That You May Know and Believe: Allusions to Isaiah 43:10 LXX in Jesus’ “I Am” Sayings in John

Various scholars (e.g., Philip Harner, David Mark Ball, and Catrin Williams) have argued that Yahweh’s “I am he” (ani hu) sayings in Isaiah 40-55 are the primary Old Testament background to Jesus’ predicateless “I am” (ego eimi) sayings in John (4:26; 6:20; 8:18, 24, 28, 58; 13:18-19; 18:4-8). In this paper I argue that all of these sayings allude directly or indirectly to Isaiah 43:10 in the Septuagint (without denying other likely allusions as well). I also discuss the significance of this finding for both Johannine Christology and for the question of whether these sayings go back to Jesus himself.

Except for John 8:58, these sayings can be read as mundane affirmations (“It is I”), but in context they appear to have more profound significance. This impression is confirmed by the sayings’ allusions to Isaiah 43:1-13, especially 43:10 (especially in the Septuagint). Thus, they present Jesus as speaking in a way that indirectly reveals his deity, rather than asserting it outright. Matthew and Mark present Jesus doing the same thing in various ways, including three “I am” sayings, one of which parallels the saying in John 6:20 (Matt. 14:27; Mark 6:50; see also Mark 14:62; Matt. 28:19-20). In addition, Luke’s report that Jesus told his disciples, “you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), also alludes to Isaiah 43:10. Thus, we have some evidence outside John that supports Jesus’ use of these divine “I am” self-declarations and specifically his allusion to Isaiah 43:10.

The question remains how to understand these allusions in sayings of Jesus that in John reflect the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 43:10. One presumes that Jesus did not usually speak in Greek and probably did not use the Septuagint when quoting Scripture. In most of the “I am” sayings the use of the Septuagint in the Gospels is not problematic for viewing them as authentic, because the connections of those sayings to Isaiah 43:10 would be recognizable in Jesus’ (presumed) Aramaic speech in the light of the Hebrew text of Isaiah. It is plausible to regard these sayings as the ipsissima vox of Jesus (using that term in a rather narrow sense) but not the ipsissima verba (due to translation). The one saying where a difficulty arises in this regard is John 8:18 (“I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me”), because in the Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew text at least as it has come down to us, Isaiah 43:10 distinguishes the Servant from Israel and refers to God as a “witness.” The distinction between the Servant and Israel is not a serious objection to Jesus alluding to Isaiah 43:10 as John 8:18 represents him doing. The reference to God as one of the witnesses is more complex and several explanations are possible. However this question is answered, the “I am” sayings alluding to Isaiah 43:10 are at least for the most part plausibly attributed to Jesus.

7 thoughts on “That You May Know and Believe: Allusions to Isaiah 43:10 LXX in Jesus’ “I Am” Sayings in John”

  1. More NT than LXX?
    I like Will’s description better. I’d probably give it a 2 as well, but I’d rather have this on than another SFL paper, thus the 3. Overall, the discussion may be interesting, but I’m concerned he’s trying to accomplish too much and it will be more NT than LXX focused.

    Reply
  2. Not so sure
    This would probably be interesting to hear for its apologetic angle (I think Bowman interacts a lot with cults), but I’m not sure it will be based on solid data and a clear method. I’m also confused about how the Jesus sayings allude “directly or indirectly” to Isa 43:10–aren’t allusions by definition indirect?

    Reply
  3. Iffy
    The basic approach is fine. It’s pretty well established among NT scholars at least that Isaiah (and Deut 32:39, among others) provides the background of ἐγώ εἰμι for Mark and John (not Exodus 3). It seems this paper is simply trying to narrow things to one particular Isaiah passage (but with a lot of caveats; plus the Acts 1:8 alleged allusion is iffy). It’s unclear why that is necessary or helpful. Moreover, the whole ipsissima vox/voce question would bog this down especially for a *Septuagint* program group.

    But…Jen is right that this could be more interesting that SFL.

    Reply
  4. Problematic
    There’s way too much going on in the proposal. And I’m not sure how much this paper will contribute to LXX, or to NT research.

    The paper could initiate good apologetics discussions; but is that what we’re looking for?

    One positive thing: it could bring in ETS members who would normally not attend an LXX session. But is that what we’re looking for?

    Reply

Leave a Comment