A Series of Answers to Common Questions

Sam Shamoun


Why didn’t Matthew, who was a disciple of Jesus and an ear and eyewitness to his ministry, ever record even a single one of the "I am" statements found in John? What do you think this says about their authenticity?


There are several assumptions that underlie the question which need to be challenged. The question assumes that unless John reads exactly like the Synoptics his Gospel must therefore be less authentic and/or more theologically developed.

It further assumes that since the other Gospels do not contain any I AM sayings Jesus must have therefore never used the I AM formula.

Finally, it assumes that the only way for the Synoptics, specifically Matthew’s Gospel, to assert the Deity of Christ is if they used the same language or contained the same material found in John.

The answer to all these assumptions is very simple. Just because the Synoptics do not contain the same material found in John’s Gospel doesn’t mean that they were not aware of it, or that John was making things up. These writers may have not felt the need to quote that specific material since they may have felt that it wasn’t relevant to the point which they were seeking to make.

This also accounts for why John reads so differently, since his intention may have been to present material which the Synoptics left out in order to complement or supplement their writings, and not simply repeat what they had already written.

Our explanation makes perfect sense in light of the fact that Matthew does contain one of the very I AM sayings used by John in his Gospel:

"Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; I AM (ego eimi). Do not be afraid (me phobeisthe).’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind cease. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’" Matthew 14:22-33 – cf. Mark 6:45-52

This story is found in John 6:16-20:

"When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘I AM (ego eimi); do not be afraid (me phobeisthe).’ Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going." John 6:16-20

Jesus plays out the role which the OT ascribes to Yahweh who, as the I AM, comes to his people’s rescue amidst their storm:

"who alone stretched out the heavens, and trampled the waves of the sea;" Job 9:8

"Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?" Job 38:16

"When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron." Psalm 77:16-20

"Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I AM He… FEAR NOT, for I AM with you, be not dismayed, for I AM your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘FEAR NOT, I will help you.’ FEAR NOT, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you, says the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel." Isaiah 41:4, 10-14

"But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I AM with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! Let all the nations gather together, and let the peoples assemble. Who among them can declare this, and show us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to justify them, and let them hear and say, It is true. You are my witnesses,’ says the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I AM He. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I AM the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,’ says the LORD. ‘I AM God, and also henceforth I AM He; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can hinder it?’" Isaiah 43:1-13

Although some of the following comments refer to the Markan version of the account, they still apply and are relevant to the Matthean parallel nonetheless.

The late Catholic NT scholar Raymond E. Brown comments on the usage of I AM in both John and the Synoptic Gospels in relation to Yahweh’s use of the title in Isaiah:

"Against this background the absolute use of ‘I AM’ by the Johannine Jesus becomes quite intelligible; he was speaking in the same manner in which Yahweh speaks in Deutero-Isaiah. For instance, in John 8:28 Jesus promises that when the Son of Man is lifted up (in return to the Father), ‘then you will know ego eimi’; in Isaiah 43:10 Yahweh has chosen Israel, ‘that you may know and believe me and understand ego eimi.’ The absolute Johannine use of ‘I AM’ has the effect of portraying Jesus as divine with (pre)existence as his identity, even as the Greek OT understood the God of Israel.

John did not invent this usage, for there are examples that verge on the absolute use of ego eimi in the Synoptics even though one can argue that a predicate is assumed. For instance, in Matt 14:27 (Mark 6:50): As Jesus comes walking across the water, he says to the disciples in the boat, ‘Ego eimi; do not be afraid.’ This is the same use we saw in John 6:20 (footnote 202). That in this scene Matthew intends more than a simple ‘It is I’ is suggested by the profession of faith elicited by the disciples (Matt 14:33), ‘Truly you are God’s Son!’ Or again, when speaking of the signs of the last days Jesus warns, ‘Many will come in my name, saying ego eimi’ (Mark 13:6; Luke 21:8). The context does not clearly suggest a predicate (even though Matt’s 24:5: ‘I am the Messiah’); and the juxtaposition of ego eimi and ‘my name’ brings us close to Johannine usage…" (Brown, Introduction to New Testament Christology [Paulist Press; Mahwah, NJ 1994], p. 139; bold emphasis ours)

In his footnote 202, Brown comments on two additional Johannine usages of I AM, some of which have direct bearing on the meaning of Matthew 14:27:

"I would include two other texts. The first is 6:20 where the disciples in the boat are frightened because they see someone coming to them on the water, and Jesus assures them, ‘I AM; do not be afraid.’ The second is 18:5: The soldiers and police who have come to the garden across the Kidron to arrest Jesus announce that they are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, and he answers, ‘I AM.’ Some would tell us that the first means simply, ‘It is I, i.e. someone whom you know and not a supernatural being or ghost.’ And they would tell us that the second means simply, ‘I am he, i.e. the one you are looking for.’ A better solution is to recognize a play on the expression ‘I AM’ as having a twofold meaning: While it has a simpler story-line import (as just exemplified), it also has a higher connotation. In the first example, the sacral comes from the context that involved Jesus’ walking on the water and a dangerous storm from which they are immediately brought to land: in the second example it comes from those who, hearing Jesus’ response, fall back to the ground. Both, then, would be instances of a theophany or divine appearance of one who, like the God of Israel, is master of storms and the sea and at the mention of whose name every knee must bend." (Ibid., p. 137; bold emphasis ours)

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary agrees with Brown since it says in reference to the Markan parallel:

"(b) WALKING ON THE WATERS (6:45-52). The approach to this story as an epiphany/theophany is most consistent with Mark's presentation. The twin focus is Jesus and the disciples: (1) The divine identity of Jesus is suggested by his walking on the waters, his passing by them, and his words, 'It is I'... The OT portrays walking on water as a divine function (see Job 9:8; 38:16). The representation of Jesus as walking on water thus carries an implicit claim about his divinity. he wanted to pass by them: The implicit christological claim is strengthened by the use of the vb. parelthein, which was linked with the theophany tradition in the LXX (see Exod 33:19,22; 34:6; 1 Kgs 19:11). Its appearance in the LXX of Amos 7:8; 8:2 also suggests that Jesus desired to help his disciples in their difficulty... I am He: In the context of self-disclosure and theophany, this phrase must allude to the OT revelation formula (Exod 3:14; Deut 32:39; Isa 41:4; 43:10) applied to Yahweh, thus contributing to the implicit christological message of the text. The formula ego eimi is prominent in John…" (NJBC, eds. Raymond E. Brown, SS, Joseph A Fitzmyer, S.J., Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm [Prentice Hall; Englewood Cliffs, NJ], p. 611); bold emphasis ours)

The Catholic commissioned version of the Holy Bible, the New American Bible (NAB), concurs:

[50] It is I, do not be afraid!: literally, "I am." This may reflect the divine revelatory formula of Ex 3,14; Is 41,4.10.14; 43,1-3.10.13. Mark implies the hidden identity of Jesus as Son of God." (Source)

The Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary Volume 2: New Testament says the following regarding Matthew 14:25-27:

"25-27 The Romans divided the night from sunset to sunrise into four watches (reflected here). Jesus’ approach to the boat therefore occurred between 3 00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. The disciples were terrified, thinking they were seeing an apparition or ghost. ‘Take courage!’ and ‘Don't be afraid’ bracket the central reason for his calming exhortations: ‘It is I.’ Although the Greek words for ‘It is I’ (‘I am’) can have no more force than that, any Christian after the Resurrection and Ascension would also detect echoes of ‘I Am,’ the decisive, self-disclosure of God (Ex 3:14; Isa 51:12; cf. Jn 8:58). Once again we find Jesus revealing himself in a veiled way that will prove especially rich to Christians after his resurrection (see comment on 8:20)." (Kenneth L. Barker & John R. Kohlenberger III [Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids, MI 1994], p. 73)

The Life Application Bible Commentary on the Markan parallel states:

"Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid." Jesus called out to the disciples over the storm, telling them to take courage. He identified himself and told them not be afraid any longer. The literal reading for "It is I" is "I am" (Greek, ego eimi); it is the same as saying "the I AM is here" or "I, Yahweh, am here" (see Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10; 52:6). Jesus, the ‘I AM," came with unexpected help and encouragement during the disciples’ time of desperate need. (Ibid., Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; Wheaton, Il. 1994, p. 189; bold emphasis ours)

Finally, in the book Case for Christ, Lee Strobel interviews renowned NT scholar Dr. Craig L. Blomberg regarding the divine claims of Christ. Lee begins his interview by asking:

"John makes very explicit claims of Jesus being God, which some attribute to the fact that he wrote later than the others and began embellishing things," I said. "Can you find this theme of deity in the synoptics?"

"Yes, I can," he said. "It’s more implicit but you find it there. Think of the story of Jesus walking on the water, found in Matthew 14:22-33 and Mark 6:45-52. Most English translations hide the Greek by quoting Jesus as saying, ‘Fear not it is I.’ Actually, the Greek literally says, ‘Fear not, I am.’ Those last two words are identical to what Jesus said in John 8:58 when he took upon himself the divine name ‘I AM,’ which is the way God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3:14. So Jesus is revealing himself as the one who has the same divine power over nature as Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament." (Strobel, Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids, MI 1998, p. 29; bold emphasis ours)

Hence, Matthew’s inclusion of the story of Jesus’ walking on the water and use of the I AM formula conclusively demonstrates that the Evangelist was clearly presenting Jesus as Yahweh God.

What this shows us is that the Synoptic writers were aware of Jesus’ I AM sayings but apparently didn’t think it necessary to quote them, or at least not all of them. They may have believed that what they did have to say was sufficient to show that Jesus is indeed Incarnate Deity, the eternal Son of God who became man in order to redeem God’s elect. To illustrate this point note what Matthew wrote in the beginning of his Gospel:

"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means, GOD WITH US)." Matthew 1:18-23

Jesus, according to Matthew, is God with us who came to save his people from their sin, a function that the OT ascribes to Yahweh God Almighty:

"O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities." Psalm 130:7-8

Moreover, Matthew does include certain sayings of Jesus which demonstrates his unprecedented Divine authority. When Jesus expounds and interprets the Mosaic Law he does so by appealing to his own authority, something which astounded his hearers:

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ BUT I TELL YOU that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." Matthew 5:21-22

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ BUT I TELL YOU that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Matthew 5:27-28; cf. 5:29-48

Matthew (as do the other Synoptics) also uses the Amen or the "Truly I say to you" formula that is found all throughout John:

"For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished… Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny." Matthew 5:18, 26

"Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’" Matthew 19:28

See also Matthew 6:2, 5, 16; 8:10; 10:15, 23, 42; 11:11; 13:17; 16:28; 17:20; 18:3, 13, 18; 21:21, 32; 23:36; 24:2, 34, 47; 25:12, 40, 45; 26:13, 21, 34.

Matthew mentions the reaction of the crowds to the authority Jesus exhibited in his teachings:

"When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law." Matthew 7:28-29

As scholars have noted, the manner in which Jesus instructed his followers on the Mount demonstrates Christ’s divine authority. Noted Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig states it best:

"… The typical rabbinical style of teaching was to quote extensively from learned teachers, who provided the basis of authority for one's own teaching. But Jesus did exactly the opposite. He began, ‘You have heard that it was said the men of old…’ and quoted the Mosaic Law; then he continued, ‘But I say to you…’ and gave his own teaching. Jesus thus equated his own authority with that of the divinely given Torah. It's no wonder that Matthew comments, ‘When Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught as one who had authority, and not as their scribes’ (Matt 7:28-29).

"But it's not just that Jesus placed his personal authority on a par with that of the divine Law. More than that, he adjusted the Law on his own authority. Although Jewish scholars have attempted valiantly to assimilate Jesus' ethical teachings to the tradition of Judaism, Jesus' opposition of his own personal authority to the divine Torah given through Moses is the rock upon which all such attempts are finally broken. Take, for example, Jesus' teaching on divorce in Matt 5:31-32 (cf. Mark 10:2-12). Here Jesus explicitly quotes the teaching of the Law (Deut 24:1-4) and opposes to it, on the basis of his own authority, his teaching on the matter. In the Markan passage, he declares that Moses does not represent the perfect will of God on this matter and presumes to correct the Law on his own authority as to what really is the will of God. But no human being, no prophet or teacher or charismatic, has that kind of authority. ‘Jesus,’ observes Witherington, ‘seems to assume an authority over the Torah that no Pharisee or Old Testament prophet assumed the authority to set it aside.’

"In his provocative dialogue A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, the eminent Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner explains that it is precisely on this basis why he, as a Jew, would not have followed Jesus had he lived in first-century Palestine. Explaining that for a Jew the Torah is God's revelation to Moses, he asserts,

Jews believe in the Torah of Moses ... and that belief requires faithful Jews to enter a dissent at the teachings of Jesus, on the grounds that those teachings at important points contradict the Torah…

And therefore, because that specific teaching was so broadly out of phase with the Torah and the covenant at Sinai, I could not then follow him and do not now either. That is not because I am stubborn or unbelieving. It is because I believe God has given a different Torah from the one that Jesus teaches; and that Torah, the one Moses got at Sinai, stands in judgment of the torah of Jesus, as it dictates true and false for all other torahs that people want to teach in God's name.

"Given the supremely authoritative status of the divinely revealed Torah Jesus' teaching can only appear presumptuous and even blasphemous. In effect, as Robert Hutchinson put it, ‘Neusner wants to ask Jesus, "Who do you think you are — God?"’ Neusner himself recognizes that ‘no one can encounter Matthew's Jesus WITHOUT CONCURRING THAT BEFORE US IN THE EVANGELIST'S MIND IS GOD INCARNATE.’ But if Jesus' opposition of his personal teaching to the Torah is an authentic facet of the historical Jesus — AS EVEN THE SKEPTICAL SCHOLARS OF THE JESUS SEMINAR CONCEDE — then it seems that Jesus did arrogate to himself the authority of God. According to Robert Guelich, ‘one must not shy away from the startling antithesis between God has said to those of old / But I say to you since here lies not only the key to the antithesis but to Jesus' ministry.’" (Craig, Reasonable Faith - Christian Truth and Apologetics [Moody Press, Chicago 1984; revised edition 1994], pp. 246-247; bold and capital emphasis ours)

And here is what Craig says regarding Jesus’ use of the Amen formula:

"Second, Jesus' use of ‘amen’ expresses his authority. The expression frequently attributed to Jesus, ‘Truly, truly I say to you,’ is historically unique and is recognized on all hands to have been used by Jesus to preface his teaching ... Ben Witherington in his acclaimed study of the Christology of Jesus explains the significance of Jesus' use of the phrase ‘Amen, I say to you’:

It is insufficient to compare it to ‘thus says the Lord,’ although that is the closest parallel. Jesus is not merely speaking for Yahweh, but for himself and on his own authority.... This strongly suggests that he considered himself to be a person of authority above and beyond what prophets claimed to be. He could attest to his own truthfulness and speak on his own behalf, and yet his words were to be taken as having the same or greater authority than the divine words of the prophet. Here was someone who thought he possessed not only divine inspiration... but also divine authority and the power of direct divine utterance. The use of amen followed by ‘I say unto you’; must be given its full weight in light of its context — early Judaism.

"That Witherington's analysis is correct is evident from the complaint of the orthodox Jewish writer Ahad ha' Am: ‘Israel cannot accept with religious enthusiasm, as the Word of God, the utterances of a man who speak in his own name — not "thus saith the Lord," but "I say unto you." This "I" is in itself sufficient to drive Judaism away from the Gentiles forever.’" (Ibid., p. 248; bold emphasis ours)

Craig concludes with the words of Horst Georg Pöhlmann:

"Horst Georg Pöhlmann in his Abriss der Dogmatik reports, ‘In summary, one could say that today there is virtually a consensus concerning that wherein the historical in Jesus is to be seen. It consists in the fact that Jesus came on the scene with an unheard of authority, namely with the authority of God, with the claim of the authority to stand in God's place and speak to us and bring us to salvation.’ This involves, says Pöhlmann, an implicit Christology. He concludes:

This unheard of claim to authority, as it comes to expression in the antithesis of the Sermon on the Mount, for example, is implicit Christology, since it presupposes a unity of Jesus with God that is deeper than that of all men, namely a unity of essence. This ... claim to authority is explicable only from the side of his deity. This authority only God himself can claim. With regard to Jesus there are only two possible modes of behavior: either believe that in him God encounters us or nail him to the cross as a blasphemer. Tertium non datur.

There is no third way." (Ibid., p. 252; bold emphasis ours)

Jewish writer Alfred J. Kolatch concurs with Craig. Kolatch explains why most Jews are unwilling to embrace Jesus as a prophet:

This thesis is rejected because none of the prophets of Israel spoke in his own name; none ever presented himself as the originator of his own prophecies. The Jewish prophets considered themselves the mouthpiece of God. God, they believed, was speaking through them. For this reason, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the other Hebrew prophets introduce their prophecies and admonitions with the words, "Thus saith the Lord."

When Jesus introduces his prophecies and admonitions, he does so with the words, "I say unto you," clearly suggesting that he saw himself as the authority. This attitude is reflected in many New Testament passages. In Matthew (9:6), for example, Jesus represents himself as "the Son of Man who has power on earth to forgive sins." In John (13:13), Jesus says, "Ye call me ‘Master’ and ‘Lord’; and ye say well; for so I am." Since Jesus portrayed himself as more than a spokesman of the Lord, Jews are unable to accept him as a prophet. (Kolatch, The Second Jewish Book of Why [Jonathan David Publishers, Inc., Middle Village NY, 2000; ISBN: 0-8246-0305-2], p. 72; underlined emphasis ours)

Thus, Matthew may have not included most of Jesus’ I AM sayings, but what he does record is sufficient in and of itself to demonstrate that Christ spoke with the authority of God. To put it another way, Matthew has Jesus speaking as if he were Yahweh himself!

The foregoing should leave little doubt that Matthew, no less than John, presents the Lord Jesus as God in the flesh.

For more on this issue we recommend the following articles:



{1} The preceding question was taken from an online Muslim book (*), most of which has already been refuted on our site.

Lord Jesus willing, we will address further specific sections and comments from this book that haven’t already been responded to.

A Series of Answers to Common Questions
Answering Islam Home Page