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Liar, Lunatic, or Lord? March 4, 2010

Posted by theconfessors in Apologetics, Atheism, Bible, Biblical Studies, Christianity, God, Islam, Muhammad, Religion.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

(1) Jesus claimed to be divine; at least indirectly.

(2) Jesus’ claim is either true or false.

(3) If it is false, then Jesus either knew it was false or he did not know.

(4) If Jesus knew his claim to divinity was false, then he was a liar

(5) If Jesus did not know, then he was a lunatic.

(6) Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic.

(7) Therefore Jesus must have been telling the truth.

(8) Therefore Jesus was Lord and thus divine.

This argument in various forms has appeared in apologetic writings for quite some time. As far as we know, it was first made famous by C.S. Lewis. It is a good, solid, logical argument, and is cannot be so easily dismissed. Enjoy!



1. John Gault - March 4, 2010

Woops, typing error. Let’s continue…

To recap,

You must realize, though, that this argument, while old, is in no way sound or convincing…It suffers from several logical errors that negate it’s entire premise.

Regarding numbers:

1. “Jesus claimed to be divine; at least indirectly.”

There is no compelling evidence that a man named Jesus of Nazareth even existed, much less that he claimed to be divine.

2. “Jesus’ claim is either true or false”

The extension of #1 is that “Jesus’s claim could be neither true nor false–it could be non-existent.

If Jesus was fictional, and the declaration never took place, then the argument obviously ends there. If, however, we assume that Jesus was a real person who, in fact, made such a claim to divinity, then we can accept numbers 2-5. The problem, however, arises in argument #6.

6. “Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic.”

On what do we base this assumption. If a man named Jesus ran around claiming to be the son of God, then I would propose that he was very likely a liar or a lunatic. This is an example of circular logic. We only assume that Jesus was NEITHER a liar or a lunatic if we have already made up our minds that he is divine–the question of that divinity being the purpose for outlining the argument to begin with. There is no need for number 8, because the author of this argument assumed that Jesus was divine from the beginning-since that divinity is necessary within the premises.

2. theconfessors - March 4, 2010

“There is no compelling evidence that a man named Jesus of Nazareth even existed, much less that he claimed to be divine.”

This begs the question. What do you define as compelling evidence? How do you judge what is enough evidence to warrant someone’s existence in history? In what way does the evidence we do have lack? You can’t just say there’s not enough evidence without explaining in what way this evidence lacks. Also, would you be willing to apply those standards across the board in studies on individuals.

John Gault - March 4, 2010

There are objective benchmarks by which we can judge historical evidence for a person’s existence or the factuality of an event. Archaelogical evidence, independent corroboration through third-party sources, etc. serve to validate historical documents and events. I’m not an archaeologist or an anthropologist, but I know enough to know that the hard evidence for a “real” Jesus Christ is less than that of King Arthur or Robin Hood–figures we accept as fictional. The only real evidence of a Jesus/Messiah comes from the gospels–which have been shown to have been written at least a century after the events depicted and then edited, selected, de-selected, and censored by the church leaders of the time. This can hardly be considered compelling evidence.

Again, though, even if we concede the existence of Jesus AND the fact that he claimed divinity AND the validity of the logical assumption made in steps 1-5, we still have to deal with the fact that Jesus may very well have been a liar or a lunatic and that #6 is patently false as a basis for a logical argument.

3. theconfessors - March 4, 2010

If Jesus was never a real person in your judgment, what is a reasonable explanation for the rise of this “Jesus” character? What is needed to label someone true? Yes you mentioned a rough outline of what scholars look for, but this doesn’t tell me anything about how scholars label someone as existing in the past.

John Gault - March 4, 2010

“If Jesus was never a real person in your judgment, what is a reasonable explanation for the rise of this “Jesus” character?”

I assume, by asking this question, you are implying that the vast popularity of the Jesus myth, and the sheer number of people who have chosen to believe it, is somehow evidence of it’s truthfulness and historical accuracy. I would ask, then, how you explain the rise of the character Zeus…or Ba’al…or Shiva? They were all worshipped by vast numbers of people who accepted them as real. Surely, there’s not some massive celestial club house where all the gods of history hang out and play canasta? So, if they’re not ALL real, and yet they each have the devotion of millions in their favor, then apparently devotion is not a reasonable benchmark for evidence.

As far as what evidence is needed to judge a historical “someone” as a real person rather than the product of fiction, there is obviously only so much that can be done. Most people who ever lived in the history of the world, did so undocumented. One would expect, however, that a historical figure as important as Jesus Christ–arguably the most important man to ever exist–would have, associated with him, at least as much hard evidence supporting his existence as, say, a Julius Caesar, or a Socrates, or a Ramses, or a Josephus. There would be many, many third party corroborating statements. There would be official documents. There would be achaeological evidence. Do the lack of these things mean that Jesus didn’t exist, of course not. He could have lived the exact life depicted in the gospels and yet have no surviving trace on earth. I, however, would hope that if one is going to live their lives for, and pledge their eternal exisence to, a man that lived over 2000 years ago, one would first insist upon the highest degree of evidence rather than settle for the lowest.

4. theconfessors - March 4, 2010

“I assume, by asking this question, you are implying that the vast popularity of the Jesus myth, and the sheer number of people who have chosen to believe it, is somehow evidence of it’s truthfulness and historical accuracy.”

This would not be a safe assumption; I’m not trying to use “followers” as evidence for its truth claim. I’m trying to get at the heart of the developing myth. How did this Jesus myth develop; its one thing to say that Jesus existed as a real teacher and then over a period of time legendary stories developed from his followers. It’s quite another to say that he never existed, and then all of a sudden within 100 years after his alleged death, we have a pretty developed account of a “Jesus” character, and a large group of followers. Also, how do historians separate myth from historical genre of literature?

What evidence do you use to date the four Gospels to roughly 130AD?

To respond to your second paragraph, if the New Testament is truly written by his followers, then we would have that necessary documentation depicting him as the most important man in history. As far as those outside of his believers; this would assume that Christ was important enough to those who did not believe in him, for them to write about him. Out of curiosity do you know of any external sources that mention Jesus’ life?

John Gault - March 4, 2010

Before I address your questions specifically, I want to make clear the fact that I am not saying Jesus didn’t exist. As I’ve said repeatedly, it is entirely possible that he DID exist. I’m simply saying that his non-existence is a possibility that must be considered before one can accept the premises of the logical argument you presented at the outset of this conversation. However, you asked me how the fictional character of Jesus might have arisen…

How does any fictional character rise to prominence in popular culture? They spring from the minds of creative men and women and they appeal to a common need, interest, or desire in their audience. If one were to argue that Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of God never existed, it would not be hard to imagine a Jewish author or scribe penning the first story of Jesus’s birth, ministry, and death in order to breath new life into a faith that he had become disenchanted with. Roman rule was oppressive, the jewish people of the time were in bad spirits. It would not have been hard for a creative author to convince people that the Messiah they had been waiting for all their lives had already come and that good fortune was just around the corner. News travelled slowly in those days and so much of the middle east was isolated that the population of the time would not have questioned the idea that important events were transpiring without their knowledge and that they were years, even decades behind in their knowledge of Jerusalem and it’s goings-on. I mentioned King Arthur and Robin Hood in an earlier post because they represent another common method by which a fictional character can gain literal and near-historical significance. They were composites of real people. Jesus may very well have been a similar mish-mash of teachers and Jewish revolutionaries at the time who later authors decided should be amalgamated into a figure that could stand as the foundation for a new faith.

As far as your questions about the Gospels and the evidence for their ages, you are asking questions that delve into the details of Higher Literary Criticism, Redaction Criticism, Source and Form Criticism, etc. These are areas which I have a passing familiarity with, but could not speak educatedly about. I don’t really understand theoretical physics that well, either, but I feel confident in quoting Stephen Hawking if I want to make an argument about black holes. A general consensus of literary scholars, theologists, and biblical archaeologists basically agree that Mark was began first at roughly 75 A.D, Matthew and Luke were each derived from Mark and a missing Gospel called “the Q document” at around 100 AD, and that John was written independently at about 110 AD. Furthermore, the gospels were written in stages–years and sometimes decades apart–with the final versions not showing up until roughly 150 AD. Lastly, the gospels in their earliest forms were of anonymous authorship. They were not designated as the “Gospels of” Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John until approximately 180 AD. Therefore, the claim that they were actually written by the hand of a first-person witness to the life of Jesus is dubious at best.

The fact is that there are no first-person accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. There are no Roman records of his execution–the Romans being meticulous record keepers to the point of OCD. Archaeologists can tell you how many casks of wine were produced in the Roman empire in the year of Jesus’s death, but we are to believe that they kept no record of executing a man who claimed to be “The King of the Jews”–an act of treason against the empire! That would be like the U.S. executing Osama Bin Laden but forgetting to write it down anywhere. When one keeps in mind the fact that the average human lifespan in the time of Christ was roughly thirty years, it is especially telling that Jesus’s name never showed up in writing until at least two full generations after his supposed death.

5. theconfessors - March 5, 2010

We’ll get a response back to you probably after the weekend. Thanks for the discussion so far.

6. theconfessors - March 8, 2010

Your possible theory on the creation of the Christ story is an interesting one; I’m of course realizing that you are not touting this as “the theory,” rather an example of what could have happened. Certainly creative 😉

As far as the dating of the Gospels is concerned, I’m curious, what scholars give those as dates? While it is certainly possible, as anything is, I do like arguments and good reasons, and as you stated, you have a passing in textual criticism. Thus you would have to rely on scholars to take a position.

As far as Roman record keeping, what Roman records of this region do we in the first place?

We like these sort of discussions here at the confessors. Picking the brain of a commentor that doesn’t think like us or takes an opposing position is always great if the discussion is civil (as it is). Anyways hopefully we can keep it going.

John Gault - March 8, 2010

O.K…Source…Most of what I’ve said regarding the dating of the gospels can be cross-referenced through just about any reputable source you wish. However, my points were mostly taken from E.P. Sanders “The Historical Figure of Jesus”, Stephen Harris “Understanding the Bible”, Raymond Brown “An Introduction to the New Testament”, and various lectures by C.K. Barrett.

I would, if we can, like to return to the logical premises of the original argument, though, and ask a question of you. The lynchpin of the entire argument falls on number 6–“Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic”. Only by assuming this fact can we move forward to the conclusions presented in numbers 7 and 8. My question is how do we arrive at the premise presented in #6? I would propose that, as a modern observer, it would be impossible to say that Jesus WASN’T either a liar or a lunatic. If we, just for a moment, shed the bias of our religious convictions and examine the situation free from the prejudice of “faith”, is it really that unreasonable to believe that his claims of divinity could have been fake–or the product of delusion?

7. theconfessors - March 9, 2010

I was just curious whom you have read. I’ve read various scholars myself, and have not come across such late dates as those. Speaking in generalities, it seems many agree that “Q” was written somewhere in the early 50s or before; Mark 55-early 60s, Matthew 60s-70s, Luke 70’s, and John 80s- early 100s.This would be more of an average between both conservative Christian scholars to liberal/non-Christian scholars. I have seen some arguments to push some of the gospels earlier than listed.

The study of the Gospel’s and early Christianity is extremely important for this argument; how one views the Gospel’s will affect how one views the argument from the start. For example, if one presupposes or does not believe the Gospels to contain an ounce of truth, then obviously the argument is a bad one from the start, as you would deem it impossible to know what Jesus really said and did, and thus would say it would be impossible to know the real Jesus. So for me to defend this argument in any way, I must appeal to the topic of New Testament studies and scholarship. Which would be why I am asking you many questions on your view of the historical Christ and it’s rise.

8. Shajahan Ahmed - August 26, 2010

Right from the very start (point 1) the method is wrong. “Jesus claimed to be divine; at least indirectly” at least indirectly? What does that mean? It means that there is no irrefutable, undeniable prove (from the Bible) that Jesus (pbuh) ever claimed to be divine. Why be indirect? If Jesus (pbuh) was God then why beat around the bushes about it. If Jesus (pbuh) was God (in the Bible) then why isn’t there one clear statement from Jesus (pbuh) himself claiming he is God? By saying “at least indirectly” you are assuming Jesus’ (pbuh) divinity based on texts from the Bible which could have many alternative meanings. And so all the other points are a waste because they are based around point one.

I try not to debate Christians as much now because I want to focus and understand more of my faith (Islam). But when this type of argument is put forward, it makes me wonder. Come on… you seriously can’t say to an audience: “ok, Jesus claimed to be God, well at least he did indirectly”, and then base your whole argument on that. An indirect statement can never be proof for anything; a learned person should know that better than anyone. Certainty is based on proof, not assumption.

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