I AM Statements in the Gospel of John and the Divinity of Jesus – Part 1
The Purpose Behind John’s Gospel
“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” 1 This is the main purpose of John’s gospel as stated near the close of the the twentieth chapter, to establish the divinity of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, so that readers might believe in Him and be saved. He does this by equating Jesus with Jehovah, the God of the Israelites in the Old Testament; the use of the I AM statements in the Gospel of John are designed to highlight the divinity of Jesus by linking Him to the Divine Names in the Old Testament. Additionally, the use of the I AM statements in John’s gospel are often paired with one of Jesus’ miracles and tend to take place during one of Israel’s festivals, thus showing that Jesus is the LORD of the Jews.
From the gospel’s opening verses to its closing paragraphs, Jesus’ divinity is proclaimed. Nowhere is this more evident than in the I AM statements of Jesus. Throughout the gospel, Jesus is recorded making several declarative I AM statements, proclaiming His divinity and equality with Jehovah. These I AM statements, which give reference to the name of God given to Moses in the Old Testament, would have been clear statements of divinity to the Jews of Jesus’ day. This is evidenced by the fact that in the eighth chapter, when Jesus says, “most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM”2 the Jews sought to stone Him for blasphemy.
The I AM Statements in the Gospel of John
The I AM statements do not hang on their own merit however. They not only reference the names of God in the Old Testament and ascribe them to Jesus, but they are often accompanied by some divine revelation, or miracle, as in the case of the feeding of the five thousand prior to Jesus declaring, “I AM the Bread of Life.”3 gospel of John is written specifically as a theological treatise to prove the divinity of Jesus, unlike the synoptic gospels that are more historical in nature. John doesn’t strive to give a historical retelling of Jesus’ life, that had already been done by the other gospels, rather, John chooses events from Jesus’ life that best demonstrate that He is God, the Messiah foretold by the prophets, the New Moses that was prophesied in the eighteen chapter of Deuteronomy.
The Names of God
In the book of Exodus the story of Moses and the Israelites is told. Moses is a foreshadowing of Jesus, as are many Old Testament figures and events. In the third chapter of Exodus, Moses sees the burning bush and hears God’s voice telling him that he has been chosen by God to lead the Jewish people out of the land of Egypt. It is here that God first reveals His name to mankind. When Moses asks God what His name is, God’s response is, “I AM WHO I AM … Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’.”4 It is this very name, the name ‘I AM’ that Jesus ascribes to Himself in the gospel of John. By doing so, Jesus is declaring that He is God. “The word I AM, properly refers to God alone, to His existence which is without beginning or end.”5
I AM Statements and Isaiah
Another link between Jesus’ ‘I AM’ declarations and the Old Testament name of God is found in the prophecy of Isaiah.
“The high density of the I AM sayings of Jehovah found in Chapters 40-55 of Isaiah match the high density of the I AM sayings of Jesus in the gospel of John. The vast majority of these sayings are found only in Isaiah 40-55 and John because the theme of Isaiah 40-55 is the identity of Jehovah and the theme of John is the identity of Jesus. When Jesus echoes the sayings of Jehovah in Isaiah, He is clearly applying this ‘language of deity’ to Himself as Jehovah.6
The name Jehovah or YWHY is the equivalent of I AM who I AM, it means the self-existent,7 and is often translated as LORD. To state that your name is I AM who I AM is to say that ‘I exist apart from every other, I am uncreated.’ Thus God tells Moses ‘My name is self-existent, I am eternal, without beginning or end.’ When Jesus then calls Himself I AM, He is declaring that same self-existence.
Throughout the Old Testament we see variations on this name of God. To the name Jehovah we see added the attributes of God. These become names for God that further declare His divinity and power; they are similar to titles given to earthly kings that describe their character. One such name is Jehovah-Jireh, which means I AM the One who provides.8 This name can be directly linked to Jesus’ declaration that “I AM the Bread of Life.”9 It is Jesus who provides as God. In the Old Testament He provided for the physical needs of men, He now uses these same types of sustenance as images to show the spiritual nourishment that He will provide. In fact everything in the Jewish religion consisted of types and shadows hinting at the truth to come in Jesus.
The gospel of St. John clearly links Jesus to the names of God in the Old Testament. He does this both in recording the ‘I AM’ statements of Jesus and the corresponding miracles and events that back up those claims.
Series Menu: I AM Statements in the Gospel of John and the Divinity of Jesus
– Part 1: The Purpose Behind the Gospel of John, Divine Names and the I AM Statements
– Part 2: I AM the Universal Savior: I AM Declarations and the Samaritan Woman at the Well
Citations: I AM Statements in the Gospel of John
- John 20.31
- John 8:58
- John 6:35
- Exodus 3:14
- Theophylact of Ochrid, The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to John (House Springs, MO: Chrysostom Press, 2007), 149.
- Ball, David Mark, ‘I AM’ in John’s Gospel (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 202.
- Strong, James, The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words (Nashville:Thomas Nelson, 2001), 157.
- Strong, 140
- John 6:35