What Mind Can Grasp “I AM”? (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.7: St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies Commenting on John 8:24, Augustine had some brilliant reflections on Jesus’ words: Unless you believe that I am [εγω ειμι] you will die in your sins.  Note below how Augustine went back to Exodus 3 to explain Jesus’ words in John 8.  (Side note: this is why non-Christian groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons tend to avoid Augustine):

There is much implied in His only saying “I Am;” for so also had God said to Moses, “I Am who Am.” Who can adequately express what that AM means?

…Perhaps it was too much even for Moses himself, as it is too much for us also, and much more so for us, to understand the meaning of such words, “I am who am;” and, “He who is hath sent me to you.” And supposing that Moses comprehended it, when would those to whom he was sent comprehend it? The Lord therefore put aside what man could not comprehend, and added what he could; for He said also besides, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” This thou canst comprehend; for “I am who am,” what mind can comprehend?

…The Lord Jesus Christ, I think, said nothing else by these words, “If ye believe not that I am;” yea, by these words I think He meant nothing else than this, “If ye believe not that I am” God, “ye shall die in your sins.” Well, God be thanked that He said, “If ye believe not,” and did not say, “If ye comprehend not.” For who can comprehend this?

In other words, Jesus is not telling people to comprehened what it means that he is “I AM,” but to believe it!

(The above quote is found in Augustine of Hippo, “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John,” in vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, p. 220-221)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


Lincoln on the Heart of John’s Gospel

The Gospel According To Saint John (Black's New Testament Commentary)

Some critics say that the story of Jesus walking on the water in John 6.16-21 is out of place or the work of a later redactor.  Lincoln thinks not:

“What has already been said about  the distinctives of John’s account makes plain the force of this epiphany miracle for his narrative.  The unlimited power of God as Creator and Savior in the Jewish Scriptures is now attributed to Jesus, who also walks on the sea as on dry land, demonstrating his control over the forces of nature, thereby reuniting himself with his followers, reassuring them and bringing them across the waters to their destination.”

“In the process Jesus is also presented as taking on his own lips the self-identification of this God in the formula ‘I am: do not be afraid.’  As in 2.1-11, where the impact of the sign on the disciples was primary, so here: Jesus’ task in this narrative is to make God known (cf. 1.18) and in traversing the sea he displays dramatically to his disciples that he is one with God in word and deed (cf. also 10.31).”

Now to the main point: is this miracle “out of place” in the Gospel of John?  “In this way this tautly recounted episode can be seen not as a distraction from the rest of the chapter but as encapsulating in narrative form what is at the heart of the Fourth Gospel’s Christology” (emphasis mine).

See Andrew T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005), 220-1.  (This commentary is part of Black’s New Testament Commentary series.)


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