What's the meaning of I AM?


Names are important to God. In the beginning, he named Adam. The Hebrew word for man (adam) is the generic term for mankind and was the proper name Adam (cf. Gen 2:20; 3:17, 20; 5:2). As God's covenant-head, Adam named the animals (Gen 2:20) and even his own wife (Gen 3:20). God re-named Abram and called him Abraham; and Sarai to Sarah (Gen 17:15). He changed Jacob's name to Israel (Gen 32:28). And he especially named his only begotten Son; "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:21).

God too has a name. The phrase, "I AM WHO I AM" (Exod 3:14) may be translated, "I will be who I will be." God is always consistent in remembering and acting on his covenant commitments. God's name was abbreviated to "I am" ("I will be," Exod 3:14) and "he is" ("he will be," or "Yahweh," translated "the LORD" in Exod 3:15). See WCF 2.1; WLC 7,101; WSC 4.

The Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) sums up who God is:

  • (1) God is who he is;
  • (2) God is eternal and unchangeable in his divine being; he has no past or future, just an eternal present;
  • (3) God is self-existent.

"I AM" (Greek; ego eimi) appears numerous times in the Greek text of John's Gospel (John 4:26; 6:20, 35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 24, 28, 58; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1, 5; 18:5, 6, 8). In several of these Jesus joins his title "I AM" with seven different metaphors revealing his saving relationship toward his elect.

I AM the Bread of life John 6:35, 41, 48, 51
I AM the Light of the world John 8:12
I AM the Gate (door) of the sheep John 10:7, 9
I AM the Good Shepherd John 10:11, 14
I AM the Resurrection and the Life John 11:25
I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life John 14:6
I AM the true Vine John 15:1, 5

The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible in an article entitled, "God's Self-Disclosure: Does God Have a Name?," states:

In the modern world, a person's name is merely an identifying label. In Biblical times, however, personal names were often chosen to give information, describing in some way the character of a person or circumstances at the time of the birth. In a similar way, the Scriptures often speak of God's names as a way to reveal his character. The Old Testament constantly celebrates the fact that God has made his name known to Israel. Among the many names for God in the Old Testament, as rendered in the English language, are God Almighty (Gen 17:1; 35:11), Most High (Num 24:16), God Most High (Gen 14:18-22), Creator (Gen 14:22), Holy One (Isa 43:15) and Holy One of Israel (Psa 89:18).

Without a doubt the most important name for God in the Old Testament is Yahweh, as modern scholars write it, Jehovah as it used to be rendered, or "the Lord" as in the NIV and many other modern translations. Although God revealed himself to the patriarchs as Yahweh before the days of Moses (Gen 15:7; 28:13), God declared to Moses that this name had special significance in his day and for the rest of Israel's history. When God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, Moses asked God for his name. God first said, "I am who I am" (or, "I will be what I will be"), then shortened it to "I am" and finally called himself "the Lord" (Hebrew Yahweh, a name related to the single Hebrew word translated "I am"), "the God of your fathers" (Exod 3:6, 13, 16).

Much mystery attaches to the name Yahweh. Traditionally, this name in all its forms was understood to focus on God's eternal, self-sustaining, self-determining, sovereign character - that supernatural mode of existence that the sign of the burning bush had signified. More recently, the name has been connected closely to the idea that God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. When God first spoke from the burning bush, he revealed himself as the One who had made covenant promises to the patriarchs (Exod. 3:6). This revelation prompted Moses to ask for his name. When God revealed his name as Yahweh, he announced that he was not merely the God of the past, but the God who remembers his covenant promises and moves on behalf of his people to keep them" as he was about to do for the Israelites in Egypt. Later in his life (Exod 33:18; 34:7) Moses asked to see God's "glory," and in reply God proclaimed his name, Yahweh, in this way: "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished . . ."

God's faithfulness to acting on his covenants is often echoed in later Scriptures (Deut 7:9; Neh 9:7-8; Isa 61:8; Jer 31:31-34). This is all part of the disclosure of his nature, for which he is to be adored forever.

In this light, it is not difficult to see why the name of God is often associated with his ownership and authorization (Exod 23:21; Deut 18:19; 2 Chron 7:14; Isa 43:7). It also stands as the invincible presence of God in Solomon's Temple, where it is closely associated with God's watchful eyes, listening ears and responsive heart (2 Chron 7:14-15). As such, the name of God is the object of prayer and praise (Pss 8:1; 113:1-3; 145:1-2; 148:5, 13).


Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics, Baker Academic.
Pratt, Richard. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Zondervan.

Related Topics:

What are the Names of God?
What are the Attributes of God?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).