It is often said that Jesus never claimed to be God. While it may be true that one cannot find a specific instance in which Jesus uses the exact words “I am God”, there are many statements made by Jesus that do reveal that He equated Himself with the God of the Old Testament. In fact, He often used certain names of God found in the Old Testament as names for Himself in order to reveal Himself as both the prophesied Messiah and the One True God.

Just as the names of God in the Old Testament relate to His nature, so do the names that Jesus uses for Himself. One such name of this sort is “I AM”, which is found in both the Old and New Testaments. When simply reading through the Bible, it can be easy to miss the meaning and significance behind this name. Also easy to overlook are the instances in which Jesus used “I am” in a way that refers specifically, and only, to God. This is especially true given the fact that the full meaning of this name can quite literally be lost in translation due to grammar differences between the original languages and our own.

In order to understand exactly what Jesus meant when He used this name for Himself, we must first understand its meaning and use by God in the Old Testament. Once we do this, we will then be able to apply this understanding to the New Testament and accurately determine Jesus’ intent and purpose in His use of this name for Himself.

 

The Meaning of “I AM” in the Hebrew Language

Jesus I AmTo fully understand the meaning of Jesus’s “I Am” statements found within the New Testament, it is important to examine the significance of the “I AM” name used by God in the Old Testament. In the book of Exodus, God speaks to Moses through a burning bush and tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and command him to let God’s people be free (Exodus 3–4). When Moses asks God what name to tell the Israelites when they ask who sent him, the Lord replies with “I AM WHO I AM… I AM has sent me to you” (3:14). This “I AM” does not hold the same meaning as the noun and verb combination in the English language, such as when one says “I am a girl” or “I am a baseball player”. In the Hebrew language, the form of the words “I AM” as used by God in this way has a much deeper meaning that cannot be applied to any other person or being.

“I AM” is a form of the verb which means “to be” in Hebrew, which relates to God’s self-existence and immutability (non-changing nature).[1] Much like how Jesus is described in the book of Hebrews as being “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8), the name “I AM” implies that God is eternal, self-sustaining, and unchanging.[2] “I AM” is also synonymous with the name Jehovah, which is further defined as “the Self-Existent One”.[3] This is the name that God uses in relation to the covenants He made with His people and implies that He will keep His promises.[4]

 

Jesus’ “I Am” Statements

Since the many variations of the “I AM” name, such as Jehovah, were used most often in God’s relations to His people through His covenants, Jesus uses the same names to convey that He is the same God who made these covenants with His people.[5] Jesus knowingly and purposefully applied the name “I AM” to Himself, referencing God’s revelation to Moses. These were extremely strong claims to divinity in relation to the One True God of the Old Testament.[6] Therefore, Jesus was quite serious in this claim and did not say it by accident or without knowing the severity of using this title for Himself. All of His “I Am” statements lead to this ultimate concept of Him being the only source of salvation and life.

1.“Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)

The Jews had many questions for Jesus throughout His earthly ministry. One question in particular that stands out among the rest arises as Jesus is discussing Abraham’s excitement over the coming of the Lord (John 8). This discussion confused the Jews and prompted them to ask Jesus how He could claim to have known Abraham since he had died long before Jesus was born. In reply, Jesus directly references Exodus 3:14 by saying “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). It was incredibly bold for Jesus to use “I am” in this way because the Jews understood that “I Am” was a name used by God alone. In this way, Jesus was claiming this name for Himself, as well as implying His eternal nature, having existed both before and after Abraham.

2. “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)Jesus I Am

In John chapter 6, Jesus is met by a crowd that asked Him for a sign so that they would know that He was the One God had sent. They tell Jesus that their ancestors before them were provided bread from heaven so that they would have something to eat in the desert. Jesus replies by stating that the real bread from heaven is the “One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world… I am the bread of life” (John 6:33, 35). He continues to explain that anyone who comes to Him will never be hungry or thirsty again (6:35). With this statement, He is using the miracle described in the Old Testament as an illustration that He is identifying Himself with the God of the Old Testament and proclaiming that He (as God) is the only One who can satisfy spiritual hunger for eternity.

3. “I am the light of the world… “I am He” (John 8:12, 24)Jesus I Am

The next “I am” statement found in the book of John is when Jesus tells the Pharisees “I am the light of the world, anyone who follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). As they continue to question and contemplate what He means by this, He furthers His point that He is God by saying “if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (8:24). With this declaration, Jesus is claiming to have the power to save people from darkness, or sin, for all eternity. This is a bold claim to divinity since only God Himself has the power to save anyone. These statements highlight that Jesus believed that there is an unquestionable need for people to believe that He is God in order to save them from sin and death.

 4. “I am the door… I am the good shepherd” (John 10:9, 11)Jesus I Am

Many are familiar with the idea of Jesus being “The Good Shepherd”, but they may not remember that this description includes His stating “I am the door” (10:9). In using the illustration of the sheep and the pasture, Jesus explains that, in order for anyone to obtain eternal life in heaven, he or she must enter through Jesus. In this way, He is stating that He is the only door, or way, to heaven. He follows this with the statement “I am the good shepherd” who “lays down His life for the sheep” (10:11), which foreshadows His death as a sacrifice to save those who should accept Him as Lord and Savior.

5. “I am the resurrection and life” (John 11:25)

Another “I am” statement from Jesus can be found in the passage regarding the death of Lazarus. Though grieving the death of her brother, Martha tells Jesus that she knows Lazarus will be resurrected at the last day (John 11:24). Jesus replies to her by saying “I am the resurrection and life” (11:25). Once again, this a bold claim for Jesus to make, since only God has the power to raise people from the dead and give them life. Such a statement indicates that Jesus believed He was God, as well as gives hope of the resurrection to all who would believe in His divinity.

6. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)

Jesus I Am

Perhaps Jesus’ boldest claim is found in John chapter 14 when He states “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). As He has previously, Jesus once again asserts that He alone has the power and authority to save a person from his or her sins and grant eternal life. This “I am” statement clearly shows that Jesus equates Himself with the God of the Old Testament who stated “I am Yahweh, and there is no other Savior but Me” (Isaiah 43:11). Jesus’s statement pairs both the “I am” name with the implication that He alone can be the Savior of humanity. If both of these can only be attributed to God Himself, Jesus clearly intends to equate Himself with God by using both of these concepts in His statement.

7. “I am the true vine” (John 15:1)

Jesus I Am

In John chapter 15, Jesus states twice “I am vine” (15:1, 5). While this statement seems a bit more indirect in relation to deity, when one examines the text further, it becomes evident that the vine is a metaphor for Jesus being the source and sustainer of life. The only true source of life is God; He is the only One who creates, sustains, and gives eternal life. Jesus claims that He is source that people must be connected to in order to have life and produce good fruit. Therefore, He is once more relating Himself to God, indicating that He believes He has equal power and authority with the Lord. This is an important observation to make, and another indication that Jesus made no mistake in His choice of words.

8. The Hidden “I Am” – “Fear not, I am” (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50)

Interestingly, there is another “I am” statement made by Jesus that is not present in most English translations of the Bible. In the book The Case for Christ, it is explained that Jesus reassured His disciples by saying “Fear not, it is I” (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50).[7] However, in the original Greek language, Jesus literally states “Fear not, I am”, which relates back to Exodus 3:14.[8] This is another undeniable example that Jesus specifically chose to equate Himself with God.

 

Reaction to Jesus’s “I Am” Statements

People at the time who heard Jesus’ claims had no doubt He was claiming to be God. The “I AM” title was an important part of the Jewish culture and was held in high reverence. There was no question both in Jesus’ mind and the minds of those Jewish doubters that He was claiming to be God. In fact, Jesus statements were considered to be highly blasphemous by those who did not follow Him (e.g. Mark 14:61-64). The unbelieving Jews understood the seriousness of His claims and tried on several occasions to hold Him responsible, which ultimately led to His death (14:64).

Those who did not believe He was God were not the only ones who understood the meaning behind Jesus’ statements, however. There were also many who recognized His statements and claims for what they were and chose to believe that He was the Lord. This group includes His disciples, such as Peter (Matthew 16:16) and Thomas (John 20:28), the Samaritans (John 4:42), and even a Roman centurion (Matthew 27:54). When one takes a deeper look at the entire text, it is evident that the people of Jesus’s time had no doubt that He claimed to be God.

 

Jesus Claimed to Be God

Though seemingly indirect at first glance, it can be concluded through detailed study that Jesus, as well as the people of His time, clearly believed that His statements were direct claims of deity. Among these statements, those that include the name “I am” are some of the boldest of all of Jesus’s claims. Through these statements, He has implied that He is the source of life, can forgive sins, offer salvation, and raise people from the dead, all of which can be done by God alone. Regardless of whether one chooses to believe that He is the Lord and Savior of his or her life, there can be no question that Jesus did in fact claim to be the One and Only True God, and any claim that He did not do so is false.

 

_________________________________________________________

Sources used in this article are not necessarily in agreement with or endorsed by the author(s) of this website, but are rather used for the sole purpose of explaining/supporting the topics with which they directly relate.

[1] George W. Knight, Names of God: More Than 250 Names and Titles of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour, 2013), 38.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Michael C. Bere, Bible Doctrines for Today, 2nd ed. (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1996), 107-108.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 107-108.

[6] Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, ©2003), 59.

[7] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, updated & expanded. ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Willow Creek Resources, 2016), 35, Kindle Edition.

[8] Ibid.

 

 

Get more in depth discussion on these topics. Sign up for our email newsletter list to not miss any, as well as receive free Bible Study tools and great Apologetics resources.