Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Jesus: Liar, Lunatic, Legend, Mystic, or Lord?
Strange Notions ^ | March 7, 2014 | Dr. Peter Kreeft

Posted on 03/08/2014 2:07:22 PM PST by NYer

Jesus trilemma

For Catholics, the doctrine of Christ's divinity is central, for it is like a skeleton key that opens all the other doctrines. Catholics have not independently reasoned out and tested each of the teachings of Christ received via the Bible and the Church, but believe them all on his authority. For if Christ is divine, He can be trusted to be infallible in everything He said, even hard things like exalting suffering and poverty, forbidding divorce, giving his Church the authority to teach and forgive sins in his name, warning about hell (very often and very seriously), instituting the scandalous sacrament of eating his flesh—we often forget how many "hard sayings" he taught!

When the first Christian apologists began to give a reason for their faith to unbelievers, this doctrine of Christ's divinity naturally came under attack, for it was almost as incredible to Gentiles as it was scandalous to Jews. That a man who was born out of a woman's womb and died on a cross, a man who got tired and hungry and angry and agitated and wept at his friend's tomb, that this man who got dirt under his fingernails should be God was, quite simply, the most astonishing, incredible, crazy-sounding idea that had ever entered the mind of man in all human history.

The argument the early apologists used to defend this apparently indefensible doctrine has become a classic one. C.S. Lewis used it often, e.g. in Mere Christianity, the book that convinced Chuck Colson (and thousands of others). I once spent half a book (Between Heaven and Hell) on this one argument alone. It is the most important argument in Christian apologetics, for once an unbeliever accepts the conclusion of this argument (that Christ is divine), everything else in the Faith follows, not only intellectually (Christ's teachings must all then be true) but also personally (if Christ is God, He is also your total Lord and Savior).

The argument, like all effective arguments, is extremely simple: Christ was either God or a bad man.

Unbelievers almost always say he was a good man, not a bad man; that he was a great moral teacher, a sage, a philosopher, a moralist, and a prophet—not a criminal, not a man who deserved to be crucified. But a good man is the one thing he could not possibly have been according to simple common sense and logic, for he claimed to be God. He said, "Before Abraham was, I Am", thus speaking the word no Jew dares to speak because it is God's own private name, spoken by God himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). Jesus wanted everyone to believe that he was God. He wanted people to worship him. He claimed to forgive everyone's sins against everyone. (Who can do that but God, the One offended in every sin?)

Now what would we think of a person who went around making these claims today? Certainly not that he was a good man or a sage. There are only two possibilities: he either speaks the truth or not. If he speaks the truth, he is God and the case is closed. We must believe him and worship him. If he does not speak the truth, then he is not God but a mere man. But a mere man who wants you to worship him as God is not a good man. He is a very bad man indeed, either morally or intellectually. If he knows that he is not God, then he is morally bad, a liar trying deliberately to deceive you into blasphemy. If he does not know that he is not God, if he sincerely thinks he is God, then he is intellectually bad—in fact, insane.

A measure of your insanity is the size of the gap between what you think you are and what you really are. If I think I am the greatest philosopher in America, I am only an arrogant fool; if I think I am Napoleon, I am probably over the edge; if I think I am a butterfly, I am fully embarked from the sunny shores of sanity. But if I think I am God, I am even more insane because the gap between anything finite and the infinite God is even greater than the gap between any two finite things, even a man and a butterfly.

Josh McDowell summarized the argument simply and memorably in the trilemma, "Lord, liar, or lunatic?" Those are the only options. Well, then, why not liar or lunatic? But almost no one who has read the Gospels can honestly and seriously consider that option. The savviness, the canniness, the human wisdom, the attractiveness of Jesus emerge from the Gospels with unavoidable force to any but the most hardened and prejudiced reader. Compare Jesus with liars like the Reverend Sun Myung Moon or lunatics like the dying Nietzsche. Jesus has in abundance precisely those three qualities that liars and lunatics most conspicuously lack:

  1. His practical wisdom—his ability to read human hearts, to understand people and the real, unspoken question behind their words, his ability to heal people's spirits as well as their bodies;
  2. His deep and winning love—his passionate compassion, his ability to attract people and make them feel at home and forgiven, his authority, "not as the scribes"; and above all
  3. His ability to astonish—his unpredictability, his creativity. Liars and lunatics are all so dull and predictable! No one who knows both the Gospels and human beings can seriously entertain the possibility that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, a bad man.

No, the unbeliever almost always believes that Jesus was a good man, a prophet, a sage. Well then, if he was a sage, you can trust him and believe the essential things he says. And the essential thing he says is that he is the divine Savior of the world and that you must come to him for salvation. If he is a sage, you must accept his essential teaching as true. If his teaching is false, then he is not a sage.

The strength of this argument is that it is not merely a logical argument about concepts; it is about Jesus. The premise of the argument is the character of Jesus, the human nature of Jesus. The argument has its feet on the earth. But it takes you to heaven, like Jacob's ladder (which Jesus said meant him: Gen 28:12; Jn 1:51). Each rung follows and holds together. The argument is logically airtight.

What, then, do people say when confronted with this argument? Often, they simply confess their prejudices: "Oh, I just can't believe that!" (But if it has been proved to be true, you must believe it if you really seek the truth!)

But if they know some modern theology, they do have one of two escapes. The first escape is the attack of the Scripture scholars on the historical reliability of the Gospels. Perhaps Jesus never claimed to be divine. Perhaps all the embarrassing passages were inventions of the early Church (say "Christian community"—it sounds nicer).

In that case, who invented traditional Christianity if not Christ? A lie, like a truth, must originate somewhere. Peter? The twelve? The next generation? What was the motive of whoever first invented the myth (euphemism for lie)? What did they get out of this elaborate, blasphemous hoax? For it must have been a deliberate lie, not a sincere confusion. No Jew confuses Creator with creature, God with man. And no man confuses a dead body with a resurrected, living one.

Here is what they got out of their hoax. Their friends and families scorned them. Their social standing, possessions, and political privileges were stolen from them by both Jews and Romans. They were persecuted, imprisoned, whipped, tortured, exiled, crucified, eaten by lions, and cut to pieces by gladiators. So some silly Jews invented the whole elaborate, incredible lie of Christianity for absolutely no reason, and millions of Gentiles believed it, devoted their lives to it, and died for it—for no reason. It was only a fantastic practical joke, a hoax.

The second escape is to Orientalize Jesus, to interpret him not as the unique God-man but as one of many mystics or "adepts" who realized his own inner divinity just as a typical Hindu mystic does. This theory takes the teeth out of his claim to divinity, for he only realized that everyone is divine. The problem with that theory is simply that Jesus was not a Hindu but a Jew! When he said "God", neither he nor his hearers meant Brahman, the impersonal, pantheistic, immanent all; he meant Yahweh, the personal, theistic, transcendent Creator. It is utterly unhistorical to see Jesus as a mystic, a Jewish guru. He taught prayer, not meditation. His God is a person, not a pudding. He said he was God but not that everyone was. He taught sin and forgiveness, as no guru does. He said nothing about the "illusion" of individuality, as the mystics do.

Attack each of these evasions—Jesus as the good man, Jesus as the lunatic, Jesus as the liar, Jesus as the man who never claimed divinity, Jesus as the mystic—take away these flight squares, and there is only one square left for the unbeliever's king to move to. And on that square waits checkmate. And a joyous mating it is. The whole argument is really a wedding invitation.

TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; History
KEYWORDS: apologetics; historicity; historicityofjesus; jesus

1 posted on 03/08/2014 2:07:22 PM PST by NYer
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Tax-chick; GregB; Berlin_Freeper; SumProVita; narses; bboop; SevenofNine; Ronaldus Magnus; tiki; ...
From Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's book.

History is full of men who have claimed that they came from God, or that they were gods, or that they bore messages from God - Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, Christ, Lao-tze, and thousands of others, right down to the person who founded a new religion this very day. Each of them has a right to be heard and considered. But as a yardstick external to and outside of whatever is to be measured is needed, so there must be some permanent tests available to all men, all civilizations, and all ages, by which they can decide whether any of these claimants, or all of them, are justified in their claims. These tests are of two kinds: reason and history. Reason, because everyone has it, even those without faith; history, because everyone lives in it and should know something about it.

Reason dictates that if any one of these men actually came from God, the least thing that God could do to support His claim would be to pre-announce His coming. Automobile manufacturers tell their customers when to expect a new model. If God sent anyone from Himself, or if He came Himself with a vitally important message for all men, it would seem reasonable that He would first let men know when His messenger was coming, where He would be born, where He would live, the doctrine He would teach, the enemies He would make, the program He would adopt for the future, and the manner of His death. By the extent to which the messenger conformed with these announcements, one could judge the validity of his claims.

Reason further assures us that if God did not do this, then there would be nothing to prevent any impostor from appearing in history and saying, "I come from God," or "An angel appeared to me in the desert and gave me this message." In such cases there would be no objective, historical way of testing the messenger. We would have only his word for it, and of course he could be wrong.

If a visitor came from a foreign country to Washington and said he was a diplomat, the government would ask him for his passport and other documents testifying that he represented a certain government. His papers would have to antedate his coming. If such proofs of identity are asked from delegates of other countries, reason certainly ought to do so with messengers who claim to have come from God. To each claimant reason says, "What record was there before you were born that you were coming?"

With this test one can evaluate the claimants. Socrates had no one to foretell his birth. Buddha had no one to pre-announce him and his message or tell the day when he would sit under the tree. Confucius did not have the name of his mother and his birthplace recorded, nor were they given to men centuries before he arrived so that when he did come, men would know he was a messenger from God. But, with Christ, it was different. Because of the OT prophecies, His coming was not unexpected. There were no predictions about Buddha, Confucius, Lao-tze, Mohammed , or anyone else; but there were predictions about Christ. Others just came and said, "Here I am, believe me". Christ alone stepped out of that line saying, "Search the writings of the Jewish people and the related history of the Babylonians, Persians, and Romans." Even the pagan, Tacitus, speaking for the ancient Romans, says, "People were generally persuaded in the faith of the ancient prophecies, that the East was to prevail, and that from Judea was to come the Master and Ruler of the world." China had the same expectations, as did the Greeks.

Another distinguishing fact is that once He appeared, He struck history with such impact that He split it in two, dividing it into two periods: one before His coming, the other after it. Buddha did not do this, nor any of the great Indian philosophers. Even those who deny God must date their attacks upon Him, A.D. so and so, or so many years after His coming.

The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death. In the Person of Christ, however, it was His death that was first and His life that was last. It was not so much that His birth cast a shadow on His life and thus led to His death; it was rather that the Cross was first, and cast its shadow back to His birth. His has been the only life in the world that was ever lived backward.


2 posted on 03/08/2014 2:07:54 PM PST by NYer ("You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears." James 4:14)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: NYer
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

3 posted on 03/08/2014 2:16:49 PM PST by 2ndDivisionVet (I will raise $2M for Sarah Palin's next run, what will you do?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: NYer

Audio re: Claimants (short and to the point)

Another version on the tubes.

4 posted on 03/08/2014 2:44:34 PM PST by AliVeritas (Pray/Penance. Isa 5:18-21,10:1-3 "Tempus faciendi, Domine, dissipaverunt legem tuam")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: NYer
I have never thought of real, true Christians as being apologetic.

I find it interesting that there are so many books and TV shows dedicated to "Who Was Jesus?", "The Real Jesus", "Man of Myth?" Where are the questions on Muhammad (sp)?

5 posted on 03/08/2014 2:51:14 PM PST by jeffc (The U.S. media are our enemy)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2ndDivisionVet

Jesus was crucified dead and buried. He rose from the dead with a resurected body that had different properties than ours. And lets not forget that he was seen and mixed with at least 400 people after the resurrection.

Take at look at the Shroud of Turin.

6 posted on 03/08/2014 3:06:40 PM PST by Citizen Tom Paine (An old sailor sends)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: AliVeritas
Thank you for the links.

I hope your Lent is a blessed and prayerful one.

7 posted on 03/08/2014 3:08:05 PM PST by Northern Yankee (Where Liberty dwells, there is my Country. - Benjamin Franklin)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Citizen Tom Paine

Read Mr. Lewis’s quote again.

8 posted on 03/08/2014 3:09:00 PM PST by 2ndDivisionVet (I will raise $2M for Sarah Palin's next run, what will you do?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: jeffc
I have never thought of real, true Christians as being apologetic.

I gather you are reacting to the unintended meaning of the word 'apologetic'. It does NOT mean that one is apologizing, saying they're sorry for believing in this.

The word comes from the greek Apo, meaning Away, and Logos, meaning Word. It means "A Word AWAY from Critics." It was a formal meaning in greek society in which someone would be put on trial and be given the chance to give their side of the story without critics interrupting them and harrassing them.

I once thought like you and avoided the entire Apologetics section of the christian bookstores for several years. It is a tragedy that christians continue to use the word when it has such negative connotations, they should just call it the "explanatory" or "ready defense" or "historicity" section.

9 posted on 03/08/2014 6:11:18 PM PST by Kevmo ("A person's a person, no matter how small" ~Horton Hears a Who)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Kevmo

good explanation

10 posted on 03/08/2014 6:12:31 PM PST by BlueDragon (You can observe a lot just by watching. Yogi Berra)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: NYer
Unbelievers almost always say he was a good man, not a bad man;

And thereby they have demonstrated that they have faith as small as a mustard seed, enough to get into heaven. Because once a person is confronted with the provable historical fact that Jesus claimed to be God, you go back to whether He was a good man or a bad man. They already have made that assessment of His character.

And I know: Time and time again, people key up on what I say and they chime in saying: You can't prove Jesus was God. I'm not saying that. I'm saying you can prove Jesus CLAIMED to be God and the level of historicity is the same as determining whether Colubus sailed the Atlantic ocean in 1492, whether Julius Caesar was a Roman general, and whether John Adams was the 2nd president of the USA. All of them are historical personages with enemies who cannot deny that they made an impact, that they did what is claimed here. They like to focus on whether these guys were terrible people, but they don't deny that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river. Yet these same people will refuse to examine the historical evidence behind the FACT that Jesus claimed to be God Himself.

11 posted on 03/08/2014 6:18:09 PM PST by Kevmo ("A person's a person, no matter how small" ~Horton Hears a Who)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: NYer

Jesus is Lord.

12 posted on 03/09/2014 4:58:27 AM PDT by trebb (Where in the the hell has my country gone?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: NYer

I am an American Judeo-Christian: One God, Torah believing, moshiach accepting through Jesus...on who’s divinity I remain agnostic, though I don’t believe America could have been founded without the example of Christ.

“God save the Foundation.”

13 posted on 03/09/2014 11:13:19 AM PDT by onedoug
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: NYer

I don’t understand why “liar” or “lunatic” are beyond the pale of consideration.

14 posted on 03/09/2014 12:43:38 PM PDT by Zionist Conspirator (The Left: speaking power to truth since Shevirat HaKelim.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Comment #15 Removed by Moderator

To: Zionist Conspirator
It's a necessary guideline on the Religion Forum because the subject matter is sensitive to begin with and when people start making it personal, flame wars ignite.

Discuss the issues all you want but do not make it personal.

16 posted on 03/09/2014 7:20:35 PM PDT by Religion Moderator
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson