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 they 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; 48:12, translated from the Hebrew, ani hu). In these places, the context clearly indicates that the unpredicated “I am” was a title of YHWH denoting His eternal existence, which He alone claimed of Himself. Further, in Isaiah 41:4 and 48:12, 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.

Hence, when Jesus claimed to be the unpredicated “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, 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.[4]

Thus, contextually, Jesus’ “I am” claims were unambiguous claims of being the eternal God, the YHWH of Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 43:10 et al. And the Jews knew this—for they wanted to kill Him for blasphemy (John 8:59)! The contextual dissimilarity 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.

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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 (8:24, 28. 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8; cf. Mark 6:50).

[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. 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].            

[4]. In Exodus 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 verse 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. Regarding John 1:18, Robert Reymond remarks, “The present participle ὁ ὢν . . . 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 can also carry this linguistic force. Robertson observes the participle in Hebrews 1:3 [hos ōn, “who is”] as denoting “Absolute and timeless existence (present active participle of εiμί) in contrast [as pointed out above] with γενόμενος in verse 4 like ἦν in Joh 1:1 (in contrast with ἐγένετο in 1:14) and like ὑπάρχων and γενόμενος in Php 2:6f” (Robertson, Word Pictures). 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.

 

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