Could Christ Be Who He Claimed?
Truth is tough. It will not break, like a bubble, at a touch; nay, you may kick it about all day like a football, and it will be round and full at evening.—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
If Jesus was the God of this universe who visited this planet in the form of a man, then He must command our attention and respect. Indeed, our worship and obedience. It is significant that when all one’s options concerning Jesus are critically examined, one can only conclude that Jesus really was God.
There are only four logical choices we have concerning Jesus Christ. As we examine the following material, the reader should decide for himself the one option most likely to be true: 1) Jesus Christ was a liar and deceiver. 2) He was insane, mentally ill or a lunatic. 3) He was only a legend fabricated by the disciples. 4) Jesus Christ was and is who He claimed to be—incarnate Lord and God.
As we proceed to examine these four options, we shall demonstrate that the fourth alternative is the only one that a thinking person can possibly arrive at.
Was Jesus Being Purposely Deceptive?
As far as we know, no one of sound mind has ever seriously maintained this. Even the most fanatical atheists have not said it. Jesus’ ethical teachings are the highest man has and His personal moral character was unblemished. Even His enemies could not convict Him of sin, dishonesty or deceit.
It is morally impossible that someone of the highest ethical character would knowingly deceive people concerning the most vital aspect of his teaching—his own identity. Even the great nineteenth century British historian, W. E. H. Lecky, a committed opponent of organized Christianity, wrote the following sentiments about Jesus which have been repeated many times over the centuries by men of all and no religious persuasion. In his History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne he said: It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments and conditions; has been not only the highest pattern of virtue, but the strongest incentive to its practice, and has exerted so deep an influence, that it may be truly said, that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind, than all the disquisitions of philosophers and than all the exhortations of moralists.
Who then, can imagine that Jesus deliberately lied concerning His own nature? And is it possible that a man of such noble character and exemplary moral persuasion would frequently claim He would rise from the dead, knowing this was a lie? Contemporary philosopher and theologian John Warwick Montgomery asserts, “To answer anything but an unqualified ‘No’ is to renounce sound ethical judgment.”
Eminent historian Philip Schaff argues: How, in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an imposter—that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man—have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could he have conceived and successfully carried out a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed his own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of his people and age?
Further, James Sire, author of Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? offers other reasons to reject this option: There is simply no evidence that Jesus did not think He was telling the truth. He taught with a sense of great personal authority; everyone, even those who did not believe Him, noticed that. He presented a consistent picture of God, Himself and others. When liars elaborate or answer the same kinds of questions repeatedly, they are easily caught in inconsistencies. There is in Jesus a unity of teaching: the stories, the clever sayings, the constant compassion for people, the obvious wisdom of His teaching, the ethical depth of both His teaching and His character. No fault could be found in Him. At His trial, His accusers contradicted themselves, but Jesus stood at His trial with the same integrity as He did on city streets. The most telling reason for Jesus’ not being a liar is that if He was lying, He was lying about the most important issues of life: how to please God, how to inherit eternal life, how to be blessed, how to live well among both your friends and your enemies. If He was lying, He would be selling a salvation He knew to be fake. In fact, He would be no better than the worst religious huckster we know of today, no better than Baghwan Shree Rajaneesh or Jim Jones or David Koresh. No one can call the Jesus of the Gospels that kind of bad man. It fits with none of the evidence whatsoever…. [Critics argue] Maybe Jesus was right about a lot of things… but wrong about who He was…. The problem here is that this kind of delusion is no small matter. This is a delusion about ultimate concerns…. The fact is that religious megalomania is usually accompanied by paranoia—a fear of those outside one’s own fold—an anti-social behavior… [However] Jesus gave every appearance of being a psychologically normal person who so surprised people with what He did and said that it took a long time to figure out who He really was.
No one can logically maintain Jesus was a liar and deceiver. Alternative one is ruled out.
Was Jesus Innocently Deluded?
Our second option is even more difficult to believe than our first. Was Jesus mentally ill or psychotic? Mental illness or psychosis is defined as an inability to identify reality and to distinguish it from fantasy. The fifth edition of Introduction to Psychology, describes psychosis in this way: “the psychotic has to some extent given up [his personal] struggle [to cope with reality] and lost contact with reality. He may withdraw into his own fantasy world… frequently his thought processes are disturbed to the extent that he experiences delusions (false beliefs) or hallucinations….”
For someone to be convinced that he is God when he is only a man is the height of psychosis. Was Jesus so psychologically crippled that He had deceived Himself into believing that He was God Incarnate—even though He was only a deluded man? But what insane man could ever deliver a self-portrait and teachings that are the epitome of mental health? Psychiatrist J. T. Fisher observes: If you were to take the sum total of all authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene, if you were to combine them and refine them and cleave out the excess verbiage—if you were to take the whole of the meat and none of the parsley, and if you were to have the unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount. And it would suffer immeasurably through comparison. For nearly two thousand years the Christian world has been holding in its hands the complete answer to its restless and fruitless yearnings. Here… rests the blueprint for successful human life with optimum mental health and contentment.
Dr. John Warwick Montgomery further explains: But one cannot very well have it both ways: if Jesus’ teachings provide “the blueprint for successful human life with optimum mental health,” then the teacher cannot be a lunatic who totally misunderstands the nature of his own personality. Note the absolute dichotomy: if the documentary records of Jesus’ life are accurate, and Jesus was not a charlatan, then he was either God Incarnate as he claimed or a psychotic. If we cannot take the latter alternative (and, considering its consequences, who really can follow this path to its logical conclusion?), we must arrive at a Jesus who claimed to be God Incarnate simply because he was God.
No man can logically maintain Jesus was psychotic. No one who reads His words and carefully examines His clarity of thought, incisive argumentation, or penetrating insight into human nature can possible think so. Alternative two is ruled out.
Was Jesus Simply Invented by the Disciples?
This assertion is hardly worth a glance. Everyone but a few diehard atheists agree He was not. No less an authority than theEncyclopedia Britannica points out, “These independent [non-Christian] accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds by several authors at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th centuries.”
This theory requires that the disciples falsely invented Jesus’ teachings and lied about His Resurrection. Such men must be classified as deceivers or lunatics. But this is impossible because none of the disciples had either the motive or the ability to invent Jesus. There was no reason for them to do so, nor were they capable of inventing such a being portrayed in the Gospels. No one could invent such a being. Historian Philip Schaff again argues: This testimony [of the disciples], if not true, must be downright blasphemy or madness. The former hypothesis cannot stand a moment before the moral purity and dignity of Jesus, revealed in his every word and work, and acknowledged by universal consent. Self-deception in a matter so momentous, and with an intellect in all respects so clear and so sound, is equally out of the question. How could he be an enthusiast or a madman who never lost the even balance of his mind, who sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who calmly and deliberately predicted his death on the cross, his resurrection on the third day, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the founding of his Church, the destruction of Jerusalem—predictions which have been literally fulfilled? A character so original, so complete, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and yet so high above all human greatness, can be neither a fraud nor a fiction. The poet, as has been well said, would in this case be greater than the hero. It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus.
Even the church collectively could never have invented Jesus. As Walter A. Maier points out in his Form Criticism Reexamined(Concordia, 1973, p. 38), only the historical Jesus could explain the Jesus of the gospels: In the first place, with regard to the discourses attributed to Jesus, it should at once be realized that a community cannot create such sayings. We know from experience that a saying must come originally from an individual. A community can only adopt, transmit, and preserve a saying, but the saying itself must first exist. Now the sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels are by common consent of a singular nobility, loftiness, and power; elevated in character and style. If it be held that in some way the Christian community originated these discourses and statements, then it must follow, as scholar Burton Scott Easton argues, that the Palestinian church either had in its midst a single, brilliant thinker “from whom the sayings all proceeded, but whose name and very existence has disappeared from history—something well-nigh unthinkable—or else there were a number of gifted individuals all fired with the same superlative genius and all endowed with the same exquisite style—an even more difficult conception.” The simple fact is that there is not the slightest indication in New Testament or secular history of the existence of such an anonymous, dynamic, prophetic leader, who would surely be greater and wiser even than ancient Solomon; or of a group of such leaders, gifted with the capacity of creating original discourses such as are found in the gospels. The only plausible explanation for these sayings is that they originated, as the evangelists declare, with Jesus; the life situation from which they stem is assuredly to be found in Jesus Himself.
Again, the disciples would not and could not have engaged in such deliberate fraud as to invent, or lie about, Jesus. First, they did not expect their Messiah to rise from the dead; and once Jesus was crucified, they had abandoned their hopes that He was their Messiah. There was no motive to continue on. Second, almost all of them died as Christians because of their convicting He did rise from the dead. Further, their own Jewish ethical code and moral character would have prevented such a massive conspiratorial deception. But even if we thrust aside their ethical standards, the disciples were psychologically incapable of such fraud when they had no motive. As Montgomery points out, Jewish Messianic speculation was at variance with the Messianic picture Jesus gave of Himself; therefore, He was a singularly poor candidate for actual deification on the part of the disciples. Finally, the disciples’ own Jewish faith would have prohibited them from deifying Jesus unless the resurrection had already proved to them beyond doubt that Jesus was God.
It is impossible that the person of Jesus could ever have been manufactured or invented. Alternative three is ruled out. Only one alternative remains.
Was Jesus Lord and God?
It is impossible to maintain that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or a legend. Our only option is that He was God incarnate, e.g., both our Lord and God. This is why the famous Oxford scholar C. S. Lewis concluded: The historical difficulty of giving for the life, sayings and influence of Jesus any explanation that is not harder than the Christian explanation, is very great. The discrepancy between the depth and sanity and (let me add)shrewdness of his moral teaching and the rampant megalomania which must be behind his theological teaching unless he is indeed God, has never been satisfactorily gotten over. Hence, the non-Christian hypotheses succeed one another with the restless fertility of bewilderment.
Elsewhere, Lewis expands on the idea and shows why the non-Christian really has no logical alternative but to accept that Jesus is God: 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 a 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.
In conclusion, the very claims of Jesus Himself are evidence for His deity. No man in his right mind would make such claims unless He knew they were true. Little is left to the skeptic but to accept that Jesus was who He claimed He was. Indeed, had Henot resurrected, we would not have the option of discussing His identity. For many reasons, His name would have dissipated into the mists of historical obscurity 2,000 years ago.
- ↑ William E. Lecky, History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1903), Vol. 2, pp. 8-9 in Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale/Living Books, 1983), p. 28.
- ↑ John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1965), p. 63.
- ↑ In McDowell, More Than a Carpenter, p. 30.
- ↑ James W. Sire, Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994), pp. 133-135.
- ↑ Ernest R. Hilgard, et. al., Introduction to Psychology, 5th Ed. (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1971), p. 472.
- ↑ In Montgomery, History and Christianity, p. 65.
- ↑ Ibid., pp. 65-66.
- ↑ Encyclopedia Britannica, qv. Jesus Christ,Macropaedia, Vol. 10.
- ↑ Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1: Apostolic Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 109.
- ↑ Montgomery, History and Christianity, pp. 66-67.
- ↑ C. S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (London: Collins/Fontana, 1970), p. 113.
- ↑ C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, Macmillan, 1971), p. 56.