Thursday, December 1, 2011

"I AM" in John's Gospel

In John's gospel there are several uses of the words "I am" that are unpredicated. Meaning all that is said is "I am." This stands out slightly from statements like "I am the good shepherd" or "I am the door" although all of them fit together as part of a theme in John.

Over on his blog, J. R. Daniel Kirk proposes that the unpredicted "I am" may not be a reference to Exodus 3:14. He writes:

There are a couple of problems with this reading. First, it is not entirely clear that “I am” is a better reading than “I will be.”
But what would someone think who had read and heard the passage from the Greek Old Testament?
God says to Moses, “I am the one who is”: ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν. So there’s an apparent argument in favor of reading the “I am” statements, ἐγώ εἰμι…, as allusions to Exodus 3:14.
But this brings us to the second, and more significant problem with the common assumption.
When God then goes on to give Moses the name to speak to the Israelites, he does not use “I am,” ἐγώ εἰμι, in the Greek (LXX) but instead, “the one who is,” ὁ ὤν: “Tell them that the one who is, ὁ ὤν, has sent you.”
So when Jesus says, “I am _____,” what’s he saying? He’s making important claims about his identity and the function he performs in the story of Israel.
But is he claiming to speak to his people as the YHWH who spoke to Moses? Maybe not.
Here is the comment that I left:

What about David Mark Ball’s study “”I am” in John’s Gospel: literary function, background and theological implications” that argues pretty convincingly in my view that the major background to the unpredicated ‘I Am’ is deutero-Isaiah use of ‘I am He’ [אֲנִי הוּא] which in the LXX is regularly translated “ἐγὼ εἰμί”. 
If I remember correctly [hope I got the reference right, I'm not at my office], he argues that Isaiah itself uses the “I am he” as an echo of Exodus 3:14. 
It seems to me that Jesus is claiming to be YHWH by echoing His name as used in deutero-Isaiah which was pregnant with eschatological expectations of what YHWH would do in the fullness of redemptive history. In this light, the ‘coded’ references to Jesus’ deity in the unpredicated “ἐγὼ εἰμί ‘s of John seem not only to stand but are strengthened 
The unpredicated “I am’s” of John’s Gospel might not directly (as in 1 step) go back to Exodus 3:14, but it seems that at worst they are only two links removed: John’s Gospel to Isaiah to Exodus.
By deutero-Isaiah, I am not endorsing dual authorship (or more) of Isaiah but just the section 40-66 which clear takes on distinct themes.

While we shouldn't jump from John's Gospel to Exodus 3:14 in a manner that is artificial, it seems to me the thematic connection to Isaiah is the best linkage. The connection, as Ball argues, is not merely on the word level but on a thematic level as well.

It seems clear to me from John's text that this one of the clues to Jesus' identity and his divinity. Of course, these unpredicated uses of the "I AM" do not bear all the weight rather they are one brush stroke in a whole painting that pictures Jesus as the Son of God, bearer of the divine identity of YHWH and co-equal in power and glory with the Father.

1 comment:

June said...

I have never Blogged .and don't know if I am doing this correctly.I have read what is written here, Pastor .With the brush stroke of his being part of the divinity of equal part of one .This would be a painting ,my right brain ,would hope to put to canvas .It is the way I best show my love of all divine ,3 in 1.My gift from thee .June

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...