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"I Am He," ἐγώ εἰμι, is a focal point in Jesus' betrayal and arrest in John's Gospel. First, it is used when Jesus predicts one of the disciples present at the meal will betray Him:

19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he...21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (John 13) [ESV]

Then it is present three times in the actual arrest:

4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” (John 18)

Only two ἐγώ εἰμι are spoken by Jesus; one is added by the narrator. Catrin H. Williams says this addition is unusual and adds C.H. Dodd's observation the unnatural wording was done to get the reader's attention:

...how does one account for the conscious preservation of this utterance in the form of an indeclinable citation (ὡς οὖν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ἐγώ εἰμι) rather than in the form of indirect speech? The statement it seems..."is given a special importance by a repetition which is sufficiently unnatural to draw the reader's attention."a

The narrator's ἐγώ εἰμι is a parenthesis referring to the one just spoken by Jesus. If the only purpose is to describe how Judas and the others reacted, it is really not needed. Yet, Barrett says the arrest scene may be an "acted parable" to portray Jesus as the Good Shepherd:b

ἄφετε τούτους ὑπάγειν, Jesus purchases the safety of the disciples at the cost of his own life. It is by no means impossible that an apologetic motive may be detected in this ascription of the disciples' flight to the intention of Jesus himself, but, especially in view the clause which follows, it seems to be John's primary intention to show, in an acted parable, that the "Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (10.11 cf. Mark 10.45)c

As part of an "acted" parable, the addition would make sense. The parenthesis implies the narrator was present as an eyewitness. Also, it may be reminiscent of "I am He" spoken at the Supperdand would tie both scenes together.

Given the potential significance of ἐγώ εἰμι and the unnatural wording calling the reader's attention, is the purpose of the narrator's "artificial" ἐγώ εἰμι to strengthen the description as an acted Good Shepherd parable? Since it is not spoken as such, does having an eyewitness report it add significance?


Notes:
a. C.H, Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel, Cambridge University Press, 1963, p. 75 n2, as cited in Catrin H. Williams, I Am He: The Interpretation of A̓nî Hû in Jewish and Early Christian Literature, Mohr Siebeck, 2000, p. 289
b. C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, S·P·C·K, 1962, p. 435
c. ἐγώ εἰμι is also a focal point in the Good Shepherd passage (cf. John 10:7, 9, 11, 14)
d. Barrett, p. 434

  • 1
    Adding the comments about the rock seem rather misleading, and don't follow any natural connections from the texts. If you take out the material about Moses drawing water from the rock, the rest is a good question. I'd suggest adding the Moses piece as part of an Answer to your own Question, but as it stands it's eisegeting this author's perspective into the hermeneutical process. – Steve Taylor Aug 3 at 11:00
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    @SteveTaylor I have taken your advice and reworked the question. – Revelation Lad Aug 3 at 17:07
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The famous "I am" statement in the garden by Jesus during His arrest, is part of a pattern in John where an unpredicated Ἐγώ εἰμι appears. In fact there are seven (nine if we count the last one three times) and all in the mouth of Jesus:

  • John 4:26 – “Then Jesus said, ‘I am.’” [To the Samaritan woman at the well.]
  • John 6:20 – “But then [Jesus] said to them, ‘I am. Fear not.’” [To the frightened disciples in the boat.]
  • John 8:24 – “If you do not trust/believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” [To the crowd temple to which they responded, "Who are you?"]
  • John 8:28 – “When you will lift up the Son of Man, then you will trust/know that I am.” [As a result many believed.]
  • John 8:58 – “Truly, truly, I say to you; before Abraham existed, I am.” [The Jews then tried to stone Him for blasphemy.] Note that this and the previous two mean that Jesus, in the space of this chapter of John 8 uses the unpredicated “I am” idea in the present (v24), future (v28) and past sense (v58). V24 & 28 appears to be tied to believers’ salvation as well.
  • John 13:19 – “From now [on] I tell you before the occurrence, that you may believe when it occurs that, I am.” [To the disciples in the upper room.]
  • John 18: 5, 6, 8 – “He said to them, ‘I am.’ …Therefore, when He told them, ‘I am’, they fell backward to the ground.”

[There are six more in the other Gospels: • Matt 14:27, Mark 6:50, Mark 13:6, Luke 21:8, Mark 14:62, Luke 22:70, but I will not discuss these here.]

In all these instances in John, Jesus is clearly identifying Himself as the divine Messiah - the association with the LXX similar instances is inescapable: Ex 3:13-15, Deut 32:39, Isa 41:4, 43:10, 13, 25, 45:19, 46:4, 48:12, 51:12, 52:6.

It appears to me that Jesus is first recorded as revealing this to the woman at the well and finally to the arresting mob. He does this in an ingenious economy of words; by using an unpredicated Ἐγώ εἰμι Jesus simultaneously:

  • Identifies Himself as Messiah and the very person that is sought by the woman at the well and the arresting mob
  • Shows His divine origin; the woman is flabbergasted and runs to get the townsfolk, while the mob falls backward and Jesus repeats Himself to allow no room for doubt!
  • Allows the accompanying disciples in the garden to go free.

In the other five instances there is similar arrest of attention: the disciples in the boat are immediately reassured; the mob at the temple tries to stone Him; the disciples in the upper room know that Jesus hold the future, etc.

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