Trilemma Revisited

My old friend J. P. Holding thinks I have committed a category mistake and provides a counter-argument of his own:

Peter claims that Jesus was God incarnate. He makes this claim based upon what he considers to be justifiable evidence. Jesus told him that He was God incarnate. Further, Jesus has fond memories of being God and when asked, His mother supports Jesus’s claim. Jesus even passes a lie-detector test when asked whether or not He is God. Peter is also convinced that Jesus is a sane person and not prone to telling lies. Therefore, Peter’s third-person claim to knowledge demonstrates that Jesus is (1) telling the truth, (2) not purposefully lying, and it is clear that (3) he does not misunderstand Jesus’s assertion. Unfortunately, Jesus was actually Zeus incarnate rather than God incarnate. Jesus was actually descended from Zeus and His mother does not want Him to learn of His true origins.

Thus the analogy does not hold, and the problem remains: How could one be mistaken about being God incarnate? The very thing that needs to be answered is not even touched upon! The character and nature of the claims of Jesus are such that proof of being mistaken would all too easily come to pass! Still’s comparison is completely irrelevant.

Incredibly Holding cannot imagine that someone with aspirations of divinity could be mistaken. Presumably they must either be lying through their teeth or certifiably insane. Was David Koresh insane to believe himself to be the Messiah? I wouldn’t say so. Sadly mistaken with visions of grandeur certainly but not insane. There’s also the late Grand Rabbi Menachem Schneerson who behaved the way the messiah should and did nothing to dissuade the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Brooklyn and around the world from believing otherwise. Or how about Sun Myung Moon who proclaimed in the 2002 Clouds of Witnesses statement that he is the “Savior, Messiah, Second Coming and True Parent,” i.e., God, of all humanity? These are just three of our contemporaries. There have been dozens of such figures throughout history–just like these three and Jesus–who believed themselves to be sons of gods, messiahs, demi-gods, or the Big Guy himself. I’m quite sure that many of these characters really were con-artists or just plain wacky. These are the people that C. S. Lewis no doubt had in mind when he formulated the trilemma. Like Holding and many others, Lewis gave too much benefit of the doubt to Jesus and too little to all others. But the truth is not so simple. Among the very devout there have been numerous serious, committed, sober and sane religious leaders who firmly believe themselves to be divine incarnations of one or another deity. Jesus joins that proud line of would-be saviors.

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13403201012681262598 Edward T. Babinski

    Did Jesus claim to be “God?”

    Dr. James D. G. Dunn (a moderate-liberal Christian; formerly more conservative) in his recent work, Jesus Remembered, argues that the historical Jesus never claimed to be God, and furthermore that the historical Jesus didn’t say a single word as placed in his mouth in the Gospel of John.

    Another point to remember is that scholars admit there were at least 10 known claimants to being “The Messiah” around the time of the first century. One was “an Egyptian” whom Josephus mentions who led tens of thousands out into the desert to await the final judgment. Others, instead of retreating into the desert, fought the Romans and probably expected God to vindicate their fight and make it successful.

    Moreover, there were first century expectations of exalted human beings appointed by God to judge the world mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, notably the Melchizadek figure in a scroll of the same name. Enoch also became such a figure. The book of Daniel mentioned one “like a son of man” even prior to the Melchizadek and Enoch books. And Jesus in the N.T. spoke of the “son of man” often, and in the third person, perhaps as a figure he identified with, perhaps as a figure he hoped he would be appointed to become.

    And speaking of Jesus’ beliefs about himsel, people today likewise believe weird things like the Pope believes he is Christ’s Vicar on Earth appointed by the will of God to rule the one TRUE church. Or like some Christians are certain that at any moment they could be supernaturally snatched up into the sky while driving their cars due to an “immminent rapture.” Or like some Christians who continue to pick up snakes and drink poison and believe it will not harm them. Those folks live in our own era, and seem sane in most other respects, but believe the above weird things.

    Judging Jesus in terms of his own day, his beliefs and expectations do not appear that crazy. The Dead Sea Scrolls feature texts that say they expected the final judgment of the earth within a generation, but it was delayed. They cited the same verse in Hosea that the N.T. authors later would, but they were doing it before Jesus was even born. And the book of the War Between the Sons of Light and Darkness depicted a final end times battle of all the people on earth, centering round the holy city of Jerusalem, and that it would take merely a single generation for the battlelines to be drawn, the troops trained, the battle fought and won, starting with the gathering of the lost tribes of Israel from around the world. Such expectations preceded Christianity. So Jesus was not crazy judged on the basis of some of the beliefs people held in his own day.


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