Did Jesus use God’s Name for Himself?
When Jesus began his ministry, his miracles and radical teaching immediately drew huge crowds, creating a frenzy of excitement. As his popularity swelled with the masses, the Jewish leaders (Pharisees, Sadducees, & Scribes) began to see Jesus as a threat. Suddenly they began looking for ways to trap him.
One day Jesus was debating some Pharisees at the Temple, when suddenly he told them he is “the light of the world.” It is almost bizarre to picture this scene, where a traveling carpenter from the lowlands of Galilee tells these PhD’s in religion that he is “the light of the world?” Believing Yahweh to be the light of the world, they replied indignantly:
“You are making false claims about yourself” (John 8:13 NLT).
Jesus then told them that, 2,000 years earlier, Abraham had foreseen him. Their response was incredulous:
“You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham? ” (John 8:57 NLT)
Then Jesus shocked them even more with words no ordinary man would dare to say:
“The truth is, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58 NLT)
Out of the blue, this maverick carpenter with no degree in religion claimed to have always existed. Furthermore, he had used the I AM title (ego eimi), the sacred Name of God, for Himself! These religious experts lived and breathed the Old Testament Scriptures declaring Yahweh alone as God. They knew the Scripture spoken through Isaiah:
“I alone am God. There is no other God; there never has been and never will be. I am the Lord, and there is no other Savior” (Isaiah 43:10, 11 NLT)
It’s easy to understand the rage of those who realized Jesus was speaking of himself as God. Since the penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning, the Jewish leaders angrily picked up stones to kill Jesus. At that point Jesus could have said, “Wait! You misunderstood me—I am not Yahweh.” But Jesus didn’t alter his statement, even at the risk of being killed.
C. S. Lewis explains their anger:
“He says…’I am begotten of the One God, before Abraham was, I am,’ and remember what the words ‘I am’ were in Hebrew. They were the name of God, which must not be spoken by any human being, the name which it was death to utter.”
Some may argue that this was an isolated instance, and Jesus never meant to use God’s holy name for himself. But Jesus also used “I AM” for himself on several other occasions. Imagine their reaction upon hearing Jesus’ other radical claims:
- “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12)
- “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6)
- “I am the only way to the Father” (John 14:6)
- “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25)
- “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11)
- “I am the door” (John 10:9)
- “I am the living bread” (John 6:51)
- “I am the true vine” (John 15:1)
- “I am the Alpha and Omega” Rev.1:7,8)
As Lewis observes, if these claims were not from God Himself, Jesus would have been deemed a lunatic. But what made Jesus credible to those who heard him were the creative, compassionate miracles he performed. Furthermore, they were astounded by his wisdom and authoritative teaching.
Jesus called himself “Son of Man,” and “Son of God” on several occasions. Let’s examine the meaning of those names in context of how his Jewish audience understood them.