My question developed from a discussion on this answer about John 8:58; one argument maintained Jesus should be understood as having used a double ellipsis:
The literal English should be understood as before Abraham becomes [ellipsis], I am [ellipsis]
Furthermore, the ellipsis to ἐγώ εἰμι is known. It refers back to Jesus' first use when He identified Himself as the Messiah. In his book, Thomas Belsham explained this position:
This interpretation connects well with the tenor of our Lord’s discourse: Your father Abraham desired to see my day: he did see it and rejoiced. “and verily I say, the the time for accomplishment of what he foresaw is not yet arrived: for before Abram shall be Abraham, i.e. become the father of many nations, I am Christ your Messiah.”
I saw two challenges with this approach. First, what was said to the Samaritan woman was done in private: not even the disciples were present. The reader of the Gospel knows how ἐγώ εἰμι was used, but it seems unrealistic to maintain Jesus used an ellipsis as an answer to those who had no previous knowledge of this conversation.
Second, as the reader and the Jews know, Jesus frequently used ἐγώ εἰμι with a predicate:
Bread of Life, ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς (6:35, 48)
Living Bread, ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ζῶν (6:51)
The Light of the World, ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου (8:12)
The Door, ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θύρα (10:5, 9)
The Good Shepherd, ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός (10:11, 14)
The Resurrection and the Life, ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή (11:25)
The Way, the Truth, and the Life, ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή (14:6)
The True Vine, ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινή (15:1)
The Vine, ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος (15:5)
Since Jesus had no reservations using ἐγώ εἰμι with a predicate to describe Himself, is it reasonable to maintain He would resort to an ellipsis? Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the idea that the first use of ἐγώ εἰμι without a predicate might serve as a foundation for all future uses of ἐγώ εἰμι without a predicate.
In other words, did John intend the reader to always connect ἐγώ εἰμι when used as a stand alone expression to the conversation with the Samaritan woman?
I am The Messiah
Despite being the stated purpose of the Gospel (cf. John 20:31), and despite 12 ἐγώ εἰμι [something] statements, there is not a single instance where Jesus says ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Μεσσίας or ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Χριστός. Even the confession to the Samaritan woman lacks the explicit statement:
25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (ESV)
25 λέγει αὐτῷ ἡ γυνή· Οἶδα ὅτι Μεσσίας ἔρχεται, ὁ λεγόμενος χριστός· ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἐκεῖνος, ἀναγγελεῖ ἡμῖν ἅπαντα. 26 λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ἐγώ εἰμι, ὁ λαλῶν σοι.
The actual expression is awkward and one may reasonably ask why Jesus failed to respond directly: ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Μεσσίας or ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Χριστός. However, if this first use of ἐγώ εἰμι is intended to serve as the basis for understanding every ἐγώ εἰμι without a predicate, then the meaning is simply ὁ λαλῶν, the one speaking. That is, ἐγώ εἰμι by itself should always be understood as the manner in which Jesus uses to self-identify as the Messiah: I am the one speaking.
I am the one speaking
If this is so, then the "ellipsis" in John 8:58 would be the one speaking.
before Abraham becomes [ellipsis] I am [the one speaking]
ἐγώ εἰμι by itself occurs nine times:
4:26 Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman
6:20 Jesus speaking to the disciples
8:24 Jesus speaking to the Jews
8:28 Jesus speaking to the Jews
8:58 Jesus speaking to the Jews
13:19 Jesus speaking to the disciples
18:5 Jesus speaking to Judas and the others
18:6 Narrator addition repeating 18:5
18:8 Jesus speaking to Judas and the others
With the exception of the narrator addition, Jesus is speaking and I am [the one speaking] is possible. A reader who looked back to the event with the Samaritan woman would understand the omission of ὁ λαλῶν in all future events was simply based on the context: only the Samaritan woman was expecting a Messiah who would tell her all things.
To summarize, it was the Samaritan woman who not only was expecting the Messiah, but specifically one who would tell her all things. To this Jesus responded, ἐγώ εἰμι, ὁ λαλῶν σοι, I am the one speaking to you.
I am here
If ἐγώ εἰμι without a predicate is to be understood based on how it used with the Samaritan woman, then there is a connection to the Greek understanding of Isaiah:
Therefore my people shall know my name in that day because I myself am the one who speaks: I am here. (LXX-Isaiah 52:6 NETS)
διὰ τοῦτο γνώσεται ὁ λαός μου τὸ ὄνομά μου ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι αὐτὸς ὁ λαλῶν πάρειμι
Since Jesus' answer to the Samaritan woman is a claim to be the Messiah whom she was expecting, not only did Jesus say, "I am the one who speaks," His conversation affirms "I am here."
It seems reasonable the event with the Samaritan woman serves as a basis for all ἐγώ εἰμι confessions. Those without a predicate mean I am the one speaking, I am here. Those with a predicate develop the Samaritan woman's expectation. The Messiah is more than the one who will tell us all things; He also is the Bread of Life, the Living Bread, the Light of the World, the Door, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the True Vine, and the Vine.
Finally, the absence of an explicit I am the Messiah or I am the Christ, implies Jesus intends ἐγώ εἰμι to be understood as such.
22 Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. 23 And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. 24 Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. (John 10)
The way in which Jesus told others He was the Messiah was using ἐγώ εἰμι as a standalone expression. And, based on the exchange with the Samaritan woman, He is claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah, I am here.
1. Thomas Belsham, A Calm Inquiry Into the Scripture Doctrine Concerning the Person of Christ, The Unitarian Society, 1817, p.54