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Who is Jesus? (John 8:24)

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?

Comments

When Jesus said "It is i; do not be afraid," it seems to me that it was on the basis that Jesus is I AM that they could stop being afraid. So maybe he was saying "I AM; do not be afraid"? I don't think one of the disciples saying to the others "It is i; do not be afraid" would have the same effect.

Bill, I agree with you on the awkwardness of the translation that has been offered by almost every major English translation. The only thing that I can offer is that it appears to me to be referencing the several "I am he" statements from Isaiah 40-49. The interesting thing there is that the Septuagint also uses the Greek Evw eiui where in Isaiah, God is referencing himself usually in contrast to the idols that Israel was calling upon. My guess is that the English translators recognized this construction (God calling himself I Am in contrast to the idols) and supplied the "he" in the translation. This has probably been supplied in John's I Am statements in certain places as well. Just my guess. I agree though, I think it adds more confusion than it resolves.

Dr. M., Like you, I find the I am he translation awkward and without specification. The NLT is better in my opinion, since it gives a clear reference, that Jesus is specifically talking about his own claims as to his identity and with the small caps, at least hints at the Divine Name. It seems that your ‘who I am’ contemplation gives the sense of Jesus statement! Maybe, who I AM (small caps), would capture both the sense and theological importance. Tim

A supposed conundrum is presented here in John 8:24. Who is Jesus claiming to be… who is the “he” of I am? John 8:24 I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. John the Baptist is first to introduce us to Jesus and confirms all subsequent scripture. John 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. The anointed one, the Messiah, the Son of God is predicted and presented, always. I find it a deception to try and equate Exodus 3:15 with John 8:58 especially by trying to capitalize the “ego ami” in John 8:58 to give the impression that it is referring to the name of God or any essence of Jesus. First, it seems apparent from the context in chapter 8 that Jesus is talking about his Father in Heaven (I know where I came from 8:14) and the Jews are referring to their father Abraham. Second, the real controversy was one of timing (Thou are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham? 8:57) Jesus affirms a great theological fact about where he was from (verily, verily I say unto you before Abraham was, I am 8:58) Jesus is presenting one of many references establishing who he was and where he was from. Before Abraham, I was, or I existed. May we speak further? Respectfully submitted Juanita

Bill, I like the REB's "Popeye the Sailorman" version—cf. also v. 28!—that better approximates the OT. ( If only the NT writers had been able to use quotation marks…) 24 That is why I told you that you would die in your sins; and you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am what I am.’ 25 ‘And who are you?’ they asked him. Jesus answered, ‘What I have told you all along.* 26 I have much to say about you—and in judgement. But he who sent me speaks the truth, and what I heard from him I report to the world.’ 27 They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man you will know that I am what I am. *or, 'Why should I speak to you at all?' The Revised English Bible. (1996). (Jn 8:24–30). Cambridge; New York; Melbourne; Madrid; Cape Town; Singapore; São Paulo; Delhi; Dubai; Tokyo: Cambridge University Press.

In a deliberate and sophisticated way, when Jesus refers to himself as “I am he” in verse 24, he is referring to himself as the light of the world, pointing back to verses 12-21 of the same chapter (John 8). Jesus says to a group of Pharisees that they will die in their sins. He explains the reason they will die in their sins is that they do not believe that Jesus is the “he” of verse 12 (the light of the world, referring back to the beginning of their conversation). Being the light of the world refers back to the prophecy of Isaiah 9:2-5. The prophecy claims that a great light will arrive who is born a child and who is the mighty God, the Messiah. Since Jesus knew the Pharisees had this prophecy memorized, he knew, that they knew, that “he” was referring to himself as God in the flesh, when he made the inference to himself as the light of the world earlier, during this same conversation. When Jesus said he was the light of the world (I am he), he was not saying that he was some great luminary with a profound philosophy. Jesus was saying that He is The mighty God, The everlasting Father. Jesus was referring to the prophecy of Isaiah 9 when he said, “I am he” (I am that One, that great light of Isaiah 9, I am God). He also makes another inference several verses later in John 8:26. τοτε γνωσεσθε οτι εγω ειμι και απ εμαυτου ποιω ουδεν “then shall ye know that I am he” (during the crucifixion). I like how at the end of chapter 8 in verse 58 Jesus says: ειπεν αυτοις ο ιησους αμην αμην λεγω υμιν πριν αβρααμ γενεσθαι εγω ειμι. Translated as “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus is referring to himself as the I Am of Exodus 3:14.

There really is no linguistical reason to translate any of the ego eimi as "I AM" in all CAPS. This is a sterling example of how theology needlessly influences translation. While this is a very popular theological endeavor to try to show a link between Christ with the so called "I AM" divine name of the OT. What are the facts? First, as mentioned, I know of no linguistical reason that could be given unless it is argued that this is a title in the NT. Next, Christ does not say, "I am the I AM" or "I am the one" or "I am the being." Never in any of the ego eimi occurrences. Third, In The Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1 (APRIL 1982), pp. 163-167 the writer demonstrates how John highlights a messianic connection- John 4:26. (no doubt debatable though) C.K. Barrett says in Essays on John: "The verse [John 8.28] as a whole expresses Jesus' dependence on, and obedience to, one other than himself; it cannot identify him with the one God of the Old Testament." -(p. 70)...."Jesus' [ego eimi] is not a claim to divinity; John has other ways, both more explicit and more guarded,of making this claim.These words point to Jesus as the authorized envoy." (p.71) Whatever the reference is, it is clear Jesus did not say "I am the I AM" but the same as the man of John 9:9 said but without a direct reference. As far as any alleged connection with Exodus 3:14, the Greek LXX says,(ego eimi ho on) translated: "I am the Being" or "I am the One" or like. Brenton's English LXX says, "THE BEING." Thus God is called "The One" (ho on). (There is also question on the theological translations of Exodus 3:14 from the Hebrew too since it is imperfect in form/tense and most translate this same word ('ehyeh) as future ("will be" not "I am") just two verse before but in verse 14 render it into a present tense form.) So once again this is indeed a sterling example of theology influencing translation. See also: 'I am' in John's Gospel The Expository Times, 1996, page 302 K. L. MCKAY, MA,

I think it this is a case where the verb "to be" has a present continuous and gnomic meaning, with the sense of continuing in being - so a meaning along the lines of "if you weren't believing in my existence, you will be dying in your sins". Put in better English, that might be expressed as "The alternative to belief in my existence is your death in your sins" or perhaps even better"The consequence of non-belief in my existence is your death in your sins.". By use of nouns rather than verbs in English, it seems one can catch some of the "aspect" of what is being said. The saying would then make a lot of sense - at least to me - because what Jesus would be saying is that the (only and inevitable) alternative to belief in his continuous existence (for all time), is death in sin. I don't think the translation "who I am" is better, because that still leaves the question open as to who he is. A better contrast in this context is contrast between "never dying" and death - it is either one or the other.

Hello, I found this entry extremely interesting as I had never caught this nuance before (since it's not obvious in English) and we've been invited to a 'bible study' with some JW's. So, I used Accordance and started searching for all entries of 'ἐγώ εἰμι' in the Gospels, especially when Jesus uses the phrase. At first it looked very promising and I wondered if the phrase was an allusion to Ex. 3:14 in every instance. Then I came across John 9:9 and the blind man that Jesus had healed used the exact same expression, 'ὁτι ἐγώ εἰμι'. Now I'm wondering how can one distinguish the difference between the Greek way of saying, 'yep, that's me' and the allusion to Ex. 3:14. Thank you for taking the time to blog. I've been following off and on for short while now and really enjoy the insights. I've also been going through the USB class you put together for BBG -- love it. I really wish I had started when I was younger. I didn't know Greek could be so much fun!

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Comments

When Jesus said "It is i; do not be afraid," it seems to me that it was on the basis that Jesus is I AM that they could stop being afraid. So maybe he was saying "I AM; do not be afraid"? I don't think one of the disciples saying to the others "It is i; do not be afraid" would have the same effect.

Bill, I agree with you on the awkwardness of the translation that has been offered by almost every major English translation. The only thing that I can offer is that it appears to me to be referencing the several "I am he" statements from Isaiah 40-49. The interesting thing there is that the Septuagint also uses the Greek Evw eiui where in Isaiah, God is referencing himself usually in contrast to the idols that Israel was calling upon. My guess is that the English translators recognized this construction (God calling himself I Am in contrast to the idols) and supplied the "he" in the translation. This has probably been supplied in John's I Am statements in certain places as well. Just my guess. I agree though, I think it adds more confusion than it resolves.

Dr. M., Like you, I find the I am he translation awkward and without specification. The NLT is better in my opinion, since it gives a clear reference, that Jesus is specifically talking about his own claims as to his identity and with the small caps, at least hints at the Divine Name. It seems that your ‘who I am’ contemplation gives the sense of Jesus statement! Maybe, who I AM (small caps), would capture both the sense and theological importance. Tim

A supposed conundrum is presented here in John 8:24. Who is Jesus claiming to be… who is the “he” of I am? John 8:24 I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. John the Baptist is first to introduce us to Jesus and confirms all subsequent scripture. John 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. The anointed one, the Messiah, the Son of God is predicted and presented, always. I find it a deception to try and equate Exodus 3:15 with John 8:58 especially by trying to capitalize the “ego ami” in John 8:58 to give the impression that it is referring to the name of God or any essence of Jesus. First, it seems apparent from the context in chapter 8 that Jesus is talking about his Father in Heaven (I know where I came from 8:14) and the Jews are referring to their father Abraham. Second, the real controversy was one of timing (Thou are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham? 8:57) Jesus affirms a great theological fact about where he was from (verily, verily I say unto you before Abraham was, I am 8:58) Jesus is presenting one of many references establishing who he was and where he was from. Before Abraham, I was, or I existed. May we speak further? Respectfully submitted Juanita

Bill, I like the REB's "Popeye the Sailorman" version—cf. also v. 28!—that better approximates the OT. ( If only the NT writers had been able to use quotation marks…) 24 That is why I told you that you would die in your sins; and you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am what I am.’ 25 ‘And who are you?’ they asked him. Jesus answered, ‘What I have told you all along.* 26 I have much to say about you—and in judgement. But he who sent me speaks the truth, and what I heard from him I report to the world.’ 27 They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man you will know that I am what I am. *or, 'Why should I speak to you at all?' The Revised English Bible. (1996). (Jn 8:24–30). Cambridge; New York; Melbourne; Madrid; Cape Town; Singapore; São Paulo; Delhi; Dubai; Tokyo: Cambridge University Press.

In a deliberate and sophisticated way, when Jesus refers to himself as “I am he” in verse 24, he is referring to himself as the light of the world, pointing back to verses 12-21 of the same chapter (John 8). Jesus says to a group of Pharisees that they will die in their sins. He explains the reason they will die in their sins is that they do not believe that Jesus is the “he” of verse 12 (the light of the world, referring back to the beginning of their conversation). Being the light of the world refers back to the prophecy of Isaiah 9:2-5. The prophecy claims that a great light will arrive who is born a child and who is the mighty God, the Messiah. Since Jesus knew the Pharisees had this prophecy memorized, he knew, that they knew, that “he” was referring to himself as God in the flesh, when he made the inference to himself as the light of the world earlier, during this same conversation. When Jesus said he was the light of the world (I am he), he was not saying that he was some great luminary with a profound philosophy. Jesus was saying that He is The mighty God, The everlasting Father. Jesus was referring to the prophecy of Isaiah 9 when he said, “I am he” (I am that One, that great light of Isaiah 9, I am God). He also makes another inference several verses later in John 8:26. τοτε γνωσεσθε οτι εγω ειμι και απ εμαυτου ποιω ουδεν “then shall ye know that I am he” (during the crucifixion). I like how at the end of chapter 8 in verse 58 Jesus says: ειπεν αυτοις ο ιησους αμην αμην λεγω υμιν πριν αβρααμ γενεσθαι εγω ειμι. Translated as “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus is referring to himself as the I Am of Exodus 3:14.

There really is no linguistical reason to translate any of the ego eimi as "I AM" in all CAPS. This is a sterling example of how theology needlessly influences translation. While this is a very popular theological endeavor to try to show a link between Christ with the so called "I AM" divine name of the OT. What are the facts? First, as mentioned, I know of no linguistical reason that could be given unless it is argued that this is a title in the NT. Next, Christ does not say, "I am the I AM" or "I am the one" or "I am the being." Never in any of the ego eimi occurrences. Third, In The Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1 (APRIL 1982), pp. 163-167 the writer demonstrates how John highlights a messianic connection- John 4:26. (no doubt debatable though) C.K. Barrett says in Essays on John: "The verse [John 8.28] as a whole expresses Jesus' dependence on, and obedience to, one other than himself; it cannot identify him with the one God of the Old Testament." -(p. 70)...."Jesus' [ego eimi] is not a claim to divinity; John has other ways, both more explicit and more guarded,of making this claim.These words point to Jesus as the authorized envoy." (p.71) Whatever the reference is, it is clear Jesus did not say "I am the I AM" but the same as the man of John 9:9 said but without a direct reference. As far as any alleged connection with Exodus 3:14, the Greek LXX says,(ego eimi ho on) translated: "I am the Being" or "I am the One" or like. Brenton's English LXX says, "THE BEING." Thus God is called "The One" (ho on). (There is also question on the theological translations of Exodus 3:14 from the Hebrew too since it is imperfect in form/tense and most translate this same word ('ehyeh) as future ("will be" not "I am") just two verse before but in verse 14 render it into a present tense form.) So once again this is indeed a sterling example of theology influencing translation. See also: 'I am' in John's Gospel The Expository Times, 1996, page 302 K. L. MCKAY, MA,

I think it this is a case where the verb "to be" has a present continuous and gnomic meaning, with the sense of continuing in being - so a meaning along the lines of "if you weren't believing in my existence, you will be dying in your sins". Put in better English, that might be expressed as "The alternative to belief in my existence is your death in your sins" or perhaps even better"The consequence of non-belief in my existence is your death in your sins.". By use of nouns rather than verbs in English, it seems one can catch some of the "aspect" of what is being said. The saying would then make a lot of sense - at least to me - because what Jesus would be saying is that the (only and inevitable) alternative to belief in his continuous existence (for all time), is death in sin. I don't think the translation "who I am" is better, because that still leaves the question open as to who he is. A better contrast in this context is contrast between "never dying" and death - it is either one or the other.

Hello, I found this entry extremely interesting as I had never caught this nuance before (since it's not obvious in English) and we've been invited to a 'bible study' with some JW's. So, I used Accordance and started searching for all entries of 'ἐγώ εἰμι' in the Gospels, especially when Jesus uses the phrase. At first it looked very promising and I wondered if the phrase was an allusion to Ex. 3:14 in every instance. Then I came across John 9:9 and the blind man that Jesus had healed used the exact same expression, 'ὁτι ἐγώ εἰμι'. Now I'm wondering how can one distinguish the difference between the Greek way of saying, 'yep, that's me' and the allusion to Ex. 3:14. Thank you for taking the time to blog. I've been following off and on for short while now and really enjoy the insights. I've also been going through the USB class you put together for BBG -- love it. I really wish I had started when I was younger. I didn't know Greek could be so much fun!