EGW EIMI in Mark 6:50

From: Bruce Terry (
Date: Tue Oct 03 1995 - 18:24:05 EDT

On Fri, 29 Sep 1995, Larry W. Hurtado wrote:

>Bruce, My point in citing the passages in Isa 42-45 where the LXX has
>"ego eimi" as a self-referential formula of God was that the formula is
>such, and I never suggested it was a translation of YHWH. That's a

You are right about EGW EIMI being a self-referential formula of God in the
LXX of Isa. 42-45. It was someone else who suggested that it was a
translation of YHWH. Perhaps they only meant to say that EGW EIMI was YHWH's
way of referring to Himself, and I wouldn't disagree with that. Sometimes
people don't write precisely what they mean, even on B-Greek :).

>The point is that the appearances of "ego eimi" in
>theophanic contexts such as Mk 6 (storm-stilling miracle, just the sort
>of thing God does e.g., in Ps 107, etc.) might well have been intended to
>allude to the Greek of Isa 42-45 for lst cent. readers of the Greek of
>Mark. (And part of the argument depends upon reading Mark in Greek, and
>having as one's "bible" the Greek OT and being thus able to catch
>allusions without having to ransack a concordance!).
> I quite applaud your emphasis that words and phrases have their
>meaning in contexts, and can vary from one to another. Precisely.
>It's the appearance of this "ego eimi" formula in a narrative episode
>that seems theophanic, and in a larger narrative (Mark) that seems
>intent on asserting for Jesus a divine-like transcendent significance
>-- all this leads me to find in the particular "ego eimi" of Mark 6
>something more than "It's me boys".

Here is where I think our point of disagreement is. I understand EGW EIMI to
be such a common way of self-reference by *any* potential speaker that I am
not at all sure that Mark and/or his readers would have seen it as a sign of
divinity. To be sure, Mark understood Jesus to be the Son of God (1:1),
although there are both people on this list and people in the ancient world
who would not equate that term with YHWH (Personally I have no problem in
doing so). But part of what is going on in Mark is that at least until
Peter's pivotal confession in 8:29, the disciples do not understand who Jesus
is. In retrospect, one might say that this is a theophany, but then one might
say that about the whole gospel of Mark. If this is a theophany, it had poor
results. We do not see the reactions of Gen. 32:30; Judg. 6:22; 13:22; Isa.
6:5. In fact, Mark goes out of his way to point out that although the
disciples were completely astounded (Greek LIAN [EK PERISSOU] EN hEAUTOIS
EXISTANTO) by this event, it still brought no understanding to them, for their
hearts were hardened (6:51-52).

Since words and phrases take their particular meaning from context, I would
like to see something in this context that would make me think that Mark
intended EGW EIMI to be a divine self-reference. The only thing favoring such
an understanding that I can see is that I know from other passages that Jesus
is God and that God sometimes refers to himself by EGW EIMI. But that is all
within myself, not within the context of *this passage*. It looks to me like
that if I should adopt such an understanding, I would be reading meaning in
from other passages. This is good rabbinic understanding, and may even preach
well, but I am not comfortable with it exegetically.

Further, there is good reason to believe that this wording lies behind Mark in
the oral preaching of the apostles. The quote from Jesus is exactly the same
in Matthew and Mark and most of the words appear in the same exact order in
John's gospel as well; only QARSEITE is omitted there. Matthew, at least,
does not seem to understand EGW EIMI to be divine self-reference, because he
relates that Peter replies, EI SU EI ("if you are," i.e., "if it is you").

My thanks goes to Mikeal Parsons, who, while disagreeing with me, points out
that EGW EIMI is used by non-divine individuals in Mark 13:36 (false Christs)
and John 9:9 (the blind man). To that list one can add Luke 21:8 (parallel to
Mark 13:36) and Acts 26:29 (Paul). In the LXX Isaiah uses the term in Isa.
6:8 to respond to God's call. The apostles used the phrase in question form
in Matt. 26:22 and Judas alone in another question in verse 25; they were
hardly asking if they were divine.

Tim Staker provides some interesting parallels in a hymn to Isis, but I doubt
that they have much bearing on this question since none of them have EGW EIMI
alone. One finds the same kind of constructions in Matt. 24:5 (false
Christs), Luke 1:18 (Zechariah), 19 (the angel Gabriel), Acts 10:21 (Peter);
and 22:3 (Paul). Dare I add the angel Raphael to the list (Tobit 12:15).
This is just a construction to say what one is, whether God, goddesses,
angels, or men.

I hesitate to see in a term more than what the context calls for. That is why
I doubt that EGW EIMI is a self-revelation of divinity in Mark 6:50. And I
think that I can claim that all major English translations except the
Amplified Bible (is that a major translation?) agree with me that the weaker
sense of the phrase is what is in use here.

Bruce Terry E-MAIL:
Box 8426, ACU Station Phone: 915/674-3759
Abilene, Texas 79699 Fax: 915/674-3769

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