Jesus as EGO EIMI in John 8:48-59

Jesus as EGO EIMI in John 8:48-59

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By Stephan W. Webb

Jesus as ἐγὼ εἰμί: John 8:48-59


ἐγὼ εἰμί. I am. Two words that had the Jews picking up stones to throw at Jesus. In our modern context we are quick to recall Exodus 3:14. Certainly the Jews would have had similar thoughts as Jesus uttered the words, ‘πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί’ (before Abraham was I am). That is part, but not all, of the story. Johannine literature has a way of connecting story to story and theme to theme. The words “I am” come from the lips of Jesus multiple times in the Fourth Gospel to provide one of many themes.

Other themes are tied tightly to this passage, and it would be unfair to neglect such things. There seems to be purpose in the placement coming between the discourse on Jesus being the ‘Light of the world’ and the blind man being healed because within in this short passage the Jews do not ‘see’ or perceive. Further, it is likely a connection can be made with the statement to the Samaritan woman (4:26) of ‘I am’ as well. She recognizes Jesus as a Jew and ‘sees’ yet here He is called a Samaritan and they do not ‘see.’ In both cases there is the proclamation of ‘I am’ by Jesus. This is part of the many themes and dualisms found throughout the Fourth Gospel.[1] Other dualisms found here are life and death, honor and dishonor, and truth and liar. This is to say nothing of the accusation of Jesus being demon possessed.

Such vast amounts of material could fill a monograph, or perhaps several. Given that fact, the focus must be narrow and therefore other factors neglected. In this case focus will shift towards the zenith statement. The statement of Jesus in 8:58 appears to be the climax to all that has been said from 7:14.[2] This statement rests within the pericope of 8:48-59, therefore this will be the primary exegetical and reception history focus. Two things seem especially critical to explore before going forward to that point; a brief exploration of ἐγὼ εἰμί and a theological/narrative overview of the placement of the passage, as well as how it ties with other passages. That will lay an appropriate foundation to begin exegetical work and focus upon what it means for Jesus to make the statement ‘ἐγὼ εἰμί.’ Finally there will be a brief look at early Pentecostal reception and a reflection upon what the passage means for the church today.


ἐγὼ εἰμί is literally, and simply, ‘I am.’ The statement is used seven times with a predicate nominative in the Fourth Gospel by Jesus where he speaks of himself descriptively:[3]

  • 6:35 – I am the Bread of Life
  • 8:12 (and 9:5) – I am the light of the world[4]
  • 10:7 – I am the door of the sheep
  • 10:11 – I am the Good Shepherd
  • 11:25 – I am the Resurrection and the Life
  • 14:6 – I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life
  • 15:1 – I am the true vine


There are multiple other ‘I am’ sayings in the Fourth Gospel and whether they should be included in a particular category or not is disputed. Falling into the group listed above are the statements in 8:18 and 8:23.[5]

Other statements of ‘I am’ in the Fourth Gospel are absolute statements where grammatical connections to the rest of the sentence would make little sense.[6] It seems there are 4 passages where Jesus makes an absolute statement; 4:26, 6:20, 8:58 (and possibly 8:24, 28), and 18:6.[7] The first is in response to the Samaritan woman at the well and she believes, the next to the disciples on the lake, 8:58 is to the Jews who seek to stone Him, and the last is to the arresting soldiers and they react in fear. It is abundantly clear that simple words hold deep meaning, and again within the Fourth Gospel dualism is highlighted. 4:26 and 8:58 highlight belief and unbelief at the same words. Those same words, ἐγὼ εἰμί, calm the fear of the disciples in 6:20 evoke fear in the arresting soldiers in 18:6.[8]

The use of ‘I am’ as a/the divine name is covered thoroughly by Brown in his commentary, tracing the use throughout the LXX into New Testament and late Judaism.[9] ἐγὼ εἰμί is typically used to translate places in the LXX where the Lord declares that He is, or I am He, or simply, ‘I AM’ as in Exodus 3:14. Jesus wasn’t making an existential claim; the claim was divine. He wasn’t claiming I am, he was claiming to be “I AM.”

The divine name we often see transliterated as YHWH would have been what the Samaritan woman heard at the well, the disciples would have heard on the lake, the Jews heard at the temple, and the soldiers heard as they arrested Jesus. It was (and should still be) perhaps a declaration not just of a past God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, rather YHWH was a statement of the ‘immediate influences of persistent divine activity in the world.’[10]

From this exceedingly brief survey it is hoped to be made clearer that Jesus is making a divine statement with each ἐγὼ εἰμί claim, but in particular with the absolute statements. The absolute claim in 8:58 is of particular interest because it is set against the patriarch Abraham and framed by predicate nominative ‘I am” statements where Jesus professes ‘I am the light of the world’ (8:12 & 9:5).

The Light of the World as Inclusio

‘I am the light of the world.’ That is the what Jesus proclaims of Himself to ‘them’ in 8:12. The light of the world as light of life is tied tightly with the prologue of the Fourth Gospel. Life is the light of men in 1:4 and in 1:9 the true light is coming into the world to give light to everyone. Darkness and light is also contrasted in 3:19.[11] In 9:5 Jesus says again, ‘As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ This provides some basic questions. Who is Jesus speaking to in 8:12? What is the setting of the same proclamation in 9:5, and why is this set in a more somber tone? More importantly, how does this all work to frame the climax of Jesus’ divine proclamation in 8:58 and the subsequent attempt on his life in 8:59? I am not entirely certain all of that can be answered.

First, the narrative settings are easy enough to establish. The Greek of verse 12 opens as follows, ‘Πάλιν οὖν αὐτοῖς ἐλάλησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων’ -Then again Jesus spoke to them saying (emphasis and translation are my own). Narratively it seems clear the context is still the Feast of Tabernacles from chapter 7.[12] While Jesus is still addressing people at the temple during a feast, it is less clear if these people are a general crowd or specifically the Pharisees.[13] Narratively it seems the broader ‘Jews’ are present (see 8:48) although the Pharisees are the voice of the more general crowd. Therefore the ‘them’ to whom Jesus is speaking would appear to be the general crowd gathered for the general feast, not just the Pharisees that are speaking for the crowd.

Before moving to the setting of the last ‘I am the light of the world’ saying, a couple of points about the setting of the 8:12 (the Feast of Tabernacles) is worth attention. The feast was a time to celebrate being led out of Egypt and through the wilderness by a pillar of fire by night. It is said that during this festival there was an Illumination of the Temple ceremony the first night that provided blaze enough from four candelabra to send light ‘throughout Jerusalem.’[14] Usurping the vivid ocular imagery may be the spiritual imagery. The language and imagery of ‘following’ light is significant in the setting as this is what Israel did in the wilderness and they are again being promised life by following light.[15] Light has a rich theological connection with God in the Old Testament, and several commentators directly quoting Conzelmann from the TDNT in saying ‘Light is Yahweh in action’ make the deep connection of how light in this setting is important in representing Yahweh.[16]

On the other end of the narrative in chapter 9 Jesus is no longer in the Temple but it would seem He is still in Jerusalem. Chapter 9 opens with an abrupt ‘Καὶ παράγων’ – and passing by – which narratively ties with the end of chapter 8. Jesus is leaving the Temple, and passing by he saw a man blind from birth. There is no time given, so a connection or any sense of immediacy is not certain.[17] Thematically there is certainty in the connection with the repeated phrase ‘I am the light of the world’ in 9:5.[18] By the end of this pericope the Pharisees still do not ‘see’ just as the Jews do not ‘see’ in the selected passage. Nevertheless, working within the selected boundaries, it is clear by 9:5 that something positive is going to happen with the blind man that has not happened with the Jews at the Temple because the works of God are going to be revealed in him (v. 3).

There has been a clear movement within the text between the two identical statements. The hostility has built, Jesus has ‘hid himself and went out of the temple,’ and is now ready to reveal the works of God in a blind man whom He tells once in divine form ‘I am the light of the world.’ Four times previously Jesus will make some form of divine ‘I am’ claim to the Jews (8:12, 24, 28, 58) and yet they fail to ‘see’ the light of the world. The healing of the blind man contrasted against the Jews refusing to ‘see’ could be seen within the narrative as a point to accentuate the separation between those that believe and those that do not.[19] That the Jews do not believe is emphatic in the verses prior to 48-59 as Jesus tells them they are of their father the devil. The failure is more than visual…it is not that they have simply not seen, but they are not ‘of God’ because they do not hear. It is a holistic failure that culminates in the scene of confrontation in 8:48-59.

Jesus as Absolute γεμί

Exegesis of John 8:48-59

Verse 48 – The Jews are responding to the holistic and confrontational charge of Jesus that they are of their father the devil and not of God.[20] The response is two-fold; Jesus is demon-possessed and a Samaritan representing the sharpest polemic in the Fourth Gospel.[21] After the leveling charges against the Jews of being of their father the devil (v. 44), and not of Abraham (v. 39), they have devolved into child-like name calling.[22] The charge of being a Samaritan is unique to this place, though charges of demon possession has happened previously in 7:20. Demon possession will be charged again in this passage (v. 52) and later in 10:20.

The charge of being a Samaritan pushes one to recall the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (Ch. 4). Jesus was recognized immediately by her as a Jew, yet here He is being recognized by Jews as a Samaritan.[23] Though the exact significance of calling Jesus a Samaritan is difficult to determine,[24] it is possible that they make the charge as a way to provide distance between them and him given the difficult dealings (4:9) between Jews and Samaritans.[25] More likely is the charge, both of possession and of being a Samaritan, are simply a reflexive response to Jesus. They have not heeded the words of Christ, they have failed in their theological discourse, and now they are turning to personal arguments.[26]

Verses 49-50 – The passage is a consistent back and forth between the Jews and Jesus. The response of Jesus is rather brief and straightforward in ignoring the charge of being a Samaritan and flatly denying demon possession.[27] What is of importance here is the emphatic use of pronouns. By emphatically stating He does not have a demon, and He honors the Father then emphatically says you (referring to the Jews) dishonor me there is the inference that the Jews are also dishonoring God.[28]

Verse 51 – Though still part of the reply of Jesus to the Jews, this is eschatological promise. That the words of Jesus begin with ‘ἀμὴν ἀμὴν’ or ‘truly, truly’ it underscores the importance of what is being said, and shows another yet another offer of life to his opponents.[29] It seems clear that never tasting death is equivalent to the eternal life sayings found throughout the rest of the Fourth Gospel.[30] Though clear to the reader now, it was much less so to the hearer as Jesus spoke. The Jews took this not in an eternal sense, rather in an uninterrupted life on earth; they would literally never see a physical death.[31] They were thinking in kingdom of earth terms and Jesus was thinking in Kingdom of Heaven terms.[32] A reconciliation now would also bring about an eternal reconciliation, in other words they would not have to know eternal separation from God.[33]

Verses 52-53 – Though more exchange still occurs between Jesus and the Jews, this portion of dialogue from the Jews may be the penultimate point of this small pericope. It is clear the Jews have mistook eternal life for eternal physical life on earth and again (and more assertively) accuse Jesus of having a demon. Jesus is not the ‘I AM’ or Light of the world, he is merely human; He doesn’t compare to the beloved patriarchs and prophets.[34] Though the word choice is slightly different here as well as the circumstances, this is not the first time Jesus has offered eternal life and the patriarchs been spoken of in the discourse. In the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6 it was Jesus that mentioned the patriarchs seeing death but Him offering eternal life to Jews. In this exchange the Jews bring up the fact that the patriarchs died.[35]

The Jews do not only point out that Abraham and the prophets died, they question Jesus. The general commentary here is that the expectation is for a negative answer as they ask Jesus if He is greater than Abraham, or that it is a mocking question, and in any case ironic, for Jesus is indeed greater.[36] They ask plainly who He is claiming to be.

Several points seem to be clear thus far. First, Jesus has been accused, and denied, that He is demon possessed. Second, even though this accusation dishonors Him, and in turn dishonors the Father, He still is extending the offer for eternal life. Finally, it is equally clear the Jews are misinterpreting this to mean they will never see physical death instead of the eschatological interpretation meaning no separation from God.

There seems to be one point that seems to need additional attention before moving forward, the first portion of verse 53. The Greek text is: μὴ σὺ μείζων εἶ τοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν Ἀβραάμ, ὅστις ἀπέθανεν; καὶ οἱ προφῆται ἀπέθανον. Literally rendered this reads, ‘You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died.’ The exchange is direct discourse, so it is likely to be taken as a direct question rather than a rhetorical question. That is to say, I am not certain the Jews would have been expecting a negative answer nor is their focus entirely on ‘divine prerogative of preserving people from death’ as suggested by Kruse.[37] First, I believe the KJV rightly renders the verse, despite the now antiquated language, as ‘art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? And the prophets are dead:’ The literal translation does not take into account the wider conversation (direct discourse). Second, either translation makes clear a secondary point; the Jews appear less concerned about the divinity of Jesus and more concerned about His position in relation to Abraham (and even the prophets, though less so them). They are asking if Jesus is greater than Abraham, who is dead. Not necessarily why Abraham died, or how Jesus can keep someone from death when Abraham could not. The question is direct and pointed, are you greater than Abraham? Abraham becomes the center of the discussion for the Jews, and is part of the final words of Christ before He must depart from the temple. The attention to Abraham is picked back up in v. 57 and will show just how little attention the Jews are showing to the divine.

Verses 54-56 – Jesus again responds, ignoring at first the question of comparison to Abraham and indirectly answering that He is making Himself nothing but instead glorifying the God they claim yet do not know.[38] Liar, glory, and keeping the word appear though each are an outcropping to the central idea of knowing God. Whom you glorify is in relation to who you know, and who knows you. Likewise being a liar and keeping His word are tied with knowledge of God. Jesus has provided an antithetical view of His behavior and theirs.

After initially ignoring Abraham Jesus now brings him into full view. The way in which Abraham is thrust into the climax of the passage in v. 56 is significant. The general scholarship (commentaries) only address part of what could be in this verse. Beasley-Murray is most thorough in addressing the fact of two separate clauses in the Greek, what that could signify in Jewish thought and eschatological terms, as well as the Abraham seeing the ‘day’ of Jesus being Messianic.[39] To be clear, there are soteriological implications involved in this narrative, and this is suggested as well as Jesus is the Redeemer.[40] But there seems to be a way forward that fits better narratively that is ignored and ties what has been said with what will be said. Carson comes closest in capturing the simplistic beauty of the response but only sees part of what is being said in that ‘Jesus identifies the ultimate fulfillment of all Abraham’s hopes and joys with his own person and work.’[41]

This is the Greek and my translation following: Ἀβραὰμ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ἠγαλλιάσατο ἵνα ἴδῃ τὴν ἡμέραν τὴν ἐμήν, καὶ εἶδεν καὶ ἐχάρη – ‘Abraham your father rejoiced exceedingly in order to see my day, and he saw and he rejoiced.’ A couple of remarks before commenting are necessary. I believe the simple translation of the ἵνα clause fits best within the overall narrative and shows emphasis on why Abraham rejoiced exceedingly. It is, after all, a purpose clause to show intent or desire so Abraham was rejoicing ‘in order’ to see something. Second, given that the result is shown in the second clause, it seems the first act was more an act of rejoicing on faith. In other words, Abraham was rejoicing exceedingly, or so it appears, in order that, some desired action would come about. We may call this worship but the word is certain in meaning for rejoicing exceedingly, great joy, etc. Abraham was certain in his rejoicing beforehand because he knew he could rejoice in the end also. Nevertheless, all of that may or may not be irrelevant to the bigger picture.

The Jews are still concerned about their father Abraham. Jesus confirms that their father is indeed Abraham, contrasting the fact that His Father is God. The Jews are only concerned with death though Jesus has tried to offer life. Jesus is also subtly reminding them again (see v. 40) that not only are they not honoring/following God, but they are not even following Abraham who they claim are their father.

Intertextually it seems most clear the reference is pointing back to Genesis 22:8. Abraham rejoiced exceedingly knowing (hoping) he would not have to sacrifice his son, and ended up seeing the day God would instead sacrifice His Son. The commentaries are in almost universal agreement (on pointing back to Gen. 22) on that in some form. Narratively, that ties too strongly with 8:28 to be ignored.

Consistently Jesus’ day, or hour, is the time of His death. If we are to take the reference to Abraham in any way with the binding of Isaac and overlay that as him seeing the ‘day’ of Jesus, i.e., Jesus being the substitutionary ram that was provided that day, then we must also look back to 8:28 when Jesus said He would be lifted up. This is a clear reference to the impending crucifixion, and the place of an absolute ‘I AM’ declaration.

As a theory, if this saying is still in their mind, and there is no reason to doubt that it is, and they also have a solid knowledge of the story of Abraham and Isaac, which again there is little reason to doubt given the setting in the temple during the feast, then they were beginning to see more than the fulfillment of something in a person. What they were being confronted with was an absolute claim of divinity that unsettled their core beliefs. God was no longer other worldly, some distant obscure YHWH met in the temple by the High Priest, or just the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was confronting them to make a choice.

Verse 57 – This verse is intriguing. Michaels alone picks up on the fact the Jews see an implicit claim to preexistence though Jesus has made no such explicit claims thus far.[42] While this is true in a sense, at least within the framework of verses 48-59, if the ἐγὼ εἰμί statements in vv. 24, 28 are taken as absolute statements then preexistence may be more explicit than implicit within the greater discourse between Jesus and the Jews. The question here is more than rhetorical, they are demanding an answer.

Verses 58-59 – If any ambiguity existed previously concerning preexistence it now disappears. Jesus in an unmistakable use of the absolute ἐγὼ εἰμί ‘I AM’ divine statement exerts not only his preexistence but eternal existence.[43] If Jesus only wanted to establish the former ‘I was’ would be sufficient for preexistence, however the present tense carries the weight of eternal instead of ‘pre’ existence.[44] But what, exactly, is the claim and why does it cause issue? The easiest question to answer is Jews viewed all they have heard as blasphemy, hence them taking up stones against Jesus in v. 59.[45] The claim itself needs more attention.

As earlier noted the simple answer to ἐγὼ εἰμί is that it is a claim of divinity. A finer detail, especially in the immediate exchange of this passage, is the claim of divinity and eternal existence alongside God (vv. 49, 50, 54, 55). In trying to capture the fullness of meaning in the mind of the writer (or speaker?) Freed suggests the meaning is more, ‘Before Abraham was, I, the Christ, the Son of God, existed.’[46] The name encapsulated much more than we realize today, the name represented the person and the person here could be none other than the Messiah.[47] Jesus isn’t claiming to be God, then, rather the sense of the passage points towards a revealing of and a preexistent, eternal unity with God.[48] Salvation has again come in a revelatory statement, but it is simply too much and they take up stones…

Theological Thoughts and Other Connections

Jesus is standing in the temple offering freedom (v. 32) after two separate times of proclaiming ‘I AM’ (vv. 24, 28). The second time (v. 28) is in reference to ‘lifting up’ the Son of Man, which would seem to point back to 3:14, and ultimately Numbers 21:9. Many come to believe (v. 30) but by the end of the passage Jesus must hide Himself to keep from being stoned (v. 59). All of this occurs after what is traditionally believed to be roughly 400 years after the last book of the Old Testament. After years of silence, there is hope and a voice.

After roughly 400 years in slavery in Egypt as promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:13), hope and a voice shows up proclaiming ‘I AM’ sent him (Exodus 3:14). Many come to believe but the story tells us that only Joshua and Caleb made it to the Promised Land. Even in their wonderings and rebellion in the desert there was a bronze serpent to look upon for healing (Numbers 21:9), and Christ, knowing His day was at hand and He was to be lifted up, made a way for healing.

Perhaps the evidence is too circumstantial. I believe there are elements that connect with the passage and are worthy of consideration. Those that were brought out of Egypt consistently looked back to what they knew instead of the God leading them by a cloud and pillar of fire. The Jews seem fixated on Abraham (that which they knew) instead of the salvation, Truth, and Light standing in front of them. It is one of many aspects that could be fruitful.

One does not need to look for Old Testament connections for further fruitful endeavors, though. The Fourth Gospel is pieced in such a way that you cannot fully disconnect one piece from another. Most noticeably is how this passage mirrors and/or contrasts in some ways the passage in chapter 4. In both passages Jesus offers eternal life, is asked if He is greater than a patriarch (Jacob in 4, Abraham in 8), is misunderstood in both, and in both ends with a proclamation of ‘I AM.’ It may also be said that in both cases Jesus reveals something of the history or desires of those to whom He speaks. As a point of contrast, He is noticed as a Jew by a Samaritan, but called a Samaritan by the Jews. This is but one example of a place that may be fertile ground. As noted throughout there are many connections that bind one ‘I AM’ saying to another, and one theme builds upon the next. The Fourth Gospel portrays such a complete, complex picture of all that Jesus the Christ was, is, and will be to all mankind while maintaining the beautiful simplicity of the eternal Christ that died so that we may live.

Early Pentecostal Effective History

Early reception (pre-1920) of significance in Pentecostal periodicals is non-existent and rather sparse at any point pre-1950. Three articles were found that give mention in any context beyond just a reference.

The Weekly Evangel – The Weekly Evangel was the periodical for the Assemblies of God, USA. This periodical provides the earliest glimpse into reception of the passage as a whole as well into reception of the ‘I AM’ statements. In a printed Sunday School lesson for June 24, 1917 the topic of the week is ‘Purpose of the Gospel of John.’[49] The ‘leading thought’ for the lesson concerns eternal life, and the lesson only makes note of the ‘I AM’ statements in reference to this as well as that His words were to combat heresies. It is interesting the seven statements with predicate nominative are listed along with 8:58. The other statements in 4:26, 6:20, 8:24, 28, and 18:6 are not mentioned.

International Church of the Foursquare Gospel – The Foursquare movement offers two pieces to examine, one Sunday school exposition and one editorial piece. Both pieces are from the 1940’s.

The Sunday school exposition is titled ‘Jesus Affirms His Deity’ and is remarkable in a statement in one summary statement if not in length and depth of exposition.[50] The lesson is thorough, beginning at 8:12 with Jesus as light of the world and continuing through the end of the chapter. The lesson moves in such a way to point to Christ as the light to bring one out of darkness, or a message of salvation. The summary statement that is remarkable, and that may best sum the rejection of the Jews to the Jesus’ statement of ‘before Abraham was, I AM’ is this: ‘Men judge heaven’s light by materialistic standards rather than by God’s spiritual and absolute revelation in and through His Son.’ That is a poignant summary.

The other article from the Foursquare movement comes in 1947 in an editorial piece.[51] This mention is brief, and offers no real context. The idea here is that 8:58 and the ‘I AM’ statement of Jesus can be proof that ‘the life of the Word not at any point ended,’ or the eternal nature of Christ. The author (unnamed) is working through other points on the Word made Flesh in a very skillful way, this verse is just part of the bigger picture not a key point.

Reflection and Response

Reflection – I was sorely unprepared for the depths to which this passage took me in study, and in fact may have changed the direction of my future endeavors. To say that Jesus is the ‘I AM’ and merely equate that to Exodus 3:14 and YHWH is terribly inadequate. That connection is evident to the Old Testament revelatory encounter at the burning bush, and to places throughout Isaiah (for example see Isaiah 41:4, 43:14).[52] As I was pushed to trace the various connections it seems ‘I AM’ is more an all-encompassing term for not only time, but all that we need and need to be. It may sound trite, but it is true; if we are hungry, Jesus is the ‘I AM’ for our bread of life. If we are in darkness and need light to find our way, if we are lost, if we need the tender care of a shepherd then Jesus is the ‘I AM’ in our present situation as light of the world, way, Truth, life, and Good Shepherd. ‘I AM’ is eternal, ever-present and never out of fashion. The further along I am in my journey of academics and faith the more I see this simple truth. That is not to say the rest should be pushed aside, for there is more to be seen in this passage.

I am more and more fixated on how the Jews kept their eyes on Abraham and refused to ‘see’ their reality. Going back to v. 33 they did not recognize God as their father, but Abraham, and did not acknowledge the fact of 400 years in Egyptian slavery (or years in exile). I also see, and do not see, a Trinitarian doctrine forming. I see clearly that the Father and Jesus are not one, though they are unified in mission, however I do not see the Spirit in this small excerpt (vv. 48-59). But above all I see repeated efforts from Jesus to offer life. Through all the accusations, demands for answers, and refusals to ‘see’ He just offered Himself in all that ‘I AM’ means…His eternal nature, compassion, grace, and mercy.

Response – How should a church in today’s time respond to this text?

First, we must keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus. It is far too easy to become attracted to what once worked, our Abraham. It is ok to honor and respect tradition, but it cannot become what we worship. It is not eternal, and will not be our salvation. We must keep the word of the Word.

Second, we must never forget to continually offer Christ. When people made false accusations, Jesus offered life. When they accused Him again, He offered life. As they continued to slander Him the offer seemingly increased from just life (which would seem to be more than adequate) to the entirety of His being with ‘I AM.’ We must follow suit.

Finally, we must allow room to explore the depths of scripture. It is much like the words ‘I AM’ in the Fourth Gospel; simple yet extraordinarily deep. The message of Jesus Christ is beautiful and simple but also exceptionally deep and complex to those willing to plunge into the depths.




Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Vol. 2. The New Daily Study Bible. Louisville, KY: Edinburgh, 2001.


Beasley-Murray, George R. John. Vol. 36. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.


Brown, Raymond E. The Gospel According to John (I–XII): Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Vol. 29. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008.


Burridge, Richard A. Four Gospels, One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994, 2005.


Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991.


Freed, Edwin D. “Who or What Was Before Abraham in John 8:58.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 5, no. 17 (January 1983): 52–59.


Haenchen, Ernst, Robert Walter Funk, and Ulrich Busse. John: A Commentary on the Gospel of John. Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.


“Jesus Affirms His Deity.” Foursquare Crusader (February 1943): 21-22.


Kanagaraj, Jey J. John. Edited by Michael F. Bird and Craig Keener. Vol. 4. New Covenant Commentary Series. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013.


Kittel, Gerhard, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–.


Kitz, Anne Marie. “The Verb *yahway.” Journal of Biblical Literature 138, no. 1 (2019): 39-62.


Koester, Craig K. The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008.


Kruse, Colin G. John: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 4. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.


Metzger, Bruce Manning, United Bible Societies. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.). London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994.


Michaels, J. Ramsey. The Gospel of John. The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.


Milne, Bruce. The Message of John: Here Is Your King!: With Study Guide. The Bible Speaks Today. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.


Smith, D. Moody. The Theology of the Gospel of John. New Testament Theology. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.


“Sunday School Lesson.” The Weekly Evangel no. 193 (June 9, 1917): 11.


“Think on These Things…” The Foursquare Magazine (August 1947): 21.

[1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 22.

[2] The pericope of the adulteress (7:53-8:11) has overwhelming evidence to be unoriginal, at least to this place in the canon. The passage as whole though is regarded as a historical certainty. See: Bruce Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 187-189. That the verse is a climax to what precedes see: Craig R. Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 104.

[3] All scripture taken from ESV, or in Greek, UBS5, unless otherwise noted.

[4] This particular saying envelopes the selected passage, and the absolute saying in 8:58.

[5] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John (I–XII): Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Vol. 29, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 534. Brown provides a through discussion on the use of the ἐγὼ εἰμί statements in the Fourth Gospel. See Appendix IV, pages 533-538.

[6] Koester, The Word of Life, 104. See also Brown, The Gospel According to John, 533-538; Carson, The Gospel According to John, 22; Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 40. There is no consensus on which statements are absolute, though general agreement is found on the statement in 8:58 (central to this paper) and 18:6.

[7] It is widely disputed among commentaries as to where, exactly, the absolute statements are found. Almost universal though are the statements in 8:58 and 18:6.

[8] I have not found scholarship to explore this particular thought. I believe it to be more a theological point than Biblical Studies. Nevertheless, the contrast is remarkable. The contrast in reactions according to the recipients may be indicative of something deeper as well, but is far beyond the scope of this project.

[9] Brown, The Gospel According to John, 533-538

[10] Anne Marie Kitz, “The Verb *yahway,” Journal of Biblical Literature 138, no. 1 (2019), 62.

[11] For a more complete discussion on Jesus as Light of the world and the theme in the Fourth Gospel see: J. Ramsey Michaels,  The Gospel of John, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 476-479.

[12] Carson, The Gospel According to John, 337.

[13] Brown, The Gospel According to John, 340.

[14] William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 2 The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY: Edinburgh, 2001), 12.

[15] George R. Beasley-Murray, John. Vol. 36, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 128.

[16] Hans Georg Conzelmann, “Φῶς, Φωτίζω, Φωτισμός, Φωτεινός, Φωσφόρος, Φωστήρ, Ἐπιφαύσκω, Ἐπιφώσκω.” Edited by Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–. For the most thorough discussion on connecting ‘light’ with God in the Old Testament see Beasley-Murray’s discussion on verse 12 in: Beasley-Murray, John, 126-129. Addressed is both the visual and spiritual aspect of light.

[17] Brown, The Gospel According to John, 376.

[18] Carson, The Gospel According to John, 359.

[19] Richard A Burridge, Four Gospels, One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994, 2005), 150.

[20] Bruce Milne, The Message of John: Here Is Your King!: With Study Guide, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 134.

[21] D. Moody Smith, The Theology of the Gospel of John, New Testament Theology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 96.

[22] Michaels, The Gospel of John, 522.

[23] Ibid., 523. Both passages also contain a statement of ‘I AM’ with the Samaritan recognizing Jesus as the I AM, and a Jew (and salvation is from the Jews in that passage?). While there may be significance to this it is something that needs much more space and time to explore.

[24] Beasley-Murray, John, 136.

[25] Jey J. Kanagaraj, John, Edited by Michael F. Bird and Craig Keener, vol. 4, New Covenant Commentary Series (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013), 96.

[26] Carson, The Gospel According to John, 354.

[27] Beasley-Murray, John, 136.

[28] Michaels, Gospel of John, 524.

[29] Kruse, John, 214.

[30] Kruse, John, 214; Michaels, Gospel of John, 525.

[31] Beasley-Murray, John, 137.

[32] Brown, The Gospel According to John, 366.

[33] Milne, The Message of John, 135.

[34] Kanagaraj, John, 97.

[35] Michaels, Gospel of John, 528. As a note, the various ‘I AM’ sayings are so tightly fitted it is nearly impossible to unpack one from the other to examine a single passage. One could easily find implicit ties to all 7 nominative predicate sayings in the broader passage encompassed by the ‘I am the light of the world’ sayings. It seems there could be explicit ties to the absolute sayings in 4:26 and 18:6, as well as the predicate nominative sayings of  the inclusio for this passage of 8:12 (& 9:5), 11:25, 14:6, and 15:1.

[36] For example, see: Carson, The Gospel According to John, 356; Kruse, John, 214. Kruse also notes the connection with the Samaritan woman questioning Jesus if He is greater than Jacob, which Brown also emphasizes, Brown, The Gospel according to John, 367.

[37] Kruse, John, 214.

[38] Michaels, Gospel of John, 529.

[39] Beasley-Murray, John, 138,9. See discussion on verse 56.

[40] Ibid., 138.

[41] Carson, The Gospel According to John, 357.

[42] Michaels, Gospel of John, 532.

[43] Ernst Haenchen, Robert Walter Funk, and Ulrich Busse, John: A Commentary on the Gospel of John, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 30.

[44] Michaels, Gospel of John, 533.

[45] Beasley-Murray, John, 141.

[46] Edwin D. Freed, “Who or What Was Before Abraham in John 8:58,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 5, no. 17 (January 1983): 52.

[47] Ibid., 56.

[48] Beasley-Murray, John, 139, 140.

[49] “Sunday School Lesson,” The Weekly Evangel no. 193 (June 9, 1917): 11. All information is to this citation.

[50] “Jesus Affirms His Deity,” Foursquare Crusader (February 1943): 21, 22. This paragraph is a summation of this lesson, thus this citation stands for the paragraph as a whole.

[51] “Think on These Things…,” The Foursquare Magazine (August 1947): 21. As with the previous article, this citation stands for the paragraph.

[52] Milne, The Message of John, 136.


  • RichardAnna Boyce
    Reply June 27, 2019

    RichardAnna Boyce

    John 8:57-58 There are lots of things that Jesus could have said. In His preincarnate form He indeed met with Abraham on multiple occasions (e.g., Gen 15; 17:1-22; 18). However, Jesus doesn’t mention those incidents. Instead, He alludes to an incident in which He met with Moses: “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus is not only claiming to precede Abraham in time, but also to be Yahweh (“I AM”) who met with Moses at the burning bush (see Ex 3:14).

    Abraham believed in Jesus. Why didn’t those who claimed to be his children?

  • Reply June 29, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    RichardAnna Boyce this one is by our bro Stephan Webb and very deep and rich if I may add Wondering why the oneness debaters are not all over it already

    • Stephan Webb
      Reply June 29, 2019

      Stephan Webb

      Troy Day thank you for sharing this

    • Reply June 29, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      and thank you for allowing us – now where are the oneness arguers to pick on it and get some BIBLE

  • RichardAnna Boyce
    Reply June 29, 2019

    RichardAnna Boyce

    personally i dont believe in Oneness; but i have more in common with them than say Lordship Salvation’ IF Oneness agree saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

    • Reply June 29, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      they do? dont oneness bring strong implications on works and legalism too?

    • RichardAnna Boyce
      Reply June 29, 2019

      RichardAnna Boyce

      i dont know; if they do i would have more problems with them being LS than being Oneness.

  • Reply June 30, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    Stephan Webb how do we apply this toward oneness or Trinitarian theology

    • Stephan Webb
      Reply June 30, 2019

      Stephan Webb

      Good question…glory and honor are openly shared/given between Father and Son within the pericope of 8:48-59. In particular vs. 54 seems to make clear a distinction between the two. The difficult part is to add the Holy Spirit into the fold, though the Holy Spirit is clear enough in the 4th Gospel. 14:15-17 (which is at the end of another “I AM” statement) is explicit in showing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Trinitarian fashion

    • Stephan Webb
      Reply June 30, 2019

      Stephan Webb

      Oh…and I don’t think Jesus needs to ask himself to send himself as another helper? Just a thought…

    • Reply June 30, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      yap there you go The oneness debate is back on BUT they would say it was just his role or phase or form or shape but nOT a person – not a person at all cost

  • Reply June 30, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    Stephan Webb this is what oneness say on ANOTHER comforter

    The words, “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter,” are admittedly enigmatic. The fact that the Comforter is referred to as “another” has mistakenly be taken to show that the coming inhabiter was “another,” one other-than-Jesus. However, this idea does not arise from the text itself but rather from a failure to consider the entire passage with not only the enigmatic words but the plain words as well. The words, “but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:18) I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU COMFORT-LESS: I WILL COME TO YOU,” are plain words and give unmistakable indication that Jesus would himself be the Comforter. “I will not leave you orphans,” that is, alone, by yourselves, which they would not have been had the Comforter been truly “another,” one other-than-Jesus for this “other Comforter” would have made Jesus’ coming to them redundant. Thus, Jesus in this passages is seen to be another Comforter, who would come to abide forever with the disciples.

    and this is what I say to that
    John 14:26, the Holy Spirit is called “the Comforter.” Earlier, Jesus called the Spirit “another Comforter” (Jn. 14:16). How could he be “another Comforter” if the Holy Spirit and Jesus are the same person? If they are the same person, the Spirit could not be “another.” Note, too, that “the Father” (yet another person) “he” (personal pronoun) “will give you another Comforter;” that is, one other than I, Jesus, will give you “another Comforter.”

    If the Holy Spirit is not Jesus, is it not true that the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Jesus Christ according to Philippians 1:19?

    Yes, the Spirit “is called the Spirit of Jesus Christ,” but that does not say they are the same person. In John 14:17, the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of truth.” Are the Holy Spirit and the truth the same thing? No, the Holy Spirit revealed the truth; he was not the truth itself, but he revealed it (Jn. 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:12, 13). If calling the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” means that the Holy Spirit and Jesus are the same person, then calling the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth” would mean that the Holy Spirit and the truth are one and the same thing. If not, why not?

    John the Baptist came “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” but he was not literal, physical Elijah (Lk. 1:17; Jn. 1:21). We could say that John was “the spirit of Elijah,” but that would not mean that they were the same person. Likewise, to say that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus is not to say that they are one and the same person.

  • Philip Williams
    Reply June 30, 2019

    Philip Williams

    The spiritual effectiveness of early Pentecostals was their focus on Jesus as Savior, Sanctifier, Baptizer, Healer, and Coming King. A.G. Garr’s famous Charlotte Auditorium had a lighted iconic ‘JESUS SAVES’ sign atop its roof.

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