Origin of the "I AM" statements of Jesus used to prove His divinity

I am trying to find the earliest instances of using the I AM statements to show Christ’s divinity. I’ve yet to come across any examples of this in my readings of the Eastern Church Fathers. I would like to know how old this way of using scripture is. Thank you.

Exodus 3
13 Moses said to God: Lo I shall go to the children of Israel, and say to them: The God of your fathers hath sent me to you. If they should say to me: What is his name? What shall I say to them?

14 God said to Moses:** I am who am.** He said: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: He who is, hath sent me to you.

I’m familiar with the term, and the instances that Christ used the term. I’m asking when it was that somebody linked the saying of it by Christ to His claim of being God. I’ve only heard it said in talks and in recent books. I would like to know if there is any history of this understanding, especially among the Church Fathers.

Mark 14:62
Then Jesus said to him: “I am. And you shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of the power of God and arriving with the clouds of heaven.”

Luke 22:70
Then they all said, “So you are the Son of God?” And he said. “You are saying that I am.”

HE was killed because of this.

As for your question of since when was Jesus acknowledged as GOD perhaps this verse will clear up it for you:

John Chapter 20
20:27 Next, he said to Thomas: “Look at my hands, and place your finger here; and bring your hand close, and place it at my side. And do not choose to be unbelieving, but faithful.”
20:28 Thomas responded and said to him,** “My Lord and my God."**

Interesting question. I checked my Verbum software for the “I AM” sayings of Jesus and found no match for the Church Fathers. This leads me to think that Jesus’ invocation of the divine name is more evident on its face and was probably widely known in the early days of the Church. My reason for saying this is because the LXX and New Testament both use the same Greek words (EGO EIMI) for the passages where God the Father uses the divine name and where Jesus Christ uses the divine name. I would think that anyone who has a grasp of New Testament Greek would have made this connection long ago. When read in Greek, Jesus’ reference to the divine name seems implicit.

There’s an early example in St. John Chrysostom: But wherefore said He not, Before Abraham was, I was, instead of I Am? As the Father uses this expression, I Am, so also does Christ; for it signifies continuous Being, irrespective of all time. On which account the expression seemed to them to be blasphemous. Now if they could not bear the comparison with Abraham, although this was but a trifling one, had He continually made Himself equal to the Father, would they ever have ceased casting stones at Him? source

Thank you so much! I figured there would be something said of it, but had never come across it. I’ve read hundreds of pages of Chrysostom, and might have even read through his commentary on John 8, but maybe I was not worried about this question at the time.

Edit: On reading the passage a few more times, this is exactly what I was hoping to find. John Chrysostom is beautiful. Saint John Chrysostom pray for us.

St. Irenaeus of Lyon in Fragment 52 of his lost writings, arguing from the Sacred Scriptures that Jesus is man and also God, seems to have in mind Jesus’ statement, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), when he says, “And as He was from Abraham, so did He also exist before Abraham.” (source)

Here are couple of passages, but they might not be what you are looking for.

Epistles of Ignatius, Epistle to the Tarsians

Chapter VI.—Continuation.

Nor is He a mere man, by whom and in whom all things were made… And how could a mere man be addressed in such words as these: “Sit Thou at My right hand?” And how, again, could such an one declare: “Before Abraham was, I am?”…How could such a one be a mere man, receiving the beginning of His existence from Mary, and not rather God the Word, and the only-begotten Son? For “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.v.xiv.vi.html?

Irenæus Against Heresies, Book IV

Chapter XIII.—

For to yield assent to God, and to follow His Word, and to love Him above all, … But the Word of God did not accept of the friendship of Abraham, as though He stood in need of it, for He was perfect from the beginning (“Before Abraham was,” He says,** “I am”**), but that He in His goodness might bestow eternal life upon Abraham himself, inasmuch as the friendship of God imparts immortality to those who embrace it.

I find it interesting that when Jesus calms the wind in Mark 6:50, He uses the “I Am” name.


Tertullian was more “ecclesiastical writer” than “church father”, but he still might be helpful to read. You might look at his Against Praxeas, Chapter 8, “Though the Son or Word of God Emanates from the Father, He is Not, Like the Emanations of Valentinus, Separable from the Father. Nor is the Holy Ghost Separable from Either. Illustrations from Nature.”

As you can tell from the title, it doesn’t quite lend itself to happy little snippets.

But the Word was formed by the Spirit, and (if I may so express myself) the Spirit is the body of the Word. The Word, therefore, is both always in the Father, as He says, I am in the Father; John 14:11 and is always with God, according to what is written, And the Word was with God; John 1:1 and never separate from the Father, or other than the Father, since I and the Father are one. John 10:30 This will be the prolation, taught by the truth, the guardian of the Unity, wherein we declare that the Son is a prolation from the Father, without being separated from Him. For God sent forth the Word, as the Paraclete also declares, just as the root puts forth the tree, and the fountain the river, and the sun the ray. For these are προβολαί, or emanations, of the substances from which they proceed. I should not hesitate, indeed, to call the tree the son or offspring of the root, and the river of the fountain, and the ray of the sun; because every original source is a parent, and everything which issues from the origin is an offspring. Much more is (this true of) the Word of God, who has actually received as His own peculiar designation the name of Son. But still the tree is not severed from the root, nor the river from the fountain, nor the ray from the sun; nor, indeed, is the Word separated from God. Following, therefore, the form of these analogies, I confess that I call God and His Word— the Father and His Son— two. For the root and the tree are distinctly two things, but correlatively joined; the fountain and the river are also two forms, but indivisible; so likewise the sun and the ray are two forms, but coherent ones.

It seems St Augustine mentioned it.

D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary:

Ver. 58. Before Abraham was made, I am. Christ here speaks of his eternal existence as God. St. Augustine shews this by these very words, I am. He does not say, before Abraham was made, I was made: because, as the Son of God, he never was made: but I am, which shews his eternal divine nature. (Witham)

If I’m remembering correctly, the phrase “I am” used by Jesus and the “I am he” are both the same in the original Greek. His “I am he” caused everyone to fall back because He was saying “I am” all the same.

I’m sure the Church Father’s probably spoke of this event as well, but I haven’t looked into it.

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