Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Did Jesus Claim to be God?

A Dawagandist Indirectly and Tacitly Answers Yes! Pt. 3a

Sam Shamoun

We resume our analysis of Ally’s denial that Jesus’ “I AM” sayings provide conclusive evidence that Christ clearly and explicitly claimed to be Yahweh God Almighty in the flesh, contrary to the oft-repeated Muslim assertion that he never did so.

Here is what Ally writes:

Even if God really did announce his name to be "I am" as in Exodus, chapter 3, verse 15 [sic], this still does not prove that Jesus applied the name "I am" to himself. Jesus never said his name is "I am". He is quoted as saying “Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). If "I am" is Jesus [sic] name, then we should be able to replace the "I am" in this passage with "Jesus," since these are both names of Jesus. The passage would then read as follows: "Before Abraham was, Jesus." This, of course, makes no sense because the idea that Jesus called himself "I am" is not there in the text, but it is someone's own interpretation forced into the text. Notice that we would have no difficulty replacing the "I am" in Exodus 3:15 [sic] with either "God" or "Yahweh", as follows: This is what you are to say to the Israelites. "God has sent me to you" (Exod 3:15 [sic]). This is what you are to say to the Israelites. "Yahweh has sent me to you" (Exod 3: 15 [sic]). (Ibid., pp. 58-59)

To call Ally’s response here desperate would be putting it mildly, since Yahweh’s “I AM” statement is more than simply a name or label that the Israelites were to use or call upon. Rather, the phrase functions as a descriptive noun which tells us something about the nature and character of Yahweh. The saying is meant to emphasize the fact that Yahweh is the eternally self-existing One who will do for Israel all that he has promised. Being eternal by nature, Yahweh is able to fulfill and keep his covenant obligations since time is not a factor for him as it is for his creatures.

In other words, Yahweh is not hindered by the constraints of time in bringing about his purposes since he is timeless by nature and self-existent. As the following biblical expositors explain: 

I Will Be...

Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh in Hebrew. This is a Divine Name (Shevuoth 35a), and it is therefore not translated by the Targum. It denotes that God has absolute existence (Moreh Nevukhim 1:63; cf. Septuagint), and that He is outside the realm of time (Sforno). According to the Kabbalists, this Name denotes the Crown (Kether) of creation, that is, the very first thought and impulse of Will that initiated the creative process. Hence it is 'I will be,' since at the time of that impulse, everything was in the future. This first thought is identified with the idea of Israel (Bereshith Rabbah 1:5; Berakhoth 6a; Tikkuney Zohar 17a; see God Man and Tefillin, p. 35 ff.). This name was revealed now that God was about to create the nation Israel. (The Living Torah: The Five Books of Moses and the Haftarot, by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan; underline emphasis ours)

And God said unto Moses, I am that I am,.... This signifies the real being of God, his self-existence, and that he is the Being of beings; as also it denotes his eternity and immutability, and his constancy and faithfulness in fulfilling his promises, for it includes all time, past, present, and to come; and the sense is, not only I am what I am at present, but I am what I have been, and I am what I shall be, and shall be what I am. The Platonists and Pythagoreans seem to have borrowed their from hence, which expresses with them the eternal and invariable Being; and so the Septuagint version here is: it is said (z), that the temple of Minerva at Sais, a city of Egypt, had this inscription on it, "I am all that exists, is, and shall be.” And on the temple of Apollo at Delphos was written the contraction of "I am" (a). Our Lord seems to refer to this name, John 8:58, and indeed is the person that now appeared; and the words may be rendered, "I shall be what I shall be" (b) the incarnate God, God manifest in the flesh:

thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you; or as the Targum of Jonathan has it, “I am he that is, and that shall be.” This is the name Ehjeh, or Jehovah, Moses is empowered to make use of, and to declare, as the name of the Great God by whom he was sent; and which might serve both to encourage him, and strengthen the faith of the Israelites, that they should be delivered by him.

(z) Phutarch. de Iside & Osir. (a) Plato in Timaeo. (b) "ero qui ero", Pagninus, Montanus, Fagius, Vatablus. (John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible; bold emphasis ours)

I am that I am - That is, "I am what I am." The words express absolute, and therefore unchanging and eternal Being. The name, which Moses was thus commissioned to use, was at once new and old; old in its connection with previous revelations; new in its full interpretation, and in its bearing upon the covenant of which Moses was the destined mediator. (Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible; bold emphasis ours)

(14) I AM THAT I AM.—It is generally assumed that this is given to Moses as the full name of God. But perhaps it is rather a deep and mysterious statement of His nature. “I am that which I am.” My nature, i.e., cannot be declared in words, cannot be conceived of by human thought. I exist in such sort that my whole inscrutable nature is implied in my existence. I exist, as nothing else does—necessarily, eternally, really. If I am to give myself a name expressive of my nature, so far as language can be, let me be called “I AM.”

Tell them I AM hath sent me unto you.—I AM, assumed as a name, implies (1) an existence different from all other existence. “I am, and there is none beside me” (Isaiah 45:6); (2) an existence out of time, with which time has nothing to do (John 8:58); (3), an existence that is real, all other being shadowy; (4) an independent and unconditioned existence, from which all other is derived, and on which it is dependent. (Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers; bold emphasis ours)


I am that I am; a most comprehensive and significant name, and most proper for the present occasion, It notes…

2. The necessariness, eternity, and unchangeableness of his being; whereas all other beings once were not, and, if he please, they shall be no more; and all their being was derived from him, and wholly depends upon him; and he only is by and from himself.

3. The constancy and certainty of his nature, and will, and word. The sense is, I am the same that ever I was; the same who made the promises to Abraham, &c., and am now come to perform them; who, as I can do what I please, so I will do what I have said. Heb. I shall be what I shall be. He useth the future tense; either,

1. Because that tense in the use of the Hebrew tongue comprehends all times, past, present, and to come, to signify that all times are alike to God, and all are present to him; and therefore what is here, I shall be, is rendered, I am, by Christ, John 8:58. See Psalm 90:4 2 Peter 3:8… (Matthew Poole’s Commentary; underline emphasis ours)

This is precisely how Jesus used the phrase “I AM” in this particular verse, namely, to denote his eternal prehuman existence, just as the immediate context shows:

“‘I tell you the truth, anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!’ The people said, ‘Now we know you are possessed by a demon. Even Abraham and the prophets died, but you say, “Anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!” Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want glory for myself, it doesn’t count. But it is my Father who will glorify me. You say, “He is our God,” but you don’t even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But I do know him and obey him. Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.’ The people said, ‘You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am![k] At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple.” John 8:51-59

k. 8:58 Or before Abraham was even born, I have always been alive; Greek reads before Abraham was, I am. See Exod 3:14. NLT (Bold, italic and underline emphasis ours)

Christ responds to the question of how he could have personally seen Abraham who had been dead for approximately two thousands years, when he wasn’t yet fifty years, by affirming his timeless existence. Jesus was basically telling his Jewish interlocutors that, unlike their father Abraham who was created at a specific point in time, he has always been and will always continue to be.

This is precisely why Christ (or perhaps John under inspiration of the Holy Spirit) chose to use the present tense verb eimi (“am”), as opposed to employing the past tense en (“was”), since the present tense is intended to emphasize the timeless nature of the Lord’s existence, i.e., Jesus was, is and remains forever:

“And, ‘You, Lord [the Son], laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; and they all will wear out like a garment; as a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not end.’” Hebrews 1:10-12 MEV

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever!” Hebrews 13:8 MEV

As renowned Bible expositor and early church father John Chrysostom put it:

But wherefore said He not, Before Abraham was, I was (ego en), instead of I Am (ego eimi)? As the Father uses this expression, I Am, so also does Christ; for it signifies continuous Being, irrespective of all time. On which account the expression seemed to them to be blasphemous. Now if they could not bear the comparison with Abraham, although this was but a trifling one, had He continually made Himself equal to the Father, would they ever have ceased casting stones at Him? (Chrysostom, Homily 55 on the Gospel of John; bold emphasis ours)

The following translations also do a fine job of capturing Jesus’ exact point:

Jesus: I you the truth; I AM before Abraham was born.” The Voice (VOICE) (Italicized and underline emphasis ours)

“‘I tell you in solemn truth,’ returned Jesus, ‘before there was an Abraham, I AM!’” J. B. Philips (Italicized and underline emphasis ours)

“‘Believe me,’ said Jesus, ‘I am who I am long before Abraham was anything.’” The Message (MSG)

“Jesus said to them, ‘For sure, I tell you, before Abraham was born, I was and am and always will be!’” New Life Version (NLV) (Italicized and underline emphasis ours)

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you— before Abraham came-into-being[a], I am[b]’.” Disciples’ Literal New Testament (DLNT)

a. John 8:58 Or, came-to-be, and in this sense ‘was’ or ‘was born’.

b. John 8:58 Jesus is claiming to preexist Abraham, and therefore unlike v 24 and 28, His meaning is clear to them: He is claiming to be God, as in Ex 3:14; Isa 41:4; 43:10; 48:12, etc. (Bold and underline emphasis ours)

As such, Jesus’ “I AM” saying in John 8:58 functions the same way that Yahweh’s “I AM” statement does in Exodus 3:14, namely, to emphasize the eternal nature of Yahweh/Christ.

With the foregoing in perspective we can now proceed to the next section where we address Ally’s appeal to the Greek version of Exodus 3:14.