Was Christ a Liar, Lunatic, or God? None of the above says Kermit the Frog.

But those are the only choices C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) provides in his little book, Mere Christianity (1943), that we can make in deciding who Jesus was. And this book is one of the foremost apologetic works in the history of Christianity. In 2000, the premier American Christian magazine, Christianity Today, selected it as the #1 Christian book of the 20th century besides the Bible.

The UK’s venerable C. S. Lewis was an authority on English literature, but not on the Bible. He converted from atheism to Christianity and became widely acclaimed as a fiction author. Among his many books, Lewis’ classic series for children entitled The Chronicles of Narnia has sold over 100 million copies. I have always admired Lewis’ ability to write.

In Mere Christianity, Lewis purports to define the Christian religion. He proclaims that the very essence of Christianity is that Jesus is God and that Jesus claimed to be God. Yet Lewis never supports this latter assertion scripturally even though he describes Jesus as “a man who goes about talking as if He was God.” Then Lewis pens the following two paragraphs that came to be called “the trilemma argument:”

“I am trying 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 patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

“We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse…. I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

To Lewis’ credit, he was opposing the liberal teaching of a moralistic Jesus whose life and death had no more significance than as a worthy moral example for us to follow. In this quote, however, Lewis illogically leads us to choose between only three options regarding Jesus’ identity: either he is (1) a lunatic, (2) the devil, or (3) God. Notice that Lewis herein follows the patristic practice of incorrectly equating the terms “God” and “the Son of God,” the latter as applied to Jesus. Lewis adds, “I have explained why I have to believe that Jesus was (and is) God…. I believe it on His authority.”

Yet, again, Lewis provides no scriptural support for this statement, and thus no saying of Jesus to affirm this very unbiblical assertion. In the NT gospels, Jesus never says, “I am God,” or the like. And for Lewis to make this assertion, as well as characterize his opponent as saying, “I don’t accept his [Jesus’] claim to be God,” and then not provide any NT quotation of Jesus at all, I’m sorry, folks, but I must conclude that that is pretty shabby scholarship. On top of that, it certainly is the high point in his book as confirmed by subsequent history’s review of it.

Now, C. S. Lewis denied that he was a theologian. He explained modestly, “I am a very ordinary layman of the Church of England.” Indeed, his brilliant intellect, combined with such an unassuming nature, was the secret to so much admiration for him. Yet, his Mere Christianity is a very theological treatise.

John A.T. Robinson, a Lewis contemporary, was one of the UK’s preeminent theologians and thus an authority on the Bible. He surely had Lewis’ trilemma argument in mind when he protested in the following two paragraphs:

“We are often asked to accept Christ as divine because he claimed to be so—and the familiar argument is pressed: ‘A man who goes around claiming to be God must either be God—or else he is a madman or a charlatan’ … And, of course, it is not easy to read the Gospel story and to dismiss Jesus as either mad or bad. Therefore, the conclusion runs, he must be God.

“I am not happy about this argument. None of the disciples in the Gospels acknowledged Jesus because he claimed to be God, and the Apostles never went out saying, ‘This man claimed to be God, therefore you must believe in him.’”

I doubt that anyone has worked C. S. Lewis’ trilemma argument more than American Evangelical Josh McDowell. (Decades ago, he mentioned me as a Christian pro golfer in one of his books.) This popular, public speaker and evangelist has been one of the world’s leading voices declaring that Jesus is God. He has authored over 100 books, with over 42 million copies in print. But his lengthy, apologetic works consist mostly of quotations rather than structured arguments, and he fails to interact with leading Jesus researchers. McDowell, without any discussion in his foremost apologetic books, presupposes that the New Testament (NT) identification of Jesus as the Son of God means He is God. In identifying Jesus as God, McDowell rarely cites modern writers who hold opposing views, and he treats the critical, biblical texts quite sparingly.

Similar to this failure to distinguish between God and the Son of God, some traditionalist Bible expositors fail to distinguish between the concepts of God being in Christ and Christ being God. British theologian John R. W. Stott seems to have made this error. He was an esteemed worldwide church leader, pastor, educator, and author in the burgeoning evangelical community. Echoing Lewis, Stott authored the highly-acclaimed Basic Christianity (1958). In it, he asserts rather startlingly, “If Jesus was not God in human flesh, Christianity is exploded.” Then he expounds almost in the same breath, “The Christian claim is that we can find God in Jesus Christ.” Indeed we can, but God in Christ is not the same as Christ being God, as Stott seems to imply. Nels Ferre explains, “There is a decisive difference between the affirmation that Jesus Christ is God and Saviour and that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”

(I address this question of whether Jesus is a liar or God in two portions of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ [2008]. In this book, I claim that the Bible does not identify Jesus as God, and it does not teach a trinity of co-equal, co-eternal Persons in a Godhead, as the post-apostolic, institutional church taught. I allege that church fathers taught this because they were somewhat anti-Semitic and unduly influenced by Greek philosophy and its metaphysics. Yet I claim in this book that the Bible affirms every other major church teaching about Jesus, such as his virgin birth, sinlessness, miracles, substitutionary death, resurrection, ascension, and future coming in his kingdom.)

(To see a titled list of over fifty, two-three page posts (easily accessible) about the Bible not saying Jesus is God, click here.)

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  • Len de Ruiter

    The “Trinity” debate will go on forever but there are some powerful arguments for it.
    1. “let us make man in our own image” Gen 1:26
    2. “do not take your Holy Spirit from me” Psalm 51:11
    3. “the Lord said to my lord” Psalm 110:1
    4. “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit” Matt 28:19
    5. “in the beginning was the Word … and the Word became flesh” John 1:1-14

    6. the triune blessing 2 Cor 13:14
    7. access to the Father thru the Son and Spirit Eph 2:18

  • http://focusonthekingdom.org Anthony F. Buzzard

    Thanks, is the creed of Jesus “the Lord our GOD is one Lord” Mk 12:29 a trinitarian confession or a unitarian confession?
    Please tell us the meaning of that creed of Jesus.

  • Andrew A

    Mr. Buzzard,my question is just where are you coming from by saying that Mr Lewis thought Jesus shared the delusion of his disciples about the timing of his second coming? I take it you’re referring to Jesus statements that he would return in his disciples lifetime or that of his own generation;”there be some standing here who shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God come with power”.Is not your stance on that the same as all the fundamentalists that it applied to the transfiguration? the coming of Moses and Elijah was the kingdom come with power for Peter,James and John? Just how were the disciples deluded about the second coming,yet Jesus somehow wasn’t? according to you?
    Perhaps Lewis just couldn’t bring himself to deny the obvious on this issue as he was on Jesus being God?

    • http://focusonthekingdom.org Anthony F. Buzzard

      Please clarify!

      I said: Jesus never set a date. The promise of some not dying before seeing the K was of course the vision of the transfiguration.
      Yes, you are right. Peter explained it exactly in II Pet 1 Matthew uses the word vision.

      The NT never sets a date for the Parousia and Jesus said that times and seasons are known to GOD.’

      Jesus of course gives the Abomination of Desolation standing in the temple as the real sign.

      This has not happened yet. I said nothing about Jesus or the disciples being deluded!

      • Andrew A

        “I am astonished that Lewis would be taken seriously at all in view of
        his assertion that Jesus shared the delusion of the disciples about the
        timing of the second coming.”
        Are you not saying right here that Mr Lewis shared in Jesus disciples delusion about the second coming?
        Aren’t you saying the disciples were deluded? That’s how i take what you say here.If the disciples were deluded then who deluded them? Please clarify?!

  • 182Panas

    Trinity is a seduction coming from out of the scripture.It’s not explicit.It goes against the first commandment.Trinity is destructive because there is Only ONE GOD,not 3 distinct persons who are One God.The bible is MONOTHEIST.
    The Word became flesh is a teaching that Christ IS GOD.God dwell in Christ.
    Son of God for the Jews mean God in flesh,this is why they crucify Jesus,because He was saying He his God in flesh! All trinitarian arguments are totally weak when trying to proof their false trinity.Trinity is an heresy! Born in 325 when the beast(Constantine) give all his powers to the dragon (false religion) coming from the sea.

    • kzarley

      Sir, you are mixed up. Yes, the Trinity doctrine is not biblical; the Bible is monotheistic. But the Word become flesh in Jn 1.14 does not mean Jesus is God. Yes, God dwells in Jesus. There is nothing in the New Testament in which Jesus said he was “God in flesh.” The traditional church doctrine of the Trinity did not come into existence until the second half of the fourth century. Emperor Constantine and the Nicene Council had nothing to do with it. That is a commonly-believed myth. See my article on this blog about it dated 5/17/14. The doctrine of the Trinity was officially sanctioned by the Church at the Council of Constantinople in 381 in its creed which borrows from the Nicene Creed of 325 and adds to it a teaching which is Trinitarian without using the word “trinity.”

  • Andrew A

    Oh wow,their degrees in religion make their opinions true!

  • Taylor1

    Actually Jesus is God and he DID say he was God. Jesus says in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one”. He also says in John 8:58, “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This shows that Jesus existed BEFORE Abraham and still exists. Only God could exist before and after Abraham. Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government
    shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful
    Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” John 1:3 says referring to Jesus, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Colossians 1:15-17 says referring to Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For
    by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and
    invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all
    things were created through him and for him. And he is before all
    things, and in him all things hold” In John 20:28 the apostle Thomas exclaims when he sees the risen Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Philippians 2:5-7 says that Christ was in the form of God. Since only God can be in the form of God, then it stands to reason that Christ was God. In Matthew 4:7 Jesus says to Satan, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Since Jesus was the one being tempted, he was talking about himself. Matthew 1:23 says, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall
    call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” 2 Peter 1:1 says, – “To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ”. John 14:9-11 says, “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” Finally, 1 Timothy 3:16 says, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.” So, yea, Jesus was and is definitely God.

    • kzarley

      In my 600 page book with 400+ scholars cited, The Restitution of Jesus Christ, I address all of the biblical texts you’ve mentioned here. You can also see much of this condensed in the fifty “Articles” at my website servetustheevangelical.com and by searching in Categories/Christology here at this blog.