Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Legend?


It is pretty standard for University professors to instil in their students a robust scepticism about what Christians believe regarding Jesus Christ. For a long time, Christian thinkers have responded with the so-called, “trilemma” problem (see below). But this defense does not actually address the most common criticism today of the Bible’s accounts about Jesus: that it is merely “legend”. I came across an excellent article today which gives a thought-provoking answer to the “Jesus as legend” hypothesis.

The author of the now famous Narnia children’s books, C.S. Lewis, once wrote about the various ways in which people can dismiss the descriptions of Jesus Christ in the New Testament documents called, “The Gospels”. This is what he wrote, and has come to be known as “Lewis’ Trilemma”:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

(Source: Mere Christianity, London: Collins, 1952, p54-56)

Now to respond to the claim that the Jesus stories are the product of legend, Tom Gilson has penned this excellent article. He extends Lewis’ Trilemma to become a “Quadrilemma: Lord, Liar, Lunatic, or Legend.” If you are a person who is highly sceptical about whether Jesus was who the Bible describes, then you should only read this article if you are ready to have your doubts shaken. If you like the feeling that your doubts about Jesus are unassailable, do not click this link.

I first read about Gilson’s article on the Gospel Coalition website,  in a link to this post by Daniel B. Wallace.  After reading Gilson’s article, I wholeheartedly agree with Wallace, that this is indeed, “a provocative and, I might say, Lewis-esque piece of writing”.

Thank you Mr. Gilson.