Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Did Jesus Claim to be God?

A Dawagandist Indirectly and Tacitly Answers Yes! Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

According to the Hebrew Bible, God revealed himself to Moses and the Israelites as the “I AM” (ehyeh), a name which comes from the same root from which we get the Tetragrammaton or the sacred name, i.e., YHWH (“Yahweh/Jehovah”), namely hayah:

“God said to Moses, ‘I Am Who I Am (ehyeh asher ehyeh). So say to the Israelites, “I Am (ehyeh) has sent me to you.”’” Exodus 3:14 Common English Bible (CEB)

The Lord Jesus also used the phrase “I AM” in contexts which clearly point to his divine identity as Yahweh.

For instance, Jesus as the “I AM” came down from the Father’s own presence in heaven to perfectly accomplish his will, and who has been in existence long before Abraham came into being – in fact, even before the world itself was created:

“He said to them, ‘You are from below; I’m from above. You are from this world; I’m not from this world. This is why I told you that you would die in your sins. If you don’t believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.’… So Jesus said to them, ‘When the Human One is lifted up, then you will know that I Am. Then you will know that I do nothing on my own, but I say just what the Father has taught me… I assure you,’ Jesus replied, ‘before Abraham was, I Am.’” John 8:23-24, 28, 58 CEB – cf. 1:1-4, 10, 14; 17:5, 24

We will have more to say regarding Jesus’ prehuman existence a little later. For now we want to highlight the fact that Christ’s statements that an individual must believe that he is the “I AM” if s/he doesn’t want to die in his/her sins directly echo what the Greek version of Isaiah 43:25 says, commonly referred to as the Septuagint (LXX):

I AM [the] I AM (ego eimi ego eimi) that blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and your sins I will not remember.” Isaiah 43:25

Here we see Yahweh declaring himself to be the “I AM” who forgives his people’s transgressions for his own sake.

Jesus even tells his disciples the things that will soon take place in order that they might believe that he is indeed the “I AM”:

“I’m not speaking about all of you. I know those whom I’ve chosen (exelexamen). But this is to fulfill the scripture, The one who eats my bread has turned against me. I’m telling you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I Am (hina pisteusete… hoti ego eimi).” John 13:18-19 CEB

Once again, Jesus’ words here are identical to what Yahweh told his people through the prophet Isaiah:

“Be my witnesses, and I [too am] a witness, says the Lord God, and my servant whom I have chosen (exelexamen): that you may know, and believe, and understand that I Am (hina… pisteusete… hoti ego eimi): before me there was no other God, and after me there shall be none.” Isaiah 43:10 LXX

It is obvious from these examples that Jesus is applying the “I AM” phrase to himself in the same way that the OT writings employed it in respect to Yahweh. 

Now in case there is any uncertainty about this fact, the following passage should erase any doubts the readers may have that Christ used the “I AM” in a divine sense, as a way of identifying himself as Yahweh the God of Israel:

Jesus knew everything that was to happen to him, so he went out and asked, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They answered, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said to them, ‘I Am.’ (Judas, his betrayer, was standing with them.) When he said, ‘I Am,’ they shrank back and fell to the ground. He asked them again, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you, ‘I Am.’ If you are looking for me, then let these people go.’” John 18:4-8 CEB

The only explanation which makes sense of the soldiers’ falling backwards to the ground is that Jesus’ reply evoked the power and sovereignty which belong to the One that happens to be the glorious “I AM” who had revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush (cf. Exodus 3:1-15).

This next example should seal the deal:

“To the angel of Thyatira write: ‘The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like fine brass, says these things: I know your works, your love, service, faith, and your patience, and that your last works are more than the first… and all the churches shall know that I am He (ego eimi) who searches the hearts and minds. I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.” Revelation 2:18-19, 23b Modern English Version (MEV)

The risen Christ refers to himself as the “I AM” in a context in which he applies the following words of Yahweh God to his own Person:

“I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his deeds.” Jeremiah 17:10 MEV

Can there be any doubt as to the reason why Christ used the “I AM” phrase to speak of his own Person, seeing how he just applied the very words of Yahweh to himself, words which highlight God’s omniscience and omnipotence, attributes which can only be ascribed to One who is absolute, essential Deity?

The following citations indicate how Yahweh feels when someone other than himself employs the “I AM” in a divine sense:

“Come down and sit in the dust, virgin daughter Babylon! Sit on the ground without a throne, daughter Chaldea! For you shall no more be called tender and delicate. Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children’—both these things shall come upon you in a moment, in one day: the loss of children and widowhood shall come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and the great power of your enchantments. You felt secure in your wickedness; you said, ‘No one sees me.’ Your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’” Isaiah 47:1, 8-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

“And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and he will make Nineveh a desolation, a dry waste like the desert. Herds shall lie down in it, every wild animal; the desert owl and the screech owl shall lodge on its capitals; the owl shall hoot at the window, the raven croak on the threshold; for its cedar work will be laid bare. Is this the exultant city that lived secure, that said to itself, ‘I am, and there is no one else’? What a desolation it has become, a lair for wild animals! Everyone who passes by it hisses and shakes the fist.” Zephaniah 2:13-15 NRSV

Yahweh God promises to destroy both the Assyrians and Babylonians for claiming to be the incomparable “I AM,” giving us a clear indication of just how zealous Yahweh is for his own name and glory, to the point that he shares neither one of them with anyone else:

“I am the Lord; that is my name; I don’t hand out my glory to others or my praise to idols.” Isaiah 42:8 CEB

“For My own sake, even for My own sake, I will do it; for how can My name be polluted? And I will not give My glory to another.” Isaiah 48:11 MEV

The foregoing makes it abundantly clear that Jesus’ “I AM” statements are meant to identify him as Yahweh Incarnate, the very God of Moses who chose to become a flesh and blood human being for the purpose of saving his people from their sins:

“‘She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus [Heb.  Yeshua, abbreviation of Yehoshuah – “Yahweh is salvation”], because he will save his people from their sins.’ Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means ‘God with us.’)” Matthew 1:21-23 CEB

Contrast what the angel told Joseph concerning Jesus with what the Psalmist says of Yahweh:

“Israel, wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God! He is the one who will redeem Israel from all its sin.” Psalm 130:7-8

Here is a breakdown of the main points:

1. “I AM” is the name which Yahweh used to identify himself to his people during the time of Moses.

2. On more than one occasion, Jesus referred to himself as the “I AM” in contexts intended to unveil his divine identity.

3. Therefore, by applying this name to himself, Jesus was essentially claiming to be Yahweh in the flesh. 

With the foregoing in perspective we are now ready to proceed to the second part of our discussion.