learn all of these!

So if you are ready, we are inviting you in this beautiful journey of getting to know Jesus more.

God Bless!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: