The “I am” statements of the Gospel of John
It should be noted that none, not a single one of these so-called “divine claims” of Jesus appear in any way, shape, or form, in the synoptic gospels. This is certainly problematic since Christians almost invariably point to these passages as undeniable proofs of the divinity of Christ. It should also be noted that the Jesus Seminar ( decided unanimously that none of the “I am” statements are historically accurate. The facts are clear: 1) The Gospel of John was the last of the canonical gospels to be written, somewhere around 90-100 CE. 2) The form, content, style, and chronology of this Gospel is very much in contrast to the synoptic tradition. 3) This book, as well as the synoptics, were anonymous books until about the year 200 CE when they were pseudonymously attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 4) None of the four canonical gospels were written down during the lifetime of Christ (upon whom be peace), nor were they written in his mother tongue. There were countless communities of first century Christians who never even heard of the Gospel of John or the mighty “claims” of Jesus within its pages. The oldest Greek New Testament text, the Codex Sinaiticus, was not codified until the year 375 CE and included an Epistle of St. Barnabas that has since been expunged by the Church as a fabrication. After the infamous Council of Nicea in 325 CE, any Christian community that did not believe in the Trinity was deemed heretical and considered “lawful blood” for the Church hoards. Books were burned and entire populations were exterminated by Constantine and his cronies.
Most Christians claim that John the son of Zebedee, a disciple of Jesus, wrote the Gospel that bears his name. To understand the sheer folly of such a claim, I will draw a similarity that you can easily follow. To say that John the son of Zebedee authored the Fourth Gospel is equivalent to saying that Zayd Ibn Thabit (may Allah be pleased with him), the chief scribe of the Prophet Muhammad, decided to wait seventy years until after the death of his Master to write anything down on paper or papyrus about the Prophet and when he finally did, he wrote it using Chinese characters, not Arabic letters! Point out to your Christian friend that Matthew was also a disciple of Jesus. He has no choice but to agree. Then ask him why Matthew, an ear and eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus did not record a single one of the “I am” statements that Christians often quote to prove Christ’s divine nature? In fact, Matthew decides to plagiarize 90% of Mark’s Gospel, a man who never even saw the historical Jesus!
The following “I am” statements are found only in the Gospel of John:
• “I am that bread of life.” – John 6:48.
• “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” – John 8:58.
• “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:5.
• “Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.” – John 10:7.
• “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11.
• “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” – John 11:25.
• “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” – John 14:6.
• “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.” – John 15:1.
How can Matthew miss all of these essential “divine” claims? 100% failure? Was Matthew truly inept or maybe he never heard of any of these statements? What about Luke and Mark? Do they put these words into the mouth of the Master? Nope, not once. St. Luke actually tells us why he wrote his Gospel:
“Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” – Luke 1:1-4.
In this introduction to his Gospel, Luke very candidly admits that his Gospel of Jesus is purely from hearsay traditions and that it “seemed good” for him to write since he is a physician and can give a more orderly account than a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors. He never claims that he is under the trance of the Holy Spirit and in fact, this Gospel is actually a letter to a person named “Theophilus.” Basically what Luke is saying is the following: “There have been many that have written about the life of Jesus that were there to witness his ministry. I think that it would be a good idea for me to write about him also since I know what I’m talking about. My book will help you understand what we have been trying lto convince you of, Mr. Theophilus.”
John 1:1 – The Word was God
Never settle for anything less than Jesus. In other words, don’t let the Christian quote you John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and be content that he has gained mastery over you. John 1:1 are not the words of Jesus, but of John, at best. We as Muslims must demand as proof unequivocal statements of Jesus where he states “I am God” or “worship me.” In reality, there are no such statements. John is not nearly good enough for us.
We want to hear it from the Master himself. But what about John 1:1? Will I simply dismiss it as an obvious Christian forgery? I wouldn’t call it forgery as much as deception. In Exodus 7:1, we are told that the Lord God of Israel sent the Holy Prophet Moses (upon whom be peace) as “elohim,” meaning “God” (royal plural) unto Pharoah and Aaron as his Prophet. In Psalm 82:6, God tells His chosen Israelites: “I said: Ye are elohim, all sons of the Most High.” In I Corinthians 4:4 Satan is called “theos,” or God of this world. In all three of the above mentioned passages the Christians have rendered the Hebrew and Greek as “god(s)” with a small “g,” yet insist on translating “el, Immanuel, and theos” mentioned in Isaiah 9:6, Matthew 1:23, and John 1:1 as “God” with a big “g” because they are, as they claim, referring to Jesus! Don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes in this matter. Inform your Christian friend that there are no capital letters in the original Hebrew and Greek and ask him why Christian authors have arbitrarily decided to capitalize certain “key” words while leaving others alone.
A Christian may rebut, “There are no capital letters in Greek but there surely is the definite article.” This does not help his case however. In the first occurrence of the predicate noun “God,” it is preceded by the definite article “ton.” Therefore, the translation, “and the Word was with (the) God” is correct. The second occurrence of the predicate noun “God,” is not preceded by a definite article ton yet the Christians continue to render it as “and the Word was God” when in reality it should read, “and the word was a god.” According to Greek rules on grammar, however, a predicate noun that is preceded by a verb may be translated as definite according to context. For example in John 4:19 we are told: “The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.” This verse can also be translated as “I perceive that thou art the
Prophet,” because the predicate noun “prophet” is preceded by the verb “ei,” or “art.” In John 1:21, the Jews ask John the Baptist, “art thou the Prophet?” This is in reference to the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18, not just any prophet. The Jews are asking him a very specific question. The woman in John 4:19 simply remarks that Jesus is a prophet. Again, the context is what determines the usage. Jesus never claims that he is God in the Bible and always considers himself subordinate to Him, so while the translation offered by Christians of John 1:1 is grammatically correct, it is contextually incorrect.
John 8:58 – Before Abraham was, I AM
The Christians claim that Jesus uses the Divine Name “Yahweh” that God gave to Moses in Exodus 3:14 as referring to himself in this oft-repeated verse. Let’s examine this claim more closely. The New Jerusalem Bible has translated this phrase “I am that I am” from “Ehe’ye asher ehe’ye” (Hebrew) as “I am He who is: Ego emi, Ho on” (Greek). The commentary of this verse states that this rendering of the original Hebrew of Exodus 3:14 is exactly how the seventy translators of the Greek Septuagint (LXX) (i.e. A Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible completed by seventy Greek-speaking Hebrew scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, 250 BCE) understood the meaning to be, and these were highly educated Greek-speaking Hebrew scholars. Essentially God is telling Moses that “He who is” or He that can never die has sent him unto Pharaoh.
The Divine attribute is the phrase “Ho on” (He who is), yet Jesus in John 8:58 simply says, “Before Abraham was, ego emi.” He does not claim the divine attribute used in the Septuagint which educated Jews at the time of Jesus would have been aware of. Again, we have Christian word games being played here. The words in English are the same, namely “I am.” The Greek of John, however, is different than the Greek of Exodus 3:14. Let’s look at the entire passage:
“Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself? Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw [it], and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” – John 8:52-59.
So what does Jesus mean by “Before Abraham was, I am,” and why do the Jews pick up stones? Jesus is simply claiming his legitimacy in a very clever way. The Jews were so proud that they were the progeny of Abraham, so he (Jesus) hits them where it hurts most. He basically says, “Before Abraham was born into this earthly existence, I was in the knowledge and Will of God. When we all existed before the creation of the physical universe in spiritual form, Abraham longed to see my day, the day of the Messiah.” Jesus is saying that since God knew him and made him Christ before the creation of Abraham, he (Jesus) is just as legitimate as Abraham. God tells the Prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, [and] I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). This is precisely what Jesus meant when he said: “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5). Is it unusual for a Prophet to speak like this? Did any other prophets prove their “bona-fides” by suggesting their pre-existence in the Will and infinite knowledge of God? The best of creation, the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings) once said, “I am the seal the of the Prophets when Adam was in clay.” Surely this makes Muhammad more worthy of being a god-incarnate since Adam predates Abraham chronologically. Alas, the fundamentalist Christian’s programmed mind can only see in black and white.
Even the Baptist cousin of Jesus warns the Jews: “And think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to [our] father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). Your Christian friend may explode, “Then why do the Pharisees pick up stones?” The answer is because Jesus is claiming to be genuinely sent from God and His anointed. We are told in the Book of Deuteronomy 18:20 that false prophets must be killed. Turn the tables on your Christian buddy and ask him, “If the Jews truly believed that Jesus claimed to be God, then why don’t they use these ‘claims’ as evidenceagainst him in the religious High Court of the Sanhedrin?” We are told in Mark 14:55: “And the chief priests and the whole council gathered together to find evidence that would warrant a death sentence, but failed to find any” (Revised English Bible). They couldn’t even get two witnesses to agree with each other! Having no reason to kill Jesus, the Jews pulled a “180” and changed their charge from blasphemy, a religious crime, to sedition or treason, a political crime. Why? Because they knew that Pilate, the Roman Procurator, would have little mercy on enemies of the state. After Pilate tells the hoards of Jews shouting for Jesus’ execution that he finds no fault in Jesus, the Jews very cleverly answer, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar” (John 19:12). Therefore, Pilate had little choice but to hand him over to be crucified.
The Christian will at this point be obstinate. He will cry, “No! They killed him because he claimed to be God, not just a prophet!” Answer this by simply asking him if any of the previous Hebrew prophets ever claimed to be God. He will say no. Then inquire as to why they were killed by the Jews? Jesus lashes out against his people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, [thou] that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under [her] wings, and ye would not” (Matthew 23:37). Is it surprising that the Jews are constantly picking up stones against Jesus when many of the previous prophets were stoned, and they never claimed to be God?
Josh McDowell says in his book More than a Carpenter whose cover boasts over 10,000,000 copies printed worldwide (emphasis mine): “An analysis of Christ’s testimony shows that he claimed to be 1) the Son of the Blessed One (God); 2) The One who would sit at the right hand of power, and 3) the Son of Man who would come on the clouds of heaven. Each of the affirmations is distinctively messianic.” I agree. They were claims to be the Christ, not God.
John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth, and the life…
Certainly extremist Christians have abused this verse all throughout their 2000 years of blood-stained history by using it to justify the killing of millions of innocents. You should know that Bible-believing Christians are extremely exclusivist, meaning that they will never accept you until you not only believe as they do, but exactly as they do. Muslims often wonder why there are so many different denominations of Christianity. The reason is because fundamentalist Christians not only hate the “heathen,” as they call them, but also hate each other. You will hear evangelist born-agains call the Pope the anti-Christ. You will hear Catholics call Protestants astray. You will hear Baptists call Jehovah Witnesses non-Christian. And you will hear almost all of them call Mormons “cultists.” Allah has given us the cause of this mutual Christian rancor: “From those, too, who call themselves Christians, We did take a covenant, but they forgot a good part of the message that was sent them: so we estranged them, with enmity and hatred between the one and the other, to the day of judgment. And soon will Allah show them what it is they have done” (Qur’an 5:14)
This verse (John 14:6) reads in its entirety: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Interestingly, we as Muslims should not take any exception to this verse. Belief in Jesus as a true Prophet, Messenger, and Messiah is an article of Islamic faith. Denial of this constitutes kufr, or unbelief. We can surely imagine Moses mimicking these very words as he descended Sinai only to find his “rebellious” and “stiff-necked” community worshipping a golden calf. Moses was the way, the truth, and the life, while the calf was a false way, a false truth, and a false life.
Let’s examine the verse in its historical context. The Children of Israel at the time of Jesus were expecting the coming of three distinct luminaries, the second of which was Ha Mashiakh, or the “Anointed One” (We will discuss this in a separate post any other day Insha Allah). When Jesus arrives on the scene he finds the Jews clinging onto a myriad of customs and traditions that had nothing to do with the true teachings of the Torah as revealed through Moses (upon whom be peace). When the Gospel revelations attempted to abrogate many of these invented traditions, the Jews became filled with hatred for the nature of Jesus’ teachings. The son of Mary lashes out: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell” (Matthew 23:33)?; “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier [matters] of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.[Ye] blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24).
On another occasion he tells the self-righteous Jews: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14:6). He is essentially saying: “Your little scruples and customs will not save you from damnation. The Anointed of God is here before you and yet you reject him! How do you expect to attain salvation?” Let me draw an analogy that you can easily grasp: When the Prophet Muhammad began admonishing the Quraysh of Makkah, he found success with great difficulty because the hearts and minds of the people were very much fixated on their idols of wood and stone. The Quraysh certainly believed in Allah, the most High God as they called Him, but felt that He was too holy to be approached without the means of intermediaries. Obviously believing in the messengership of Muhammad is the defining characteristic of a Muslim, and the very fact that the Quraysh felt that they didn’t need his guidance demonstrated their contentment with the religion of their Pagan fathers. Therefore, despite their belief in Allah, can any of the Quraysh expect to enter Heaven now that God’s Holy Prophet is among them in their very midst, and they reject him? Never!
The Christian may inform you that Jesus claimed to be “the truth,” or al-Haqq in Arabic, which is one of the Divine attributes of God mentioned in the Qur’an. “He is using a divine attribute to refer to himself, an attribute found in your scripture,” he will say. Inform him that the words Ra’uf and Rahim, meaning Kind and Merciful respectively, are also attributed to God in the Qur’an. However, Allah reveals in Surah Tawbah, verse 128: “Now hath come unto you a Messenger from amongst yourselves: it grieves him that ye should perish: ardently anxious is he over you: to the Believers is he most kind and merciful” (Qur’an 9:128). The words that Allah has used in this verse to describe the character of His Beloved are Ra’uf and Rahim, two of the divine attributes! Does this make Muhammad God? Certainly not. He simply embodies many of the sacred attributes at a much smaller, human level. By the same token, we can say that Muhammad is Great, Noble, Generous, and Truth. He is not, however, “the Creator,” or “the Giver of Life and Death.” These attributes are solely for God and nowhere does Jesus ever claim to be these things.
You may also want to mention to the Christian the story of the Sufi mystic known as al-Hallaj, who in a state of spiritual realization of his Lord exclaimed, “Ana al Haqq,” or “I am the Truth!” This is a level of Taqwa (divine awareness) that the Christian is vastly ignorant of.
John 10:30 – The Father and I are One
Christians regard this verse as the golden egg of divine claims. They almost always, however, take it completely out of context. What does Jesus mean when he says that he and the Father are One? One in divinity? Let’s examine the entire passage and arrive at the truth.
“Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any [man] pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave [them] me, is greater than all; and no [man] is able to pluck [them] out of my Father’s hand. I and [my] Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” – John 10:24-36.
Notice Jesus, referring to his sheep, says that no man can pluck them out of his hand. Then he says that His Father is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of His Hand. He and the Father are one, yes, one in purpose! Their unity exists in the fact that they are protecting their sheep, not in their godhead, as Christians claim. Jesus even prefaces his so-called “claim” by saying that the Father “is greater than all” so that there is no confusion in what he is saying yet Christians remain confused. Christians needing to justify themselves, ridiculously claim that Jesus in verse 29 is speaking of the person of the Father and not of His nature or essential being. However in the very next verse, they now claim that Jesus is speaking of the nature and essence of the Father and equating himself to Him. This is a classic case of Christians reading into the scripture something that is not there.
Ron Rhodes, author of Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims, quotes the Athanasian Creed: (emphasis mine, bashfully): “(Christ) is equal to the Father as touching his Godhood, and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood” (pages 154-155). With statements like this, who needs the funny pages?
We are then told that the Jews pick up stones and tell Jesus, b “for a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.” Rhodes comments, “Notice that Jesus did not respond by saying, ‘Oh, no, you’ve got it all wrong. I was not claiming to be God. I’m just claiming unity of purpose with Him.’ Jesus did not offer a single correction because the Jews understood Him exactly as He had intended to be understood.” Maybe Mr. Rhodes forgot to read the remainder of the passage because Jesus does, most definitely, correct the Jews misunderstanding of his claim.
In verse 34, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6: “Is it not written in your law: ‘I said, you are gods?’” He continues: “If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken.” So what exactly is Jesus claiming? He is claiming that he is receiving the word of God, and that since those who were bestowed this honor in the Law are called “gods,” like Moses in Exodus 7:1, there is nothing blasphemous about him saying that he is the “Son of God.” He is simply confirming previous scripture.
McDowell says: “Greek scholar A.T. Robertson writes that the ‘one’ is neuter, not masculine, in the Greek, and does not indicate one in person or purpose but rather one in ‘essence or nature’” (page 16). However Jesus says about his disciples: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21). I don’t think any Christian will submit to believe that there is actually a fifteen-unit godhead consisting of the Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and twelve disciples which includes the “Satanic” Peter, the doubting Thomas, and the traitor Judas Iscariot. The Greek for “one” in both verses (John 10:30, 17:21) is “hen.” Again, oneness of purpose in meant here.
Correct your Christian friend’s misunderstanding of this passages, just as Jesus (‘Eesa alayhissalaam) corrected the Pharisees.