The ἐγώ εἰμι Sayings in John as a Guide to the Christological Interpretation of the OT

The 22 cases in John’s Gospel where Jesus says “ἐγώ εἰμι” have been the subject of a number of monographs and other special studies. Of special interest are cases where a saying can be related to ἐγώ εἰμι in LXX, which translates a Hebrew, divine “I am he” from Deut 32:39 or Isaiah 41—52. In a previous study (chapter 9 of my book, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology, Baker, 2010) I divided the 22 sayings into three categories, depending on the most obvious OT background: (1) divine—Jesus is the God of Israel; (2) human—Jesus is the promised Messiah, son of David; (3) means—Jesus is the way to the Father, to eternal life (e.g. John 14:6). At the same time, many of the sayings can also be understood as double entendres with respect to these categories.
In the present proposed paper, I intend to suggest that this threefold categorization of the “I am he” sayings in John can also be used as categorization of how believers should interpret the OT christologically. Christians are of course already attuned to seeing how OT passages relate to the promise of a coming deliverer, whose deity is sometimes indicated (e.g. Isa 9:6ff), and how prophecies or typology prepare the way for his coming, but the first category, the divine, tends to be overlooked in OT interpretation.
Examples to be discussed range from well known “messianic” passages such as Isaiah 53 (where indications of the Servant’s deity are often overlooked), to passages not usually considered for their Christological import.
E.g. Psalm 116, in which the psalmist gives thanks to the Lord for hearing his cry and saving him from death. In a multifaceted “christological” interpretation, one could observe firstly, from the perspective of the Messiah’s human nature, that the psalmist’s experience was repeated when the Son of God was rescued from death by the Father, who always hears him (vv. 1-2; cf. John 11:41-42). But if we look at the Psalm from the perspective of the deity of the Son of God, another incarnational perspective appears: the psalmist’s experience was repeated in the experience of Lazarus. In sickness his sisters “called on the name of the Lord,” sending word to Jesus (cf. v. 4), to come save him from death. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (v. 15) becomes in the incarnation “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). “You have loosed my bonds” (v. 16) becomes “unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:42). “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps 116:9) is fulfilled as Lazarus accompanies Jesus after his resurrection (John 12:2). Other examples will be given as space permits.
[note – this paper was approved for the 2019 session but I had to cancel due to a death in the family]

6 thoughts on “The ἐγώ εἰμι Sayings in John as a Guide to the Christological Interpretation of the OT”

  1. Ronning, The ἐγώ εἰμι Sayings in John as a Guide to the Chris
    There isn’t much new here, and he moves too quickly to standarize both a Johannine approach to the OT and the distinction between non/messianic texts.


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