I Am that I Am

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The Hebrew text with niqqud

I am that I am is a common English translation of the Hebrew phrase אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה‬, ’ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh ([ʔɛhˈjɛh ʔaˈʃɛr ʔɛhˈjɛh]) - also "I am who I am" or "I will be what I will be" or even "I create what(ever) I create.[1] Its context is the encounter of the burning bush (Exodus 3:14): Moses asks what he is to say to the Israelites when they ask what god has sent him to them, and Yahweh replies, "I am who I am," adding, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I am has sent me to you.'"[2]

Hayah means "existed" in Hebrew; ’ehyeh is the first person singular imperfect form and is usually translated in English Bibles as "I am" or "I will be" (or "I shall be"), for example, at Exodus 3:14. ’ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh literally translates as "I Am Who I Am." The ancient Hebrew of Exodus 3:14 lacks a future tense such as modern English has, yet a few translations render this name as "I Will Be What I Will Be," given the context of Yahweh's promising to be with his people through their future troubles.[3] Both the literal present tense "I Am" and the future tense "I will be" have given rise to many attendant theological and mystical implications in Jewish tradition. However, in most English-language Bibles, in particular the King James Version, the 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.[4] 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.


Hebrew Bible[edit]

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.[citation needed] Whether YHWH is derived from AahYah or whether the two are individual concepts is a subject of debate among historians and theologians.[citation needed]

In appearance, it is possible to render YHWH (יהוה) as an archaic third person singular imperfect form of the verb ahyah (אהיה) "to be" meaning, therefore, "He (הוא) is".[5] 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 – AahYah "I am". Other scholars regard the triconsonantal root of hawah (הוה) as a more likely origin for the name Yahweh.[citation needed] 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).

Hellenistic Judaism[edit]

In the Hellenistic Greek literature of the Jewish diaspora the phrase "’ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh" was rendered in Greek εγώ ειμι ὁ ων, "ego eimi ho on", "I am the BEING".

  • 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.[6]
  • 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 (mee 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)[7][8]
  • 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)[9]

This usage is also found in the Christian 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).[10]
  • Rev 4:8 holy, Lord God Almighty, the WAS (ho ēn), and the BEING (ho ōn), and the IS TO COME (ho erchomenos).

Roman Catholicism[edit]

The Roman Catholic Church's interpretation has been summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The interpretation is found in numbers 203-213.[11]

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 I 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stone 2000, p. 624.
  2. ^ Van der Torn 1999, p. 913.
  3. ^ "The New English Translation Bible Study Environment". Translation note 47 on Exodus 3:14: NET Bible. Retrieved February 1, 2016. 
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ "The Meaning of Yahweh". Retrieved 24 October 2017. 
  6. ^ Brenton, Septuagint
  7. ^ English translation: Yonge, Philo Complete Works, Grand Rapids 1998
  8. ^ Greek text: per Logos Software, licensed from Philo Concordance Project 2000 Cohn & Wendland, Colson, Petit, and Paramelle
  9. ^ F.H. Colson Philo Works Vol. VI, Loeb Classics, Harvard 1941
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ [1] Archived March 3, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.