- I am that I am
I am that I am (Hebrew: אהיה אשר אהיה, pronounced "Ehyeh asher ehyeh") is a common English translation (
King James Bibleand others) of the response Godused in the Biblewhen Mosesasked for his name (Exodus 3:14). It is one of the most famous verses in the Torah. Hayah means "existed" or "was" in Hebrew; "ehyeh" is the first person singular imperfect form. "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" is generally interpreted to mean "I am that I am", though it more literally translates as "I-shall-be that I-shall-be."
The word "Ehyeh" is used a total of 43 places in the Old Testament, where it is usually translated as "I will be" -- as is the case for its first occurrence, in Exodus 3:12 -- or "I shall be," as is the case for its final occurrence in Zechariah 8:8. It stems from the Hebrew conception of
monotheismthat God exists within each and everyone and by himself, the uncreated Creator who does not depend on anything or anyone; therefore "I am who I am". Some scholars state the Tetragrammatonitself derives from the same verbal root, but others counter that it may simply sound similar as intended by God, such as Psalm 119 and the Hebrew words "shoqed" (watching) and "shaqed" ( almondbranch) found in Jeremiah 1:11-12.
Hebrew grammatical tense and purported implication
Theologians have many different explanations for the meaning behind this phrase. Many
theologians explain that "I am that I am" is better translated "I be that I be". The ancient Hebrew language does not have a past, present, or future tense. Instead, it has an imperfective aspectand perfective aspectas indicators of time, with no actual determined time. In Hebrew, time elements rather than verb conjugations are used to denote time.
Perfective aspect is something that is completed, or will be definitely completed.Imperfective is something that has not been completed, might be completed or might be completed in the future (there is no definite).
"Ehyeh" is a first-person singular verb, and can be understood as God saying that God is "in the process of being", a reference that could say, based on theological interpretation, that God exists in all times.
"Asher," with the vowel pointing used in Exodus, is a relative pronoun, according to William Holladay's lexicon. Holladay defines "asher" as a relative particle, meaning anything from "that" to "because" to "who."
New Testament Biblical references where Jesus uses the word
Some claim that according to traditional Christian interpretation, the New Testament testifies that Jesus Christ declared He is the great “I Am” of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). In the book of John verse 8:58 Jesus says: “before Abraham was, I am” (KJV). In the use of “I Am” Jesus was implying he is the God of Judaism, made evident in verse 59 by the Scribes and Pharisees' reaction: “Then took they up stones to cast at him” (KJV). Nevertheless, Christ himself also said: "Ye heard how I said to you, I go away, and I come unto you. If ye loved me, ye would have rejoiced, because I go unto the Father: for the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28, ASV), as well as: "My Father, who hath given them unto me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:29, ASV). This is why apostle Paul explained it once and for all: "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men..." (Philippians 2:5-7)
It has also been argued that few scholars today would say that there is a connection between the “I am” in this context and the divine name. Edwin Freed explains, “the meaning of the sentence in the mind of the writer was: 'Before Abraham was, I, the Christ, the Son of God, existed.” William Loader notes that the “text need mean no more than I am and was in existence before Abraham, still a majestic unique claim but not an allusion to the divine name.” The Simple English Bible paraphrases it as, “I am the Messiah.” K.L. McKay notes, “The emphatic words used by Jesus in the passages referred to above [including John 8:58] are perfectly natural in their contexts, and they do not echo the words of Exodus 3:14 in the normally quoted Greek version.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetragrammaton]
This argument, however, only negates a direct link between Jesus' utterance of "I Am" and the divine name of the
tetragrammaton. The phrase itself, "I am," is stated by Yahweh independently of the tetragrammaton, and is literally repeated by Jesus.
Jesus goes on throughout the New Testament ascribing his deity by the use of this word: I am… bread of life, I am… light of the world, I am… from above, I am… the door, I am… good shepherd, I am… resurrection and the life, I am… way, the truth and the life, I am… true vine, I am… Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty, I am… first and the last, I am… he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, I am… he which searcheth the reins and hearts, I am… root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
Roman Catholic Church interpretation
The Roman Catholic church's interpretation has been summarized in the "
Catechism of the Catholic Church". The interpretation is found in numbers 203-213.
Some of the salient points are the following:
;203:God revealed himself to his people Israel by making his name known to them. A name expresses a person's essence and identity and the meaning of this person's life. God has a name; he is not an anonymous force. To disclose one's name is to make oneself known to others; in a way it is to hand oneself over by becoming accessible, capable of being known more intimately and addressed personally.
;206:In revealing his mysterious name, YHWH ("I AM HE WHO IS", "I AM WHO AM" or "I AM WHAT I AM"), God says who he is and by what name he is to be called. This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it better expresses God as what he is - infinitely above everything that we can understand or say: he is the "hidden God", his name is
ineffable, and he is the God who makes himself close to men.
;207:God, who reveals his name as "I AM", reveals himself as the God who is always there, present to his people in order to save them.
;210:After Israel's sin, when the people had turned away from God to worship the
golden calf, God hears Moses' prayer of intercession and agrees to walk in the midst of an unfaithful people, thus demonstrating his love. When Moses asks to see his glory, God responds "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name 'the LORD' [YHWH] ." Then the LORD passes before Moses and proclaims, "YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness"; Moses then confesses that the LORD is a forgiving God.
;211:The divine name, "I Am" or "He Is", expresses God's faithfulness: despite the faithlessness of men's sin and the punishment it deserves, he keeps "steadfast love for thousands"... By giving his life to free us from sin, Jesus reveals that he himself bears the divine name: "When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will realize that "I AM"."
;212:In God "there is no variation or shadow due to change."
;213:The revelation of the ineffable name "I AM WHO AM" contains then the truth that God alone IS. The Greek
Septuaginttranslation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and following it the Church's Tradition, understood the divine name in this sense: God is the fullness of Being and of every perfection, without origin and without end. All creatures receive all that they are and have from him; but he alone is his very being, and he is of himself everything that he is.
Kabbalists have long deemed that the
Torahcontains esoteric information. The response given by God is considered significant by many Kabbalists, because it is seen as proof in the divine nature of God's name, a central idea in Kabbalah (and to a lesser degree Judaismin general).
Some religious groups believe that this phrase or at least the "
I am" part of the phrase is an actual name of God, or to lesser degree the sole name of God. It can be found in many lists where other common names of God are shown.
In the Hindu Advaita Vedanta, the "
I am" is explained by teachers such as Sri Nisargadatta Maharajas an abstraction in the mind of the Stateless State, of the Absolute, or the Supreme Reality, called Parabrahman. It is pure awareness, prior to thoughts, free from perceptions, associations, memories.
Names of God
Names of God in Judaism
Tat Tvam Asi
* [http://www.gracecathedral.org/enrichment/brush_excerpts/brush_20040218.shtml Brush Up on Your Bible: The Many Names of God (I am that I am)]
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