C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma – Liar, Lunatic or Divine?

July 19, 2007 at 7:32 am 79 comments

C.S. LewisC. S. Lewis, author of the Narnia books and himself an atheist before turning to Christianity, was critical of the idea that Jesus was a great moral teacher, but not divine, with the following trilemma:

  1. Jesus was lying and knew it, so he was a liar.
  2. Jesus was lying but believed what he was saying, so he was a lunatic.
  3. Jesus was telling the truth, so he was divine.

Thus, according to Lewis, Jesus could only be a great moral teacher if he was telling the truth and was the son of God. Later, this argument was used as a logical proof that Jesus was in fact the son of God.

  • Point 1 couldn’t be true, or so the argument goes, because then Jesus wouldn’t be willing to die for it.
  • Point 2 couldn’t be true, because Jesus for some reason couldn’t be a lunatic.
  • Therefore, the logical conclusion is that Jesus was divine.

The point was raised in the comments to one of my blog entries on my Import Mind.Reason blog that there may be a fourth option – Jesus never claimed to be the son of God but that the early Christians misunderstood this or decided it for themselves. The Gospels were written long after Jesus lived. In fact, the first was written forty years after his death. This is a significant period of time to allow for the stories to change slightly during a time period when technology was much less advanced than today. The fact that many elements of Christianity were also found in other contemporary religions suggests that early Christians borrowed from other traditions. It is difficult to discern exactly what applies to Jesus the myth or what applies to Jesus the man.

However, even if we accept the premise that Jesus claimed he was divine, the Lewis arguments are not solid. I agree that if Jesus did not believe in what he taught, and he did indeed teach that he was the son of God, then he would not have given his life for it. However, point 2 above is much more problematic. I have yet to hear a compelling argument that Jesus could not have been what Lewis calls a lunatic.

Martyrdom is a weak argument for a cause. If people are willing to die for it, it must be true, right? Wrong. In 1997, the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide. 38 followers and the leader himself killed themselves so that they could take a ride with a spaceship they believed was hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet. Needless to say, the comet didn’t hide any spaceships and the members died in vain.

Why couldn’t Jesus have been under the (wrong) impression that he was divine? He would be far from the first, nor the last prophet charismatic enough to convince people he was not mentally ill and still claim the most fantastic things. The leader of the UFO sect mentioned above managed to convince 38 people that he was not some lunatic with a tin-foil hat, but rather a prophet who knew about the arrival of a spaceship. He is among many others who have convinced people to believe obvious falsehoods.

In fact, I would argue that the Gospels themselves are not very accurate. Of course, this is a view all atheists must take because the Gospels contains many passages about miracles we believe never happened. In fact, I’d argue that any text on miracles should be looked on as less reliable than a text with no miracles, simply by virtue of the fact that they contain miracles. Through the years, there have been numerous accounts of miracles, but never has any one of those claims stood up to skeptical inquiry. Never has there been any evidence suggesting that these events could not have happened by natural causes or that they were altogether fake. Given this simple, empirical observation, that no purported miracle has ever been proven to be genuine, we should be careful to trust sources that tell about such miracles.

In a comment to the previously mentioned blog entry, Husky said:

If Jesus was only one of tens of thousands of Jesuses living in Palestine at the time, and if there were multiple other prophets as well, then why did Christianity flourish with time and the rest of them fade away? I feel the burden of proof lies with the atheists on this one. There must be some objective aspect of Christianity that allowed it to succeed. Or it must be conceded that Christianity’s rise to prominence was a highly, HIGHLY improbable development.

I can’t say how many Jesuses there were in Palestine at the time of Jesus, but he was certainly not the only prophet in the area at the time.

Christianity’s rise was mostly a result of luck. Emperor Constantine I legalized Christianity by granting religious freedom. He also did much to prevent the old custom of worshiping the emperor, and held the First Council of Nicaea that helped settle disputes internal to the religion. Before this, Christians had been prosecuted and executed for their religious beliefs. After Constantine, Christianity grew from being allowed to being favored, and from then on it spread rapidly. It seems likely that without Constantine a combination of internal and external factors would have led to Christianity to be much more obscure than it is today.

Unlike scientific ideas that generally become accepted once sufficient evidence for them is presented, religious ideas are much more dependent on social factors. No religion can provide objective evidence in favor of their position, so asking what objective ideas particular to Christianity that provided it with an advantage is missing the mark a bit. Rather, the popularity of any particular religion seems to be mostly based on luck and how good communicators the originators are. That Christianity would become the largest religion in the world is an improbable development given the weak arguments to support its claims.

- Simen

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Is the New Testament an improvement on Old Testament morality? Garden of the Gods

79 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The de-Convert  |  July 19, 2007 at 12:19 am

    I read this argument for the first time in Josh McDowell’s Evidence Demands a Verdict book and my original reaction was:

    Huh?

    Paul

  • 2. Thinking Ape  |  July 19, 2007 at 12:27 am

    I read this argument for the first time in Josh McDowell’s Evidence Demands a Verdict book and my original reaction was:

    Are you serious?

    TA

  • 3. Tiffany  |  July 19, 2007 at 12:34 am

    Your “fourth option” is, in fact, what Islam teaches; Jesus is believed to be an important prophet but not the son of God, and the Islamic teaching is that he never actually made such a claim during his lifetime and the lies or lunacy are the work of other men who came after him.

    I think, though, that you’ve blended two of Lewis’s arguments in a way that blurs the lines of both. The “son of God, liar or lunatic” proposition was intended to illustrate that there really is no viable middle ground–we can’t “wimp out” by saying Jesus was a wise man and a great teacher but not divine, because if he was, in fact, a liar or a lunatic, then all of his other teachings must necessarily be suspect as well. I would submit that the same applies to your “fourth option”, in that if one accepts the proposition that the gospels are inaccurate on such a point as Christ claiming to be the son of God, it’s difficult to have confidence that he actually said all of the other things recorded.

  • 4. Lyndon Marcotte  |  July 19, 2007 at 12:39 am

    I’m glad you brought this up. I was thinking just yesterday how weak this argument is for the three options only. It is totally dependent on the 100% accuracy and “infalliablity” of scripture which is a very human product. It doesn’t allow for the fact the New Testament is not an historical record but a narrative with a purpose to convert.

  • 5. Thinking Ape  |  July 19, 2007 at 12:58 am

    Tiffany, most Buddhists do not believe that the many characters, from Buddha Gautama to Vimalakirti to Santideva, did many of the miracles and supernatural feats that their literature says they did. Even the XIVth Dalai Lama expresses that these things are not of any real concern. What matters to Buddhists is whether the teachings hold true when practiced.

    My question, however, is whether Christians should consider the Buddha Gautama as Buddha, betrayer, or bozo?

  • 6. Stephen P  |  July 19, 2007 at 4:23 am

    I’ve had people try to ram this one down my throat a couple of times in e-mails. My answer is that the real trilemma is:

    1. The gospels are an accurate account of the life of Jesus, or
    2. The gospels are an inaccurate account of the life of Jesus, or
    3. The gospels are fiction, and Jesus of Nazareth never existed.

    Only if they can conclusively demonstrate that (1) is correct is C.S. Lewis’ trilemma even an issue.

    Incidentally I used to assume that (2) was the correct choice, but having recently spent quite a bit of time reading the work of people like Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier, I’m now leaning towards (3).

  • 7. Heather  |  July 19, 2007 at 7:05 am

    My reaction would mirror Paul’s and TA’s reaction: it only works based on certain assumptions.

    Besides, one can be a lunatic and still make moral statements, or even live a moral life. It depends on the type of lunantic.

  • 8. Simen  |  July 19, 2007 at 7:38 am

    Tiffany,

    I think, though, that you’ve blended two of Lewis’s arguments in a way that blurs the lines of both. The “son of God, liar or lunatic” proposition was intended to illustrate that there really is no viable middle ground–we can’t “wimp out” by saying Jesus was a wise man and a great teacher but not divine, because if he was, in fact, a liar or a lunatic, then all of his other teachings must necessarily be suspect as well.

    But this doesn’t follow at all! Even if Jesus was a lunatic psychopathic mass-murdering rapist and always lied, his teachings would still have to be evaluated on their own merits. It is possible to be what Lewis calls a lunatic and still have some valuable ideas. And it is possible to be a liar yet still occasionally speak truth. This is looking more and more like an ad hominem fallacy. The merits of the New Testament moral teachings must be evaluated on equal ground with other moral teachings, and not based on who supposedly said them.

    This way of thinking is dead wrong. If Jesus was deluded enough to think himself God, he could still be clear-headed enough to teach a progressive moral for his time. It’s a fine line between madness and genius. Further, even if he did lie about being son of God, he could still teach good morals; that would make him a hypocrite, but it wouldn’t invalidate his teachings.

  • 9. superhappyjen  |  July 19, 2007 at 8:17 am

    This way of thinking is dead wrong. If Jesus was deluded enough to think himself God, he could still be clear-headed enough to teach a progressive moral for his time. It’s a fine line between madness and genius. Further, even if he did lie about being son of God, he could still teach good morals; that would make him a hypocrite, but it wouldn’t invalidate his teachings

    It’s almost as if Jesus were a human being who was wrong on some points, right on others. If he believed in grandious unlikely things that would make him similar to modern day Christians would it not? In my interpretation Christians believe grandious things that (to an outsider) would be obviously untrue or exageratted. And yet, their belief does not say anything about their intelligence or the validity of their opinions in other areas.

  • 10. Brad  |  July 19, 2007 at 9:06 am

    I did a double take when I saw the title of this post, as I was thinking just last night of doing the exact same topic. I think I may just to give a contrast :-).

    I feel like this needs a little further clarification… Completely barring scripture for now, let’s add in the claims of the disciples and early Christians to the argument:

    1.) Liar – OK, so Jesus was a liar, he got caught, crucified, and his plan to profit (in some way, what other reason could there be?) from his lies never succeeded. But every apostle except John was martyred also for their supposed “lies.” I can see one person dieing for their lies, but dozens? Hundreds?

    2.) Lunatic – I could use the same argument here, but the point that C.S. Lewis makes with this is that Jesus would not have so many people following him if he were a lunatic. Again, several may, maybe even a hundred or so. But why would so many thousands follow him immediately, and then CONTINUE to follow him after his death and resurrection (through his disciples)? Assuming his disciples were crazy too (which, you would almost have to), there would HAVE to be some inconsistency pointed out.

    3.) Lord – This is pretty self-explanatory.

    And here are two more points on historical reliability that (thank you Da Vinci Code) are so often overlooked.

    1.) The Church Fathers (1st generation of Christians after the Apostles; Polycarp, Tertullian, etc.) quoted heavily from the scriptures. Many of their writings predate our earliest manuscripts of the gospels, yet we could (with the exception of only 6 verses) peice together the ENTIRE NT from their quotations alone. The “40 years” figure is just not accurate. Paul’s writings alone could NOT have been more than 35 years old (as Jesus was crucified in 35, and Paul was martyred in 70).

    2.) In Re: to changing and adapting and adding in that Jesus was son of God… Give me a break. I hear this argument so often, and it saddens me. Let’s say that, in 35 years someone writes an account of 9/11 and you get to read it. Let’s say that it has Rudy Giulliani rushing all the way up to the top floor of WTC 1, rescuing an old woman, and carrying her back down the stairs. You can’t prove it didn’t happen, but based on your recollection of the day, it sure as hell is unlikely. If someone added Jesus’ claims of divinity, don’t you think that someone who was around to hear/not hear them would speak up if it were wrong?

    Also, it was over 400 YEARS before Constantine legalized Christianity, during which Christianity flourished under the most ruthless persecution in the history of the world. I think it takes a HELL of a lot more “luck” for any religion/philosophy/whatever to not only survive, but become so influential that the government doesn’t have a choice but to recognize it. Empiricism can tell you that much…

  • 11. Simen  |  July 19, 2007 at 9:18 am

    Um, no, it was not over 400 years. The Edict of Milan is from 313, less than 300 years after Jesus was supposedly crucified.

    1.) Liar – OK, so Jesus was a liar, he got caught, crucified, and his plan to profit (in some way, what other reason could there be?) from his lies never succeeded. But every apostle except John was martyred also for their supposed “lies.” I can see one person dieing for their lies, but dozens? Hundreds?

    They could have believed the lies. Anyway, I consider it much more likely that if Jesus indeed claimed to be son of God, he did so because he believed it, and any martyrs (where do you get your figures from?) would have been believers too. The example of the Heaven’s Gate cult shows how easily people are deceived today. Imagine 2000 years ago, without modern science or even science at all, at a time when myths were considered real.

    1.) The Church Fathers (1st generation of Christians after the Apostles; Polycarp, Tertullian, etc.) quoted heavily from the scriptures. Many of their writings predate our earliest manuscripts of the gospels, yet we could (with the exception of only 6 verses) peice together the ENTIRE NT from their quotations alone. The “40 years” figure is just not accurate. Paul’s writings alone could NOT have been more than 35 years old (as Jesus was crucified in 35, and Paul was martyred in 70).

    Fair enough, Paul could have been writing a bit earlier. I don’t suppose you have a good source on the other part?

    2.) In Re: to changing and adapting and adding in that Jesus was son of God… Give me a break. I hear this argument so often, and it saddens me. Let’s say that, in 35 years someone writes an account of 9/11 and you get to read it. Let’s say that it has Rudy Giulliani rushing all the way up to the top floor of WTC 1, rescuing an old woman, and carrying her back down the stairs. You can’t prove it didn’t happen, but based on your recollection of the day, it sure as hell is unlikely. If someone added Jesus’ claims of divinity, don’t you think that someone who was around to hear/not hear them would speak up if it were wrong?

    You talk as if the world 2000 years ago was like the world today.

    Why did so many people follow Buddha, Mohammad, and all the other prophets that according to Christianity were false? The answer is that people were more superstitious and less informed than we are today. The answer is also that things were a lot less well-documented back in the day.

    Empiricism can tell you that much…

    …more than Christianity, yes.

  • 12. Brad  |  July 19, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Sources? Here are a few, although I don’t remember which one has the information about the 2nd generation apsotles.

    “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels,” by Craig Bloomberg
    “The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus,” William Lane Craig
    “The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ,” by Gary R. Habermas

    Simen said:
    “Anyway, I consider it much more likely that if Jesus indeed claimed to be son of God, he did so because he believed it, and any martyrs (where do you get your figures from?) would have been believers too.”
    Exactly. Either we assume he believed it or he didn’t. If he is not the son of God and still believed it, that would make him a lunatic. So in essence, you are ruling out option #1 and are going with #2?

    Simen said:
    “You talk as if the world 2000 years ago was like the world today.”
    In many ways, it can be. I was drawing an illustration. Yet you also assume a broad generalization that there were no skeptics (or at least very few) because they did not have “science.” Some of the greatest thinkers and philosophers in the history of the world were convinced by the evidence Paul presented in Athens, Corinth, and elsewhere in Greece. You are making a great cultural assumption that one could not discern for themselves the reality of truth before the advent of science.

    Simen says:
    “Why did so many people follow Buddha, Mohammad, and all the other prophets that according to Christianity were false? The answer is that people were more superstitious and less informed than we are today.”

    Comparing Christianity carte blanc to other world religions based on popularity completely ignores unique cultural context. You simply didn’t answer my question: If someone added Jesus’ claims of divinity, don’t you think that someone who was around to hear/not hear them would speak up if it were wrong?

    Simen says:
    “The answer is also that things were a lot less well-documented back in the day.”

    “Less” does not mean “none at all,” or even “insufficient.” No, they could not rival the technology we have at our disposal, and ease of communicating and storing information. But the only reason we know what happened more than a few hundred years ago was because they valued history to such a degree that meticulous care was taken in preserving it. This is yet another sweeping generalization that just does not make sense. The records kept by the emporors, Josephus’ Antiquities and account of the fall of Jerusalem, Herod’s records of his own accomplishments, and so many more independent sources were more than adequate at keeping track of history.

    I’m amazed at the cultural arrogance that so many of us (myself included! I mean no personal disrespect!) assume because we are “so much smarter than they were.” The only reason why we can even claim that is because of the foundations our ancestors have built. The “Enlightenment” has sometimes done far more to destroy our respect for history and past cultures than it has “enlightened” us.

    “…more than Christianity, yes.”
    - Truly, I am not convinced.

  • 13. Heather  |  July 19, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Brad,

    I think you and many of the others here are going to disagree in terms of sources — I believe the authors you listed fall into the conservative camp. Myself, I tend to go with the mainline/liberal camp, and I think many others do as well? From the sources I read, Paul’s letters were written around 55 AD, with Mark written around 70 AD, Matthew/Luke following and John in 90 AD.

    Either we assume he believed it or he didn’t. If he is not the son of God and still believed it, that would make him a lunatic.

    This assumption only works if all Gospels are historically valid, and not everyone agrees on that.

    Again, several may, maybe even a hundred or so. But why would so many thousands follow him immediately, and then CONTINUE to follow him after his death and resurrection (through his disciples)?

    What thousands following him immediatly are you referring to, though? If this is just from the Gospels themselves, lunatics can be compelling, especially given that Jesus was going against the religious elites and welcoming everyone.

    Some of the greatest thinkers and philosophers in the history of the world were convinced by the evidence Paul presented in Athens, Corinth, and elsewhere in Greece.

    And the thinkers and philosphers are? I think part of the unable to discern truth before science does hold validity, such as the Earth is flat, the sun goes around the Earth, the gods control the weather and so on were not rescinded until science itself. Superstitions in cultures tend to fade in correlation to scientific advancements.

    But the only reason we know what happened more than a few hundred years ago was because they valued history to such a degree that meticulous care was taken in preserving it.

    This doesn’t seem to be taking into account the fact that history is written by the victors.

  • 14. Will Vaus  |  July 19, 2007 at 10:52 am

    Brad has given many of the responses to Simen’s critique of C. S. Lewis’s trilemma that I would have given. Just two more points:

    1. It is important to read Lewis’s argument in context. To do that one would need to take into consideration Lewis’s entire argument in the first book of “Mere Christianity”. It is, of course, quite easy to lift part of an argument out of context and take pot shots at it, though I would agree that Lewis’s argument is not above critique. I will be doing just that at a conference this autumn at Wake Forest–presenting N. T. Wright’s critique of Lewis’s trilemma. Wright is much more nuanced in his argument for the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth.

    2. As far as Scripture is concerned, one doesn’t have to believe that the Gospels are completely infallible records of what Jesus said and did in order to come up with Lewis’s conclusion. Lewis himself did not believe in the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture. My book, “Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis”, presents Lewis’s four-pronged defense of Christian belief as well as Lewis’s view of Scripture (which supports Lewis’s trilemma) in the first two chapters.

  • 15. Heather  |  July 19, 2007 at 10:54 am

    Brad,

    Many of their writings predate our earliest manuscripts of the gospels, yet we could (with the exception of only 6 verses) peice together the ENTIRE NT from their quotations alone.

    I’m also curious about this statement: is it in one of the books you listed as sources? If not, what’s the support for this? I ask because it’s the first time I’ve heard it.

  • 16. Stephen P  |  July 19, 2007 at 11:08 am

    Brad:

    The Church Fathers (1st generation of Christians after the Apostles; Polycarp, Tertullian, etc.) quoted heavily from the scriptures. Many of their writings predate our earliest manuscripts of the gospels, yet we could (with the exception of only 6 verses) peice together the ENTIRE NT from their quotations alone. The “40 years” figure is just not accurate. Paul’s writings alone could NOT have been more than 35 years old (as Jesus was crucified in 35, and Paul was martyred in 70).

    Yes, Paul was writing earlier – but surely you are aware that Paul provides no description whatever of Jesus’ earthly life? That is confined to the four gospels (plus a little bit in Acts). That the gospels were written after 70 AD seems to be very widely accepted by scholars, so if you are going to argue against it, you will need some good evidence.

    Polycarp isn’t going to help you. He wasn’t even born until about 70 AD. AIUI only a single letter of his is preserved. On a quick reading I could see no unambiguous gospel quotations at all, only a few sayings which could as easily be gospel precursors.

    Tertullian will help you even less, as he was a century later still.

  • 17. Simen  |  July 19, 2007 at 11:20 am

    Will Vaus, this is how I have heard it presented (by proponents of Lewis’s argument). If there is any relevant context, I’d be happy to review it.

    My position is that Jesus either (1) didn’t claim divinity or (2) did and was mistaken. I don’t think he lied, but it is a possibility. And since religious leaders to this day manage to get people to sacrifice themselves for their cause, often for causes that contradict Christianity, I consider the argument from martyrdom to fall into the class of arguments that prove too much: just as Pascal’s Wager can be used with any god, so can the argument from martyrdom. Further, it isn’t an argument for the existence of God but for the existence of heartfelt belief in God, and that isn’t under dispute anyway.

  • 18. Stephen P  |  July 19, 2007 at 11:34 am

    Just done a bit more digging in books and web: as far as I can find the earliest reference to a gospel is that of Papias somewhere between 130 and 140, and the earliest quotations are later still – hardly the “first generation after the apostles”.

    So unless someone can point to something important I’ve overlooked, Brad’s claim is simply false.

  • 19. Brad  |  July 19, 2007 at 11:44 am

    Heather,
    “What thousands following him immediatly are you referring to, though??
    - Records from Rome show that Emporer Claudius kicked all the Jews out of Rome because of a following of someone named “Christus.” Emperor Nero finally let them back in a few years before he went psychotic. Just a few decades after his death and resurrection, there were enough people following him to cause an uproar among the Jews in Rome big enough for the Emprorer himself to take notice and kick out an entire demographic of people.

    In Re: to history being written by the victors.. yes, this is often the case. Yet even the victors (Rome) independently verify various accounts of scripture (written by the losers). Yet this is also not always the case. The Jews themselves have been losers for centuries, yet they have a very accurate and verified history of their people.

    And yes, one of these books did contain it. I am not near them and will try to verify the source once I get a chance (I’m house sitting currently).

    Will,
    I am not aware of Wright’s critique of Lewis’ Trilemma. What exactly is it that he nuances better about Jesus’ divinity? Also, it is important to keep in mind that Lewis was a creative writer. A genius, to be sure, but like Jesus, his greatest strength was in story-telling. He was a master at giving parables and illustrations to hit home a point. He was not a systematic theologian and should not be compared to N.T. Wright (who, in his own rights is a freak of nature…).

    Also, where did you get that Lewis did not believe in inerrancy of scripture?

    Stephen P.,
    “Yes, Paul was writing earlier – but surely you are aware that Paul provides no description whatever of Jesus’ earthly life?”
    - I’m aware. I cited Paul’s writings in defense of the dating of scripture, not Jesus’ life. Although Paul does very clearly write about Jesus’ divinity.

    The books I cited are a great start for evidence of these claims. Also, one of the absolute best out there would be:
    “The Canon of Scripture,” By: F.F. Bruce, Inter-varsity Press, 1988.

    And I understand that many of my references are “conservative,” but please do not insult me by insinuating that because they are not “liberal,” they are inherently bias (or at least any more bias than those that can be classified as liberal). I greatly tire of being told that because I am a (Theologically Conservative) Christian, I cannot engage in reason or logical discussion. I would hope that our debate up to this point were proof enough against that. Besides, it beats the hell out of wikipedia…

  • 20. Brad  |  July 19, 2007 at 11:53 am

    Stephen,
    If one uses archaeological evidence alone, you are correct in your assumption. But noone should allow one part of the full picture to inform them about its entirety.

    For example:
    None of the gospels refer to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, yet do point to it’s downfall (wich happened in 70 AD) at some point in the near future. Yes, I understand that the authors could have “pretended ” to write it predating the destruction when they have already witnessed it, but there would have been FAR more emphasis on it if this were true (see Bruce for more). Thus we have literary evidence as well.

    Also, we have government records attesting to the events (if not necessarily the details of them) happening. We have literary clues in the text. And we have a widespread, consistent belief across the Roman empire by the time those Papiri were dated to. How could this have even remotely happened without a consistent record? Oral spreading of the gospel is too unreliable among so many sources (particularly for the long term).

    And I know it is a popular book that you have no doubt read or or are aware of, but The Case for Christ details interviews from leading scholars and professors who talk about the extra-archaeological evidence that supports the historical reliabiity of scripture.

  • 21. Heather  |  July 19, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    Brad,

    Records from Rome show that Emporer Claudius kicked all the Jews out of Rome because of a following of someone named “Christus.” Emperor Nero finally let them back in a few years before he went psychotic.

    I randomly typed this on google, and the only reference I seem to come across is listed in Wikipedia (not the most reliable, I know), and some references on Christian sites. But Wikipedia mentions that there’s debate on what happened here, in terms of what actually happened. And weren’t the religions seen as seperate by that point? Plus, if Claudius also against proselytizing, that would go a long way towards explaining his attitude.

    <but please do not insult me by insinuating that because they are not “liberal,” they are inherently bias (or at least any more bias than those that can be classified as liberal).

    Both viewpoints are biased, there’s no getting around that. The reason why I mentioned it is because — and I’m only speaking for myself here — this is why at least you and I are going to clash in terms of scholarship, and you’re probably going to clash with the other contributors here. We don’t approach it the same way, and we’ve drawn different conclusions. For my part, I find the mainstream/liberal approach works better. You see differently.

    The reason, overall, why I have a hard time with conservative scholarship is how it’s approached. I read a book that dealt with a debate between John Dominic Cross and i want to say Bloomberg — I remember walking away from the debate not really convinced by either side, but realizing that Bloomberg did not come across as staying on topic, and almost patronizing Cross, and using the opportunity to ‘save’ those who might be reading/listening the debate. The little I’ve read of William Lane Craig strikes me in the same way. Could this due to where I stand on the spectrum? Of course. But the thing with the conservative position, as seen by those two scholars, is they are convinced they are following the absolute truth, and everyone else is wrong. That is the impression I walked away with, especially after Craig basically insinuted in one line that all who don’t think like he does hate God. The mainstream/liberal scholars struck me more of ‘This is how we see the truth, and where it leads us, and if more information is presented, we could change our view.’

  • 22. Heather  |  July 19, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Brad,

    To clarify, I’m not saying that those who hold a conservative position can’t reason or debate logically, or that we can’t have a conversation about matters such as these, or that you are even behaving as the scholars come across. I’m simply providing my reasons as to why I go the scholarship route that I do. It belatedly occured to me that I phrased the earlier statement as an insult, and that wasn’t my intent.

    It’s basically like this: there are two ways to approach the opposing viewpoints. One is to try and understand why someone believes the way s/he does, and relate to it. It’s stepping in the other person’s shoes. The other way is to interpret the belief through one’s own paradigm, which doesn’t help the person connect to the opposing viewpoint, because the paradigm is set up to show why the opposing viewpoint is wrong. As in, if I try and interpret a conservative viewpoint through the belief that the mainstream one is absolutely correct, of course I’m going to conclude that the conservative one is wrong. Craig and Bloomberg seem to come across in this way, from what I’ve read.

    but The Case for Christ details interviews from leading scholars and professors who talk about the extra-archaeological evidence that supports the historical reliabiity of scripture.

    I wouldn’t use this particular book as an example. The parts I’ve read came across as only to convince those who already believed in the viewpoint. Plus, if he truly wanted to provided a ‘Case for Christ,’ why not include both views and let the reader decide how to interpret the information? Or at least let the other side say why it believes the way it does.

  • 23. eye-of-horus  |  July 19, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    You’re wasting time on Lewis’ pseudo-arguments.

    Lewis practiced blarnia ad narnia consistently and persistently.

    Much to Tolkein’s disappointment, he did not convert to Catholicism — such an Oxford thing to do, even in Lewis’ time. He became an Anglican. (Having been an agnostic.)

    Lewis was no theologian. His “Mere Xianity” means just that. It presents a mere, core set of alleged truths which define in an Aristotelian sense the essence of Xianity. Lewis longed for a medievalism incomprehensible to his fundamentalist idolators.

    He was a propagandist like so many a convert who must convince others of his new found “truths” in direct proportion to his insecurity about their being true.

    Right-wing Xians have always found Lewis an ally — they love “The Screwtape Letters”. After all no one knows the voluptuous pain of rigorism better than sexual involutes. They are constantly tormented by “sin” in their “members” — each true believer a do-it-to-yourself Marquis de Sade.

    The Xian ephebe, created both innocent and indescribably vile at once, is a pedophile’s heartthrob. Lolita was created by Saul/Paul infected by visions of yummy Mediterranean dream girls, Isis of Egypt and closer to home favorite, Diana of Ephesus.

    Xianity is pornography.

    eye-of-horus
    copyright asserted 2007

  • 24. Stephen P  |  July 19, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Brad,

    You made the specific claim that Church Fathers in the first generation after the apostles quoted so heavily from the NT that we could reconstruct almost the entire NT from their writings. So what were their names? I’ve pointed out that the two you named do not fit.

  • 25. Brad  |  July 19, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Heather,
    “I randomly typed this on google, and the only reference I seem to come across is listed in Wikipedia (not the most reliable, I know), and some references on Christian sites. But Wikipedia mentions that there’s debate on what happened here, in terms of what actually happened. And weren’t the religions seen as seperate by that point? Plus, if Claudius also against proselytizing, that would go a long way towards explaining his attitude.”

    I got this specifically from N.T. Wright’s commentary on Romans. He asserts that Paul was writing at the time when the Jewish Christians (who were kicked out of Rome) were just coming back to a church run by Gentile-Christians. Long story short, the uproar was caused by a disagreement over Judaizers (Jewish Christians priding themselves as God’s chosen people and looking down on gentiles who did not fallow the law) coming into conflict with Gentiles. This is the incredibly short version.

    Here is the book, though:

    Also, I appreciate your understanding and clarification on the conservative-liberal spectrum. I am actually quite liberal culturally and politically, and will not vote republican in the next election. I find that because I am theologically conservative, there are many presumptions brought to the table. And as you have rightfully pointed out (although not intentionally) I should remember that I do as well.

    Stephen,
    As I said, I do not have the text in front of me (nor in a 20 mile radius) and will have to get back to you. I could be very wrong on the specific church fathers, but stand by the claim. I’ll get specifics for you as soon as I can.

    Eye-of-Horus,
    Well… that was interesting… I assume you can actually back that up… ?

  • 26. HeIsSailing  |  July 19, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Brad sez:

    The Church Fathers (1st generation of Christians after the Apostles; Polycarp, Tertullian, etc.) quoted heavily from the scriptures. Many of their writings predate our earliest manuscripts of the gospels, yet we could (with the exception of only 6 verses) peice together the ENTIRE NT from their quotations alone..

    Heather

    I’m also curious about this statement: is it in one of the books you listed as sources? If not, what’s the support for this? I ask because it’s the first time I’ve heard it.

    I have heard this claim made from Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel fame, although when I heard him say it he left out the “exception of only 6 verses” bit. I have never seen it in print anywhere. Brad, if you could share where you got this, that would be great, but I have to confess that I am mighty suspicious. It sounds like kind of a Christian ‘urban legend’.

    With the magic of the internet, we can just look at the Church Father’s writings online, and see what they had to say for ourselves.

    For instance, I just read Polycarp’s only surviving document, his letter to the Philippians. Take a look at it here:
    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/polycarp-lake.html
    It took me 5 minutes to read – it ain’t long.

    Are any passages from the New Testament quoted in here? After my quick read, I say it is ambiguous at best. For instance, when Polycarp says, “But the beginning of all evils is the love of money”(Polycarp 4:1), can this be taken as a quote or as a way to reconstruct 1 Tim 6:10? It is close, but I don’t think so. Or how about the very next sentence in that verse, “Knowing therefore that “we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it,” let us arm ourselves with the armour of righteousness, and let us first of all teach ourselves to walk in the commandment of the Lord”, (Polycarp 4:1). Can this be taken as a quote of Ephesians 6:14? It is similar, but again I don’t think so.

    The only direct quotes that he makes claiming to be from Scripture are these:

    For I am confident that you are well versed in the Scriptures, and from you nothing is hid; but to me this is not granted. Only, as it is said in these Scriptures, “Be ye angry and sin not,” and “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Blessed is the man who remembers this, and I believe that it is so with you.

    – Polycarp

    HUH? Where in scripture does it say to ‘be angry and sin not?” or “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath”? I’m not sure what ol’ Polycarp is referring to here.

    Direct quotes from scripture are really out there in the Church Father’s writings, but they come much, much later than Polycarp’s time – I think around 180-200 AD. From Turtullian sure, but now we are talking late 2nd, early 3rd century. But being able to reconstruct the New Testament from the writings of the first generation of church fathers is a pretty dubious claim.

  • 27. HeIsSailing  |  July 19, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    eye of horus sez:
    “Lewis practiced blarnia ad narnia consistently and persistently.”

    I disagreed with almost your entire comment, but I thought this was pretty clever wordplay.

  • 28. Brad  |  July 19, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    HIS,

    When I referenced this aspect, I should have allowed for a little more flexibility. It has been a while since I read the source (again, I listed them above), it could have been referring to a more paraphrastic quotation than a literal one. Again, it will have to wait until I can go look and read for myself.

    Also, in Re: to anger, he is probably referencing Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,”

    Also, with the internet, and I am only just beginning to discover this myself in my Greek in Exegesis class (my only summer class that is wupping my butt), be careful of who’s interpretation/translation you are reading. I have done my best to translate some Pauline material, and it is a good thing I didnt try to publish it because it was borderline heresy! Syntactical functions alone are hotly debated (i.e. N.T. Wright and his Federal Vision), and can make the difference between accurate and outrageous translations.

    I know what you mean, HIS, and also agree it is a good thing. I am not saying this in application to all sources, just recommending some caution for others.

    Again, for more info on the historical reliability of scripture and how the canon was put together, I cannot recommend “The Canon of Scripture,” by: F.F. Bruce, Inter-varsity Press, 1988, any higher.

  • 29. HeIsSailing  |  July 19, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Brad sez:
    ” I cannot recommend “The Canon of Scripture,” by: F.F. Bruce, Inter-varsity Press, 1988, any higher.”

    I have read it – and your’re right I did enjoy it. I have read several books by FF Bruce. My favorite on this topic, which I read several months ago was “The Formation of the Christian Bible” by Hans von Campenhausen. He thoroughly dissects what is known of Marcion, and the thought that went into refuting his verion of the Canon, which ultimately ended up with our New Testament. Campenhausen also seems fairly conservative and has a good balanced approach.

  • 30. Brad  |  July 19, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Wow. HIS… I admit, I am impressed. Awesome.

    I really don’t have anything else to add to that, lol.

  • 31. Heather  |  July 19, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    Brad,

    Long story short, the uproar was caused by a disagreement over Judaizers (Jewish Christians priding themselves as God’s chosen people and looking down on gentiles who did not fallow the law) coming into conflict with Gentiles. This is the incredibly short version.

    Wait — I’m confused. The uproar that caused Claudius to kick them out? You also said that N.T. Wright asserts this. Does that mean he interpreted the text a specific way, as to this is why they were kicked out?

    Also, I appreciate your understanding and clarification on the conservative-liberal spectrum.

    I don’t think any of us can truly get away from our ‘biases.’ We just do the best we can. :) It was mostly just to make sure that we all understood that this isn’t like a discussion over what Bloomberg vs. Craig said, because that is still in the same spectrum. This is Bloomberg vs. Crossan, so it’s going to be sometimes radically different paradigms, from people who have different approaches. So it’s more difficult, in terms of the discussion, because it’s not the same playing field.

    be careful of who’s interpretation/translation you are reading. I have done my best to translate some Pauline material, and it is a good thing I didnt try to publish it because it was borderline heresy!

    That’s why I have about 8 Bibles, and a few sites that give what all the words mean in Greek/Hebrew in the Bible :) This does lead to an interesting point, though. Is Sola Scripture really Sola Scripture? After all, you said that your translations were borderline ‘heresy.’ But it’s really only ‘heresy’ if it’s going against an orthodox position, and that implies tradition/creeds.

  • 32. Brad  |  July 19, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    Heather,
    “Does that mean he interpreted the text a specific way, as to this is why they were kicked out?”
    - No, the context he used to support this was extra-biblical (government and historical records mostly… Claudius kept a record of all his edicts in Rome and abroad). The focus of Paul’s writings (i.e. frequent use of the phrase “first to the Jews, and also for the Greeks [gentiles]) support the context.

    “Is Sola Scripture really Sola Scripture? After all, you said that your translations were borderline ‘heresy.’ But it’s really only ‘heresy’ if it’s going against an orthodox position, and that implies tradition/creeds.”
    - Solo Scriptura was never meant to imply that we glean information from scripture alone, but that divine revelation is gleaned from scripture alone. External sources outlining context are always helpful, and often necessary to discern the full message(s) in scripture. My translation being “heresy” does imply a tradition or creed, but far more accurately, it implies an objective intent of the author.

    If I translated “The love of God” in Greek to “God’s love” in English (Subjective Genitive), it is quite different than “The Love FOR God” (Objective Genitive), which may be the author’s intended message. In the Greek, there is often no difference between these two meanings in form, and the translator must glean the intent of the author from the co-text ( i.e. what is the subject/discussion before and after this verse?).

    Additionally, some verses require big-picture context, such as societal circumstance, to glean the true meaning behind a given text (this is my favorite, I’m a big picture person).

    So what really is the “orthodox position?” I would say that it is the true intent of the author and the message he/she is trying to communicate. While that can never be interpreted 100% objectively, a widely differing interpretation would indeed qualify as “heresy.”

    To equally validate a different interpretation that did not take co-text and context into consideration is not just wrong or inaccurate, it totally defeats the purpose of translating it in the first place! What meaning or purpose does it have if it is not what the author is trying to communicate? Based on this logic, I could write whatever I want, it could be interpreted however the reader wants, and it would be as equally accurate as what I was really trying to say.

    Man, this is some killer discussion. It really helps me to be challenged like this to be able to more effectively communicate and identify my position. Great stuff.

  • 33. Heather  |  July 19, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    Brad,

    So what really is the “orthodox position?” I would say that it is the true intent of the author and the message he/she is trying to communicate. While that can never be interpreted 100% objectively, a widely differing interpretation would indeed qualify as “heresy.”

    I understand what you’re saying. If I interpreted the Bible to read that Jesus was a unicorn, clearly I might want to re-check that. ;) But what I’m referring to is if someone reads the Bible, takes the whole thing into account, and the culture, and comes to a conclusion apart from the creeds, that person is considered a heretic. Even though s/he pretty much went the ‘Sola Scrpiture’ route. I mean, we see this with the Catholic church vs. Protestants, or the atonement theories. Anyone who passionately follows the BIble believes his/her viewpoint is correct — what labels a certain viewpoint heresy is then based on an interpretation of the Bible that is put into creeds.

    Truthfully, I think a heretic is someone who doesn’t live as Jesus did, in terms of loving everyone. Yet that has never made it to the definition of ‘heresy.’ Heresy reduces everything to the importance of beliefs, and beliefs only.

    Rather, the important part should be on salvation, on resurrection, on walking the Way. Say there is someone who does not believe that Jesus bodily resurrected and lives a Chirst-like life. You then have someone who holds the right belief, and shuns anyone who needs help. Even based on the Bible, I would go with the ‘heretic’ being the latter.

  • 34. Brad  |  July 19, 2007 at 7:11 pm

    Heather, you and I are in agreement. The bible, in many areas, is not so clear as to avoid disagreement. I think that God-loving people can disagree. Some can be wrong, some can be right. I think also, that some can disagree, and neither be right or wrong. “Heresy” is a term that should only be applied to the far left or right field.

    “Rather, the important part should be on salvation, on resurrection, on walking the Way. ”
    - Amen!

    “Say there is someone who does not believe that Jesus bodily resurrected and lives a Chirst-like life. You then have someone who holds the right belief, and shuns anyone who needs help. Even based on the Bible, I would go with the ‘heretic’ being the latter.”
    - I would say the first is just wrong (maybe heretical…), and the second a hypocrite at best (and at worst, not a Christian at all).

  • 35. Top Posts « WordPress.com  |  July 19, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    [...] C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma – Liar, Lunatic or Divine? [image]C. S. Lewis, author of the Narnia books and himself an atheist before turning to Christianity, was critical of […] [...]

  • 36. Heather  |  July 19, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    Brad,

    I would say the first is just wrong (maybe heretical…)

    So … far left field? ;)

    It would depend on what is meant by ‘body,’ though. I would say that Jesus was not bodily resurrected in the sense that he had a body like ours, based on Paul’s statements of Jesus appearing to him like he appeared to the other disciples, that the corruptable must put on the incorruptable, or that flesh and blood doesn’t inheret the Kingdom of God. Then, with Jesus passing through walls and such, it all leads to an incorporal sort of way. But a resurrection in the sense that everyone saw the risen Christ? Yes.

    I would still say that the latter — the shunning of people — is heretical, just because love is the most important factor.

  • 37. Brad  |  July 19, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    :-)

    This is fun….

    OK, in Re: to the PHYSICAL resurrection…. John wrote very heavily to the church in Antioch (1, 2, and 3 John), in direct contradiction to the gnosticism that caused a split in the church (he was writing to the faifhful remnant of course). The gnostics, influenced by platonic dualism, believed that Christ was resurrected only in spirit.

    But specifically in reference to passing in walls and such… “doubting Thomas” felt the wounds in Jesus’ hands and sides. It was very physical. Also, Jesus ate with the disciples to prove that he was not just a “spirit.” If Christ was (is) God (and he is, btw ;-) ), is it really out of the realm of possibility that He can find a way to be both physical and pass through walls?

    “I would still say that the latter — the shunning of people — is heretical, just because love is the most important factor.”
    - Meh, either way, I agree that it is atrocious and they deserve a good choking. :-)

  • 38. Heather  |  July 19, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    Brad,

    What I see in the letters, though, is that Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, not that he was resurrected in the flesh.

    Because this still doesn’t account for Paul’s statements of Jesus appearing to him in the same way that Jesus appeared to the others — and Paul received a vision.

    Then there’s 1 Corinthians 15 starting at verse 35. It asks what kind of body the dead are raised in and what one sows is not the body that shall be and there is an earthly body and a heavenly body, or the last Adam becoming a life-giving spirit. Resurrection leads to a different sort of body, because Paul saying that people wondering what sort of body is foolish talk.

    There’s also the fact that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.

    is it really out of the realm of possibility that He can find a way to be both physical and pass through walls?

    Then how is the body still considered physical? If the body is capable of passing through walls, or appearing and re-appearing, it cannot fall into the realm of the same type of body we have. Yes, there are elements of people physically touching Jesus. But there are other instances, in Paul and in the Gospels, that the body went beyond what is defined as physical.

  • 39. Brendan  |  July 20, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Stephen P:”1. The gospels are an accurate account of the life of Jesus, or
    2. The gospels are an inaccurate account of the life of Jesus, or
    3. The gospels are fiction, and Jesus of Nazareth never existed.”

    Exactly. This is the proper way of framing the decision, though I would add a fourth option:

    4. There are some real persons who inspired the creation of metaphorical fiction about their teachings and lives, but what we have is not an “historical” account, nor was it intended to be, as it was written within the confines of a more openly mythological culture. Thus there could be some kernels of historical detail that might relate to particular events in the lives of one or more celebrated individuals, but the character of the text is predominantly mythological, archetypal/psychological and allegorical.

    I’m between options 3 and 4, but leaning toward 4.

  • 40. Will Vaus  |  July 25, 2007 at 7:37 am

    Simen, the context for Lewis’s trilemma is the appearance of Jesus, a first century Jew, a believer in YHWH, doing and saying things (like forgiving sins) that a Jew would have believed only YHWH could say and do. There is, in Jesus’ action of forgiving people of their sins, an implicit claim to deity.

    Brad, you can read N. T. Wright’s critique of Lewis in his essay “Simply Lewis” in Touchstone magazine. You can find it online by doing a Google search. And the fact that Lewis did not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture is made quite plain in his chapter on Scripture in “Reflections on the Psalms”.

  • 41. Heather  |  July 25, 2007 at 9:04 am

    Will,

    There is, in Jesus’ action of forgiving people of their sins, an implicit claim to deity.

    I’m not sure that’s actually valid — is there any support for this claim in a religious text that Judaism would find authentic, such as the OT?

  • 42. Jesus: Man, Myth, or Misunderstood « de-conversion  |  July 30, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    [...] 30, 2007 As a follow up to Simen’s post C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma – Liar, Lunatic or Divine?, I’d like to post a comment by Michael Turton’s from one of my earlier [...]

  • 43. Anonymous  |  August 18, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    ** No respect for Urizen, please **

    Then old Nobodaddy aloft
    Farted and belched and coughed,
    And said,
    ‘I love hanging and drawing and quartering
    Every bit as well as war and slaughtering.’

    – William Blake

  • 44. Jim  |  August 19, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    I’m not sure if folks have mentioned this already, I skimmed all these comments.

    But someone early on raised the point that Jesus never claimed be the Son of God, and his followers changed his message after his death to make him so.

    A problematic challenge to that: all of those followers of Jesus (save John) were individually martyred for their beliefs (using extrabiblical Roman sources here). That’s a high price to pay for a lie if they knew it was not the truth.

    Just a thought. I enjoyed reading this flurry of posts!

  • 45. Heather  |  August 19, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Jim,

    all of those followers of Jesus (save John) were individually martyred for their beliefs (using extrabiblical Roman sources here).

    What sources are you using for this statement? I’ve seen it uttered a lot, but usually the people say that someone else told them there was proof for it. Do you have access to the other Roman sources?

  • 46. Jim  |  August 19, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    Hi Heather,

    A great question.

    The one source I consider in this is Josephus’ Antiquities XX.9.1. Another is Clement of Rome writing about Peter’s execution in a letter in something like AD 90. Trying to recall off the top of my head.

    Fox’s Book of Martyr’s compiles a decent amount of sources from that time as well regarding those who died for the faith.

    And there is Biblical evidence within the text of their deaths. Some might say that it doesn’t count, but I would think the burden of proof to prove otherwise lies with those who disagree, since those texts assert martyrdom, and they were closer in time and sphere to the events at hand.

    Anyway, I hope that helps some. I have a feeling I may have half-closed one can of worms while clumsily disturbing another. =)

  • 47. Simen  |  August 19, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    What, so if I say that I can fly, and you make a rebuttal a week later, my testimony is more trustworthy because it’s closer in time?

    Sorry, that’s a bit too circular for my taste.

  • 48. Jim  |  August 19, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    It is a bit circular on its own.

    Thankfully proximity to the event is not the only variable taken into consideration when considering the trustworthiness of something said.

    To continue on your example, it’s a lot less believable that you can fly than it is to believe that martyrs could have died for the faith, namely the disciples. More people die than fly.

    I realize the rhyme makes it sound cheesy, that is a drawback.

  • 49. Heather  |  August 19, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    JIm,

    And there is Biblical evidence within the text of their deaths.

    To clarify — are we talking of people in general, or are we talking of the apostles? Because in the Bible itself, my impression is that it only specifically mentions the death of two: Judas (who wouldn’t count, as he was a “traitor”) and James, son of Zebedee and brother of John. It alludes to the matter of Peter’s death. The tricky thing with going into the non-Apostles is that people do die for incorrect beliefs: just look at the terrorists on 9/11. I don’t think they’d recant even under torture.

    Clement’s letter says the following of Peter: “Let us take the noble examples of our own generation. Through jealousy and envy the greatest and most just pillars of the Church were persecuted, and came even unto death… Peter, through unjust envy, endured not one or two but many labours, and at last, having delivered his testimony, departed unto the place of glory due to him.”

    But this says nothing about Peter being executed, or even the manner of death, or even that he was martyred (that can be inferred from the text, but it could also be that the persecutions were incredibly stressful, as I’m sure they were, and it weakened him to the point of death). Plus, it says that they were persecuted due to jealousy and envy.

    For Josephus and the Antiquities, this is what I found: “”And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king, desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”

    That doesn’t say that James was killed for any particular faith, but rather for breaking the law, and killed along with others. We don’t know that if James had renounced his faith, he would’ve still lived.

    I took a glance at Foxe’s book on Wikipedia, but it seems to be pulling a lot from tradition, such as Peter being crucified upside down. But when I clicked on some of the examples of the martyrs, Wikipedia kept referring to “tradition holds” that this person was killed here, rather than referrencing any specific source.

  • 50. HeIsSailing  |  August 19, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    Heather sez:

    I took a glance at Foxe’s book on Wikipedia, but it seems to be pulling a lot from tradition, such as Peter being crucified upside down.

    Foxe’s does indeed pull much from tradition. What I found is that most of this tradition, including this of Peter’s execution comes from non-canonical writings, in many cases blatently heretical. The deaths of the apostles are often taken from these writings as evidence that they died martyr deaths, and these traditions are taught from the pulpit, while the rest of the heretical writings are rejected.

    This is really dishonest.

    The execution of Peter, and his upside-down crucifixion comes from ‘The Acts of Peter’, a mid 2nd century work. I read it several months ago, and …. wow, it is really something. The descriptions of the magical showdowns between Peter and Simon Magus read like Gandalf and Suramon fighting in the Lord of the RIngs movie. And don’t get me started on that talking baby…surely none of that really happened. But that last part of the book where Peter was crucified upside down? Yeah, that part *really* happened, just not the rest.

    Besides, even if The Acts of Peter is an accurate account of Peter’s death, it is not a martyrdom! Peter voluntarily walks to Rome, and willingly turns himself in to the executioner.

    Ol Josh McDowell sure left a lot out when he said, ‘Surely the Apostles never would have died for a lie!!’ Yeah, right buddy.

  • 51. karen  |  August 20, 2007 at 12:15 am

    Ol Josh McDowell sure left a lot out when he said, ‘Surely the Apostles never would have died for a lie!!’ Yeah, right buddy.

    And yet, it was SO persuasive to hear that, back in the day!

    The unfortunate events of 9/11 and the current awful tradition of suicide bombers has certainly undercut his argument today.

  • 52. The C.S.Lewis Trilemma « A Thinking Man  |  November 1, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    [...] See also Simen’s article:  C.S.Lewis’ Trilemma – Liar, Lunatic or Divine. [...]

  • 53. Del  |  March 2, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    I think you miss the point of the whole trilemma statement : it was NOT meant to be used as a PROOF of Jesus’ divinity.

    Rather, it was meant to clearly and logically point out the options one has when deciding whether or not to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. It is something to think about, not to believe unquestioningly.

  • 54. john  |  March 29, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    One of God’s supreme joys to display His power through or in spite of weakness.

  • 55. Quester  |  March 29, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    I’ve heard that before, but not usually applied to weak arguments.

  • 56. The Case For Christianity « de-conversion  |  July 31, 2008 at 7:23 am

    [...] to this book is the divinity and salvific nature of Jesus Christ. He concludes with the famous ‘Lord, Liar, Lunatic’ argument that is famous amongst Christian apologetic circles. In a nutshell, Lewis considers the [...]

  • 57. Julian  |  August 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    This is what lead me to Christianity, Catholicism in particular!!
    Instead of finding fault with Lewis Trilemma, let us attempt to determine the divinity of Christ, with all possible alternatives and expand the trilemma. Although some of these below choices fit into liar or lunatic, the point is, the only logical option regarding the person of Christ was that he was God. Objective analysis cannot choose any other, or only with great wishful thinking.

    I came to Christianity in the following away:
    FIRST DETERMINE IF GOSPELS ARE ACCURATE
    THEN PROPER INTERPRETATION OF THE GOSPEL
    THEN DIVINITY OF CHRIST
    THEN CRITERIA FOR ESTABLISHMENT OF HIS CHURCH (CATHOLICISM)

    These are all the alternatives::

    Jesus Never Existed:
    The Gospels were fabricated, Christ was a Myth

    Jesus Existed but was::
    Insane/Deluded
    A Liar, or partial Liar
    A Liar and Magician/Illusionist
    A Prophet
    A Wise Man, Sage, or Philosopher
    Apostles were Fooled or Mistaken regarding Christ
    Gospels are not completely true accounts, but added exaggerations and fabrications, including from pagan myths
    Jesus claimed to be God, but in an Eastern Religion/Philosophical sense of humans realizing their own divinity
    A Heretic/Reformer/Revolutionary of Judaism

    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 – Peter Kreeft

    “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, but rather found difficult and left untried” – GK Chesterton

    These are the different alternatives and I have found them all terribly lacking, but I do not have time to give details about my investigation of each of these claims, but I suggest you do it yourself, with only the truth in mind, with humility, and with the proper use of reason.

  • 58. Ubi Dubium  |  August 23, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Did that already. That’s one reason I’m a deconvert today.

    Good job, though, of coming up with more possiblities than Lewis’s overly simplistic trilemma. Most xians never gan get their brain past those three to realize that those are not the only possibilities.

    Bu you called them “evasions”. Nothing of the sort. They are real alternatives, and should be seriously considered by anybody who is wanting to approach christian beliefs with reason instead of blind faith. Labeling problems as “evasions” or saying that they are “lacking” is just a magic “handwave” that gets rid of your problems by pretending they aren’t there. Sorry, but problems like the authenticity of ancient texts are not something you can just pretend aren’t an issue.

  • 59. Quester  |  August 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    I’m with Ubi on this one; realizing that the gospels contain misunderstandings and mistranslations of Old Testament prophecies, irreconcilable contradictions, and have no extra-biblical support, were all significant factors leading to my deconversion.

  • 60. BigHouse  |  August 23, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Notice how he didn’t care to expoind on his #s 1 and 2 steps to becoming a Christian? Because of those steps actually had merit and rigor behind them, maybe they’d be comvincing to others?

    Nope. He/she doesnt have “time” for that, but plenty of time for admonishing others and self-deluded demonstrations of smarter and holier than thou.

    If god exists, he/she’d be disppointed in just how flacid his soldiers of conversion are.

  • 61. Hendy  |  August 24, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    I don’t have much hope for the ‘trilemma’ either… What about wondering if we can no much at all from what the gospels say, period? BigHouse — I think you were getting at this.

    Paul says jack squat about what Jesus said even thought I think it would have been fantastic to reiterate some teachings of the master when writing to developing churches, no? Who the heck knows what Jesus did and said. Once we start looking at issues with an odd Quirinius census, almost certainly no mass slaughter of 2-yr-olds, oddity of women going to smother Jesus with 100lbs of spices after he’d already been dead, progressively fantastical after-party appearances when it clearly would have helped to list something like Doubting Thomas in all gospels considering these were all hand-me-downs from eye-witnesses (remember?)… I think we’re left with sketchy material.

    As far as I can see, apologists play the lowest common denominator card, arguing that “at least they all say he was crucified and raised!” Great. I guess they do. But are they historically accurate? Just because one doesn’t see much merit in the myth idea doesn’t mean it ain’t so. What are the reasons for not suspecting mythical reports?

    The trilemma strikes me as the same line of reasoning as those who say, “Anyone who is honest, open-minded, and willing and who reads the gospel with an open heart will just know that Jesus is clearly the son of god most high.”

    Stuff like that. Accept the conclusion or get labeled mentally defective. Excellent strategy.

  • 62. Julian  |  September 29, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    From my study of theology, the Gospels were not written to fool people into Christianity. Christianity was already spreading before the Gospels were even written. There were many people at the time opposed to Christianity and others who witnessed the happenings that do not deny what is written in the Gospels. Painstaking care was made by many Church Fathers to avoid anything that would not be an accurate description of what happened. It is clear from examining the Gospels that they are not fabricated, and what would be the motive of the Apostles to fabricate the Gospels? Christianity was already spreading wide and far before the Gospels were even written. The Gospels were written to provide a testimony of what has happened.
    There is no logical escape from the Trilemma. The Trilemma has to be read in the wider context of whole work of CS Lewis. There are other alternatives but they are not even considerable because they are ridiculous, such as Jesus was a wise man.

    The only escape I see here is that the Gospels are not accurate, which when closely examined show that they were made to record facts, not fabrications.

    But Abraham said, “Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in the same way, bad things. But now here he is comforted and you are in anguish. Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that none may cross over from there to us.”
    He said, “I ask you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house; for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, so they won’t also come into this place of torment.”
    But Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.”
    He said, “No, father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
    He said to him, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.”

    “A Man without religion is to be pitied. A woman without religion is a horror beyond all things”

    I too was an agnostic by chance, but when examining the evidence for Christ in depth, there is no escape.

  • 63. Simen  |  September 29, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Julian, is everything that was “made to record facts” true? Do you believe that anyone who sets out to record the truth is destined to actually record it?

    If you do, well, I have a very attractive bridge I’m looking to sell…

  • 64. Julian  |  September 29, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Simen,
    What evidence do you have that it is not true?
    That was my question, there were actually there and close to him, why would they have such faulty memories, especially in the time of oral tradition, that if they set out to record the truth, that they would have trouble doing so? Their memories at that time were well trained due to not relying on other methods such as we do.

  • 65. Simen  |  September 29, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    There’s a number of different ways one might respond to your line of thinking, and I’m struggling to find which one is the most rhetorically effective. I like to go for the most fundamental critique possible: for example, if you said that 1+1=blue, I could either respond that 1+1 is 2, so you’re wrong, which would be a valid counter, but I could also make the more fundamental argument that blue isn’t the sort of thing you can add to numbers or that numbers can add up to at all, so that the statement “1+1=blue” isn’t just wrong, it contains a fundamental misunderstanding of math. But that isn’t always the most rhetorically effective thing to say, even if it’s what a logical purist would prefer.

    In your case, the fundamental misunderstanding is of epistemology: you seem to think, or at least want to think, that pure intentions automatically lead to pure results, or, in other words, that we should trust those whom we have reason to believe are trying to tell the truth. I suspect this is an exception you’re making for Christianity; I doubt you would accept the same level of proof for other claims.

    For instance, I could point out to you that there are many different religious traditions from all over the world that contradict Christianity, and that there is as much reason to believe that those religious traditions were intended to be truthful as there is to believe the New Testament was intended to be truthful. Once that fact is on the table, you need to argue that Christianity is somehow special; it won’t cut it to simply point out that the Gospel writers were trying to be truthful (and frankly that is not something we should take for granted), you must argue that there is something especially trustworthy about them that isn’t to be found in all those contradictory religious traditions. (Or for that matter, in non-religious traditions. For instance, scientists are trying to find out the truth, and they say that people do not return from the dead, walk on water or magically turn water into wine.) But that would lead us into a long, drawn-out debate. This debate would rest on a fundamental fallacy: that our default assumption should be to trust ancient religious documents!

    The fact that there are contradictory religious traditions is contingent. Even if there were not a single religious tradition that contradicted Christianity, that still wouldn’t mean we should automatically trust the New Testament. Whatever the Gospel writers’ intentions, and there is every reason to be suspicious of their intentions — as there is every intention to be suspicious of any ancient source’s intentions, because that is what rational, critical inquiry requires — whatever they were trying to do, there is no guarantee that they succeeded. You can scream “they were made to record facts!” until you go blue, but that doesn’t mean they actually succeeded in recording facts. If you can’t appreciate the difference between the two, you’re a hopeless case, and this conversation is over.

    The question isn’t “what evidence do you have that it is not true?” It’s: what evidence do you have that it is true? I have a lot of evidence that says the world behaves in particular, well-defined ways, ways that don’t include resurrection and flying up to heaven or any of the other miraculous things that happen in NT. Picture it as a scale: on the one hand is the mammoth that is modern science: millennia of accumulated knowledge about how the world works. On the other are the unsubstantiated claims of a couple of 1st century scribes. Which way do you think the scales will tilt?

    Don’t ask me to prove your fantastic claims are false. You know as well as me that there is nothing I could possibly turn up that would prove, one hundred percent, that Jesus wasn’t divine. That’s an impossible standard. I can’t even prove one hundred percent that my toaster isn’t divine! Neither can you! You want me to satisfy an impossible standard of evidence, while you can’t even be bothered to satisfy a very modest standard of evidence regarding your own claims. That’s ridiculous. Christianity in a nutshell.

  • 66. Ubi Dubium  |  September 30, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Well said, Simen.

    Julien, please also consider that we have exactly zero original manuscripts of the gospels. None. What we have are copies of copies of copies of copies, etc, none of which agree with each other. It’s like a giant game of “telephone” over time. The “trilemma” starts by assuming that the gospels are completely true, yet we can’t even be entirely sure what they originally said.

    And also, what evidence do you have that the Iliad is not true? Why should I believe the gospels are true and not the Iliad ?

  • 67. julian  |  October 1, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    The manuscript evidence would not be thrown out because manuscripts are the cornerstone of linguistic-historical proof. ALL events from the past are established the same way, through someone, in the past, writing things down. The biblical manuscripts are the most attested works in antiquity by ALL measures within the linguistic science. If you throw them out, you throw out all of ancient history, because the support for all other ancient writings pale in comparison.
    Manuscripts of copies of copies of copies? Please cite a reliable source for this. As far as I know, so many manuscripts have been found that are very close to the original time.

  • 68. julian  |  October 1, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    So Simen,
    Since you bring up other religions, can you please site some reasons I should consider them or why you think the evidence for them is as strong as Christianity? From my study of religions, I have not found anyone with any strong basis other than Christianity. Hinduism does not even have a founder. Buddhism does not claim divine power. Islam?, study the life of Mohammad. Just because many religions exist does not mean that none of them are true. That is a false conclusion. Maye none, but maybe one, what cannot be is contradictory religions being true. Maybe those are all ways people are trying to reach God, while one of them is where God has set a path for us to follow, which Christianity claims. Which other religions claim exclusivity? Islam only, and the evidence for it being true is relatively weak, particularly by the life of Muhammad and the fact that his only miracle was the Quran.

    Also, I think you seem to try to answer the question of God scientifically. I remember an anecdote, forgot all the details, but it was asked if you could prove God scientifically, and the man replied if he could prove atoms theologically? They are completely different methods of analysis, both involving logic. The scientific method cannot be used for all things, particularly God. But look at the evidence and the most logical conclusion t what we have is the Christian interpretation of Christ.

  • 69. Simen  |  October 2, 2010 at 4:16 am

    If you can’t prove atoms theologically, that’s a weakness of theology. If you can’t prove God scientiically, that’s a weakness of God.

  • 70. Ubi Dubium  |  October 2, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Yes, Julian, copies of copies of copies. Enormous numbers of differing manuscripts. Try this link to begin actually seeing the magnitde of the dilemma: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textual_variants_in_the_New_Testament
    You’ve probably been told your book is “perfect”, and that there is only one authoritative text, and that text is 100% true. That’s the everyday easy version that the evangelical churches will tell you, but it’s not actually the truth. You don’t have to trust me on this. Go ask your pastor. Go ask him specifically which perfect ancient manuscript your bible is a translation of, and how old it is. If he’s studied the history of the bible at all, he ought to know that there are no surviving original manuscripts. Ask him where the perfect original copy of “Mark” is kept, for example. We don’t have the original gospels or Paul’s writings, we have handwritten copies of copies of copies, all of which contain different copying errors. You don’t have to believe me, just go ask some real questions.

  • 71. ACN  |  October 3, 2010 at 12:06 am

    As an addendum to what Ubi said, the wonderful thing about seminaries, is that even among the most conservative, most evangelical seminarians, it is nearly impossible to find a dishonest professor of bible studies. If your pastor went to a reputable seminary he/she WILL know about these issues.

  • 72. Julian  |  October 3, 2010 at 3:14 am

    Ubi et Orbi,

    Yes, copies of copies might be the case in the complete texts of the Gospels, I agree. The originals were written on scrolls or codices of papyrus. The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans alone would have required a scroll about four yards long. As these papyri were sent from one community to another, one could hardly expect this fragile material to come down to us. But we do possess a number of fragments of such papyri, mostly found in Egyptian tombs, over 120 have actually come to light and new ones are not infrequently discovered.

    A comparison of these venerable fragments with later manuscripts enables us to establish a common relationship which is highly important as evidence of the solidity of the Christian texts as we have them. About the third century it probably became customary to transfer these writings on to parchment to preserve them from destruction. Bound into volumes these parchments took on appearance something like our present books. These codices, in particular the Codex Vaticanus and the Codes Sinaiticus are the most important bases of our knowledge of the New Testament.

    Let us consider the number of manuscripts involved. If we posess only one copy of a book by an author there is nothing to tell us whether the book is imperfect or incorrect. Only by comparison with others can light be cast. All the ancient writers are known to us through a small number of imperfect manuscripts, in the case of the New Testament, we have almost an unimaginable number of manuscripts.
    A comparison of these copies is highly instructive. It goes without saying that being made by so many different hands a number of faults have crept in, sometimes even intentional ones. Frequently a copyist has modified the spelling, misplaced a word or added an explanation of his own, or forgotten a phrase. If these “variants” are added to the number of manuscripts we have a swarm of them. The number has been put as high as 250,000. Yet, and this is the essential fact, the “variants” do not amount to an eighth part of the total, and the “substantial variants” are barely a thousandth part.

    The task of the critic in establishing a definitive text was to choose among the variants those which were the oldest and most consistent. It can be confidently stated that no other text has come down to us from antiquity in such exemplary condition.
    ————————————————————————
    I follow the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, instituted by Christ, given divine protection by the Holy Spirit, and guaranteed indefectibility regarding Orthodoxy.
    Any pastor can say anything, it does not matter, there are 40,000 protestant denominations. My point is I do not follow what some pastor says and the manuscripts we have show no evidence of significant corruption from the originals. I believe in the integrity of the Gospels because the Church guarantees so.

  • 73. Julian  |  October 3, 2010 at 3:20 am

    @Simen,
    How profound, what a well-reasoned argument. Please give me a few weeks to reflect on your statement before we continue dialectics.

  • 74. Simen  |  October 3, 2010 at 8:22 am

    I’d absolutely advice a few weeks to fully grasp the fact that theology and science aren’t equally valid methods for gaining knowledge, if that’s truly a foreign concept to you.

  • 75. Ubi Dubium  |  October 3, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Ah, Catholic. That gives me a little more insight as to where you are arguing from.

    While the evangelicals (who are the most frequent people to appear on this board in an attenpt to “save” us) argue for the infallibiliy of their text, my understanding is that the Catholic Chruch’s position is that they accept the imperfection of their text and so insist that the apostolic tradition must accompany it for proper understanding. I find this position a bit more consistent, but it still does not get around the whole problem. For Catholicism, then, the apostolic tradition must be infallible.or the whole thing still falls apart. We still have the “telephone” problem. In the absence of copies carved in stone, printing presses, or xerox machines, we are relying on each generation to correctly transmit information to the next, either orally, or by hand copying it, neither of which is very reliable.

    Of course, I suppose your god could just tell the pope which interpretation is 100% correct. But he could also just tell the pope which ancient text is the correct one. Or hey, since we are talking about an omnipotent god here, he could just poof the original manusctipts into the Vatican Library! That would neatly solve the whole accuracy of transmission problem. I’m not holding my breath on that one.

  • 76. Ammara  |  December 21, 2012 at 12:05 am

    Bill, what a great post This is one of my favorite acntocus in the Gospels. The story of Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes is a story of hope and encouragement; a story we must hear and cling to in our current world situation. It seems like we don’t have much to offer in the face of all our problems. We are like the disciples, facing some big problems with not very much in our hands. But with Jesus, what we have to give will be enough. Compared to the magnitude of the need, our gifts are indeed small, but they will be enough. The one who made 5 loaves and 2 fish feed 5000 people will take what we offer and multiply it. He will take what we give and make it more. It’s easy to think that we don’t have anything to give, or what we could give is so insignificant as to not be worth bothering with. But if one little boy’s gift of bread and fish made so much difference, certainly what we have to offer can make a difference too.Really great post Brother Ian

  • 77. ubi dubium  |  December 21, 2012 at 8:08 am

    Ammara,

    What are you talking about, and who is this Bill? This thread is about C.S. Lewis.

    You sound like all the other money-grubbing preachers out there. You say you believe in a god who supposedly could poof the whole universe out of nothing, and yet this god always seems to need money. Why does an all-powerful god who can do anything need money? I think it’s you who needs money. What a scam.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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