by Matt Slick
No, Jesus never said the exact three words, "I am God." But Jesus also never said the exact four words, "I am a prophet," or the exact four words "I am a man," but we know he was both a prophet and a man. It is not necessary for Jesus to say the exact phrase "I am a man," for us to know that he was a man. Likewise, it is not necessary for Jesus to utter the exact three words "I am God," in order for us to determine whether or not he is divine. Jesus may not have said the exact sentence "I am God," but he did claim the divine name for himself (Exo. 3:14 with John 8:58), and he also received worship (Matt. 2:2; 14:33; 28:9; John 9:35-38).
When Moses was up at the Mount speaking to God, Moses asked God what his name was. God said, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, 'Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel,' 'I AM has sent me to you.' (Exodus 3:14). In John 8:58 Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." Right after this the Jews picked up stones to throw at him. Later, in John 10:30-33 Jesus claimed to be one with the Father; and the Jews wanted to stone him again because they said to Jesus, "You, being a man, make yourself out to be God." Jesus had claimed the divine name for his own, and the Jews wanted to kill him for it. Therefore, from Jesus' own mouth we see that he was claiming to be God.
The words "I am"
Now please understand that anyone can say the words "I am," and it does not mean that he is claiming to be God. Someone could say, "I am over here." That is not claiming the divine name. Likewise, someone could say, "I am hungry," or "I am sick." Neither example is claiming divinity because the use of the term "I am" in context clearly shows us that is not what is occurring. But, in John 8:58 when Jesus said "before Abraham was born, I am," the Jews knew exactly what he was saying. Notice that he says before Abraham was born (using the past tense), and then he switches to the present tense when he says "I am." Jesus switches tenses of the verbs on purpose, so that when he does so in the context of referencing Abraham, Jesus is clearly drawing the Jews' attention to the Old Testament Scriptures and then using a present tense form of the verb "to be" by saying "I AM." Someone who says "I am hungry" is not drawing attention to the Old Testament Scriptures for context.
Jesus was clearly causing the Jews to reflect upon the divine name "I am" that Jesus used for himself. We know that they understood this because as is said above, they said, "You, being a man, make yourself out to be God." (John 10:33).
The Muslims agree with the Jews
But what is noteworthy is that the Jews, like the Muslims, deny that Jesus is God in flesh. Therefore, the Muslims are united with the Jewish people in denying who Jesus claimed to be, the "I am."
It is not necessary that Jesus say a certain phrase in order for the truth of who he is to be made clear. The issue is not if he speaks a certain sentence that we construct in present terms in order to satisfy our theological demands. The issue is what did Jesus say in the context and culture of the time in which he spoke.
Finally, we know that Jesus is God in flesh because the Bible tells us so.
- John 1:1, 14, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
- John 20:28-29, "Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."
- Heb. 1:8, "But of the Son He says, 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.'"