‘I Am’ In Context -- By: David M. Ball

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 44:1 (NA 1993)
Article: ‘I Am’ In Context
Author: David M. Ball


‘I Am’ In Context1

David M. Ball

I. Introduction

This thesis studies all the occurrences of ἐγώ εἰμιί (‘I am’) on the lips of the Johannine Jesus. It is over half a century since the thorough investigation of the Johannine ‘I am’ sayings by E. Schweizer (1939). Although many articles on them have appeared since then, scholarship on the Fourth Gospel has changed in so many ways that a full study of these sayings is long overdue.

The introduction to this thesis surveys the diverse parallels which have been suggested for the ‘I am’ sayings in John. Rather than attempting a chronological survey of the studies of ‘I am’, this survey is categorised according to the cultural backgrounds which scholars suggest for the sayings. Although previous studies of this phrase have discovered many formal parallels, it is contended that insufficient attention has been devoted to the function of the words in John. Thus there is a danger of imposing on the Gospel ideas that are foreign to it. The ‘I am’ sayings should first be studied in the Gospel context to determine their function there. It is then possible to delimit any background material in terms of its relation to John’s use of the phrase. It is argued that the text function of ‘I am’ in the text itself will point to the correct background by which the phrase should be understood.

II. The Function Of ‘I Am’ In John

By means of a series of literary studies, this investigation seeks to understand the function that ἐγώ εἰμί plays in the Gospel as a whole. Various criteria from the field of narrative criticism are employed to determine the literary function of each occurrence of ἐγώ εἰμί within the Gospel. It is believed that narrative criticism can be helpful in

determining the function that ἐγώ εἰμί plays in the Gospel’s portrayal of Jesus. Such an approach allows the ‘I am’ sayings to be studied in the context of the whole Gospel as well as in the context of individual pericopes. These literary studies reveal the contribution the words ἐγώ εἰμί make to the portrayal of Jesus as the dominant character of the Gospel and their role in Johannine irony. The studies suggest a greater interaction between different forms of saying than has generally been acknowledged so that a shared conceptual background may be assumed. The literary function of the ‘I am’ sayings also seems to imply that the Evangelist’s world view was thoroughly Jewish.

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