I’ve always heard that the meaning of Jesus’s reply in John 18:5 and the reaction by the Romans indicates another instance of Jesus using the phrase, “I AM.” Why is it then that most Bibles add in the, “he”?
John18:5They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.6As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.
In John 8:58 the same words are used, “egō eimi” which is translated properly to, “I AM.” If most Bibles (except JW’s) use I AM in this instance why not in both if the meaning is the same?
John 8:58Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
Because egō eimi could also simply mean what most Bibles translate it as - “I am he.” What you really have here is a play on words, a double meaning that doesn’t really translate well into English. On a literal level the affirmative phrase means something like ‘that’s me’ or ‘I’m the one’, but in John particularly the phrase in the lips of Jesus acquires another, deeper meaning: a reference to the divine Name (egō eimi ho ōn ‘I am the one who is’).
I am pretty sure it is a translation error going back to the early English translations. Often the “he” is bracketed or italicized, which I believe is because it is found in some translations but is not original.
Anyway adding “he” there makes the Jewish guards reaction bizarre, however without the “he” it makes sense.
Could you just clarify this for me though: Normally I read the reason that the authorities fell back is because of the “I Am” statement, is this true? And if it is, why wouldn’t translations make this a little more clear by using the I Am like they did with John 8:58?
As you probably know, JW’s use “Before Abraham was, I have been” which seems like a similar mistake that even authentic Bibles are using today with John 18:5.
What does the Vulgate do with this? Or any other popular non-English translations?
The DR is a very literal translation. The Vulgate is literally, according to the Latin word order, using hyphens to connect English words that represent a single Latin word:
They-said to-him, “Jesus Nazarene.” Said to-them Jesus, “I am.” Standing-was additionally also Judas, who betrayed him, with them.
The “he” in “I am he (i.e. Jesus of Nazareth)” did not come from the Vulgate in particular. There is no pronoun for “he” in the Latin. It was inserted to fill out the statement so it is better English. “He” is italicized (denoting an editorial insertion) in the King James Version.
It is a pun: either “I am [Jesus of Nazareth]” or “I am [the one who is].” The insertion of “he” is not wrong then.
Just as I said, John’s a gospel pregnant with double meanings. Reading the whole thing in context, on the literal level Jesus’ answer is simply an affirmation: “You’re looking for a Jesus? That would be me.” But the clincher is as I said earlier, John uses egō eimi in such a way that it evokes at least three key OT phrases: ehyeh asher ehyeh (“I am that I am,” Greek egō eimi ho ōn “I am the one who is;” Exodus 3:14), ’ănî hû’ (cf. Isaiah 41:4; 43:10), and ’ānōḵî (cf. Isaiah 43:25; 51:12) - the last two of which are both usually rendered in Greek as egō eimi.
Hebrew (Isaiah 43:10-13, 25 NRSV)
You are my witnesses, says the LORD,
and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he (’ănî hû’).
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD (’ānōḵî ’ānōḵî Yhwh),
and besides me there is no savior. I (’ānōḵî) declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses, says the LORD.
I am God (’ănî ’Ēl), and also henceforth I am He (’ănî hû’);
there is no one who can deliver from my hand;
I work and who can hinder it?
…] I, I am He (’ānōḵî ’ānōḵî hû’)
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins.
Greek (New English Translation of the Septuagint)
Be my witnesses; I too am a witness, says the Lord God,
and the servant whom I have chosen
so that you may know and believe
and understand that I am (egō eimi).
Before me there was no other god,
nor shall there be any after me. I am God (egō ho Theos),
and besides me there is none who saves.
I declared and saved; I reproached
and there was no stranger among you.
You are my witnesses;
I too am a witness, says the Lord God.
Even from the beginning
there is also no one who rescues from my hands;
I will do it, and who will turn it back?
I am, I am (egō eimi egō eimi)
the one who blots out your acts of lawlessness,
and I will not remember them at all.
As if the connection isn’t clear enough:
(John 8:23-29 ESV) He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
(10:31-39) The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.
(13:18-20) “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
As Patrick has pointed out, it is difficult to give the full sense of ego eimi in English, or in Latin for that matter. *Eimi *intensifies the word ego, “Me. it’s really me!” might be a somewhat thought-for-thought translation. It hides th connection to the idea of I AM, thought. This is why so many translators are bald.
Ehyeh asher ehyeh “I am that I am” is rendered in Greek as egō eimi ho ōn “I am the one who is.” Simple ehyeh “I am” is rendered as ho ōn “he who is.” I think most instances of egō eimi in John is more of a reference to ‘ani hu’ “I [am] he” and 'anokhi “I am” found in Isaiah.
“Have courage, I am he**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum) **! Do not be afraid!”
Matt 14:27; parallel in Mark 6:50; John 6:20
“I am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum) **, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:62
“I, the one speaking to you, am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum)** he.”John 4:26
“I am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum)**the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never be hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty again. John 6:35; repeated in John 6:48, 51 (ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum)
“I am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum)**the light of the world! The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”John 8:12
“I am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum) **the one who testifies concerning myself, and the Father who sent me testifies concerning me.” John 8:18
“Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum) **!” John 8:58
“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum) **the door of the sheep.” John 10:7; also in John 10:9
“I am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum)**the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11; also in John 10:14
“I am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum) **the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25
“From now on I am telling you before it happens, in order that when it happens you may believe that I am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum)**he.” John 13:19
“I am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum)**the way, and the truth, and the life.” John 14:6
“I am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum)**the true vine.” John 15:1; “I am the vine” in John 15:5
“Who are you looking for?” They replied to him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am**(ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum)**he.” John 18:4–5; also in John 18:6, 8 (ἐγώ εἰμι) (ego sum)
Reference adapted: Barry, J. D., Grigoni, M. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M.
Because it is too hard to get all the nuances of the Greek into English.
In this passage, the idea of “I AM” is reinforced when John has the phrase repeated three times (three being the divine number) and the listeners fall to the ground, as if in worship.
But there are many other places in the Bible, and especially in John, where translation is difficult, even impossible. Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3: Jesus says you must be born anothen–that is, from above or again. Nicodemus hears it as being “born again”–which is a common phrase for many Protestants–while Jesus means more being “born from above”–which includes being born again!
Another key translation, one that is often just wrong, is when the Jews send to ask John (the Baptist, but he is never called that in John) what he is, in 1:24 many translations indicate the emissaries were Pharisees, and now are continuing the questioning. But actually there were two groups (at least!)–those sent by the priests and Levites (most likely Sadducees) and those sent by the Pharisees. The first group is speaking in John 1:19-23, and the second group takes over in 1:24-27.