Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Liar, Lunatic, Lord, or Legend

CS Lewis has the most famous version of this argument in Mere Christianity. Forms of it go way back but it is essentially asking a person to look at Jesus and take seriously His claims. Lewis didn't list the legend option among his choices but many modern people think it belongs. Certainly Mohammad went there. He changed the Jesus story to make it more acceptable to him. Jesus was a good man and not God. His claims to be God were just legend along with the crucifixion. Sounds like another possibility.

If you think about it, this ends up being an extension of the liar or lunatic options. If the Jesus story is largely false then where did it start? Remember Christianity spread very far, very fast. Certainly by the time we have St Clement of Rome and St Ignatius of Antioch the story of Jesus is well known. The book of Acts was almost certainly written before the death of St Peter and St Paul sometime in the 60's. Luke was written before that. Likely Matthew and/or Mark was written before that. So this legend needs to have been manufactured just a few years after the death of Jesus. It is the only way you don't have to have thousands of people involved. But a legend that is created that quick is not a legend. It is really a lie.

So what we are talking about is the apostles lying or the apostles being lunatics. That is quite a stretch given how impressive they were and how much they were willing to sacrifice. But it becomes an even bigger stretch when you think about St Paul. The 12 could have been bamboozled by Jesus. That would make Jesus a liar or a lunatic but you can imagine it. But Paul never met Jesus until after the resurrection. Is he lying about the road to Damascus story. What is his motive? What the legend option does is essentially moves the liar or lunatic option down to the apostles. But now you don't have one liar or lunatic.

The story of Jesus is not like the legend of King Aurthur. A bunch of stories that happened at some ill defined and poorly documented point in history. We have evidence of many people close in time to Jesus changing their lives in a serious way because they believed this story. The documents are amazing. There simply are no historical documents as frequently and as accurately copied as the New Testament. You can say they are false but you have to answer why such falsehoods were told and why they were so widely believed.

1 comment:

  1. I've never thought about this "moving" of the liar/lunatic options to the apostles. Most modern agnostics that I've discussed the Lewis trilemma with take the fourth option: the Scriptures/story of Jesus were fabricated.

    But I never considered applying the trilemma then to the "fabricators"; interesting to think about.