The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the Epistle to the Philippians, thanks and prayer for the congregation in Philippi (Philippians 1:3–11), and from the Gospel of Matthew, the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23–35). Christoph Birkmann, the poet of the cantata text stressed the opposites of the gospel, God's justice versus unjust men, in the words of the first aria "Er ist gerecht, ich ungerecht" ("He is just, unjust am I"). In the first two movements the singer reflects his sinful condition, in the following two he asks God for mercy, beginning both with Erbarme dich ("Have mercy"). The following closing chorale is verse 6 of Johann Rist "Werde munter, mein Gemüte" (1642). Bach used the same verse later in his St Matthew Passion, again following Erbarme dich, the aria of Peter, regretting his denial of Jesus.

Original Name Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht
Librettist Anonymous
Date of composition 1726 in Leipzig, Germany
Premiered 1726, November 17th in Leipzig, Germany
First published 1863 in Leipzig, Germany
Type Sacred Cantata
Tonality G Minor
Catalogue BWV 55
Approx. duration 15 minutes
Spoken language German
Instruments Voice (Tenor)
Transverse flute
Oboe d'amore
Autotranslations beta Jean-Sébastien Bach: "I, wretched man, a servant to sin" en sol mineur, BWV 55
Johann Sebastian Bach: "I, wretched man, a servant to sin" in sol minore, BWV 55
Johann Sebastian Bach: "I, wretched man, a servant to sin" g-moll, BWV 55