Jesus says, “This is why I said to you that you would die in your sins, for if you do not believe that I am he (ἐγώ εἰμι), you will die in your sins.” This is one of the more interesting conundrums I have seen in a while.
Where does the “he” come from? More importantly, who is “he.” The “I” is Jesus, but who is the “he” Jesus is referring to? Does this really make any sense? Almost all translations say “I am he,” but that doesn’t make it right.
The reason this is an interesting conundrum is because there are several things at work. We all know of the use of ἐγώ εἰμι to make reference to God’s name in Exodus 3:15 (אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה, Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν). Jesus says, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came to be, I am (ἐγὼ εἰμί)!” (John 8:58). The Jews caught the connection and tried to stone him.
Related are the “I Am” sayings that clearly are making reference to the “I Am,” such as Jesus saying “I am the bread of life (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς)” (John 6:35).
On the other side of the theological spectrum we have a verse like John 6:20 in which Jesus says to the frightened disciples, “It is I (ἐγώ εἰμι); do not be afraid.” Nothing theological here.
But our passage is somewhere in the middle. It is a theological affirmation that salvation is tied up in believing Jesus is who he says he is, and I have been wondering about a translation such as “who I am.” This actually makes sense and fits the meaning of the passage. However, it looses possible reference to the I AM name of God. But it does explain the NLT’s attempt to make sense of the passage when it says, “That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I AM who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” “I AM” is in small caps.
Translation is often a decision as to what piece of information to lose. I don’t like “I am he” because there is no antecedent for “he” and it just makes no sense.
What do you think?