When we think of “I am” in the Gospel of John, we generally think of expressions with a predicate after the “I am,” like “I am the good shepherd.” In that sentence, “the good shepherd” is the predicate that completes the sentence and describes the subject (“I”). Translations sometimes hide the instances in the Gospel of John where “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι) occurs in Greek without a predicate. These instances can be important, because they may be pointers to the divinity of Jesus. This is certainly the case in John 8:24, 28, 58. John 8:58 generally does not have the predicate in English translations. It says, “Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, Amen, I say to you, “Before Abraham was, I am.”’” After Jesus says this, they picked up stones to stone him, presumably because they sensed that Jesus was referring to himself in a way that points to his divinity. They are right. Jesus is claiming that he existed before Abraham and then used the phrase “I am.” Both of these elements suggest his divinity as we will see below.
“I Am” in John 8:24 and 8:28
In John 8:24 and 8:28, the use of “I am” without a predicate is often hidden by our translations. Most translations will say “I am he” in these verses, but there is no predicate in Greek. As a result, John 8:24 says, “For if you might not believe that I am, you will die because of your sins.” And John 8:28 says, “Whenever you might lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am.”
“I Am” in Isaiah, Exodus, and Deuteronomy
“I am” is probably an allusion to the Old Testament. It is especially easy to see an allusion to Isaiah, where ἐγώ εἰμι occurs in the Greek Old Testament in several places. In each case, its Hebrew equivalent is correctly translated “I am he,” but the Greek translation is simply ἐγώ εἰμι (“I am”). If you look at a few of these instances, like Isaiah 41:4 and 43:10, you will see that these verses affirm that God is unique with respect to other gods in that he is the eternal God (43:10) and creator (41:4). He is also the unique God who is able to save his people (43:10-11). Elsewhere, ἐγώ εἰμι (“I am”) is used to assert the uniqueness of God in Deuteronomy 32:39. In addition, one cannot help but see in ἐγώ εἰμι an allusion back to Exodus 3:14, which is the first time that the Lord’s identity is associated with “I am.” When God speaks to Moses in Exodus 3:14, he associates his identity with “I am” (common translation: “I am who I am”).
Hopefully, it is apparent by now that “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι) is a significant allusion to the Old Testament and one that identifies Jesus as the eternal God who is able to do what only God can do, like save his people. Jesus himself said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).