“I Am” Statements of Jesus in the Book of Mormon

When Moses was called by YHWH, he asked the Lord, “when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” In response, YHWH said, “I Am That I Am” (Exodus 14:13–14). This type of “I am” statement is significant and has echoes throughout the Bible. A recent interview with Joshua Matson at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk highlighted the types of I am statements of Jesus that are also found in the Book of Mormon. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

In the interview, Joshua Matson explained how “I AM statements are part of the ancient near eastern religious traditions that seek to add divine authority to statements made by deity.”

Scholars of the New Testament have long recognized that there is something distinct about the Gospel of John and the way in which the author emphasizes sacral statements by the Savior that begin with ??? ???? (? AM).

Beginning in the early twentieth century, biblical scholars worked in earnest to not only identify I AM statements recorded in the Gospel of John, but also to explain their origin and ancient context. Initial scholarly works focused on the Hebrew Bible as the primary source for this utilization, connecting the phrase to Moses’ experience with Jehovah in Exodus 3:14–15 and the divine name’s (????) connection to the verb “to be” (???).

These studies sought to connect Jesus’ self-revelation statements to his identifying himself as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. Other scholars quickly pointed out that there was a broader cultural milieu in the Ancient Near East in which I AM statements represented a speaking style of the divine that was pronounced by the deities of the people of various cultures throughout the region, including the Egyptians, Greeks, and Iranians.

In the mid-twentieth century, scholars returned to the Hebrew Bible to find additional Jewish context for the I AM statements in texts such as Deuteronomy (32:39) and Isaiah (41:4; 48:12). As scholars uncovered additional texts from the Ancient Near East, they found similarities to the I AM statements in utterances by Akkadian and Sumerian deities, further emphasizing a broader context of the phrases utilization.

The pattern of using “I AM” statements is a broader tradition of divine speech in ancient southwestern Asia.

It is important to note that in these ancient sources, the “I AM” statements tend to have two major forms:

In general, I AM statements have been identified in two forms:

  1. Absolute. I AM statements that emphasize the deities identity (who they are), and
  2. Metaphorical. I AM statements that emphasize the deeds of the deity (what they do).

These two forms are the general patterns of “I AM” statements.

Joshua Matson wrote the first intensive study of these “I AM” statements in the Book of Mormon. He had some interesting insights from the study:

Once I finished this process, I had identified 53 I AM statements in the Book of Mormon that were pronounced by Jesus Christ. I then took these statements and situated them within their chronological context. This consisted of four categories metaphorical and absolute I AM statements made by the pre-mortal Jehovah and metaphorical and absolute I AM statements made by the resurrected Messiah.

Once these statements were organized, I compared them to I AM statements in the Old Testament for the pre-mortal Jehovah and the New Testament for the resurrected Jesus Christ.

From this process, I found that the Book of Mormon preserved I AM statements that aligned with their chronological counterpart in amazing ways. The pre-mortal Jehovah statements by and large looked like the statements we see in the Old Testament and the resurrected Messiah statements looked like those in the New Testament. While there were numerous parallels between these texts, I also identified 21 I AM statements that are unique to the Book of Mormon—and those statements formed the basis of my study.

Chronologically, the “I AM” statements of the Book of Mormon align well with the biblical chronology, but they also include a few that aren’t included in the Bible.

Matson shared an example of the “I AM” statements not included in the Bible:

The metaphorical I AM statement of “I am a God of miracles” in 2 Nephi 27:23 is one of the unique Book of Mormon I AM statements. This addition to the collection of I AM statements uttered by the Savior throughout the standard works connects to 3 Nephi through a prophecy made by King Benjamin in Mosiah 3.

Here in his famous sermon, King Benjamin declares:

The Lord Omnipotent who reigneth … shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf t o hear, and curing all manner of diseases.

Mosiah 3:5

While one could easily point to numerous stories from the Savior’s mortal ministry in the ancient world as a fulfillment of this prophecy, we should keep in mind that King Benjamin is directing his remarks to an audience in the ancient Americas whose posterity would see the fulfillment of such promises.

In 3 Nephi 17, the resurrected Savior invites the Nephites to bring to him “any that are sick … lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner … Bring them hither and I will heal them” (3 Nephi 17:7).

Connecting these miracles to the Messiah suggests that one of the important components (of not only the Savior’s mortal life, but also his post-mortal ministry) is to heal physical ailments of those who believe on his name. I believe that this is as true today as it was in the meridian of time.

“I am a God of miracles” is one of the “I AM” statements unique to the Book of Mormon that also forms a throughline in the Book of Mormon.

For more on the I am statements of Jesus, head on over to the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk to read the full interview with Joshua Matson. While you’re there, take some time to explore the new Harold B. Lee Quotes page!

3 comments for ““I Am” Statements of Jesus in the Book of Mormon

  1. To me, “I AM” embodies the centrality of Christ to all creation. He is present; He brings us to the present in the fullest sense. He is life. Everything else exists because of Him.

    I increasingly view my spiritual progression less as arriving at some future state of joyful being and more as mindfully arriving or embodying the present by becoming more perfectly connected to Him.

  2. I have a question about methodology. How do you identify an “I AM” statement? Are there any scriptural examples where Jesus starts a sentence with “I am…” that does not qualify as an “I AM” statement?

  3. “I Am” is my favorite of the many names of God.

    I whole-heartedly second John’s comment above!

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