by Michael R. Burgos Jr.
Unitarianism has attempted to repudiate the trinitarian contention that there is a meaning of the phrase ‘I am’ within Scripture that is outside of its normative function as a means of self-identification.
So when he said to them, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground. (John 18:6)1
The above text is one that trinitarians have understood to be evidence for the deity of Christ. Moreover, this text is one that trinitarians have understood to be the Son's identification of himself as Yahweh. The point of this study is to demonstrate the deity of Christ as made evident by a consideration of John 18:6 in light of an overview of the use of the phrase ‘I am’ in canonical and extra-canonical texts. Thereafter, several unitarian explanations for the text will be offered so as to magnify the harmony of trinitarian orthodoxy as it relates to the biblical identity of Christ.
The Old Testament background of "I Am"
The phrase ‘I am’ carries a special meaning outside of its common usage in Scripture. Within the Old Testament it is presented as a formula indicative of the God of Israel. In Exodus 3:13 Moses asks God, "if I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'the God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'what is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God answered Moses and said, “I Am Who I Am.” The Septuagint renders God's answer, ἐγὼ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (“I am the being”). Since the Septuagint includes ὁ ὤν (“the being”), the participial form of ἐγὼ εἰμι (“I am”) in Exodus 3:14, a one to one parallel cannot be drawn to Jesus’ usage of the phrase in John 18:6 upon that basis alone. However, within the Septuagint an atypical utilization of “I am” occurs repetitiously after Exodus 3:14 without the inclusion of ὁ ὤν.2 The peculiarity of the usage stems from the fact that the phrase is employed at the end of a clause or sentence in such a way that it tends to render the text awkward.
Deuteronomy 32:39 is a case in point. The text states, “See, see that I am, and there is no god except me.”3 Just as in Exodus, the phrase communicates exclusivity- a class of one. Yahweh is the Living God because he is the “I am,” the one existing.
Using the same style, Isaiah employs “I am” repetitiously and formulaically to indicate the exclusivity of Yahweh as the only living God.
Who has wrought and done these things? The one calling her from the beginning of generations has called her. I, God, am first, and for the things that are coming, I am. (Isaiah 41:4)
Be my witnesses; I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and the servant whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe and understand that I am. (Isaiah 43:10)
Hear me, O house of Iakob and everyone who is left of Israel, you who are being carried from the womb and trained from the time you were a child. Until your old age, I am. And until you grow old, I am. (Isaiah 46:3-4)
The Hebrew text of Isaiah 45:18 states, “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” However, the Septuagint omits the tetragrammaton in favor of egō eimi alone. The Septuagint reads, “I am, and there is no other,” thereby identifying that the ancient Jewish translators recognized the significance of “I am” as indicative and even synonymous with the name of the God of Israel. Moreover, in Isaiah 45:19 the Hebrew text states, “I the Lord speak the truth.” The Septuagint renders this phrase as “I am, I am the Lord, speaking righteousness.” In light of the rendering of verse 18, the insertion of “I am” a second time within the text is certainly an allusion to who was revealed to Moses at the bush, and this without the use of the participle.
In similar fashion, the Septuagint renders Isaiah 43:25 and 51:12 in such a way that the “I am” formula occurs in succession. These utilizations provide further evidence that egō eimi was a recognized title among the Jews, especially during the second temple period.
I am, I am the one who blots out your acts of lawlessness. (Isaiah 43:25)
I am, I am he who comforts you. (Isaiah 51:12)
Isaiah 47:8-10 states,
But now hear these things, you delicate woman who sits securely, who says in her heart, ‘I am, and there is no other; I shall not sit as a widow or know bereavement. But now both these things shall come upon you suddenly, in one day; widowhood and loss of children shall come upon you suddenly in your witchcraft, exceedingly in the strength of your enchantments.
In this passage, we see that the "delicate woman" (i.e., Babylon) is characterized as making use of the phrase "I am" in the style and tenor that Yahweh uses it of himself.4 The text is characterizing this people as being prideful to the extent that they believe that they possess sovereignty over their own circumstance like that of God. Therefore, their use of "I am" serves as a receptor of judgment; that the true Sovereign, the authentic "I am," will bring justice to this blaspheming people.5
Like the Old Testament, there exists a normative use of “I am” within the Jewish pseudepigrapha.6 However, there is also present the formulaic use of the phrase that is an indicator of deity. Some of the most pronounced examples occur in the Apocalypse of Abraham:
…the voice of a Mighty One from heaven came down from the heavens in a stream of fire, saying and calling, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And I said: ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘You art seeking in the understanding of your heart the God of gods and the Creator. I am He. (8:1-4)7
Fear not, for I am Before-the-World and Mighty, the God who created previously, before the light of the age. I am the protector for you and I am your helper. (9:1-4)8
Within the Apocalypse of Elijah there also exists the phrase “I am the Christ,”9 which is in reference to an anti-Christ figure within an eschatological context. Wintermute suggests that the Coptic text, “probably translates an egō eimi statement.” The statement is reminiscent of Mark 13:6 wherein Jesus warns of those falsely claiming to be Christ by saying “I am.” Whether one accepts a second, third, or fourth century date for the text,10 the presence of the formula by either a Christian or Jewish hand further demonstrates both the awareness and recognition of the phrase within antiquity.
The Synoptic Gospels
Unlike John, the synoptic writers were not nearly as concerned with portraying the Son as Yahweh by means of “I am” sayings.11 However, being mindful of the precedent for the formula that is found within the Old Testament, there are a number of passages that bear consideration.
Upon terrifying his disciples by his early morning walk on water, Jesus stated in Mark 6:50, “Take heart: I am. Do not be afraid” (Θαρσεῖτε, ἐγώ εἰμι: μὴ φοβεῖσθε).12 Catrin Williams has suggested that Jesus used ἐγώ εἰμι “in an ordinary sense…”13 and “was probably understood…as an identification formula only.”14 Regarding the Johannine parallel, F. F. Bruce stated, “There are places within this gospel where the words egō eimi have the nature of divine designation…but here they simply mean ‘It is I.’”15 However, when one considers the background of the phrase and its place within the apex of the narrative, it becomes clear that while a self-identification is meant, it is that of the one who “trampled the waves of the sea.”16 James Edwards rightly characterized Jesus as “treading only where God can walk.”17 The disciples reaction was one fitting for deity; “Those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”18
Important to the narrative of Mark 6 and Jesus’ use of egō eimi is the intention of Jesus to pass by the boat. The text states in Mark 6:48, “He meant to pass by them.” This detail is one that is reminiscent of those times in which the God has passed by his people.19 The characterization of one who passes by, having sovereign command of nature, making himself known by the phrase “I am,” is one that purposefully invokes the revelations of God in the Old Testament. Edwards concluded,
Jesus’ walking on the water to his disciples is a revelation of the glory that he shares with the Father and the compassion that he extends to his followers. It is a divine epiphany in answer to their earlier bafflement when he calmed the storm, ‘Who is this?’20
The most pronounced occurrence of egō eimi in Mark’s gospel is occurs during Jesus’ trial. The High Priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Jesus’ response was a weighty combination of irony and eschatological punch. He stated in Mark 14:62, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”21
Jesus’ response utilized the normative function of egō eimi, as the means of self-identification, and yet his response is reminiscent of Deuteronomy 32:39. Thus, Jesus’ response held a rich double meaning; identifying Himself as the divine Son by the very name of God.22
Hans Schwarz has noted,
We may conclude that Jesus’ use of ego eimi in Mark 14:62 is more than a simple affirmation. He uses a revelational phrase to disclose himself and identify himself with God. As the words following ego eimi show, the Messianic secret is lifted and Jesus unashamedly admits his divine sonship.23
After Jesus’ confession in Mark 14:62, “the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy.” Mark also documents that “they all condemned him as deserving death.”24 Jesus’ “I am” statement was met with a reaction that gives the reader every reason to believe that there existed no ambiguity in the Jews understanding of the phrase as being particular to God.
The Johannine Background
Within the fourth gospel there are a number of occurrences wherein Jesus’ use of “I am” is extraordinarily similar to those spoken by Yahweh within the Old Testament. It is not the point of this study to provide a detailed examination of those occurrences, but rather it will suffice to consider these texts so that we might understand John 18:6 in light of them.
John 4:26 states, "Jesus said to her, 'I who speak to you am he.'”25 In this particular instance, the New International Version actually provides a more literal translation, and in so doing the sense of the Greek text is rendered plainly. It states, “Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you- I am he.’”26 This is very similar to the Septuagint's rendering of Isaiah 52:6 which states, "I myself am the one who speaks: I am here.”27
While I have labored above to communicate the importance of Jesus’ egō eimi statement within Mark’s depiction of the account of Jesus’ walking on the water (Mark 6:45-52), there is sufficient reason to again appeal to this story as it appears within the John’ Gospel. There are themes peculiar to John’s account which nicely accent that which was recorded by Mark. While the two accounts are quite similar, John 6:16-21, particularly vs. 19-20, invokes certain themes that are entirely relevant to both the overall importance of the narrative and to those egō eimi occurrences which occur later within John’s Gospel. The text states,
When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (John 6:19-20)28
There is little doubt that Isaiah is on the mind of the Apostle, as it appears throughout his Gospel.29 This is especially true of Isaiah 43 as it relates to Jesus’ egō eimi statements.30 However, it is worth keeping in mind that while the Septuagint played a significant role within John’s Gospel, it is likely that the Targum’s had their role as well. Regarding the John 6:16-21, Ronning has noted,
In [Isaiah] 43:1, the LORD says to Israel, “Do not be afraid.” In 43:2, he says he will be with them when they pass through the waters, which is what the disciples were doing at the time John 6:20 is spoken. In Isa 43:3, he says he is their savior. In 43:5, he says, “Do not fear, for I am with you.” Finally, there is the “I am he” saying of 43:10, which is of great significance to other ἐγώ εἰμι sayings in John. Targum Isaiah 43:2 takes God’s promise of being with his people when they cross through the waters to refer back to the crossing of the Red Sea. When Israel crossed the sea, it was dark, with a strong wind blowing as in John 6:16-21. Several Pal. Tg. Exod 14 passages point to the help of the divine Word in Israel’s sea crossing. Targum Isaiah 43:2 says, “My Word was your help.”31
John 8:24 states, "I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am you will die in your sins.” This closely parallels Isaiah 43:10 which states, "Be my witnesses; I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and the servant whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe and understand that I am.” John 13:19 provides a nearly identical parallel; “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am."32
Because of the thematic union between Isaiah 43 and the above texts, it is not difficult to see John’s intent in including an egō eimi statement at John 6:20, particularly in light of Ronning’s comments.
When in John 8:58 Jesus states, "before Abraham was, I am" we ought not to be surprised at the response of the unbelieving Jews. John 8:59 states, "therefore they picked up stones to throw at him.” Not only does this usage of egō eimi demand the eternality of Jesus, but the response of the Jews was clearly an attempt at execution, the punishment prescribed by God for blaspheme.33
The Armed Mob
The mob that sought Jesus on the night of his betrayal consisted of Judas Iscariot and, "a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees (John 18:3). Carson has well elaborated that,
…in addition to bring Jewish officials Judas Iscariot also guided a detachment of soldiers. The Greek (ten speiran) makes it clear that these were not Jews, but 'the cohort (of Roman auxiliaries)'...In practice a cohort normally numbered 600 men; but in any case the noun speira can refer to a 'maniple' of only 200 men, and it is not necessary to assume that an entire maniple was present. Roman auxiliary troops were garrisoned in the fortress of Antonia to the north-west of the temple complex. This move to Jerusalem not only ensured more efficient policing of the huge throngs that swelled the population of Jerusalem during the high feasts, but guaranteed that any mob violence or incipient rebellion, bred by the crowding and the religious fervour, would be crushed. That is probably the reason why they were called out to support the temple officials.34
The soldiers and officers are said to have been carrying "lanterns and torches and weapons" (John 18:3). In addition, it was a full moon.35 Therefore, the amount of light available to the armed party was likely plentiful. Surely the Roman soldiers understood the importance of preparedness in a mission such as this. So too, the amount of participants in the arresting mob, even if only a fraction of what Carson suggests, would serve to make the least courageous among the arresting party confident. Judas no doubt anticipated that Jesus would not be accompanied by a large crowd, but only a few disciples. He is characterized by John as “having taken the detachment of soldiers,”36 thereby indicating that it was he who was their informant and guide.37 Therefore, the mob likely expected a quick arrest with minimal resistance.
Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am he.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, ‘Whom do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am.’ (John 18:4-8)
Within the above text we see a rather interesting response made by the mob at Jesus' utterance. John 18:6 begins with the adverbial conjunction ὡς (“when”) thereby implying a causal nature to Jesus' utterance. That is, it was when Jesus said "I am," that the arresting party drew back and fell to the ground. The plural verbs ἀπῆλθον (“they drew”) and ἔπεσαν (“they fell”) indicate that the entirety of the group not only "drew back" but also "fell to the ground." While the response of the well-equipped mob is admittedly fascinating, it is amplified by the fact that prior to the arrest Jesus knew “all that would happen to him.” Jesus did not merely know of his pending arrest, but also the grim and fatal affliction he was to endure. It was on the basis of this knowledge that Jesus initiated contact with those that sought him, and it was on the basis of his knowledge that he asserted “I am.” The divine power displayed through the utilization of the phrase demonstrated the authority Jesus had previously made known. In John 10:18 Jesus stated, “I lay down my life…no one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”
In acknowledgement of the background of egō eimi, the reaction of the mob is best explained as a display of the divine power of the Christ by way of his self-identification as Yahweh. This understanding neither necessitates that the arresting crowd understood the implications of Jesus’ statement, or that the mob understood why they all fell at his word. This explanation is rejected by virtually all theological unitarians who cannot allow for the deity of Christ. Subsequently, unitarians have posed a number of explanations so as to refute the trinitarian understanding of the text. But do the explanations put forward satisfy the text?
Greg Stafford has offered the following explanation:
...the reaction of the mob in 18:6 is no surprise given the confident, sudden self-identification Jesus makes. The soldiers present likely remembered hearing about how impressive Jesus was in his earlier encounter with the officers who were sent to 'get hold of him,' but failed to do so because of the way he spoke. Again, the context shows that Jesus' words caused the crowds to conclude, 'This is the Christ.' (John 7:41) The words 'they drew back and fell to the ground' need mean no more than that the men who came to make the arrest (some of whom at least did not previously know Jesus even by sight) were so overcome by his moral ascendancy that they recoiled in fear.Most likely, then, when Jesus unhesitatingly revealed himself as the one who they sought, those coming to arrest him were taken aback by his fearless demeanor, particularly in light of their presuppositions about the man which were based upon what they heard or experienced.38
Stafford stated that “the men who came to make the arrest…were so overcome by his moral ascendency that they recoiled in fear.” However, the text makes explicit that the mob did not simply recoil, but rather they “drew back and fell to the ground.” Furthermore, the suggestion that Jesus' moral ascendancy was the means by which the mob fell to the ground is absurd. Surely Stafford would admit to Jesus' flawless moral behavior every moment of his existence. Why then is this the only time in which "his moral ascendancy" caused anyone, let alone an armed contingent of train men to fall to the ground? Moreover, characterizing the drawing back and falling of the mob as merely being "taking aback" is at odds with the plain reading of the text.
Stafford has also raised the issue of an implied predicate regarding John 18:5. He argued that “a predicate is clearly implied by the context, for Jesus' response is to their request for ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’"39 Obviously, Stafford is correct in pointing to the context so as to make sense of Jesus’ response. However, the fact that Jesus’ statement made grammatical sense does not constitute a refutation of the trinitarian contention regarding verse 6. Evidently, Stafford has failed to see the great irony present in not only the account of the arrest, but especially Jesus’ response to those who sought him.
Stafford went further to point out that there exists a textual variant in John 18:5 wherein some important uncial manuscripts possess the reading, λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐγὼ εἰμι.40 This can be legitimately rendered, “He said to them, I am Jesus,” which in supplying the predicate, could have implications upon Jesus’ egō eimi pronouncement in John 18:6. However, the more natural and hence more probable rendering puts ὁ Ἰησοῦς within the first clause (i.e., “Jesus said to them, I am.”).41 In addition, codex Vaticanus supplies Ἰησοῦς without the article after ἐγὼ εἰμι. While this reading would raise questions regarding the trinitarian contention, it is isolated and dubious at best.
Admittedly the external support for the inclusion of (ὁ) Ἰησοῦς is strong, but its varied placement is indicative of a scribal addition.42 On the other hand, because of the nature of the uncial text, written only with majuscule letters and without the benefit of spaces between words, it is possible that a scribe mistook AYTOIC for AYTOIC. But would a scribe be so careless so as to omit the Nomen Sacrum? Moreover it was not uncommon for a scribe to insert a name, particularly the name of Jesus, as an explanatory supplement to aid in clarifying the identity of the speaker.43
Ultimately, the fact that verses 6 and 8 omit ὁ Ἰησοῦς while depicting Jesus repeating his response to the mob weighs heavily against its inclusion.44 Thus, unless Stafford wants to introduce evident discontinuity into the text, the reading present in the critical editions shall stand.
Patrick Navas, in his lengthy discussing of John 18:6, has offered the following explanation as found in the ironically named Interpreter’s Bible:
The moral majesty of Jesus astonished the captors, who recoiled in amazement, and some fell to the ground.45
Jesus was the perfect man. All of His speech and behavior were characterized by moral excellence all of the time. If the above statement is correct, why then is John 18:6 the only time in which such a reaction is given? Surely the arresting party was prepared for the unknown. Would not a trained soldier or officer, let alone an experienced soldier or officer, be ready not only for resistance but also surrender? In addition, the Interpreter’s Bible errs in its characterization that "some fell to the ground," as the text gives no indication that anything less than the entirety of the arresting party fell to the ground.
Navas has also suggested,
Some commentators, although not arguing that Jesus was uttering the name of God, believe that what occurred represented a characteristic manifestation of Jesus' supernatural power (the power of God working through him), the true cause of the soldiers falling-a powerful sign or miracle consistent with Jesus' walking on water, calming the sea during a storm, or opening the eyes of the blind, and raising people from the dead...Jesus may have wanted to demonstrate his power over the guards, showing that, in reality, they had no power to take him, and that he would only submit himself into their custody of his own accord, with view to the voluntary sacrifice he came into the world to give.46
While Navas ultimately concludes that the reason why the soldiers drew back and fell to the ground is difficult to ascertain,47 this explanation at least finds evidence for the supernatural within the text. Essentially Navas’ suggestion attributes the falling down of the soldiers at Jesus’ utterance of egō eimi to coincidence.
Navas also denied the causal nature of Jesus’ statement and the reaction of the arresting mob. He argued,
“John does not say ‘because (Gk. hoti) Jesus said ‘I am he’ the soldiers fell,’ as if the words in and of themselves were the direct cause of their reaction.”48
The above claim is precluded by the text itself. As previously mentioned, the text states, “When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.”49 ὡς is defined as “a temporal conjunction”50 and “a point of time which is prior to another point of time, with the possible implication in some contexts of reason or cause—‘when.’”51 The conjunction indicates a causal connection between the act of Jesus’ declaration and the reaction of the mob. Hence, ὡς is normatively translated “when” at John 18:6. While John did not use the conjunction ὅτι, he did indicate the causal nature of Jesus’ statement by other means. Williams has noted that John 18:6 “is phrased in such a manner as to give the impression that the captors’ reaction is inextricably linked to Jesus’ egō eimi response.”52
In addition to denying the causal nature of Jesus’ words, Navas sees egō eimi not as a name indicative of the living God, but rather merely a means of self-identification. However, there is a Jewish intertestamental account which, in light of the data examined thus far, is relevant. The writings of the 2nd century BC Jewish historian Artapanus have survived in fragmentary form within the works of Eusebius and Clement of Alexandria.53 Artapanus recorded an account of Moses, who in declaring his intention to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, was promptly imprisoned by Pharaoh. The text then states,
“But when it was night, all of the doors of the prison-house opened of their own accord, and of the guards some died, and some were sunk in sleep, and their weapons broken in pieces. So Moses passed out and came into the palace; and finding the doors open he went in, and the guards here also being sunk in sleep he woke up the king. And he being dismayed at what happened bade Moses tell him the name of the God who sent him: but Moses bent down and whispered in his ear, and when the king heard it he fell speechless, but was held fast by Moses and came to life again.”54
While certainly not canonical, Artapantus’ account consists of an early Jewish depiction wherein Pharaoh fell down at the hearing of the divine name. Given the background of egō eimi within the Septuagint, and its utilization within the New Testament, there is an interesting similarity in the account of Pharoah’s collapse and the collapse of the arresting party.
David Kroll has suggested that the soldiers “probably drew back and fell to the ground simply in response to Jesus offering Himself to them without resistance, something they probably weren’t used to.”55 However, given the background of egō eimi within Scripture, can the response of the soldiers really be attributed to a bit of surprise by Jesus’ surrender? Kroll’s explanation implies that these soldiers were derelict half-wits, who being so amazed by Jesus’ surrender, drew back and fell to the ground. Like those explanations offered previously, Kroll’s theory is far-fetched at best.
Jason BeDuhn has argued that,
In John 18, Jesus asks the soldiers whom they have come for. When Jesus answers they say they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus answers 'I am (he)' (ego eimi). In other words, 'I am Jesus, the one you are looking for.' Now when he says this the first time, the soldiers fall back in shock. But there is no reason to think that Jesus has used some sort of verbal spell on them. There is nothing in the words of ego eimi themselves that have power; it is Jesus who has the power.56
BeDuhn has assumed that the trinitarian contention is that the actual phrase of egō eimi contains some kind of divine power akin to a “verbal spell.” In so doing, BeDuhn has presented a straw man argument as virtually all orthodox trinitarians recognize that the words themselves are powerless. However, it was those very words that were uttered by the Author of life.57 The text says nothing about the soldiers falling "back in shock." Rather the text indicates that the well prepared mob drew back and fell to the ground at Jesus' utterance. Far from a "verbal spell," John 18:6 was a display of the sovereign authority of the incarnate Son by means of his name.
Anthony Buzzard and Charles Hunting have provided the following explanation of John 18:6:
There is good evidence that John incorporates into his portrait of Jesus as Messiah, ideas drawn from the Messianic Psalm 45. In answer to Pilate, Jesus declared that he was a king whose task was to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37). There is an Old Testament background to this theme. Psalm 45 is written in praise of the Messiah (Heb. 1:8), who is addressed as 'most mighty,' and urged to 'ride prosperously in the cause of Truth' (vv. 3, 4). The psalmist foresees that the king's enemies 'will fall under you' (v. 5). The royal status of this leader is emphasized when the writer addresses him with the words 'O God' (Ps 45:6). The career of the Messiah outlined in Psalm 45 is reflected in John's observation that Jesus' enemies recoiled at his claim to be the Messiah and 'fell to the ground' (John 18:6).58
Buzzard and Hunting have assumed that Jesus' "I am" statement consisted merely of a claim to be an exclusively human Messiah. This conclusion is unfounded even if one rejects the entirety of the biblical data concerning egō eimi since the soldiers sought “Jesus of Nazareth.” Within the relevant pericope Jesus makes no explicit claim to be the Messiah, and therefore Buzzard and Hunting’s contention amounts to an unfounded assumption. The text of John 18 does not indicate that the reason the soldiers fell to the ground was due to a Messianic claim. So too, this explanation ignores both the Old and New Testament background of egō eimi. Even if one were to grant that John has incorporated Psalm 45 so as to communicate the events within his gospel, it would not logically follow that a Messianic claim was responsible for the soldiers falling to the ground. The text of Psalm 45:5 states, “Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies the peoples fall under you.” Would not the literal fulfillment of “the peoples fall under you” require the literal fulfillment of “your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies”?
From the perspective of this writer, the above correlation with Psalm 45:5 is strained and would seem to require an atypical hermeneutic.59 If one were to look to the Psalms, Psalm 9 would seem like a far more logical choice due to the apparent similarities between Psalm 9:4 and John 18:6. Ronning has noted,
“The sequence, “they drew back and fell to the ground” agrees with something David wrote about the fate of his enemies as a consequence of the presence of God: “When my enemies turn back, they will stumble and perish at your presence” (Ps 9:3). In the upper room, Jesus described his friends as those who keep his commandments, who love one another, and who remain in him. Judas as one who has perished (John 17:12), and John reminds us of this in 18:9. The fact that the arresting officials draw back and fall to the ground at the “I am he” thus indicates, when read against the backdrop of Ps 9:3, the presence of the LORD. In David’s experience, the presence of the LORD refers to the LORD’s personal intervention on his behalf. Targum Psalms 9:7 has David say, “As for the Word of the LORD, his seat is in the highest heavens forever; he has established his throne for judgement.”60
There is a theme that runs throughout John’s Gospel which utilizes the currency of the language of the Old Testament. This theme is a means unto communicating just what is meant by the phrase, “Son of God,” as it relates to Jesus. For John, Jesus is the living God, the I Am.
Affirmation of the absolute deity of the Son of God has been a consistent article of faith within the church since its inception at Pentecost. Given the nature of Jesus as he is presented by the Apostle John, it is not difficult to see why God’s people have consistently viewed Christ as the Son of God incarnate.
1 Unless otherwise noted, all New Testament citations taken from the Holy Bible English Standard Version.
2 While the phenomenon is certainly present within the Masoretic text, it is made even more explicit in the LXX. Also, it is inarguable that the translators of the Targums did not only observe, but also incorporated the formula so as to accentuate its effect. See Ronning, John, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010), 194-223.
3 Within this chapter all Old Testament quotations taken from A New English Translation of the Septuagint unless otherwise indicated.
4 Cf. Isaiah 44:6; 44:8; 45:5-6; 45:21.
5 There is also a very similar occurrence in Zephaniah 2:15 (3:1 LXX). Therein, Nineveh is characterized as arrogantly applying the “I am” formula to itself. This height of blaspheme is what precipitates the judgment of God much like described in Isaiah 47:8-10.
6 E.g., Apocalypse of Moses 17:2-3.
7 Charlesworth, James H., Ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and the Testaments, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1983), 693.
9 Ibid., 3:1, 744.
10 The earliest witnesses for the text are of the fourth century. See VanDerKam, James C., Adler, William Eds., The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity, (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1996), 95.
11 While the synoptic writers did not seek to emphasize Jesus’ use of “I am,” they did often indicate the deity of Christ by other means. For example, the application of Isaiah 40:3 to Jesus is found within all four gospels.
12 Cf. Matthew 14:27; John 6:20. Anderson suggests that “…in Mark the statement comes across as an identification…while in John it comes across as a theophany.” Anderson does not substantiate this claim other than to say that “these represent two radically different perceptions and experiences.” However, the two narratives are strikingly similar. The minuscule differences present can be accounted for by the differing perspectives of the respective author. See Anderson, Paul N., The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 176.
13 Williams, Catrin H., I am He: The Interpretation of ‘Ani Hu’ in Jewish and Early Christian Literature, (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 2.
14 Fortna, Robert T., Thatcher, Tom Eds., Jesus in Johannine Tradition, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 346.
15 Bruce, F. F., The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 148.
16 See Job 9:8. Cf. Job 38:16; Psalm 77:19.
17 Edwards, James R., 1994. “The Authority of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. 37, Num. 2, 223.
18 Matthew 14:33. Cf. Luke 4:8.
19 See Exodus 33:19, 22; 1 Kings 19:11.
20 Edwards, Edwards, James R., The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 199.
21 Ἐγώ εἰμι, καὶ ὄψεσθε τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ δεξιῶνκαθήμενον τῆς δυνάμεως καὶ ἐρχόμενον μετὰ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ.
22 Jesus’ statement was an appeal to Daniel 7:11-14. Within that text the “Son of man” is depicted as receiving religious service from every human being, as He is the divine Judge with comprehensive eternal dominion (cf. Zechariah 14:5; Matthew 16:27; Revelation 1:7).
23 Schwarz, Hans, Christology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 111.
24 Mark 14:63.
25 ... λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ἐγώ εἰμι, ὁ λαλῶν σοι.
26 Italics have been added to note the lack of the pronoun within the Greek text.
27 … ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι αὐτὸς ὁ λαλῶν.
28 The last clause of John 6:20, “It is I, do not be afraid” (ὁ δὲ λέγει αὐτοῖς·ἐγώ εἰμι·μὴ φοβεῖσθε), bears close resemblance in sentiment to the Septuagint’s rendering of Isaiah 43:5 “Do not fear, for I am with you” (μὴ φοβοῦ, ὅτι μετὰ σοῦ εἰμι).
29 See Carson, D. A., Williamson, Hugh G. M. Eds., It is Written: Scripture Citing Scripture: Essays in Honour of Barnabas Lindars, (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988), 254-264.
30 See the discussion of John 8:24; 13:19 below.
31 Ronning, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology, 202-203.
32 A comparison between the Septuagint’s rendering of the relevant portion of Isaiah 43:10 (ἵνα γνῶτε καὶ πιστεύσητε καὶ συνῆτε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι) and of John 13:19 (ἵνα πιστεύσητε ὅταν γένηται ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι) makes evident the intended parallel.
33 “Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, he shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:16)
34 Carson, D. A., The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 577.
35 It was Passover and thus the moon was full (cf. Numbers 26:18).
36 … λαβὼν τὴν σπεῖραν.
37 The Apostle states in Acts 1:18, that Judas “became a guide (ὁδηγοῦ) to those who arrested Jesus.” Hence, Judas served as an ideal informant for the arresting party thereby adding to their confidence.
38 Stafford, Greg, Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics, 3rd Ed., (Murrieta: Elihu Books, 2009), 311.
39 Greg Stafford, A Review of James White's "A Summary Critique: Jehovah's Witnesses Defended,” http://jehovah.to/exe/general/cri_review.htm.
40 A, C, L, W, Δ, Θ, and Ψ have the articular reading, while א has no article.
41 Both the United Bible Societies 4th Ed. and the Nestle-Aland 28th Ed. place the variant within the first clause.
42 Metzger, Bruce M., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Ed., (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 251.
43 See Aland, Kurt, Aland, Barbara, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 2nd Ed., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 289-290.
44 Verses 6 and 8 do not contain any relevant textual variation.
45 Navas, Patrick, Divine Truth or Human Tradition?: A Reconsideration of the Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, (Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2011), 431.
47 Ibid., 435.
49 ὡς οὖν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἐγώ εἰμι, ἀπῆλθον εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω καὶ ἔπεσαν χαμαί.
50 Bauer, W. F. W, Danker, W. F., Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2000), 1105.
51 Louw, J. P., Nida, E. A., Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains, 2nd Ed., (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 634.
52 Williams, I am He, 292.
53 See Eusebius of Caesarea, Praeparatio Evangelica, 9.18.1; 9.23.1-4; 9.27.1-37. See also Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 22.214.171.124-3.
54 E. H., English Translation of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Praeparatio Evangelica, (Public Domain, Typographeo Academico, 1903), 218.
55 Kroll, David, The God of Jesus: A Comprehensive Examination of the Nature of the Father, Son, and Spirit, (Bloomington: Westbow Press, 2012), 173.
56 BeDuhn, Jason, Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament, (Lanham: Univ. Press, 2003), 109.
57 See Acts 3:15
58 Buzzard, Anthony, Hunting, Charles F., The Doctrine of the Trinity; Christianity's Self-Inflicted Wound, (Lanham: International Scholars Publications, 1998), 291-292.
59 Buzzard and Hunting’s work contains a seven page discussion (218-224) of Jesus’ “I am” statements within John, and John 18:6 is never discussed. However, is John 18:6 briefly mentioned in the provided quotation within a discussion of John 20:28.
60 Ronning, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology, 221-222.
Aland, Kurt, Aland, Barbara. The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.
Anderson, Paul N. The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.
Barron, David, God and Christ: Examining the Evidence for a Biblical Doctrine. Self-published, 2009. http://www.scripturaltruths.com/book/gc.html.
Bauer, W. F. W, Danker, W. F., Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2000.
BeDuhn, Jason. Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament. Lanham: Univ. Press, 2003.
Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983.
Buzzard, Anthony, Hunting, Charles F. The Doctrine of the Trinity; Christianity's Self-Inflicted Wound. Lanham: International Scholars Publications, 1998.
Carson, D. A. The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
______, Williamson, Hugh G. M. Eds. It is Written: Scripture Citing Scripture: Essays in Honour of Barnabas Lindars. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988.
Charlesworth, James H., Ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and the Testaments. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1983.
Edwards, James R. The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
______. 1994.“The Authority of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. 37, Num. 2, 223.
Fortna, Robert T., Thatcher, Tom Eds. Jesus in Johannine Tradition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Gifford, E. H. English Translation of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Praeparatio Evangelica. Public Domain, Typographeo Academico, 1903.
Kroll, David. The God of Jesus: A Comprehensive Examination of the Nature of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Bloomington: Westbow Press, 2012.
Louw, J. P., Nida, E. A. Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains, 2nd Ed. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.
Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Ed. New York: United Bible Societies, 1994.
Navas, Patrick. Divine Truth or Human Tradition?: A Reconsideration of the Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2011.
Pietersma, Albert, Wright, Benjamin G. Eds. A New English Translation of the Septuagint. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2007.
Ronning, John. The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010.
Stafford, Greg. Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics, 3rd Ed. Murrieta: Elihu Books, 2009.
Schwarz, Hans. Christology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
VanDerKam, James C., Adler, William Eds. The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1996.
Williams, Catrin H. I am He: The Interpretation of ‘Ani Hu’ in Jewish and Early Christian Literature. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000.