Unsolved:I Am that I Am

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Short description: English translation of the Hebrew phrase
The Hebrew text with niqqud

"I Am that I Am" is a common English translation of the Hebrew phrase אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה‎ (’ehye ’ăšer ’ehye; pronounced [ʔehˈje ʔaˈʃer ʔehˈje])– also "I am who (I) am", "I will become what I choose to become", "I am what I am", "I will be what I will be", "I create what(ever) I create", or "I am the Existing One".[1] The traditional English translation within Judaism favours "I will be what I will be" because the imperfective aspect in Modern Hebrew is normally used for future tense and there is no present tense with direct object of the verb "to be" in the Hebrew language.


אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (’ehye ’ăšer ’ehye) is the first of three responses given to Moses when he asks for God's name in the Book of Exodus.[2] The word אֶהְיֶה (’Ehyeh) is the first person singular imperfective form of הָיָה (hayah), 'to be', and owing to the peculiarities of Hebrew grammar means 'I am', 'I was', and 'I will be'.[3] The meaning of the longer phrase ’ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh is debated, and might be seen as a promise ('I will be with you') or as statement of incomparability ('I am without equal').[4]

Biblical Hebrew does not distinguish between grammatical tenses. It has instead an aspectual system in which the imperfect denotes any actions that are not yet completed.[5][6][7] The past tense was represented by a verb conjugated in Modern Hebrew's future tense prefixed by וְ־ (wə-), the future tense was represented by a verb conjugated in Modern Hebrew's past tense prefixed by וְ־, and the present tense was represented by a verb conjugated in either Modern Hebrew's past or future tense without the prefix וְ־. The word אֶהְיֶה (ehyeh) is the first-person singular imperfect form of hayah, 'to be', which in Modern Hebrew indicates the future tense; however, it lacks the prefix וְ־ which would necessitate this reading in Biblical Hebrew. Accordingly, the whole phrase can be rendered in English not only as 'I am that I am' but also as 'I will be what I will be' or 'I will be who I will be', or 'I shall prove to be whatsoever I shall prove to be' or even 'I will be because I will be'. Other renderings include: Leeser, 'I Will Be that I Will Be'; Rotherham, 'I Will Become whatsoever I please', Greek, ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (Ego eimi ho on), 'I am The Being' in the Septuagint,[8] and Philo,[9][10] and the Book of Revelation[11] or, 'I am The Existing One'; Latin, ego sum qui sum, 'I am Who I am'.

The word אֲשֶׁר (’ăšer) is a relative pronoun whose meaning depends on the immediate context, so that 'that', 'who', 'which', or 'where' are all possible translations of that word.[12]

An application of this phrase used in the New Testament has "But by the grace of God I am what I am ..." (1 Corinthians 15:10).


According to the Hebrew Bible, in the encounter of the burning bush (Exodus 3:14) Moses asks what he is to say to the Israelites when they ask what gods ('Elohiym) have sent him to them, and Yahweh replies, "I am who I am", adding, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I am has sent me to you.'"[4] It is somewhat remarkable that despite this exchange, the Israelites never ask Moses for the name of God.[13] Then there are a number of probably unanswerable questions, including who it is that does not know God's name, Moses or the Israelites (most commentators take it that it is Moses who does not know, meaning that the Israelites will ask him the name in order to prove his credentials), and just what the statement means.[13]

The last can be approached in three ways:

  • "I am who I am" – an evasion of Moses's question;[14]
  • "I am who am" or "I am he who is" – a statement of the nature of Israel's God ['Elohiym];
  • "'I Am' is who I am", or "I am because I am" – this version has not played a major part in scholarly discussion of the phrase, but the first variant has been incorporated into the New English Bible.[15]

Other views

In the Hindu Advaita Vedanta, the South Indian sage Ramana Maharshi mentions that of all the definitions of God, "none is indeed so well put as the biblical statement 'I am that I am'". He maintained that although Hindu scripture contains similar statements, the Mahavakyas, these are not as direct as given in Exodus.[16] Further the "I am" is explained by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj as an abstraction in the mind of the Stateless State, of the Absolute, or the Supreme Reality, called Parabrahman: it is pure awareness, prior to thoughts, free from perceptions, associations, memories. Parabrahman is often considered to be a cognate term for the Supreme Being in Hinduism.

Victor P. Hamilton suggests "some legitimate translations ...: (1) 'I am who I am'; (2) 'I am who I was'; (3) 'I am who I shall be'; (4) 'I was who I am'; (5) 'I was who I was'; (6) 'I was who I shall be'; (7) 'I shall be who I am'; (8) 'I shall be who I was'; (9) 'I shall be who I shall be'."[17]

The Bahá'í Faith reference to "I Am" can be found in on page 316 of The Dawn-Breakers:[18]

"I am," thrice exclaimed the Báb, "I am, I am, the promised One! I am the One whose name you have for a thousand years invoked, at whose mention you have risen, whose advent you have longed to witness, and the hour of whose Revelation you have prayed God to hasten. Verily I say, it is incumbent upon the peoples of both the East and the West to obey My word and to pledge allegiance to My person."

See also


  1. Stone 2000, p. 624.
  2. Exod. 3:14.
  3. Parke-Taylor 1975, p. 51.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Van der Toorn 1999, p. 913.
  5. Biblical Hebrew
  6. Hebrew Tenses
  7. Biblical Hebrew Grammar do Beginners
  8. "Exodus 3:14 LXX". Bibledatabase.net. http://bibledatabase.net/html/septuagint/02_003.htm. 
  9. Yonge. Philo Life Of Moses Vol.1 :75
  10. Life of Moses I 75, Life of Moses II 67,99,132,161 in F.H. Colson Philo Works Vol. VI, Loeb Classics, Harvard 1941
  11. Rev.1:4,1:8.4:8 UBS Greek Text Ed.4
  12. Seidner, 4.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Hamilton 2011, p. 63.
  14. Hayes.
  15. Mettinger 2005, pp. 33–34.
  16. Talks with Ramana Maharshi, Talk 106, 29 November, 1935
  17. Hamilton 2011, p. 64.
  18. Nabíl. The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Revelation. Bahá'í International Community. http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/nz/DB/db-37.html#pg316. Retrieved 27 July 2022.