Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jesus' "I Am" Passages in the Gospel of John

There are seven passages in John where Jesus uses the phrase “I am” (the Greek ego eimi) in a special way.  Although “I am” can simply be a phrase of common speech, it had “solemn and sacral use in the OT, the NT, Gnosticism, and pagan Greek religious writings” (Brown, p. 533).   In these passages, it has such a use.

The passages should be read in light of Exodus, chapter 3, where God appears to Moses in the form of the Burning Bush.   In that chapter, God describes to Moses the great mission upon which he sets Moses, that is, to liberate the children of Israel from Egypt.  (Here is another parallel of Jesus with Moses, where Christ comes to liberate the world from sin.)  Moses asks God to tell him his name, because the children of Israel will want to know.  In verse 14, God tells him, it is Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh or YHWH or “Yahweh.”[1]

In form the divine name Yahweh is either a simple indicative or a causative indicative of the verb “to be,” meaning “he is (alive, present, active)” or “he brings into being,” and the formula in which the name is disclosed (Ex. 3.14 “I am who I am”) means either “I reveal my active presence as and when I will” or “I bring to pass what I choose to bring to pass.”  [New Bible Dictionary (Third Edition) InterVarsity Press, p.  801]

Think about the significance of the implications of this name.  How would you relate it to your own life and situation?

Jesus adopts this way of referring to himself in the Gospel of John.  Scholars have identified seven passages which especially mark this way in which he identifies himself, although there are other places which arguably have this characteristic.  Those passages are:

Passage in John
How Jesus Describes Himself in  Particular
I am the bread of life
I am the light of the world
I am the gate
I am the good shepherd
I am the resurrection and the life
I am the way, the truth, and the life
I am the true vine

This is hardly how a mere "good man" would describe himself, or prophet or revolutionary.

[1] The Heb. Word Yahweh is in EVV [the English versions] usually translated “the Lord” (note the capitals) and sometimes “Jehovah”.  The latter name originated as follows.  The original Heb. Text was not vocalized, in time the “tetragrammaton” YHWH was considered too sacred to pronounce; so “donay (“my Lord”)” was substituted in reading, and the vowels of this word were combined with the consonants YHWH to give “Jehovah”, a form first attested at the start of the 12th century AD.  –from the New Bible Dictionary,pp. 420-421.

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