Unus Deus – Verus Doctrina, Pt 10

The ‘I am.’ (γ εμι)

In Exodus 3: 13-14, God introduces Himself to Moses by His Name “I AM”.

κα επεν θες πρς Μωυσν γ εμι ν· κα επεν Οτως ρες τος υος Ισραηλ ν πσταλκν με πρς μς. – LXX

The Beloved Apostle writes the scene in the Garden this way, “Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am (εγω ειμι). And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am, they went backward, and fell to the ground. (18:3-7)”

Before that that tense moment, John writes of another occasion, when Jewish leaders told Christ, “You are not even fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?” Jesus answered them, saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” In the Modalist view, this passage as well as the above, makes sense. This does not point to the pre-existence of the Son, since that has already been proven an erroneous assumption, but to the very truth that Christ was God manifested in the flesh.

In John 8:24, Christ says, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am (οτι εγω ειμι), ye shall die in your sins.” ‘He’ is inserted in many translations, but no word exists in Greek for the pronoun after the copula ειμι. It simply means ‘that I am’. The Jews (Deuteronomy 32:39[1]) used the language when speaking about the LORD (In Septuagint Isaiah 43:10 the very words occur πιστεσητε κα συντε τι γ εμι). The phrase εγω ειμι occurs three times here (John 8:24, John 8:28, John 8:58) and also in John 13:19 and 18:5.

Vincent says,

‘He’ is inserted in the versions and is not in the text. By retaining it, we read, I am the Messiah. But the words are rather the solemn expression of His absolute divine being, as in John 8:58 : “If ye believe not that I am.” See Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 43:10; and compare John 8:28, John 8:58 of this chapter, and John 13:19.”

Kittel remarks,

‘Already in the LXX γ εμι is used for God (Ex. 3:14). Philo has it too, and it is a divine predicate in Josephus. In the NT Revelation uses it in the formulas in 11:17; 1:4, 8; 4:8 — formulas of worship, salutation, and self-predication. The nondeclinability of γ εμι and the quasi-participial use of εμι preserve the sanctity of the divine self-predication. The formulas express God’s deity and supratemporality. Similar formulas occur in Judaism. The Greeks also use two- and three-tense formulas to express eternity (cf. Homer, Plato, and an Eleusinian inscription). These possibly came into Revelation by way of the Jewish tradition, though a common source may lie behind the Greek and Jewish traditions.” Kittel further says that γ εμι is a self-designation of Christ which ‘stands in contrast to the genésthai applied to Abraham’.

The point of γ εμι is not Christ is identifying himself as the Messiah or a second part of a Trinity, but as the Absolute Deity Himself.

With this said, how can we avoid the Patripassian misunderstanding of Tertullian? We have to still remember that God, preexistent and eternal, manifested Himself in the flesh, creating the Son in His humanity. The Son who revealed to humanity God, who bore the name of God, and who could rightly claim that He was God, was not the Father. It was the human nature of the Son that died and rose again, suffering the agonies of the Cross, and baring upon Himself the sins of the world, of you and me.

[1] δετε δετε τι γ εμι, κα οκ στιν θες πλν μο· γ ποκτεν κα ζν ποισω, πατξω κγ ἰάσομαι, κα οκ στιν ς ξελεται κ τν χειρν μου.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

8 thoughts on “Unus Deus – Verus Doctrina, Pt 10

  1. Hi Joel,

    Interesting series – I haven’t seen someone defend this kind of viewpoint before.

    Assuming you believe in a physical resurrection, what happened to the resurrected body of Jesus? Was it just ‘cast off’ when he ascended or does God still have a physical, yet exalted, body?

  2. I find your conclusion utterly untenable. The statement, “The point of ἐγώ εἰμι is not Christ is identifying himself as the Messiah or a second part of a Trinity, but as the Absolute Deity Himself,” not only erroneously assumes that Trinitarianism posits a “second part of a Trinity” who is anything less than absolute deity, but it also suggests some kind of bifurcation in God (i.e., Trinitarianism rejects the idea that God has “parts”). Furthermore, it is only upon the basis of an assumed unitarianism (i.e., the belief that God is one person) that one can turn a blind eye to the fact that numerous texts within the Fourth Gospel testify that the Father was personally co-existent with the Son prior to Bethlehem.

    1. Oh, good, carm…

      What have I done to deserve this Carm-a…

      When I wrote this, I was a oneness guy. I’m okay with the Trinity, because I recognize that Tradition comes first (before Scripture) and is every bit as valid as Scripture, if not more so.

      But, your reading of John is a bit… evangelical.

    1. No, it is evangelical. Exegetical would take into account not Matthew and Luke (eisegetical) but the whole of John in relation to the context, which is not trinitarian.

      Evangelical eisegesis believes the starting point is the way they read Scripture, the false notion of sola scriptura – lie if there ever was one.

      I know the basis of my errors, do you about yours?

  3. Your view of Scripture is decidedly unlike Jesus’. Moreover, certainly you are aware that King and Webster have refuted your appeal to a tradition. Lastly, the notion of a preexisting Son is not contested within John by the broadband of scholarship. Not even Dunn has had the audacity to suggest as much. One cannot read the text consistently and avoid it- and as Gathercole and Tilling have demonstrated- it is present in the Synoptics too.

    1. Really? You actually believe Jesus was a sola Scriptura kinda guy? Bet you think he voted GOP too.

      The Idea of preexistence are a bit different among various cultures. Jews believed in ideal preexistence. I’m good with that. Further, I’m okay with a physical preexistence. I mean, these are mere human words talking about human concepts like theology.

      However, one thing that I’m not good with is anachronism, something you seem to be the embodiment of.

    2. And as far as Simon and Chris, they are free to believe as they like based on their research. When I drink a beer with them next month, I’ll see if I can convince them of the error of their ways. I mean, if CARM is using them for support, it shouldn’t be too hard to get them to switch.

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