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Holman Bible Dictionary

i am

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A shortened form of God's response to Moses' request for the name of the God of the patriarchs (Exodus 3:13-14 ). The fuller form of the name may be rendered “I am who I am,” “I will be who I will be,” or even “I cause to be what is.” See YHWH . God's response is not a “name” that makes God an object of definition or limitation. Rather, it is an affirmation that God is always subject, always free to be and act as God wills. The earliest Greek rendering “I am the one who is” or “I am Being” has been especially significant in the development of theology.

Jesus' “I am” response in several New Testament passages suggests more than the simple identifying “I am he.” The “I am” of Mark 6:50 means “I am Jesus and not a ghost,” but suggests the divine “I am” who alone “tramples down the waves of the sea” ( Job 9:8 ; Mark 6:48-49 ) and made the waves hush (Psalm 107:28-29 ; compare Mark 4:39 ). John 8:24 makes recognition that Jesus is the “I am” a matter of eternal life and death: “You will die in your sins unless you believe that I am.” The Jews misunderstood, thinking it was a matter of identity (“Who are you?” John 8:25 ). Recognition that Jesus is the “I am” who is one in word and action with His Father is possible only when Jesus has been lifted up on the cross/raised from the dead (John 8:28 ). That the Jews rightly understood Jesus' claim “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58 ) as a divine claim is evident from their picking up stones to throw at Him. The “I am” of John 18:5 again suggests more than “I am the man you are looking for.” Rather, Jesus is the “I am” whose awesome presence forced the guard back and into a posture of reverence. Here Jesus was not the object of betrayal but the subject who won the release of His disciples ( John 18:8 ). Though differing in form from the “I am” sayings, the references to the one “who is and who was and who is to come” (Revelation 1:4 ,Revelation 1:4,1:8 ; Revelation 4:8 ; compare Revelation 11:17 ; Revelation 16:5 ) are similar in thought. In a context of intense hardship that called into question God's sovereignty, the writer of Revelation reaffirmed Israel's faith in the “I am” who is the subject of history and not its victim.

Chris Church


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'i am'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/i/i-am.html. 1991.

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