Simply: The defining context and semantic of the Blind Man’s statement of “I am” is unmistakably different than the unpredicated egō eimi (“I am”) claims which Jesus made in Matt. 14:27; Mark. 6:50; John 6:20; 8:24, 28. 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6 (repeated by the narrator), and verse 8).    

JWs (as well as other unitarian groups) [1] deny that Jesus’ Ἐγώ εἰμι (egō eimi, “I am”)[2] were claims of being equal with God. Typically JWs appeal to John 9:9: “Some were saying: ‘This is he.’ others were saying: ‘No, but he looks like him.’ The man kept saying: ‘I am he’” (egō eimi, “I am”). In other words, because the syntactically (not contextually) unpredicated Greek phrase egō eimi was used of the blind man, JWs argue that Jesus’ claim of being the egō eimi, that is, the “I am,” cannot be a claim of deity.  

What quickly refutes this blank argument is simply the CONTEXT. Meanings of words (and phrases) are determined by context, not merely by lexical meaning. If this vital point is not considered, then, meanings become a mere pretext.     

In the Septuagint (LXX), the unpredicated egō eimi was an exclusive title for YHWH (Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 46:4, translated from the Hebrew, ani hu). In these places, the title clearly indicates YHWH’s claim of eternal existence. Further, in Isa. 41:4, YHWH’s claim of being the “I am” is joined with the claim, “I am the first, and with the last,” and “I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last.” In the NT, only Jesus Christ claimed to be “the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17, 2:8; 22:13). So incontrovertibly, the unpredicated “I am” in the OT (LXX) was a clear claim of deity, that is, eternal existence, exclusively used of YHWH.- 

SeeJesus’ Ἐγώ εἰμι, Egō Eimi (“I Am”) Declarations- John 8:58for an expanded treatment on the title egō eimi used of Christ in the NT and YHWH in the OT LXX.    

Hence, when Jesus claimed to be the “I am,” esp. sandwiched between other divine implications and syntactical features [3], the Jews, against the backdrop of the LXX, clearly recognized the semantic force of what Christ was claiming: “They picked up stones to kill Him” (John 8:59). This was a legal stoning according to Jewish law (Lev. 24:16). In fact, the Jews understood and responded in the same way (wanting to kill Christ), when Jesus made other unique claims of deity. For example, Mark 14:61-64- claim: Son of God and Son of Man, “coming with the clouds of heaven”; John 5:17-18- claim: Son of God, “making Himself equal with God”; John 10:30-33- claim: giving eternal life to the His sheep, being essentially one (hen) with the Father, and being the Son of God.

Christ’s claims of being the “I am” were not isolated. In John 8, in which most of Jesus’ “I am” claims were recorded, are many additional claims of Christ as to His preexistence and deity (cf. 8:12, 19 [esp. the “I am” clams in vv. 24, 28, 58], 40, 51), which led up to His crowning claim of being the absolute, “I am,” that is, I am the Eternal One who spoke to Moses in the burning bush.[4]Thus, contextually, Jesus’ “I am” claims were unpredicated and unambiguous claims of being the eternal God, the YHWH of Deut. 32:39; Isaiah 43:10 et al. And the Jews knew this—for they wanted to kill Him for blasphemy (John 8:59)!

What about the blind man’s statement, “I am” in John 9:9?  

The contextual dissimilarity between Jesus’ “I am” claims and the blind man’s statement, cannot be missed. When Jesus stated, “I am,” it was a startling claim to be God incarnate, whereas when the blind man stated, “I am,” it was in mere response to the question of who it was that Christ healed. Note verses 8-9:

 So the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, “Is this not the one who used to sit and beg?” 9 Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” The man himself kept saying, “I am the one [egō eimi].” 

The blind man simply explained, Yes, “I am” the man who Christ healed! Clearly, the “I am” has an implied predicate. Note the significantly different responses of the Jews to Jesus’ absolute “I am” statements in John 8:58; 18:5, 6, and verse 8 compared to the blind man’s “I am” statement in John 9:9:    

  1. John 9:9, when the blind said, “I am,” the Jews did not attempt to stone him, as they attempted to do to Christ in response to His claim of being “I am” (John 8:58-59).

 

  1. There was no adverse reaction by the Jews to the blind man saying “I am,” nor did one person fall back, contra the guards in response to Jesus’ “I am” claims in John 18. 

 

  1. In the entire content of John 9, there were no divine implications made by the blind man. Whereas, Christ made abounding divine implications all throughout John 8 leading up to verse 58, as pointed out above. 

 

  1. As also mentioned above, John 8:58 contains a verbal contrast between Abraham’s beginning (denoted by the aorist genesthai, “was”) and Jesus’ eternality, that is, being the eternal One (denoted by the present eimi, “am”): “Before Abraham was born” vs. “I am.”   

 

Therefore, there is absolutely no contextual similarity between Jesus’ multiple unambiguous claims to be the unpredicated “I am,” God incarnate, and the blind man’s response of being the man that Jesus healed.


NOTES

[1] A distinction, though, needs to be made between religious groups that are theologically “unitarian” (or unipersonal, i.e., seeing God as one person, thus rejecting the Trinity) and the official Unitarian religion itself. The former would include such religious systems as post-first century Judaism, Islam, Oneness Pentecostals, JWs, etc., while the latter is applied exclusively to the Unitarian Church as a religious denomination. Thus, “unitarian” refers to the unipersonal theology of the JWs as well as all other theological unitarian groups. Technically, a unitarian belief of God is synonymous with a unipersonal belief of God.

[2] Appearing mostly in, but not limited to, the Gospel of John (Matt. 14:27; Mark. 6:50; John 6:20; 8:24, 28. 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6 (repeated by the narrator), and v. 8).

[3] To laser light His eternal existence as God, in John 8:58 for example, Jesus asserted a sharp verbal contrast between Abraham, who had a beginning denoted by the aorist verb, genesthai (“was born.” from ginomai, “to come to be”), and His eternal existence denoted by the present indicative verb, eimi (“am,” as in egō eimi, “I am”). Thus, a “came to be” vs. “I am always being” contrast.

[4]. In Exod. 3:13, in response to Moses’s question regarding His “name,” the LXX records the angel of the LORD declaring, Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (egō eimi ho ōn, “I am the One”). Although the phrase is not an exact syntactical parallel to the unpredicated egō eimi in John 8:58 et al., the semantic consequence is the same—namely, expressing eternal existence. Note the articular (or adjectival) participle ho ōn following egō eimi. This present tense participle ōn is from eimi (“I am, exist”)—linguistically, existing, being, subsisting (context and grammatical features determine its durational aspect). In particular contexts, the articular participle can denote timeless, eternal existence. It is used of God the Father in Revelation 1:4 and either Father or Son in 1:8 and 4:8. However, in the articular participle is applied to Christ at John 1:18 (ho ōn, “the One who is always, timelessly existing, in the bosom of the Farther”); 3:13 (M, TR); 6:46; and Romans 9:5 (Rev. 1:8). In these passages, the articular participle denotes the Son’s timeless existence. Therefore, although the LXX of Exodus 3:14 (egō eimi ho ōn) is not an exact syntactical parallel to John 8:58 et al., it is a semantic equivalent of eternal preexistence and thus, deity. Whereas the exact syntactical parallel (i.e., the unpredicated egō eimi) would be found in in the LXX of Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10; 46:4; and 48:12—, which are exclusively applied to YHWH.

SeeJesus’ Ἐγώ εἰμι, Egō Eimi (“I Am”) Declarations- John 8:58for an expanded treatment on the Exod. phrase and the articular participle, ho ōn.   

 

γώ εμι, Egō Eimi (“I Am”)

Matt. 14:27: “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I [egō eimi, ‘I am’]; do not be afraid’” (NASB et seq.).  

Mark 6:50: Same Greek phrase as in Matt. 14:27: ἐγώ εἰμι, μὴ φοβεῖσθε, egō eimi, mē phobeisthe (lit. “I am, do not be afraid”).  

John 6:20: Same Greek phrase as in Matt. 14:27 and Mark 6:50.    

John 8:24: “…for unless you believe that I am [egō eimi], you will die in your sins.”

John 8:28: “So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [egō eimi]. . . .”

John 8:58: “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am [egō eimi].”

John 13:19: “From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it does happen, you may believe that I am He [egō eimi].”

John 18:5, 6 (repeat by narrator), 8: 5 “They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, ‘I am He’ [egō eimi]. And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. 6 Now then, when He said to them, ‘I am He’ [egō eimi], they drew back and fell to the ground. . . . 8 Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am He; [egō eimi] so if you are seeking Me, let these men go on their way.’” Note, in 13:19 and 18:5, 6, 8, the pronoun “He” was added by translators – indicated by italicization.

 Jesus’ unpredicated ἐγώ εἰμι, egō eimi (“I am”) Jesus’ unpredicated[1] egō eimi (“I am”) claims are some of the clearest affirmations of the Son’s deity and eternality. As mentioned below, in the OT, this title was a reoccurring claim of YHWH alone denoting His eternal existence (Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; and 46:4). So of course, virtually all unitarian groups  (esp. Muslims, Oneness advocates, and JWs) deny this truth of the distinct person of the Son, Jesus Christ as being coequal coeternal and coexistent with God the Father (and the Holy Spirit).

However, as pointed out repeatedly, even if one rejects Jesus’ “I am” claims as claims of deity, the deity of Christ, the Son of God, are well established in the content of John’s literature (John 1:1, 3, 10, 18; 3:13; 5:17-18; 6:20; 9:38; 10:27-30; 17:5; 20:28; 1 John 1:1-2; 5:20; Rev. 1:7-8, 17; 2:8; 5:13-14; 22:13).        

In John 8:24, Jesus declared, “. . . for if you should not believe that ‘I am’ [egō eimi] you will perish in your sins” (lit. trans.). Some standard translations add either a predicated clause or the pronoun “He” after the “I am” phrase (cf. KJV, NIV, AMP[2] et al.). However, all extant NT Greek manuscripts containing John 8:24 have no stated predicated clause or predicate such as “He” after the Greek phrase egō eimi. This is true of all Jesus’ egō eimi affirmations.[3]

Additionally, there is clear textual and contextual justification to support that Jesus’ claims of being the unpredicated “I am” and thus, true God and true man. Any added predicate is merely a decision made by the Bible translator. Although the unpredicated divine declaration, “I am,” in John 8:58 is accepted universally as a divine claim among most biblical scholarship (esp. in light of v. 59), not all scholars agree that 8:24 is a divine claim, which is reflected in various translations.

Some translations, however, see the “I am” claim in 8:24 in the same sense as in John 8:58—namely, an unpredicated divine title, such as the NASB 2020 ed. Also note, the ISV 2008 ed. reading: “That is why I told you that you will die in your sins, for unless you believe that I AM, you’ll die in your sins” (caps. theirs); and the Aramaic Bible in Plain English 2010 ed.: “I said to you that you shall die in your sins, for unless you shall believe that I AM THE LIVING GOD, you shall die in your sins” (caps theirs). In fact, this translation translates every one of Jesus’ egō eimi phrases as, “I AM THE LIVING GOD.” So Vincent sees 8:24, 28, 58; and 13:19 as a “solemn expression of’ Jesus’ ‘absolute divine being’” (Word Studies).   

It should also be noted that these particular occurrences of Jesus’ “I am” claims are not syntactically the same as other claims, which include the phrase “I am,” such as, “I am the door,” “I am the shepherd,” “I am the bread,” etc., which all contain a clear and stated predicate contra the several unpredicated “I am” statements of Christ. Thus, the burden of proof would rest on the one attempting to show otherwise.

Sometimes, JWs appeal to John 9:9 where the blind man uttered, “I am” (egō eimi). However, the clause is neither syntactically nor contextually equivalent to the unpredicated egō eimi statements of Christ in the gospels. – See our article on John 9:9 and the JWs also see The NWT and John 8:58

 

The Egō Eimi OT Septuagint (LXX) Background

Many associate Jesus’ egō eimi (“I am”) declarations with God’s declaration to Moses in Exod. 3:14: “God said to Moses, I am that I am.’[4] Although, the phrase in the Greek LXX of Exod. 3:14 (egō eimi ho ōn, “I am the One”) is not syntactically equivalent to Jesus’ unpredicated egō eimi claims, it does denote the same semantic: YHWH’s eternal existence.[5]     

Notwithstanding, there are places in the OT, where YHWH alone claimed to be the unpredicated egō eimi, which were syntactically equivalent to that of Jesus’ egō eimi claims— clearly denoting His eternal existence (Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; and 46:4, from the Hebrew, ani hu). Further, in Isa. 41:4, YHWH’s claim of being the “I am” is joined with His claim to be “the first, and with the last” (cf. 44:6; 48:12). While in the NT, only Christ claimed to be “the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17, 2:8; 22:13). Hence, when Jesus claimed to be the unpredicated egō eimi, in John 8:58, for example, which was sandwiched between other divine implications and syntactical features,[6] the Jews, against the backdrop of the LXX, clearly recognized the semantic force of what Christ was claiming: “They picked up stones to kill Him” (John 8:59).

This was a legal stoning according to Jewish law (Lev. 24:16). In fact, the Jews understood and responded in the same way (wanting to kill Christ), when Jesus made other unique claims of deity—as in Mark 14:61-64- claim: Son of God and Son of Man, “coming with the clouds of heaven”; John 5:17-18– claim: Son of God, “making Himself equal with God”; John 10:26-33- claim: giving eternal life to the His sheep, being essentially one (hen) with the Father, and being the Son of God.

 Marked Progression. Christ’s claims of being the “I am” were not isolated. In John 8, in which most of Jesus’ “I am” claims were recorded, there are many additional claims of Christ as to His preexistence and deity (cf. 8:12, 19 [esp. the “I am” clams in vv. 24, 28, 58], 40, 51), which led up to His crowning claim of being the absolute, “I am,” that is, I am the Eternal One who spoke to Moses in the burning bush. It is when we examine all the “I am” statements do we see the consequence of His claim. Thus, contextually, Jesus’ “I am” claims were unambiguous claims of being the eternal God, the YHWH of Deut. 32:39 et al. And the Jews knew this—for they wanted to kill Him for blasphemy (John 8:59)!  

 

Conclusion

The unambiguous claims of Christ to be ontologically equal with God, God in the flesh, and yet distinct from the Father are abounding both in the OT (esp. as the angel of the LORD) and in the NT (e.g., Exod. 3:6, 14; Matt. 12:6; 14:27-33; Mark 6:50; 14:61-64; John 8:24, 58 et al.; 3:13; 5:17-18; 10:26-30; 17:5; Rev. 1:8, 17; 2:8; 5:13-14; 22:13 et al.)    

However, as pointed out repeatedly, Even if one rejects Jesus’ “I am” claims as claims of deity, the deity of the Son of God are well established in the content of John’s literature (John 1:1, 3, 10, 18; 5:17-18; 8:24, 54 et.; 9:38; 6:20; 10:27-30; 17:5; 20:28; 1 John 1:1-2; 5:20; Rev. 1:7-8, 17; 2:8; 5:13-14; 22:13 et al.).  When Jesus declared He was the “I am” at John 18:5, 6 (repeated by the narrator), and verse 8, we read that the “fearless” Romans soldiers “fell to the ground.” What would cause Roman soldiers to fall to the ground? So powerful were Jesus’ divine pronouncements that it caused His enemies to shudder to the ground.  

Believing that the person of the Son, Jesus Christ, is truly God and that His cross work is the very ground of justification (apart from works), is essential for salvation.

  

“You will die in your sins, for unless you believe that I AM, you’ll die in your sins” (John 8:24, ISV).


Notes 

[1] Unpredicted, i.e., no supplied predicate modifying the subject, “I am.”      

[2] However, in Mark 6:50; John 6:20, the Amplified trans. reads: “Take courage! It is I (I AM)! Stop being afraid.”

[3] Matt. 14:27; Mark 6:50; John 6:20; 8:24; 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8.

[4] Hebrew, ehyeh aser ehyeh.  

[5]. In Exod. 3, the angel of the LORD (viz., the preincarnate Son) appeared to Moses and spoke to him from the burning bush (v. 2). He had identified Himself to Moses as YHWH and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (vv. 4, 6). In response to Moses’s question regarding His “name” (v. 13), verse 14 of the LXX reads: “And God spoke to Moses, saying, ‘I am the Being’” (γ εμι ν, egō eimi ho ōn). As mentioned, this phrase is not an exact syntactical parallel to Jesus’ unpredicated egō eimi claims (John 8:24, 28, 58 et al.), but the semantic consequence is the same—namely, expressing eternal existence. Also note, the articular participle ho ōn (“the one being, existing”) follows the egō eimi phrase in Exod. 3:14. The present tense participle ōn (from eimi, “I am, exist”)—linguistically denotes, “existing, being, subsisting” (context and grammatical features determine its durational aspect). Thus, with the article, “the One who is always, timelessly existing.” So the egō eimi phrase is intensified by the subsequent articular participle: “I am the One being, timelessly existing.”   

In warranted contexts, the articular participle can denote timeless, eternal existence. It is used of God the Father in Rev. 1:4 and the Son in 1:8 (and Father or Son in 4:8). However, aside from Rev. 1:8, the articular participle is applied specifically to the Son at John 1:18: “… the one and only God who is [ho ōn, lit., ‘the One who is always, timelessly existing’] in the bosom of the Father. . . .”); 3:13 (M, TR); 6:46; and Rom. 9:5. In these passages, the articular participle denotes the Son’s timeless existence. Regarding John 1:18, Robert Reymond remarks, “The present participle ὁ ὢν [ho ōn] . . . indicates a continuing state of being: ‘who is continually in the bosom of the Father’” (Systematic Theology, 1998, 303). So Vincent sees the articular participle in John 1:18 as “a ‘timeless present’ expressing the inherent and eternal relation of the Son to the Father.” The anarthrous participle ōn (“being, subsisting”) can also carry this linguistic force. Robertson observes the participle in Heb. 1:3 [hos ōn, “who is”] as denoting “Absolute and timeless existence (present active participle of eimi) in contrast [as pointed out above] with γενόμενος [genomenos] in verse 4 like ἦν [ēn] in John 1:1 (in contrast with ἐγένετο [egeneto] in 1:14) and like ὑπάρχων [huparchōn] and γενόμενος [genomenos] in Php 2:6f” (Robertson, Word Pictures). Therefore, although the phrase in the LXX of Exod. 3:14 (egō eimi ho ōn) is not an exact syntactical equivalent to John 24, 28, 58 et al., it is semantically equivalent YHWH claim of eternal existence. Whereas the exact syntactical parallel (i.e., the unpredicated egō eimi) is found in the LXX of Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; and 46:4—, which are exclusively applied to YHWH.

[6] To laser light His eternal existence as God, in John 8:58 for example, Jesus asserted a sharp verbal contrast between Abraham, who had a beginning denoted by the aorist verb, genesthai (“was born.” from ginomai, “to come to be”), and His eternal existence denoted by the present indicative verb, eimi (“am,” as in egō eimi, “I am”). Thus, a “came to be” vs. “I am always being” contrast. The same verbal contrast can be seen in the prologue of John, where the imperfect verb ēn (“was,” from eimi) denoting the Word’s unoriginate eternal existence, which is exclusively applied to the Word in verses 1, 2, 4, 9, and 10. This verb is contrasted with the aorist egeneto (“became”) which is also from ginomai, which refers to all things that came into existence or had a starting point (e.g., the creation, vv. 3, and 10; John the Baptist, in v. 6). It is not until verse 14 that egeneto is applied to the Word (pertaining to His incarnation): Kai ho Logos sarx egeneto, “And the Word became [ginomai] flesh.” The same verbal contrast (Christ as eternal vs. created things) is found in Hebrews  1:3-4, where the present tense participle ōn (“always being”) is set in contrast with the aorist epoiēsen (“He made”) in verse 2 and participle ōn being in contrast with the aorist genomenos (“having become”—referring to the incarnation) in verse 4.

And the same in Philippians 2:6-7 where the present participle huparchōn (“existing/always subsisting”) in verse 6 is set in contrast with the aorist verbs, ekenōsen (“emptied”) labōn (“by taking”), genomenos (“having been made”) and heuretheis (“having been found”) verses 7 and 8. In each case, there is an outstanding contrast between the eternal preincarnate Son and all things created. See also 2 Corinthians 8:9 where we find a syntactical parallel with Philippians 2:6-7—viz., participle vs. aorist. Participles— ōn, “rich being” (2 Cor. 8:9) – huparchōn, “in the nature of God being (Phil. 2:6). Aorist indicatives— eptōcheusen,He became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9) – ekenōsen,emptied Himself” (Phil. 2:7). Hence, Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “that You, through His poverty [i.e., His incarnation], might become rich” (in glory and righteousness). Also, the same linguistic contrast is found in the LXX of Psalm 90:2 (89:2)—namely, the aorist ginomai is set in contrast with present indicative eimi:

Before the mountains existed [or “were born,” genēthēnai, the aorist of ginomai], and [before] the earth and the world were formed [plasthēnai, the aorist infinitive of plassō], even from age to age, You are [ei, the second person present indicative of eimi].