Post details: Great Argument for the Intellectual Unbeliever.


Permalink 10:17:01 am, Categories: GraceHead teaching, GraceHead thinking deeply, 3403 words   English (US)

Great Argument for the Intellectual Unbeliever.

Jesus...Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?

12/22/05 - From Kurt, a Brother In Christ - A Letter to Paul R., Who Says Jesus is a False Messiah and a Liar, and For All Those Who Have Ears to Hear

Hi Paul,

I’ve given your last couple of e-mails some thought and decided to write you back. It sounds like you are a well-educated man. Let’s examine what has been said here.

Was Jesus Lord, liar, or lunatic?

The distinct claims of Jesus to be God eliminate the popular ploy of skeptics, who regard Jesus as just a good moral man or a prophet who said a lot of profound things. So often, that conclusion is passed off as the only one acceptable to scholars or as the obvious result of the intellectual process. The trouble is, many people nod their heads in agreement and never see the fallacy of such reasoning.

To Jesus, who men and women believed Him to be was of fundamental importance. To say what Jesus said, and to claim what He claimed about Himself, one couldn’t conclude He was just a good moral man or prophet. That alternative isn’t open to an individual, and Jesus never intended it to be.

C.S. Lewis, who was a professor at Cambridge University, and once an agnostic, understood this issue clearly. He writes: “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 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.”

Then Lewis adds: “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 up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

F.J.A. Hort, who spent twenty-eight years in a critical study of the New Testament text, writes: “His words were so completely parts and utterances of Himself, that they had no meaning as abstract statements of truth uttered by Him as a divine oracle or prophet. Take away Himself as the primary (though not the ultimate) subject of every statement, and they all fall to pieces.”

In the words of Kenneth Scott Latourette, historian of Christianity at Yale University: “It is not His teachings, which make Jesus so remarkable, although these would be enough to give Him distinction. It is a combination of the teachings with the man, Himself. The two can not be separated. It must be obvious,” Latourette concludes, “to any thoughtful reader of the Gospel records, that Jesus regarded Himself and His message as inseparable. His teachings about the 'kingdom' of 'God', about human conduct, and about God, were important, but they could not be divorced from Him without, from His standpoint, being vitiated.”

Jesus claimed to be God. He didn’t leave any other option open. His claim must either be true or false, so it is something that should be given serious consideration. Jesus’ question to His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15) has several alternatives.

First, consider that His claim to be God was false. If it was false, then we have two and only two alternatives. He either knew it was false, or He didn’t know it was false. We will consider each one separately, and examine the evidence.

Was Jesus a liar? If, when Jesus made His claims, He knew that He was not God, then He was lying and deliberately deceiving His followers. But if He was a liar, then He was also a hypocrite, because He told others to be honest, whatever the cost, while He, Himself, taught and lived a colossal lie. More than that, He was a demon, because He told others to trust Him for their eternal destiny. If He couldn’t back up His claims, and knew it, then He was unspeakably evil. Lastly, He would also be a fool, because it was His claims to being God that led to His crucifixion.

Many will say that Jesus was a good moral teacher. Let’s be realistic. How could He be a great moral teacher and knowingly mislead people in the most important point of His teaching - His own identity?

You would have to conclude, logically, that He was a deliberate liar. This view of Jesus, however, doesn’t coincide with what we know either of Him or the results of His life and teachings. Wherever Jesus has been proclaimed, lives have been changed for the better...thieves are made honest, alcoholics are cured, and hateful individuals become channels of love, unjust persons become just.

Historian Philip Schaff gives convincing argument against Christ being a liar: “How, in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an impostor, who is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man, have invented, and consistently maintained, from beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history, with the most perfect air of truth and reality?”

“How could He have conceived, and successfully carried out, a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed His own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of His own people and age.”

If Jesus wanted to get people to follow Him, and believe in Him as God, why did He go to the Jewish nation? Why go as a Nazarene carpenter to a country, so small in size and population, and so thoroughly adhering to the undivided unity of God? Why didn’t He go to Egypt, or to Greece, where they believed in various gods and various manifestations of them?

Someone, who lived as Jesus lived, taught as Jesus taught, and died as Jesus died, could not have been a liar. What other alternatives are there?

Was He a lunatic? If it is inconceivable for Jesus to be a liar, then couldn’t He actually have thought Himself to be God, but been mistaken? After all, it’s possible to be both sincere and wrong. But we must remember that for someone to think Himself God, especially in a fiercely monotheistic culture, and then to tell others that their eternal destiny depended on believing in Him, is no slight flight of fantasy, but the thoughts of a lunatic in the fullest sense. Was Jesus Christ such a person?

Someone believing He is God sounds like someone today believing himself to be Napoleon. He would be deluded, and self-deceived, and probably he would be locked up so he wouldn’t hurt himself or anyone else. Yet in Jesus, we don’t observe the abnormalities and imbalance that usually go along with being deranged. His poise and composure would certainly be amazing if He were insane.

Noyes and Kolb, in a medical text, describe the schizophrenic as a person who is more autistic than realistic. The schizophrenic desires to escape from the world of reality. Let’s face it: Claiming to be God would certainly be a retreat from reality.

In light of the other things we know about Jesus, it’s hard to imagine that He was mentally disturbed. Here is a man who spoke some of the most profound sayings ever recorded. His instructions have liberated many individuals in mental bondage. Clark H. Pinnock asks: “Was He deluded about His greatness, a paranoid, an unintentional deceiver, a schizophrenic? Again, the skill and depth of His teachings support the case only for total mental soundness. If only we were as sane as He!”

Psychiatrist, J.T. Fisher, states: “For nearly two thousand years, the Christian world has been holding in its hands the complete answer to its restless and fruitless yearnings. Here rests the blueprint for successful human life, with optimism, mental health, and contentment.”

So Was He Lord? I can not personally conclude that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic. The only other alternative is that He was the Christ, the Son of God, as He claimed.

The issue with these three alternatives is not which is possible, for it is obvious that all three are possible. But rather, the question is, “Which is more probable?” Who you decide Jesus Christ is must not be an idle, intellectual exercise. You cannot put Him on the shelf as a great moral teacher. That is not a valid option. He is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord and must make a choice. But, as the apostle, John, wrote, ”These have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and, more importantly, that believing you might have life in His name.” (John 20:31).

The evidence is clearly in favor of Jesus as Lord. Some people, however, reject this clear evidence because of moral implications involved. They don’t want to face up to the responsibility, or implications, of calling Him Lord.

Now Paul, one area often overlooked, in challenges to Christianity, is the transformation of Jesus’ apostles. Their changed lives provide solid testimony for the validity of His claims. Since the Christian faith is historical, to investigate it, we must rely heavily upon testimony, both written and oral.

There are many definitions of “history”, but the one I prefer is, “a knowledge of the past, based upon testimony.” If someone says, “I don’t believe that’s a good definition”, I ask, “Do you believe that Napoleon lived?” They almost always reply, “Yes.” “Have you seen him?” I ask, and they confess they haven’t.

“How do you know then?” Well, they are relying on testimony. This definition of history has one inherent problem. The testimony must be reliable, or the hearer will be misinformed. Christianity involves knowledge of the past, based upon testimony, so now we must ask, “Were the original oral testimonies about Jesus trustworthy? Can they be trusted to have conveyed, correctly, what Jesus said and did?”  I believe they can be. I can trust the apostles’ testimonies because, of those men, eleven died martyrs’ deaths on the basis of two things: The resurrection of Christ, and their belief in Him as the Son of God. They were tortured and flogged, and they finally faced death by some of the cruelest methods then known:

1. Peter - crucified
2. Andrew - crucified
3. John - natural
4. James, son of Alphaeus - crucified
5. Matthew - sword
6. Philip - crucified
7. Simon - crucified
8. Thaddaeus - killed by arrows
9. James, brother of Jesus - stoned
10. Thomas - spear thrust
11. Bartholomew - crucified
12. James, son of Zebedee - the sword

The response, that is usually chorused back, is this: “Why? Alot of people have died for a lie, so what does it prove?” Yes, alot of people have died for a lie, but they thought it was the truth. Now if the resurrection didn’t take place (i.e. was false), the disciples knew it. I find no way to demonstrate that they could have been deceived. Therefore, these eleven men not only died for a lie, (here is the catch) but they knew it was a lie. It would be hard to find eleven people in history that died for a lie, knowing it was a lie.

We need to be cognizant of several factors in order to appreciate what they did. First, when the apostles wrote or spoke, they did so as eyewitnesses of the events they described. The apostles, themselves, had to be convinced that Jesus was raised from the dead. At first, they didn’t believe...they went and hid (Mark 12:50). They didn’t hesitate to express their doubts. Only after ample and convincing evidence, did they believe. There was Thomas, who said he wouldn’t believe that Christ was raised from the dead until he had put his finger in the nail prints. Thomas later died a martyr’s death for Christ. Was he deceived?...He bet his life he wasn’t.

Then there was Peter. He denied Christ several times during his trial. Finally, he deserted Jesus, but something happened to this coward. Just a short time after Christ’s crucifixion and burial, Peter showed up in Jerusalem preaching boldly, at the threat of death, that Jesus was the Christ and had been resurrected. Finally, Peter was crucified upside down. Was he deceived? What had happened to him? What had transformed him so dramatically into a bold lion for Jesus? Why was he willing to die for him? The only explanation, I am satisfied with, is 1 Corinthians 15:5 - “And then He appeared to Cephas (Peter)” (John 1:42). 

Here is a classic example of a man convinced against his will, James, the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3). James wasn’t one of the original twelve (Matthew 10:2-4), but he was later recognized as an apostle (Galatians 1:19), as were Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14). When Jesus was alive, James didn’t believe in his brother, Jesus, as the Son of God (John 7:5). He, as well as his brothers and sisters, may even have mocked Him. For James, it must have been humiliating for Jesus to go around and bring ridicule to the family name by His wild claims. But something happened to James. After Jesus was crucified and buried, James was preaching in Jerusalem. His message was that Jesus died for sins and was resurrected and is alive. Eventually, James became one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church and wrote a book, the epistle of James. He began it by writing, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (His brother). Eventually, James died a martyr’s death, by stoning, at the hands of Ananias the high priest (Josephus).

Was James deceived?...No. The only plausible explanation is 1 Corinthians 15:7 -“Then He appeared to James.” If the resurrection was a lie, the apostles knew it. Were they perpetuating a colossal hoax? That possibility is inconsistent with what we know about the moral quality of their lives. They personally condemned lying and stressed honesty. They encouraged people to know the truth. The bold conduct of the apostles, immediately after they were convinced of the resurrection, makes it unlikely that it was a fraud. They became bold, almost over night. Peter, who had denied Christ, stood up even at the threat of death, and proclaimed Jesus alive after the resurrection.

The authorities arrested the followers of Christ, and beat them, yet they soon would be back in the street speaking out about Jesus (Acts 5:40-42), their friends noticed their courage, nor did they preach in an obscure town, but in Jerusalem. The apostles went through the test of death to substantiate the veracity of what they were proclaiming.

Kenneth Scott Latourette writes, “The effects of the resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, were of major importance. From discouraged, disillusioned men and women, who sadly looked back upon the days when they hoped that Jesus was "He who should redeem Israel," they were made over into a company of enthusiastic witnesses”. With that quote from Kenneth Scott Latourette, now is a good time to talk about the gift Jesus gave us after He was crucified on the cross. He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-13), “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. Concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. I have many more things to say to you, but you can not bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” And John 14:16-17 -“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever, that is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him, because He abides with you, and will be in you.” [The above letter contains excerpts from the book, “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell © 1977]

With that said, let me tell you a story about my past. When I was about sixteen years old, I had a Literary Arts class in High School. One of the subjects we had to study was the William Shakespeare play, “Romeo and Juliet”. It was tough reading for a sixteen-year-old. Our teacher had us reading two or three scenes a day, then we would discuss the meaning.  I began reading Romeo and Juliet, “Give me my Romeo. And when he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine, that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.” (Romeo and Juliet, Act III Scene II)

The language of William Shakespeare’s day was easy to read but tough to understand. Most of the time I didn’t know what was going on in the play. Our teacher understood this, so she gave us a gift. She allowed us to use Cliff’s notes to better understand what was going on in the play, but only on one condition: We read the play first, and then refer to the notes for understanding. We can take that example, and learn what Jesus gave us (The Holy Spirit) to understand His words. It’s easy to read the Bible, but without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to understand it. So when we read the Bible, we humble ourselves, before Christ, and ask to receive His gift of the Holy Spirit. Then the veil, over our eyes, is lifted, and we can see and understand His meaning.

Paul, I was very impressed with your knowledge of the Bible, but when you asked the question, “All I did is quote the Good Book...Was that bad?” The answer, for you, is “yes”. Think of it this way, Paul: Knowledge, without wisdom, can be very dangerous. A 10-year-old child watches his father strike a match. That child now has the knowledge of how to strike that match, but doesn’t have the wisdom to know what to do with the match after it’s struck. The child will ultimately hurt himself, and others around him, eventually burning down his house with him in it. So like the example, you have knowledge of the Bible, but no wisdom; and without wisdom, you have no understanding. Without understanding, you are hurting yourself and the others around you. It is very dangerous for you to quote the Bible as you have done. Even if you don’t believe in God, or His Christ Jesus, They believe in you. So every time you misquote the Bible, you’re hurting your relationship with God. And trying to convince someone to turn away from God is even will end up burning your house down with you in it.

I’ve sent you this letter not to judge you, but to let you know the Good News about Jesus: That a humble man can let go of himself, and the world, and find peace and love through Jesus Christ. Open your heart and mind to the possibility that what I have written to you is true.

Your brother loves you very much. I’m sure he would love to share his wisdom and understanding (given by God and His Christ Jesus, through Their Spirit, only) with you.

Take care, and God bless you.


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