Biblically speaking, the gospel (good news) is the substitutionary and sacrificial work of Christ—not the work of man in his response, faith, repentance, good behavior, etc. Besides passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, which we will deal with shortly, Paul makes this point clear in Romans 1:1, 3, “The gospel of God . . . concerning His Son.” So, the gospel in and of itself has nothing to do with man, but everything to do with the atoning work of Jesus Christ, God the Son. We must not confuse the work of Christ, which is the gospel—the good news of Jesus’ cross work—with the response of faith in Christ, repentance, obedience, etc. Salvation is solus Christus (through Christ alone), thus, Hs work being the very ground or cause of justification, and faith being the very alone instrument.

The gospel then is comprised of all essential theology of the Christian faith since it involves the person, nature, and finish work of Christ. Simply, the gospel is the atoning work of God the Son, in incarnation, death, and resurrection. And trusting Him alone for salvation (Rom. 10:9, 13; 1 Cor. 15:3-4 [see discussion below on this passage]; 2 Tim. 2:8).      

 

In expanded detail, the essential doctrines of the Christian faith include:      

 

  • The person of the Son is truly God and truly man, the two natured person—being distinct from the Father who sent Him (John 1:1, 14, 18; 5:17-18; 20:28; 1 Cor. 2:8; Rom. 9:5; Phil. 2:6-8; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:3; 1 John 4:2-3; 5:20; Rev. 1:7-8).  

 

  • The sending of the Son to earth from the Father out of heaven (John 3:13, 16-18; 6:38; 16:28).

 

  • A literal descendant of David, born of a virgin (2 Tim. 2:8[1]; Matt. 1:18; Rom. 9:5; Gal. 4:4).

 

  • The perpetual (ongoing, permanent) incarnation of the Son—the Word became flesh (John 1:1, 14; 2 Tim. 2:8; 1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 1:7).

 

  • The Son’s substitutionary (vicarious) atoning sinless life (preceptive obedience) and cross work (penal obedience) as the very ground of justification, which removed the sin-guilt and God’s wrath due to us for our sins (Gen. 15:6; Isa. 53:11; Mark 10:45; John 6:37-39; Rom. 5:6, 8, esp. v. 10; 8:32; 1 John 2:2, 4:10).

 

  • Salvation (justification), then, is through faith alone “apart from works” (Acts 10:36, 43; Rom. 4:4:4-8; 5:1; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9).

 

  • Jesus’ real death and physical resurrection (John 2:19-21; 19:30; Acts 1:11; 17:31; Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Titus 2:13).

 

  • His accession to the Father (John 6:62; 16:10, 28; 20:17; Acts 1:10-11; Heb. 10:12-13).

 

  • His (physical) second coming (Acts 1:10-11; Titus 2:13-14; 1 John 2:28).

 

  • The concept of the Trinity—namely, one true eternal God revealed in three distinct persons (see chap. 3 above).   

The person (unipersonal, i.e., distinct from the Father, and Holy Spirit), nature (truly God truly man) and finished completed work (justification through faith alone) are necessary and indispensable to the Christian faith. They also imply other important doctrines such “total inability,” that is, in man’s unconverted spiritual state he cannot (no ability) please or come to Christ (John 6:44; 8:43-44, 47; Rom. 3:10-18) due to the inherent sin-guilt (imputed sin) of all men resulting from the first sin in the Garden. These doctrines constitute the key ultimate test in which distinguishes genuine Christianity from false non-Christian (atheistic) religious cults and world religions.

All must be affirmed in a basic sense, and none can be denied. Further, one cannot affirm some of these, but not the others. For example, Roman Catholicism (as discussed below) officially embraces the Trinity, deity of Christ, the incarnation, virgin birth, and Jesus’ resurrection. However, because Roman Catholic doctrine rejects that the alone work of Christ is the absolute and sufficient means and ground of justification, Rome falls outside of Christian orthodoxy (cf. Gal. 1:6, 8)—hence, non-Christian.

Thus, it is not the Jesus of biblical revelation that Rome embraces, rather a different Jesus and a “different gospel.” Therefore, all things pertaining to the gospel are “essential” theology. Whereas secondary theology is any doctrine that is not essential to one’s salvation—namely, any doctrine that does not fundamentally deny or distort the nature and/or finished work of Christ (e.g., the OT Law, spiritual, gifts, method of water baptism, eschatology [i.e., end-time teachings], etc.). Again, the sufficiency of the gospel is the work of the Christ. and justification through faith alone is the only recognized gospel.    

[1] “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant [spermatos] of David, according to my gospel.” 

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].     

 

NASB: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born I am’” (as in most trans.)  

NWT: “Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.’”

Greek: εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί (eipen autois Iēsous: amēn amēn legō humin, prin Abraam genesthai egō eimi).

That Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is truly God (YHWH) and truly man, is a main theme in John’s literature (esp. seen in the response of the Jews in John 5:17-18; 8:58-59; 10:30-33). The rejection of the person and nature of the Son as truly God (and man) by unitarian groups such as JWs (and Muslims, Oneness Pentecostals et al.) is chiefly based on a unitarian (or unipersonal) pre-committed theology that God is one sole person (unipernal), and not the exegesis of the text.   

Jesus declared in John 8:24: “For if you should not believe that I am [egō eimi] you will perish in your sins” (lit. trans.). The unpredicated egō eimi (“I am”) affirmation of the Son were unequivocally claims of deity–that is, claims of being truly God (and truly man)- esp. in light of YHWH’s exclusive claims of being the unpredicated egō eimi (“I am”) in the LXX (Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 46:4).  

See Jesus’ Ἐγώ εἰμι, Egō Eimi (“I Am”) Declarations- John 8:58 for a detailed presentation of Jesus “I Am” claims.   
 

Exegetical Refutation: The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s (JWs) attempt to
‘Reason from the Scriptures’ regarding  John 8:58    

So strong was Jesus’ affirmation of deity in John 8:58 that the JWs’ Bible the NWT mistranslated the present active indicative verb, eimi (“am”) turning it into a past tense: “I have been.” From this, the JW’s argue that Jesus was not claiming to be deity (“I am”), but rather He was claiming to be “older” than Abraham was (as Michael the archangel), which incited the Jews to want to kill Him. However, what immediately refutes this false notion is:

1) Simply, the Greek text contains the present indicative verb eimi (“am”) and not any kind of past tense. In 1969, WT published a Greek Interlinear called, The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (KIT) and a revised ed. in 1985. The KIT is a Greek NT with English equivalents under each Greek word and the NWT on the side margins. What is interesting is that the Greek is unchanged, only the NWT is altered from the Greek.

For example, notice the photocopy of John 8:58-59 from the KIT in which you can see the unaltered Greek phrase egō eimi (“I am”) and the NWT’s altered reading “I have been,” on the side:

This clearly shows that the NWT purposely altered the Greek NT text, from the present “I am” to a past “I have been” (cf. Watchtower, 1 Sept. 1974, 526-27); as if Jesus was merely saying that He is older than Abraham-  only to fit the distinctive theology of the WT.

2) Even more, throughout the years, the WT has offered at least three reasons as to why the present tense verb eimi (“am”) should be translated as a past action (“have been”). First, in the 1950 ed. of the NWT, there is a footnote referring to the “I have been” rendering, which states: “I have been— ἐγώ εἰμι [egō eimi] . . . properly rendered in the perfect indefinite tense. . . .” (p. 312).

This sounds legitimate to one who is not familiar with Greek, however, there is no such tense as a “perfect indefinite” in biblical Greek. The WT made up a phony tense. Some have defended the WT’s explanation saying that “perfect indefinite” refers to the English, not the Greek. But we are not aware of a single official WT source that states this.

Then, the WT argued that the verb eimi was a “perfect indicative” (KIT, 1985 ed. 451). Now, there is a perfect indicative in Greek, however, the verb eimi takes no such form. And currently, the WT asserts that eimi is a “historical present”[9] explaining that “The verb ei·mi’, at John 8:58, is evidently in the historical present, as Jesus was speaking about himself in relation to Abraham’s past” Reasoning from the Scriptures, 418). Thus, the JWs see Jesus as merely claiming that He pre-existed Abraham, which, according to the JWs, enraged the Jews to the point of wanting to kill Him (cf. v. 59). This assertion, however, is flawed both grammatically and contextually.

First, a historical present tense occurs primarily in narrative literature and only in third person. In this context, Jesus was arguing with the Jews—He was not narrating. Secondly, the equative verb eimi is not used as a historical present. As the recognized Greek scholar, Daniel Wallace, points out, “The historical present is used fairly frequently in narrative literature to describe a past event” (Wallace, GGBB, 526).. Wallace also comments: 

If this is a historical present, it is apparently the only historical present in the NT that uses the equative verb eimi. The burden of proof, therefore, lies with the one who sees eimi as ever being used as a historical present. . . If this is a historical present, it is apparently the only historical present in the NT that is in other than third person (ibid., 530). 

The weight against the historical present view is massive. The reason for these various assertions of eimi postulated by the WT throughout the years (viz. the phony perfect indefinite; perfect indicative, and historical present) is, of course, obvious. If Jesus’ divine statements of being the “I am,” stand unmodified, then, Jesus made some astonishing and unambiguous claims of being the eternal God (as with John 5:17 and 10:27-30), which clearly show the WT to be a false religion in need of salvation.