In a prior Q&A, we discussed the Semitic background of Jesus' statements recorded in the Gospels as ἐγώ εἰμι (= I am [he]). My understanding based on the answer there and a follow-up Q&A was that these statements echo LXX Deuteronomy and Isaiah in a refrain that "asserts the exclusiveness of Yahweh".1

The present question starts from Matt 24:5:2

πολλοὶ γὰρ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου λέγοντες· ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ χριστός...
For many will come in my name, saying, "I am the Christ..."

This occurs in an eschatological scenario described by Jesus involving people claiming to be the messiah (v. 24: ψευδόχριστοι = pseudo-christs). However, the parallel passages in Luke and Mark both contain the "uncomplemented" ἐγώ εἰμι.

Luke 21:8:

πολλοὶ γὰρ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου λέγοντες· ἐγώ εἰμι, καί· ὁ καιρὸς ἤγγικεν.
For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is at hand!'

Mark 13:6:

πολλοὶ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου λέγοντες ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι
Many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!'

It's difficult to imagine that this is a different discourse given the very close verbal parallels. If it's true that the uncomplemented ἐγώ εἰμι is "a meaningless expression" in Greek outside of its representation of this Semitic phrase, then Mark and Luke need to invoke the divine claim.3 However, the Matthew parallel indicates that he understood it instead as a (latent?) claim to messiahship, suggesting that he wasn't bothered by the uncomplemented ἐγώ εἰμι .4

  • Should Mark 13:6 and Luke 21:8 be understood as including a latent complement that is made explicit in Matthew, "the Christ"?

    • If so, does this entail that no reference to Deut/Isa is present in Mark/Luke?
    • If not, how do we understand the relationship between the Synoptics in this quote?

1. From the monograph by Catrin Williams cited (initially) in David's answer to the John 8:58 question.

2. All quotes are Greek NA-28 and English ESV.

3. I can only see every other page in Catrin Williams's chapter on Mark 13:6. From what I gather, she does see it as invoking the same refrain from Deut/Isa. This works well enough in the context of Mark, but I can't put together how she fits that in with the other Synoptics. This may be explained in the missing pages.

4. "Bothered by" in the sense of being struck by a special claim of divinity. I presume here (and this is open for discussion) that Matthew thought that he was merely explaining Mark's text and did not understand his words to mean something different. The extent to which one holds to Markan priority seems to me not really to affect this problem. As I framed that sentence, Markan priority is assumed with the implication that "ὁ χριστός" was Matthew's elaboration, either from Mark's text or from the mouth of Jesus. If instead Matthew is assumed to be primary, we have the same basic problem: Mark and Luke introduced the uncomplemented clause without perceiving a change to this "special" meaning (or they intentionally changed it -- OK). If we want to say that all three (er...Matthew and Mark) were independently translated from the words spoken by Jesus, then the problem indeed shifts.

  • Hi, Susan ~ I'm confused by sentences footnoted 3 and 4. If the uncomplemented phrase is not an idiom and therefore does not automatically invoke a divine claim, how does it follow that Mark and Luke "need to" to do so? And doesn't Matthew's amendment of Mark's uncomplemented phrase suggest that he was bothered by it? Thanks for the post!
    – Schuh
    Jan 10, 2016 at 20:50
  • Sorry, I was using "need" in a less-than-straightforward sense. Per the prior Q&A's (particularly this answer), "ἐγώ εἰμι [∅]" is not normal Greek, not even attested prior to the LXX use in Deut/Isa for this special claim (ʾănî hûʾ). It would be expected, for that reason, to invoke the divine claim for its hearers. The fact that Matthew added "the Christ", to me, indicates that he thought that this is what Mark/Luke intended, i.e. he didn't "hear" that divine claim, which could not have been amended thus. Will attempt to make that clearer.
    – Susan
    Jan 10, 2016 at 22:44
  • @Schuh I'm struggling to explain this -- please let me know if that seems clear to you to. It makes sense to me, but I may be missing something (either logical or presuppositional) that makes that incoherent.
    – Susan
    Jan 10, 2016 at 22:51
  • Why are you limiting this question to the Synoptics and not including the Gospel according to John?
    – user33515
    Apr 7, 2017 at 21:46
  • @user33515 Because there's no parallel in John.
    – Susan
    Apr 8, 2017 at 6:39

3 Answers 3



εἰμί (Strong's G1510 - eimi):
to be/exist/happen-to-be; to be present

Examples of εἰμὶ in the NT:

  1. On its own.

    It is typically used to declare personal attribute(s):

    • Marks Gospel records the words of John the Baptist declaring to the people who came to be baptised:
      ... There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am εἰμὶ not worthy to stoop down and unloose.
      -- Mark 1:7 (KJV)
    • from the Centurion's appeal for Jesus' help in regard to his servant:
      For I am εἰμὶ a man under authority, having soldiers under me: ...
      -- Matthew 8:9 (KJV)
    • from Zechariah's response to an angel:
      ... for I am εἰμὶ an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
      -- Luke 1:18 (KJV)

  2. In combination with εγω:

    εγω ειμι is far less common than ειμι on its own. Here is a list of its distribution in the TR:

    Book Number Proportion ---------------------------- Matthew 5 8% Mark 3 5% Luke 4 7% John 32 54% Acts 6 10% Romans 1 2% 1 Timothy 1 2% Revelation 7 12%

    Here are some pertinent examples:

    εγω ειμι with immediate attribute(s):

    ... εγω ειμι γαβριηλ ο παρεστηκως ενωπιον του θεου ...

    -- Luke 1:19 (TR)

    Here I have given the Greek because the KJV English has lost something. It has "I am Gabriel" for εγω ειμι γαβριηλ, as if εγω was of no consequence.

    It is clear, to me at least, the angel's reply is more emphatic than would be expressed by ειμι alone, and this ought to, somehow, find it's way into English.

    Since the first person is doubly stated, one way to do that might be:

    I am, myself, Gabriel! The one who stands in the presence of God

    Where "myself" and the exclamation mark provide the emphasis.

    Or, if that is too much emphasis (or perhaps a bit stilted), then simply:

    I am Gabriel! The one who has stood in the presence of God.

    Where the exclamation mark alone represents the additional emphasis.

    After all, the angel was providing his name and CREDENTIALS to Zechariah, which should have moved him, had he remembered the prophecy recorded in Daniel (9:20-27), also delivered by Gabriel, which was now unfolding before his very eyes.

    εγω ειμι as a stand-alone expression, i.e. attributes are not immediately declared

    • Jesus on trial before the high priest has this question thundered at him:

      ... Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?
      -- Mark 14:61 (KJV)

      Jesus' response:

      ... I am! Andye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
      -- Mark 14:62 (KJV)

      The liberty of adding the exclamation mark to the KJV text was taken to indicate the presence in the Greek of the omitted pronoun.

      The attribute(s) here are implicit, and are declared by the high priest in his question, i.e. "... the Christ, the Son of the Blessed ...". It remained only for Jesus to affirm or deny them, or to continue in silence. Jesus, as it is recorded, chose to affirm them emphatically.

    • Jesus was walking on the water while the disciples were struggling in a boat against a storm, but when they saw him:
      ... they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:
      -- Mark 6:49 (KJV)
      So Jesus called out to them:
      ... θαρσειτε εγω ειμι μη φοβεισθε
      -- Mark 6:50.

      Again, the attribute(s) are implicit. On this occasion declared by the disciples, namely, that Jesus was "a spirit". So, when Jesus responded εγω ειμι, it was his way of reassuring them that he wasn't "a spirit", but he, himself.

      So, one way of giving Jesus' response in English to their cry of fear, might be:

      Take heart. It is I, myself. Do not be afraid.

      Or, given the alternate definition for εἰμί at the top of this answer, i.e. to be present, one could also give:

      Take heart. I am here, myself! Do not be afraid.

      Or just:

      Take heart. I am here! Do not be afraid.

    • Jesus said to the Jews:
      Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
      -- John 8:56 (KJV)
      And the Jews, aghast, replied:
      ... Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
      -- John 8:57 (KJV)
      Then Jesus dropped a hydrogen bomb:
      πριν αβρααμ γενεσθαι εγω ειμι
      -- John 8:58 (TR)
      This was a hydrogen bomb because there is no attribute, explicit or implicit, that one could possibly connect to Jesus' use of εγω ειμι. This was nothing less than Jesus declaring as had Yahweh to Moses:
      ... ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν ...
      -- Exodus 3:14 (LXX)

      That is, "I am the one who is!"

      There was no misunderstanding here. The Jews knew full-well what he was claiming, and immediately took up stones to throw at him.

Having set the framework for the meaning of εγω ειμι, it remains only to give an answer the OP's question.

The instances of εγω ειμι in the Synoptics relating to eschatology are exhausted by those given in the OP:

  • Those referred to in Matthew 24:5 are declaring emphatically, ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ χριστός, i.e. : "I am the Christ!".

  • Those referred to in Mark 13:6 and Luke 21:8 are declaring something far more extreme. They are in fact replicating Jesus' statement before the Jews, i.e. "I am!" -- by the same reasoning giving in that example.


I have long argued that ὄνομα seems to best be understood in some contexts as "title", such as when God gives Jesus "the highest name" which he identifies as kurios in Phil 2. This seems to give a natural reading to the 3 parallel passages cited:

Mat_24:5  For many shall come in my name [title], saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

Mar_13:6  For many shall come in my name [title], saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

Luk_21:8  And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name [title], saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.

In that light they are simple parallels and not a redefinition of God as "three eternally co-equal persons, of one hupostasis, not dividing the substance" etc.

I prefer "title" but I believe we can see this as well which is as I said more in keeping with Occam's Razor than the creedal solution.

What is my point? That Jesus is not saying they must believe in his "name" but rather in his "title" - that he is the Christ. That is, he is not saying "you must believe I am Jesus" but rather "you must believe that I am all the things I said I am" such "the light of the world".

Bill Mounce seems to see it the same way:

Jesus says, “This is why I said to you that you would die in your sins, for if you do not believe that I am he (ἐγώ εἰμι), you will die in your sins.” This is one of the more interesting conundrums I have seen in a while.

Where does the “he” come from? More importantly, who is “he.” The “I” is Jesus, but who is the “he” Jesus is referring to? Does this really make any sense? Almost all translations say “I am he,” but that doesn’t make it right.

The reason this is an interesting conundrum is because there are several things at work. We all know of the use of ἐγώ εἰμι to make reference to God’s name in Exodus 3:15 (אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה, Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν). Jesus says, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came to be, I am (ἐγὼ εἰμί)!” (John 8:58). The Jews caught the connection and tried to stone him.

Related are the “I Am” sayings that clearly are making reference to the “I Am,” such as Jesus saying “I am the bread of life (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς)” (John 6:35).

On the other side of the theological spectrum we have a verse like John 6:20 in which Jesus says to the frightened disciples, “It is I (ἐγώ εἰμι); do not be afraid.” Nothing special here.

But our passage is somewhere in the middle. It is a theological affirmation that salvation is all tied up in believing Jesus is who he says he is, and I have been wondering about a translation such as “who I am.” This actually makes sense and fits the meaning of the passage. However, it loses possible reference to the I AM name of God. But it does explain the NLT’s attempt to make sense of the passage when it says, “That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I AM who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” “I AM” is in small caps.

Translation is often a decision as to what piece of information to lose. I don’t like “I am he” because there is no antecedent for “he” and it just makes no sense.

What do you think?


Interestingly, right after he says that his enemies respond with the question, "well then who do you say that you are"?:

Joh 8:25  Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning.

Of this verse Albert Barnes remarks:

Who art thou? - As Jesus did not expressly say in the previous verse that he was the Messiah, they professed still not to understand him. In great contempt, therefore, they asked him who he was. As if they had said, “Who art thou that undertakest to threaten us in this manner!” When we remember that they regarded him as a mere pretender from Galilee; that he was poor and without friends; and that he was persecuted by those in authority, we cannot but admire the patience with which all this was borne, and the coolness with which he answered them. Even the same ... - What he had professed to them was that he was the light of the world; that he was the bread that came down from heaven; that he was sent by his Father, etc. From all this they might easily gather that he claimed to be the Messiah. He assumed no new character; he made no change in his professions; he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and as he had once professed to be the light of the world, so, in the face of contempt, persecution, and death, he adhered to the profession. The beginning - From his first discourse with them, or uniformly.

I think that Mounce has nailed it.


My understanding is that no claim of Deity is being made by saying, "I am". Thus there is no overlap between other passages stating "I am Christ". Certain come and associate themselves with the name of Christ. But what they actually assert, is themselves, not Him. It is a subtle distinction, but very true in experience.

True, some do come and assert they are, actually, the Messiah. But these, specifically, do not. They associate themselves with Christ's name, but they do not speak his words; or not all of them, to be sure. They will pick and choose what they will, in order to assert their own personality. It is name-dropping, no more and no less. It is sitting at the top table, as close to the Boss as possible, but not out of true loyalty. It is just all to exalt and advance and assert one's own individuality.

Not so Paul, who was crucified with Christ. Who no longer lived, for Christ lived through Him. Jesus came and said "I" or "I am". But he came, in humanity, to to do the will of the Father. For that is what humanity is for. Not for the assertion of the possessor of the humanity. And even as one writes the words, one says within oneself - Lord, is it I.


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