I Am that I Am
I Am that I Am (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, ehyeh ašer ehyeh [ehˈje aˈʃer ehˈje]) is the common English translation (JPS among others) of the response God used in the Hebrew Bible when Moses asked for his name (Exodus 3:14). It is one of the most famous verses in the Torah. Hayah means "existed" or "was" in Hebrew; "ehyeh" is the first person singular imperfect form and is usually translated in English Bibles as "I will be" (or "I shall be"), for example, at Exodus 3:14. Ehyeh asher ehyeh literally translates as "I Will Be What I Will Be", with attendant theological and mystical implications in Jewish tradition. However, in most English Bibles, in particular the King James Version, this phrase is rendered as I am that I am.
Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh (often contracted in English as "I AM") is one of the Seven Names of God accorded special care by medieval Jewish tradition. The phrase is also found in other world religious literature, used to describe the Supreme Being, generally referring back to its use in Exodus. The word Ehyeh is considered by many rabbinical scholars to be a first-person derivation of the Tetragrammaton, see for example Yahweh.
The word Ehyeh is used a total of 43 places in the Hebrew Bible, where it is often translated as "I will be" — as is the case for its first occurrence, in Genesis 26:3 — or "I shall be," as is the case for its final occurrence in Zechariah 8:8. Used by God to identify himself in the Burning Bush, the importance placed on the phrase, as it is, stems from the Hebrew conception of monotheism that God exists by himself for himself, and is the uncreated Creator who is independent of any concept, force, or entity; therefore "I am who I am" (ongoing).
Some scholars state that the Tetragrammaton itself derives from the same verbal root, following a rabbinical interpretation of Exodus 3:14, but others counter that it may simply sound similar as intended by God, such as Psalm 119 and the Hebrew words "shoqed" (watching) and "shaqed" (almond branch) found in Jeremiah 1:11-12. Whether the Holy Name (written as YHWH) is derived from Eyheh or whether the two are individual concepts, is a subject of debate amongst historians and theologians.
In appearance, it is possible to render YHWH (יהוה) as an archaic third person singular imperfect form of the verb hayah (אהיה) "to be" meaning, therefore, "He is". It is notably distinct from the root El, which can be used as a simple noun to refer to the creator deity in general, as in Elohim, meaning simply "God" (or gods). This interpretation agrees with the meaning of the name given in Exodus 3:14, where God is represented as speaking, and hence as using the first person — ehyeh "I am". Other scholars regard the triconsonantal root of hawah (הוה) as a more likely origin for the name Yahweh (יהוה).
- Septuagint Exodus 3:14 And God said unto Moses, I am HE WHO IS (ho ōn): and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, HE WHO IS (ho ōn) hath sent me unto you.
- Philo : And God said, "At first say unto them, 'I am (egō eimi) THE BEING', (ho ōn, nominative of ontos) that, when they have learnt that there is a difference between THE BEING (ontos, genitive of ho ōn) and that-that-is-not (me ontos), they may be further taught that there is no name whatever that can properly be assigned to Me (ep' emou kuriologeitai), to whom (hoi) only (monoi) belongs (prosesti) the existence (to einai). (Philo Life Of Moses Vol.1 :75)
- ho Ōn, "He who is" (Philo, Life of Moses I 75)
- to Ōn, "the Being who is" (Philo, Life of Moses II 67),
- tou Ontos, "of Him that is" (II 99)
- tou Ontos, "of the Self-Existent" (II 132)
- to Ōn, "the Self-Existent" (II 161)
This usage is also found in the New Testament:
- Rev 1:8 I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, the BEING (ho ōn), and THE WAS (ho ēn), and THE IS TO COME (ho erchomenos), the Almighty (ho pantokrator).
- Rev 4:8 holy, Lord God Almighty, the WAS (ho ēn), and the BEING (ho ōn), and the IS TO COME (ho erchomenos).
Kabbalists have long deemed that the Torah contains esoteric information. The response given by God is considered significant by many Kabbalists, because it is seen as proof in the divine nature of God's name, a central idea in Kabbalah (and to a lesser degree Judaism in general).
Roman Catholic Church interpretation
Some of the salient points are the following:
- God revealed himself to his people of Israel by making his name known to them. A name expresses one's essential identity and the meaning of one's life. God has a name; he is not an anonymous force. To disclose one's name is to make oneself known to others; in a way it is to hand oneself over by becoming accessible, capable of being known more intimately and addressed personally.
- In revealing his mysterious name, YHWH ("I AM HE WHO IS", "I AM WHO AM" or "I AM WHO I AM"), God says who he is and by what name he is to be called. This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it better expresses God as what he is - infinitely above everything that we can understand or say: he is the "hidden God", his name is ineffable, and he is the God who makes himself close to men.
- God, who reveals his name as "I AM", reveals himself as the God who is always there, present to his people in order to save them.
- After Israel's sin, when the people had turned away from God to worship the golden calf, God hears Moses' prayer of intercession and agrees to walk in the midst of an unfaithful people, thus demonstrating his love. When Moses asks to see his glory, God responds "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name 'the LORD' [YHWH]." Then the LORD passes before Moses and proclaims, "YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness"; Moses then confesses that the LORD is a forgiving God.
- The divine name, "I Am" or "He Is", expresses God's faithfulness: despite the faithlessness of men's sin and the punishment it deserves, he keeps "steadfast love for thousands"... By giving his life to free us from sin, Jesus reveals that he himself bears the divine name: "When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will realize that 'I AM'."
- ...In God "there is no variation or shadow due to change."...
- The revelation of the ineffable name "I AM WHO AM" contains then the truth that God alone IS. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and following it the Church's tradition, understood the divine name in this sense: God is the fullness of Being and of every perfection, without origin and without end. All creatures receive all that they are and have from him; but he alone is his very being, and he is of himself everything that he is.
Some religious groups and theologians believe that this phrase or at least the "I am" part of the phrase is an actual name of God, or to lesser degree the sole name of God. It can be found in many lists where other common names of God are shown.
As discussed above, depending on how it is rendered (a subject of much debate amongst historians), the Hebrew name for God YHWH bears some similarity to an archaic form of "he is". In Biblical Hebrew, ehyeh is the first person singular imperfect "to be". In other world religions also the "I AM" part is the actual name of God.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge predicates much of the theoretical frame of his Biographia Literaria on what he calls 'the great I AM' (that is, God the Father) and 'the filial WORD that re-affirmeth it ...' (Christ, reaffirming his father's statement') '...from Eternity to Eternity, whose choral Echo is the Universe.' Coleridge's argument is that these two things together work to create the ground for all meaning, especially poetic and artistic meaning.
In the Hindu Advaita Vedanta, the South Indian sage Ramana Maharshi mentions that of all the definitions of God, "none is indeed so well put as the biblical statement “I am that I am”". He maintained that although Hindu scripture contains similar statements, the Mahavakyas, these are not as direct as given in Exodus. Further the "I am" is explained by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj as an abstraction in the mind of the Stateless State, of the Absolute, or the Supreme Reality, called Parabrahman: it is pure awareness, prior to thoughts, free from perceptions, associations, memories. Parabrahman is often considered to be a cognate term for the Supreme Being in Hinduism.
- I and I (disambiguation)
- Names of God in Judaism (Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh)
- Supreme Being
- Unmoved mover
- Aham Brahmasmi
- Ego eimi ("I am the Being")
- Soham in the Sanskrit language
- "كن فيكون" ("Kun fayakoonu") (Be, and it is), words of Allah in the Qur'an
- "I AM" Activity
- The Reader's Encyclopedia, Second Edition 1965, publisher Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York, editions 1948, 1955. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 65-12510, page 918
- Brenton, Septuagint
- English translation: Yonge, Philo Complete Works, Grand Rapids 1998
- Greek text: per Logos Software, licensed from Philo Concordance Project 2000 Cohn & Wendland, Colson, Petit, and Paramelle
- F.H. Colson Philo Works Vol. VI, Loeb Classics, Harvard 1941
- Rev 1:4 Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ Α καὶ τὸ Ω ἀρχὴ καὶ τέλος, λέγει ὁ κύριος ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος ὁ παντοκράτωρ
- Talks with Ramana Maharshi, Talk 106, 29th November, 1935