Weird question, I know. Let me explain. This phrase is from C. S. Lewis’ classic book Mere Christianity. Lewis journeyed from atheism to a believer in Jesus as the Christ. In Mere Christianity, he articulated an argument in support for the deity of Jesus commonly styled the trilemma.
Actually, Lewis’ classic argument emerges from his desire to disabuse his readers who are tempted to accept Jesus of Nazareth “as a great moral teacher” and yet reject his claims “to be God.” Lewis is very adamant, “That is the one thing we must not say.” Why? The reason is simple. Jesus made claims to have divine privileges, claims to be divine, and exercised the rights of God by forgiving others their sins.
How could we rationalize Jesus being a “great moral teacher,” Lewis argues, when he makes such claims to which places him beyond humanity? We are forced to make a decision: accept all that Jesus teaches or attempt to separate this claim to divinity from his teachings.
Decisions, We Have to Make One
At this point the question about Jesus of Nazareth could be reduced to a dilemma. Professor Maurice Stanley explains that the “dilemma is among the most powerful forms of argument. Like the horns of a charging bull, its alternatives seem to leave you with no escape.”
For example, we may argue that either Jesus is the Christ or He is just “a great moral teacher.”
If Jesus is the Christ, then his teaching is absolutely true.
If Jesus is just a great moral teacher, then he his teaching is subjective.
Consequently, you are left with two alternatives: either what Jesus taught (1) is absolutely true, or (2) it is decidedly subjective (we may pick and chose).
As a dilemma, there is no both-and. If you accept one, you deny the other conclusion.
Lewis knew, however, there was a third element regarding the case of Jesus of Nazareth. It simply is not that Jesus is either the Christ or a great moral teacher. Jesus made too many claims to divinity recorded in the Gospel Accounts to leave it at those two options.
Lewis goes to see that Jesus is either one of three things. Jesus is either (1) a lunatic (Lewis’s “a poached egg”), (2) a devil, or (3) the Son of God. This is the trilemma where there is no both-and-and. If you accept one, you deny the other two conclusions.
If you accept that Jesus is a lunatic, then he is the sort of man “who says he is a poached egg” — i.e, a madman.
No madman is a “great moral teacher.” Is Charlie Manson a great moral teacher? What about Jim Jones? Or, David Koresh? Hardly. These are the questions readers of the New Testament need to ask. Interestingly, we find that these questions were raised as well during the ministry of Jesus himself.
They Said, “Jesus is Beside Himself”
In Mark 3:20-21, the family of Jesus had heard that he was home in Capernaum (2:1). They rushed “to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.” [All Scripture references are from the American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.]
The language is very vivid. Jesus’ own family was so concerned what people were saying about Jesus that they rushed to take him into their “protective” custody. However, certain Jerusalem scribes had already come and dismissed the exorcisms of Jesus as the work and influence of Beelzebul and “the prince of the demons” (3:22).
The text forces the question concerning Jesus: He is either (1) “out of his mind” (i.e., “a poached egg”) or (2) in cooperation with evil spirits (“a demon”). In the latter point, no one disputed the supernatural elements of the exorcisms.
In this text, Jesus responds with a third option (Mark 3:22-27). He argues that He is not cooperating with Satan, nor is Satan in a civil war against himself since his kingdom would fall apart. Instead, Jesus demonstrates his power and authority over Satan by subduing him in his own home. Jesus, then, logically argues for his superiority over the demonic and satanic world.
This passage then, which questions his sanity, demonstrates that he possesses all his mental faculties (he is not crazy) and that he is no emissary of Satan (he is no deceiver). But true to his power and authority, he is in the company and presence of the Holy Spirit (he is from God). Mark presents Jesus mentally stable and confident in his power over evil spiritual forces.
Did Jesus Go Crazy Later?
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), an Irish playwright, once claimed that Jesus began his teaching ministry as a sane Rabbi but later after being exalted by the masses as the Christ lost his mind. This is not, however, the testimony of the Gospel Accounts which are of such authenticity that they could arguably be “admissible as evidence in a court of law” as true ancient eyewitness documents. This is significant since the only authentic evidence for the existence of Jesus, his teaching, and ministry are the first century documents of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
But still, if a person claims to be God today, we would say they are insane. The Gospel Accounts, however, are united in their presentation that Jesus claimed both the power and the nature of God. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus demonstrates that his not only has supernatural power to heal a disabled man but also prerogative and power of God to forgive sins (2:7). He then affirms, “that ye may know that the Son of man hath authority on earth to forgive sins” he heals the man (2:10).
Jesus not only taught that he had this divine privilege, but he also claimed to be God in the flesh (John 1:14, 10:29-33). Furthermore, he accepted worship — a significant acceptance of an act only due to God (Matt 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; Mark 5:6-7; John 9:35-38).
When pressed about Jesus’ “I am God” claim as a demonstration that he was insane, psychologist Dr. Gary R. Collins responded that it is important to remember that “psychologists don’t just look at what a person says. They’ll go much deeper than that.”
Dr. Collins sets forth four particular problems “disturbed individuals frequently show” that Jesus does not demonstrate, namely:
(1) Emotional instability.
(2) Out of touch with reality (misperceptions, paranoia, etc).
(3) Thinking disorders (e.g. cannot think logically)
(4) Demonstration of unsuitable behavior.
Instead, Collins praises the emotional and mental stability of Jesus, giving his “diagnosis” as follows: “All in all, I just don’t see signs that Jesus was suffering from any known mental illness… He was much healthier than anyone else I know —including me!”
The Significance of Jesus and His Resurrection
Ultimately, the Gospel Accounts emphasize the story of Jesus and his significance. This is summed up in the word “gospel” (Grk.euangelion) which means “a good tiding” or “a tiding of joy” (Matt 4:23; Mark 1:1; Luke 1:19, 4:18; John 1:11-13). Surely, the authors would not attempt to establish their gospel message upon a delusional Rabbi from a backwater city like Nazareth (John 1:46). Yet, their story hangs on such an individual.
The only thing that makes Jesus’ claim to divinity (“I and the Father are one”) credible is the resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:3-5). While Lewis would ask us to choose between the three options based upon the logic of the Gospel Accounts, the real evidence lies in the resurrection of Jesus. The strongest evidence for the empty tomb of
The strongest evidence for the empty tomb of Jesus is seen in the various conversions of those who did not believe in Jesus (James the brother of Jesus) and those who persecuted Christianity (like Saul-Paul the apostle), who were moved from being unbelievers to significant leaders of the primitive Christian faith (1 Cor 15:1-11).
Gary Habermas reminds us that the earliest belief “that they had actually seen Jesus after his death led to a radical transformation in their lives, even to the point of being willing to die for their faith.” Their conversion and capacity to endure sufferings as eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus are unexplainable otherwise.
Similar arguments can be made from various other texts, but the present discussion should be helpful to demonstrate that Jesusis no “poached egg,” nor is he a liar. We are then led to the only true credible conclusion that Jesus is the son of God.
What will you decide based upon the evidence and testimony of the Gospel Accounts (John 20:30–31; 21:25)? As Lewis reminds us:
let us not come with any patronising [sic] nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
- Clive S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (NY: Macmillan, 1952).
- Lewis, Mere Christianity, 56.
- Maurice F. Stanely, Logic and Controversy (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2002), 192.
- N.T. Wright critiques Lewis’ “lunatic, liar, Lord” trilemma argument, or as he rephrases it “bad or mad or God,” by observing that the argument does not take into account the pre-existing “incarnational model” of Israel in the Scriptures and consequently “drastically short-circuits the argument” (“Simply Lewis: Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years,” TouchstoneMag.com). That criticism acknowledged, Lewis does provide the basic contours of the question by forcing his readers to decide if Jesus was a lunatic, a liar, or Lord.
- Wayne Jackson calls attention to Shaw’s point of view in Jackson, Eric Lyons, and Kyle Butt, Surveying the Evidence (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press, 2008), 175.
- Pamela Binnings Ewen, Faith on Trial: An Attorney Analyzes the Evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1999). It has been reprinted with slight variation to the title, Faith on Trial: Analyze the Evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2013). The purpose of the volume is to demonstrate the credibility of the Gospel Accounts to have the internal evidence to stand up in a court of law as eyewitness documents. Ewen argues forcefully that they do. See also Simon Greenleaf, Faith on Trial: Analyze the Evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (1874; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995).
- Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 146.
- Strobel, The Case for Christ, 146-47.
- Strobel, The Case for Christ, 147.
- G. Habermas, To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 189.
- Lewis, Mere Christianity, 56.