The Great I AM Debate

Apr 26, 2015 | General |

This discussion has not yet been rewritten or presented in the updated multi-part format.  That will occur as God wills to provide me the time and energy to do so.

To grasp further insight into the use of the phrase “I am”, please read the article which discusses John 8:58, in which Yeshua states, “Before Abraham was, I am”.

One of the most common “proofs” put forth by those that that believe Yeshua is God is with respect to the phrase “I am”. The verses relevant to this discussion are shown below.

Exodus 3:13-16
13 And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? 14 And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. 15 And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations. 16 Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt:
The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769.

Mark 14:62
62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769.

John 18:5,6
5 They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. 6 As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.
The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769.

Traditional Christian leaders use these verses and others from the New Testament where Yeshua stated the simple phrase “I am” to “prove” he is God.  In fact he seems to me to be simply responding to a question – a simple, direct answer to a simple direct question – or making simple statements.  His simple responses are grabbed by Trinitarians starving for any shred of “proof” for their weak claims and, thus, becomes part of the debate in THE most fundamental issue in all of religion. Traditional Christianity sees “I am” as some sort of “code phrase” that proves Yeshua’s deity.

My primary opposition to the standard Christian claim that Yeshua was declaring himself to be God is that I sincerely feel his words were nothing more than simple responses or statements.  However, I will attempt to address the hypothetical assumption (and it IS ONLY an assumption) that his response carried more meaning.  It must be realize, however, that the standard Christian position is pure speculation.  There is no possible way anyone can ever “prove” Yeshua’s words meant what so many claim they mean.  My point is that it is IMPOSSIBLE for Christian pastors or counterfeit Messianic and Nazarene rabbis to “prove” Yeshua was declaring himself to be God regardless as to whether or not you agree with the opinion I will share.  Therefore, even IF “I AM” is a divine name, it proves nothing regarding Yeshua’s response to a simple question.

Since the issue ultimately involves the preexistence question, it is useful for you to read or listen to the article regarding the meaning of preexistence in the Hebraic world view – the world view of ALL authors of Scripture.

First, I did a word search in the King James Version of the Bible for every single occurrence of the phrase “I am”. This phrase occurs 742 times, and the results are shown here.  Please don’t expect me to review each instance of this phrase.  I suspect you are readily able to see this phrase is not some “code phrase” to denote deity.  The haste shown by Trinitarians to grab a couple of the 742 uses of the phrase and to state that this “proves” Yeshua to be God is sadly typical of their desperation.

Now to address the actual phrase “I am” I will reference the Torah.  To support their claim Trinitarian theologians use Exodus 3:14, which they say shows the “name” of God is “I AM”.  However, is seems to me that if normal grammatical rules are used one can easily see that the “name” which Elohim told Moses “is my name for ever…my memorial…” is NOT “I AM” but is YHVH God)!  How do I know this?  Allow me to explain.

First, by extracting only Ex. 3:14 from Scripture Trinitarians confuse the actual “name” and depart from the clear context.  Also, the true “name” is somewhat veiled by translating the tetragrammaton (YHVH) into “LORD” in many translations.  Please note again the verses, except this time pay particular attention to the verse immediately following vs. 14.  To make it even more understandable I will replace the word for “LORD” with its actual Hebrew word, YHVH.

14 And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. 15 And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, YHVH God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations. KJV

The critical verse is vs. 15.  To further clarify the verses I will quote from three other translations then discuss various aspects of the translation that leads to the misunderstanding promoted by Trinitarians.

Exodus 3:14-16
14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”15 And God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD (YHVH), 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-name to all generations. 16 “Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The LORD (YHVH), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.’
The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977.

Exodus 3:14-16
14 And God said to Moses, “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.” He continued, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites, ‘Ehyeh sent me to you.'” 15 And God said further to Moses, “Thus shall you speak to the Israelites: The Lord (YHVH), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: This shall be My name forever, This My appellation for all eternity. 16 “Go and assemble the elders of Israel and say to them: the Lord (YHVH), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has appeared to me and said, ‘I have taken note of you and of what is being done to you in Egypt,
Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures, (Philadelphia, Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society) 1985.

Shemos (Exodus) 3:14-16
14 HASHEM answered Moses, “I Shall Be AS I Shall Be.” And He said, “So shall your say to the Children of Israel, ‘I Shall Be has sent me to your.'” 15 God Said further to Moses, “So shall your say to the Children of Israel, ‘HASHEM the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has dispatched me to you. This is My Name forever, and this is My remembrance from generation to generation.’ 16 Go and gather the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘HASHEM, the God of your forefathers, has appeared to me, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, “I have surely remembered you and what is done to you in Egypt.”‘
The Stone Edition Tanakh, The Torah/Prophets/Writings, 1996, MESORAH PUBLICATIONS, Ltd.

I realize there are lots of renderings shown; however, I hope to simplify the picture. First, note the punctuation.  Despite what some may think, the Hebrew originals had no punctuation; therefore, it was added at the discretion of the translators.  Let’s focus on verse 15 again, particularly the phrase:

“The LORD (YHVH) God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you:” (KJV)

Note how in the KJV there is no punctuation between “LORD” and “God”; however, note how the other versions render this same phrase:

“The LORD (YHVH), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” (NASB)

The LORD (YHVH), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: (JPS Tanakh)

HASHEM the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has dispatched me to you. Stone Edition Tanakh

Though it appears subtle, the reader of the KJV may potentially miss the “name” that is clearly revealed in the other translations because of the failure of the KJV translators to place a comma between “LORD” (YHVH) and “God”.  The way the KJV translates it is nebulous, since the term “LORD God” is assumed by many to be a title, not a name.  This assumption causes such people to miss the true name that is being revealed. Reading the NASB, or the JPS and Stone Tanakh one can clearly see Moses is told that “YHVH, THE GOD OF your fathers…” which unambiguously shows the name of God is YHVH!  Verse 16 further strengthens this point but suffers the same translation problem in the KJV as verse 15.  However, as with verse 15, the other translations more correctly render it and, thus, show the actual name to be YHVH.

The Stone Edition uses the term “HASHEM” (literally. – “The Name”) because of the great reverence given to the unmentionable “name” of God.  For fear of using “The Name” in vain, Orthodox Jews refer to God as “HaShem”. Obviously, their use of HASHEM indicates what they consider “The Name” to be in the previous verses.

Finally, if this still doesn’t convince you, allow me to quote another verse that appears to prove my opinion to be correct.  In this particular verse even discretionary placement of punctuation or creative translation by biased translators can’t conceal the clear “name” that is intended.

Exodus 6:2,3
2 And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD: 3 And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH (YHVH) was I not known to them.
The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769.

Exodus 6:2,3
2 God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD; 3 and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD (YHVH), I did not make Myself known to them.
The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977.

Exodus 6:2,3
2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord. 3 I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name hwhy (YHVH).
Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures, (Philadelphia, Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society) 1985.

So, here in Exodus 6:2,3 we have irrefutable proof that the name of God is YHVH (LORD).  The KJV mistakenly uses the term Jehovah, which is known to be wrong despite the wishes of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  (The “J” wasn’t even part of the English alphabet until the 16th century, and prior to that the “I” or “Y” used instead was pronounced as a “Y”.)  Thus, the Living God has supplied us with proof to counter the “proofs” of the Trinitarians.  It should also be noted that because of reverence for the “name”, the JPS Tanakh presents it in Ex. 6:3 in its original Hebrew.  For those that can’t see Hebrew on your browser I placed “YHVH” beside it.

If you still have doubts, further proof is the use of “YHVH” thousands of times in the Tanakh (6,519 times!).  You do not see this because it is almost always translated as “LORD”.  IF “I AM” is His name, why is it never used as His name anywhere else in Scripture?  The fact that YHVH is so often used proves that is His “name”.  Of course, Ex. 6:3 proves it anyway.

This is what I mean when I express to you my frustration at how Christians do such violence to the Scriptures in their attempt to prove the “mystery” of the Trinity or divinity of Yeshua.  The “I am” argument put forth by most Christians as “proof” of Messiah’s deity is a clear example of both speculative assumption and scriptural gymnastics on the part of Christian teachers.

This issue also illustrates the absolute necessity to ALWAYS refer to the Hebrew Scriptures when they are referenced in the New Testament and to check the accuracy of the translation from the actual Hebrew. Remember that ALL authors of the Bible were Hebrews that spoke and thought Hebrew.  Sadly, very few Christians ever check the actual Hebrew Scriptures being quoted in the New Testament.

The need for alternate translations is also shown here.  Personally, due to its wealth of notes and information regarding alternate renderings, I prefer the New American Standard Version.  I realize there are many KJV-Only people that seem to feel God spoke “the King’s English” and that the KJV is the “pure” Word.  Though I do feel the KJV is a good translation, I won’t waste my time with the extreme views of KJV-Onlyism.  Translations are prone to mistakes, and it is a waste of time to argue with fiercely biased individuals over such an outrageous issue.  Be warned with what you see on the KJV-Only web sites.  They are notorious for falsely representing truth to suit their fanatical embrace of a “translation” as the “pure” Word and are among the most hostile towards interpreting from the Hebraic world view.  I DO use as my primary Bible the KJV, but ONLY because it has more study tools available for it than any other version.  If I had no tools and was stuck with only an English translation, my choice would be the NASB.  I point out some suggested study tools in my Recommended Reading section.

So, there you have it.  Yeshua responded to a simple question with “I am” and did NOT intend it to imply he was God.  By extracting Ex. 3:14 from its context, Trinitarians deceptively conceal the actual name of God.  The key is in Exodus 3:15,16, which the Trinitarians conveniently forget, AND Exodus 6:3.  By referencing them along with the fact the actual “name” (YHVH) is used 6,519 times elsewhere in the Tanakh, one cannot escape the clear conclusion that YHVH (not “I am”) is the “name” of God.

I have provided a discussion which follows that discusses this from a different perspective.  It is from a site that is unfortunately no longer active.




From what used to be “The Everlasting Good News of Yahweh” website

These words, spoken by our Savior in Jn.8:58, have led to much controversy and confusion. Some use this verse to prove the Messiah’s pre-existence. Others use it to prove the trinity doctrine. And then there are those who use it to prove Yeshua is the great “I AM” of Ex.3:14.

The phrase “I am” is “ego eimi” in Greek. Since the Greek New Testament records Yeshua using “ego eimi” many times, Christian theologians term these sayings, “The I Am’s of Jesus.” It is believed that each of these occurrences implies Yeshua’s identity as the “I AM” of Ex.3:14. Can this be true? Can our Savior, the Son of Yahweh, actually be the “I AM”?

Ex.3:14-15 reads, “And Elohim said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And Elohim said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, Yahweh, Elohim of your fathers, the Elohim of Abraham, the Elohim of Isaac, and the Elohim of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.” Therefore, the “I AM” is identified as “Yahweh.”

And what does Yahweh say in Ps.2:7? “I will declare the decree: Yahweh hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” Yahweh is the Father of Yeshua. Yeshua is the Son of Yahweh. Yeshua is not Yahweh and the Son is not the Father. Therefore, Yeshua (the Son of Yahweh) cannot be the I AM (Yahweh). That alone should be sufficient to discredit the belief that Yeshua was claiming to be the “I AM.” But let’s look into the matter a little farther.

It is believed that Jn.8:59 further supports the position that Yeshua is the “I AM.” Why else would the Jews try to stone him? He obviously blasphemed in the eyes of the Jews, a stoneable offense. Or did he? Is the mere utterance of “ego eimi” a blasphemy? Does the use of “ego eimi” automatically identify the speaker as Yahweh, the I AM?

Several individuals aside from Yeshua used “ego eimi” as well. In Lu.1:19, the angel Gabriel said, “Ego eimi Gabriel.” In Jn.9:9, the blind man whose sight was restored by Yeshua said, “Ego eimi.” In Acts 10:21, Peter said, “Behold, ego eimi (I am) he whom ye seek.” Obviously, the mere use of “ego eimi” does not equate one to the “I Am” of Ex.3:14. But perhaps the Savior’s use of it was somehow different. After all, he came down from heaven.

If, in fact, Yeshua spoke Greek to the Jews (which I doubt), he used the phrase “ego eimi” at least twenty times, and yet, in only one instance did the Jews seek to stone him (Jn.8:58). Yeshua said, “I am the bread of life” to a large crowd in Jn.6:35 & 48, yet no one opposed him. In verse 41, the Jews murmured because he said, “I am (ego eimi) the bread which came down from heaven.” But in verse 42, the Jews questioned only the phrase, “I came down from heaven” and ignored “ego eimi.” The same is true of verses 51 & 52.

In Jn.8:12, 18, 24, & 28, Yeshua used “ego eimi” with Pharisees present (vs.13) and yet, no stoning. He, again, used it four times in Jn.10:7, 9, 11, & 14 with no stoning. Yeshua said to his disciples, “…that…ye may believe that I am (ego eimi)” in Jn.13:19 without them batting an eye.

An interesting account occurs in Jn.18 when the Jews came to arrest Yeshua in the Garden of Gethsemane. When the chief priests and Pharisees said they were seeking Yeshua of Nazareth, Yeshua said to them, “Ego eimi.” At that they fell backward to the ground. It is not made clear why they fell to the ground, but what followed will make it clear that Yeshua was not claiming to be the “I AM.”

After Yeshua’s arrest, the Jews took him to Annas first (vs.13). Then they took him to Caiaphas (vs.24) and eventually to Pilate (vss.28,29). A parallel account is found in Mt.26:57-68. Notice, in particular, verse 59. The same men that had fallen backward to the ground were in attendance when the council sought false witnesses against Yeshua to put him to death. Verse 60 says they couldn’t find any. Eventually two came forward. Interestingly, they didn’t bear false witness about what Yeshua said in Jn.8:58, but about his reference to destroying the temple and building it again in three days. Where were all those witnesses from Jn.8:58?

The point about Mt.26 is, why would false witnesses be sought if they had true witnesses in attendance? The arresting officers heard Yeshua say “Ego eimi.” They could have stoned him right there in the garden for blasphemy, but they didn’t. They could have reported the supposed blasphemy to the council, but they didn’t. Why not? Because it wasn’t blasphemy, nor was it a stoneable offense. He was merely identifying himself as Yeshua of Nazareth.

This brings us back to Jn.8:58. Why did the Jews seek to stone him on that occasion? The context of Jn.8 shows that Yeshua;

1) accused the Jews of “judging after the flesh” (vs.15).
2) said they would die in their sins (vss.21,24).
3) implied they were in bondage (vss.32,33).
4) said they were servants of sin (vs.34).
5) said they were out to kill him (vss. 37,40).
6) implied they were spiritually deaf (vs.43,47).
7) said their father was the devil (vs.44).
8) said they were not of Elohim (vs.47).
9) accused them of dishonoring him (vs.49).
10) accused them of not knowing Yahweh (vs.55).
11) accused them of lying (vs.55).

Aside from that, the Jews misunderstood Yeshua’s words leading them to believe;

1) that he accused them of being born of fornication (vs.41).
2) Yeshua had a devil (vs.52).
3) that he was exalting himself above Abraham (vs.53).
4) that he saw Abraham (vs.56).

Yeshua’s words in verse 58 were the culmination of an encounter that was so offensive to the Jews that they couldn’t restrain themselves anymore. They simply couldn’t take it anymore so they sought to stone him, not because of two simple words, “ego eimi,” but because he was making himself out to be greater than their beloved father Abraham. They sought to stone him illegally.

So what does Jn.8:58 really mean? Although I do not believe we can be certain what Yeshua meant due to a variety of reasons, one being the absence of this passage as it appeared in John’s original writing, I offer the following explanation.

Let’s look at the context of Yeshua’s statement. It begins in verse 51 with the thought of eternal life; “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” The Jews thought since Abraham and the prophets were dead, Yeshua must have a devil. The context is eternal life. Then in verse 56 Yeshua says Abraham “rejoiced to see my day.” He did not say he saw Abraham as the Jews misunderstood. How did Abraham see Yeshua’s day? Heb.11:13 says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” He saw Yeshua’s day by faith.

Yeshua then resumed the context of his initial conversation by saying, “Before Abraham was, I am.” “Was” is from the Greek “ginomai” meaning, “to come into being, … to arise.” What Yeshua actually meant was, “Before Abraham comes into being (at his resurrection unto eternal life), I will.” Confirmation of this understanding comes to us from Figures of Speech Used in the Bible by E.W. Bullinger, pgs. 521,522. Under the heading “Heterosis (Of Tenses),” subheading “The Present for the Future,” hewrites, “This is put when the design is to show that some thing will certainly come to pass, and is spoken of as though it were already present.” He then lists some examples such as Mt.3:10b, “therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is [shall be] hewn down;” and Mk.9:31a, “For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is [shall be] delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.” Included among this list of examples of Heterosis is Jn.8:58. In other words, although properly written, “Before Abraham comes to be, I am,” with “I am” in the simple present tense, the meaning points to the future, “Before Abraham comes to be, I will.”

Some people believe this verse should be translated, “Before Abraham existed, I existed.” However, neither Greek verb is in the perfect tense (past tense). “Was” is in the aorist tense and “am” is in the present tense. Let’s look a little closer at “was.” Concerning the aorist tense, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament by Dana and Mantey says, “It has time relations only in the indicative, where it is past and hence augmented.” The verb ginomai (was) is in the infinitive, not the indicative. Therefore it should not be translated in the past tense. This same reference says of the infinitive, “The aorist infinitive denotes that which is eventual or particular, …” Abraham will eventually resurrect which is why the Greek uses the aorist infinitive. The meaning is, “Before Abraham comes to be” not “Before Abraham was (or existed).”

In conclusion, Yeshua was not declaring that he is the great “I AM” of Ex.3:14. Yeshua was not declaring himself to be Yahweh. And Yeshua was not declaring his pre-existence. He is the Son of Yahweh and the Son of the great “I Am.”

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