"I Am" (ἐγώ εἰμι) in John 18:5 (Mondays with Mounce 199)
The ἐγώ εἰμι sayings in the gospel of
John are famous. The phrase occurs 21 times. Jesus says that "I am" the
Bread of Life (6:20, 35, 41, 48, 51), the Light of the World (8:12), the Gate
(10:7, 9), the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14), the Resurrection and the Life
(11:25), the Way (14:6), and the True Vine (15:1, 5).
are significant in that they are a reflection of the divine name in Exodus
3:14, where the God of the burning bush answers Moses' question about his name.
In the LXX we read, Ἐγώ
εἰμι ὁ ὤν,
"I am who I am" (ESV).
most clearly surfaces in John 8:55, "Jesus said to them, 'I tell you the
solemn truth, before Abraham came to be, I am!'” (πρὶν
on the other side of the spectrum we see ἐγώ εἰμι used without any
reference to God's name. When Jesus identifies himself as the Messiah to the
Samaritan woman he says, "I, the one speaking to you, am he (ἐγώ εἰμι)”
(4:26). When Jesus comes walking on the water he says to the disciples, “It is
I; do not be afraid (ἐγώ εἰμι· μὴ
φοβεῖσθε)” (see also 8:18; 13:19). Even the man born
blind can say, “I am the man (ἐγώ εἰμι)" (9:9). And yet
given John's affection for deeper meanings, one wonders if Exodus 3:14 isn't
floating in the back of his mind even in these passages.
then there are the in-between verses, where it is not clear if Jesus is simply
identifying himself, or if he is making a veiled reference to the
Tetragrammaton. For example, "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” (8:24). "When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will know that I am he" (8:28; cf. 18:5, 6, 8).
is a good example of how a phrase can have a range of meaning, just like words,
and you need to be aware of its range. And you have to be aware of the personal
tendencies of the writer.
is Jesus referencing God's name in 18:5? I doubt it. There is nothing in the
context that suggests this. But what about 8:24 and 28? My guess is, from the
coming clear reference in v 55, that there is a veiled reference to Exodus 3.
the point here is that phrases, like words, have a semantic range, and we need
to know the range before we can interpret.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.
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