© Dave DuBay
C.S. Lewis’s trilemma puts Jesus’s question to Peter, “Who do you say I am?” into sharp focus.
But I don’t want to choose. It’s more comfortable believing Jesus was the greatest moral teacher in world history.
The quest for the historical Jesus is more about theology than history. Liberal scholars seem to promote unitarian rather than trinitarian Christianity. Some atheists claim Jesus never existed and instead was invented by St. Paul, though most serious historians disagree.
Jesus never wrote anything, so how do we know if he claimed to be God’s only Son? But we do know that belief in Christ’s divinity appears early on. St. Paul wrote his letters about a quarter century after the crucifixion, which happened around 30 AD. In Philippians chapter 2, Paul quotes a hymn that refers to Jesus as having the “nature” or “form” of God, but choosing to empty himself and become man. This hymn was likely written within 20 years of the crucifixion.
Critics point out that this is enough time for a legend to develop. But because the original apostles met grisly ends—some being crucified—their belief in Jesus’s resurrection seems sincere. This isn’t absolute proof of the resurrection, though. Critics point out that collective delusion is a possible alternative.
Lewis’s trilemma might be spot on after all.
But I find it hard to believe in miracles. If someone told me he saw some guy walking on water, I wouldn’t believe him. And the Bible is filled with fantastical events. It doesn’t make sense to believe in one miracle, like the resurrection, while doubting the rest. If I’m going to believe the resurrection happened, I should have no reason to doubt any other miracle in the Bible.
I read the Jefferson Bible recently. Thomas Jefferson literally took scissors to the gospels, cutting out all the miracles and claims to divinity. What’s left are great moral teachings and parables. But the Gospel According to Tommy J. falls flat because Jesus dies and then everyone goes home. And what’s the purpose of parables about the Kingdom of God if the only point is, love your neighbor even if he nails you to a tree but nothing ever changes?
No, I think it’s more likely that Jesus did claim to be God’s only Son, and that the apostles (and later, Paul) really did have experiences that they believed to be the risen Christ.
So, I’m not yet able to say with a straight face that I believe in supernatural intervention in the natural world. I’d like to keep it simple and say that Jesus was just a great guy.
But Lewis’s point remains: Jesus would be a liar or a looney if he claimed to be God’s only Son but was not. Yet, I don’t want to believe that Jesus was a charlatan or that he was psychotic.