Jesus=God? Part 3: I AM

The name YHWH appears in the Torah as early as Gen 2:4, but the first time we read of a man asking God his name and God answering is in the third chapter of Exodus. Moses makes this inquiry and in God’s answer we receive more than just the name, but its meaning. The name YHWH indicates God is a self-existent eternal being who always was, is, and will be.

The World English Bible (WEB) translation is chosen here because it transliterates the proper name of God, written in Hebrew without vowels as YHWH, into YAHWEH: God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM,” and he said, “You shall tell the children of Israel this: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God said moreover to Moses, “You shall tell the children of Israel this, ‘YAHWEH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this is my memorial to all generations. (Ex 3:14-15 WEB) Most English translations substitute the proper name of God with some form of LORD. This is done because of the traditional respect and fear of mispronouncing God’s name. This is especially ironic since in English we translate the Greek, IESUOS, as Jesus. Many foreign words starting with a “y” sound are converted to a “j” in English and the name Jesus is no different. In his local dialect in Galilee, Jesus’ name would have been pronounced something like “Yeshua,” without pronouncing the “s” on the end added to conform to Greek linguistic requirements for a male name. This name is a variation of the Hebrew word Yehoshua, literally meaning salvation. While most English speaking people fail to realize this, the name we call Jesus is recorded in the Old Testament hundreds of times, but it is always translated as the word salvation or some form thereof.

The Greek word combination for “I AM” is used dozens of times in the New Testament. After eliminating other variations, there are close to forty “absolute emphatic” forms, almost all used by or in reference to Jesus. Often the English translations fail to capture the essence of the emphatic, I AM. For example…

Jesus says, “Take heart; it is I.” (Mt 14:27 ESV) In this passage Jesus is reassuring the disciples in the boat as he comes walking in across the waves. This phase could and probably should be rendered, “Take heart, I AM.” This same exchange is also recorded in Mk 6:50 and Jn 6:20.

Jesus warns his disciples of others who would claim divinity when he said, “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.” (Mk 13:6). The Greek does not contain “he” in “I am he.” KJV inserts the word “Christ” in place of “he” because the plain text only says “I am.” Jesus was teaching his disciples that he alone was the genuine self-existent one known by the name Yahweh. This saying of Jesus is also recorded in Lk 21:8.

The book of Luke records Jesus answering the Sanhedrin’s direct question about him being the Son of God. The exact phrasing in English is subject to some debate as seen by the variety of English translations:

And He said to them, “Yes, I am.” (Lk 21:70 NASB)

And he said unto them, Ye say that I am. (Lk 21:70 KJV)

And he said to them, “You say that I am.” (Lk 21:70 ESV)

He said to them, “You say it, because I am.” (Lk 21:70 WEB)

So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.” (Lk 21:70 NKJV)

In each translation of Lk 21:70 quoted above the reader can see Jesus was agreeing with the accusers, although some translations are more direct than others in affirming it. For example, the NKJV inserts “rightly” to indicate the implication of the Greek verb affirmative. In this one passage Jesus declares before Israel both that he is the Son of God and is the self-existing I AM. There was no doubt in the minds of the Sanhedrin who Jesus claimed to be and it was either a truth they could not handle or a blaspheme worthy of execution. The ultimate punishment was required and with Pilate’s help, it was given. Aside from the theological implications, for the believer it should be noted that upon confession that Jesus was the Son of God, he was sent to his death. If we follow Jesus and confess him as Son of God we place ourselves under similar condemnation by the world. This is not a claim to be made lightly.

While Jesus was being questioned by some Jews at the Temple, at one point Jesus responded to one of their inane questions quipping, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (Jn 8:58 ESV) In perfect agreement with the other gospels, John also boldly proclaims the divinity of Jesus by stating bluntly that Jesus is I AM. To the woman at the well Jesus refers to himself as I AM (Jn 4:26). Jesus again identified himself this way with the disciples when he predicted his death (Jn 13:19) so that they would believe his words and his identity. John again records where Jesus proclaims himself I AM in the garden when Judas brings the guards to arrest him (Jn 18:5-8, three times).

Luke later records what Jesus says to Paul on the road to Damascus including the emphatic form of “I am” associated with “Jesus”: And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Ac 9:5 ESV)

About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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3 Responses to Jesus=God? Part 3: I AM

  1. Todd Beal says:

    Lance, this reiterates some of your previous posts in which you stress that salvation is a person, not merely an event: the name Jesus literally means “salvation”. I appreciate your straightforward explanation of how to extract the meaning of God’s name, linguistically.

  2. Lance Ponder says:

    Thanks, Todd. Yes, this is why one of my favorite sayings is that salvation is a person, not an event. It is a life we live – a gift and a purpose. It is so much more than a prayer and a hope or an ethereal kingdom yet to be realized. Jesus lives now and when we genuinely believe we are renewed, changed, and begin living this life in a kingdom already established with a purpose in the present as well as a hope for the future. The Spirit is a deposit, not to be buried, but to be invested – life is to be lived, not stored up for later.

    • Todd Beal says:

      I will go even further by saying that salvation is the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit is God; he is Jesus.  So to believe in Jesus, our salvation, is to simultaneously receive eternal life, which also makes our creator – a real live being – literally exist within us.  Wow, if that doesn’t get you pumped!

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