Friday, January 28, 2011

Lydia McGrew on the Trilemma

John H., I would take C.S. Lewis's view (not just taking it from him as some sort of authority, merely referring to him as someone who has put the point particularly well) that it "won't do" as an historical matter to hold Jesus to have been merely a prophet or teacher. He did claim divine prerogatives and hence was not merely presenting himself as a prophet. This argues some form of insanity if he was not who he said he was, unless he thought he could get something out of making the claim fraudulently. People who say that they are God used to get locked up, and now they at least require, shall we say, assistance to live their lives normally.

44 comments:

Walter said...

Could it be possible that we just don't have an accurate record of what Jesus said? Perhaps Jesus never claimed divinity, and those claims were placed on his lips by later followers?

The Trilemma argument would only be effective if we believe that we have an extremely accurate transcript of Jesus' actual words. This is why Ehrman claims the argument should be restated as Lord, Liar, Lunatic ... or Legend.

Anonymous said...

If he didn't claim it, why did he get put to death?

Victor Reppert said...

Archbishop William Temple said "No one would ever bother to crucify the Christ of liberal Protestantism."

Walter said...

If he didn't claim it, why did he get put to death?

Assuming the incident in the Temple has some historical basis, then I could easily see Jesus getting himself executed over disturbing the Pax Romana. It's not like Jesus was the only guy ever crucified in first-century Palestine. Remember: crucifixion is a Roman punishment dished out for violating Roman law.

Mike Gantt said...

I can bear personal witness to the power of Lewis' Trilemma. Upon reading it as a 27-year-old agnostic, I was provoked to read the Bible so that I might make one of the three decisions. Being persuaded by the logic and truth of what I read, I decided He was God. Without hearing the Trilemma, I don't know what else would have provoked me to read the Bible.

As for your reservation, Walter: How, when, and why would someone have put the words "I am the way and the truth and the life" into Jesus' mouth - knowing that doing so would bring ridicule at the least and death by torture at the most?

Walter said...

As for your reservation, Walter: How, when, and why would someone have put the words "I am the way and the truth and the life" into Jesus' mouth - knowing that doing so would bring ridicule at the least and death by torture at the most?

It would be nothing but speculation on my part to try an explain the thought processes of people living in another culture and time.

It is interesting that you would use that particular quote, though, as I would consider Jesus' words in John to be the least likely to accurately reflect what Jesus said in his lifetime. The short, pithy aphorisms recorded in the synoptic gospels are probably more likely to be actual sayings of Jesus.

Thomas said...

If understand the current state of historical Jesus studies correctly, most of the scholars these days think that Jesus´s Son of Man passages (reference to Dan. 7:13-14) in the Temple were autenthic, and thus, Jesus probably made claims to be divine. This is why he was accused of being a blasphemer by the Jewish leaders.

So although it of course could be possible that the divine claims of Jesus were later confabulations, the current state of research suggests that this is unlikely. If so, then the Trilemma seems rather plausible.

Mike Gantt said...

Walter, if "it would be nothing but speculation on [your] part to try an explain the thought processes of people living in another culture and time," why do you feel so comfortable speculating that Jesus may have never said them?

Walter said...

So although it of course could be possible that the divine claims of Jesus were later confabulations, the current state of research suggests that this is unlikely. If so, then the Trilemma seems rather plausible.

It is my understanding that the Son of Man was not supposed to be the actual incarnation of Yahweh, but the SoM would be the supreme agent of Yahweh's will in judging the nations. It is very possible that Jesus believed that he had a special relationship with the Father and that he might actually be the supreme agent of Yahweh. That alone would be enough to enrage the religious leaders of the time.

Walter said...

Walter, if "it would be nothing but speculation on [your] part to try an explain the thought processes of people living in another culture and time," why do you feel so comfortable speculating that Jesus may have never said them?

What is the alternative? Should I believe everything that I read uncritically? Or is it just the sacred scriptures of the West that I am not allowed to question?

If I am a natural born skeptic, it is because God made me that way. ;-)

Mike Gantt said...

Walter, I wasn't remarking on your skepticism, but rather on your selective application of it. To doubt a conclusion which might lead to faith while accepting without evidence or rationale a conclusion which confirms doubt is to reveal that you've reached your conclusion before you've launched your investigation. That's not skepticism - it's intellectual laziness...and moral cowardice.

Walter said...

Walter, I wasn't remarking on your skepticism, but rather on your selective application of it. To doubt a conclusion which might lead to faith while accepting without evidence or rationale a conclusion which confirms doubt is to reveal that you've reached your conclusion before you've launched your investigation. That's not skepticism - it's intellectual laziness...and moral cowardice.

Mike, I resent your implication that I am selective in my skepticism because you think that I have a predetermined conclusion. We all have some degree of bias--including you.

The mainstream consensus of New Testament scholarship concludes that the fourth gospel contains almost none of Jesus' actual sayings. I have stated that I think that the synoptics do indeed contain some of the sayings of Jesus. I recommend you read this article written by Thom Stark:

http://radicalresources.org/books/stark_undivinzing-jesus.pdf

Mike Gantt said...

Walter, link doesn't work.

Walter said...

@Mike

As to your charge of intellectual laziness and moral cowardice, let me say this:

I was raised to believe in a rigid fundamentalist form of Christianity which affirmed the traditional view of eternal suffering in hell for all those who do not assent to every single tenet of belief that the fundamentalists share. I deconverted from that sect of Christianity despite the terror that I may be sentencing myself to never-ending agony in the afterlife as a consequence of my doubts. I became an atheist for awhile, and then I moved back over to agnostic theism. I am even somewhat persuaded by Habermas's minimal facts argument for the resurrection. I am biased, but please spare me the charge of cowardice.

Mike Gantt said...

Walter, I am happy to affirm that Jesus was raised from the dead and that, as a result, everyone is going to heaven
(http://bit.ly/dSt5Ry).

And no one would be happier than me if my charge of moral cowardice in the previous comment is inappropriate.

Walter said...

Undivinizing Jesus can still be viewed in Google's cache of webpages.

Link:

http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:7E71OwD5gj0J:radicalresources.org/books/stark_undivinzing-jesus.pdf+undivinizing+jesus&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESgBXoES6pKQ4oRUghcfetxMD2A6k9P303bAgbD9I-zMVHY8HG1EjYlWrMaUX9N-DCh6bPXEuk92syROY1jmiWRDYo1kuOB24k_egoG6sr9qH8y3GUKVkEZkkiqaVPxGCfWYUnM4&sig=AHIEtbQKX8l0Pf-FjrK3kbyMZjAne4S_Nw&pli=1

Mike Gantt said...

Walter, I read the introduction to this 235-page book. Based on that alone, I concede the author's central point that the New Testament does not declare Jesus to be God. I further agree with him that modern-day Christians superimpose their Trinitarian view on the New Testament, and the the New Testament itself contains no doctrine of the Trinity.

Nevertheless, I maintain that Jesus Christ is God and was declared so by virtue of the Second Coming which occurred according to the Lord's and the apostles' timetable sometime late in the 1st Century A.D. (http://bit.ly/f2iwox)

Mr Veale said...

Errr....what?!!

Mr Veale said...

And I think Walter is an open minded chap as it happens. Very unusual to meet someone like that; especially on the internet.

Graham

GREV said...

Walter said:

"I was raised to believe in a rigid fundamentalist form of Christianity ..."

I continue to be fascinated by this fact in so many accounts that I read.

Walter said...

I continue to be fascinated by this fact in so many accounts that I read.

Scientific reality conflicted with established dogma--and dogma lost.

Frankly, I credit the Web as a major reason why many fundies leave their childhood faith; we became exposed to arguments against our beliefs that we may have never even heard of before the advent of the internet. In my early years I was shielded from any critique of the fundamentalist worldview.

Mike Gantt said...

Much of what passes for faith at fundamentalist and evangelical churches is not faith in God at all. Rather, it is a pseudo-faith because its object is the social structure that is called church. It's a wonder to me that more people don't abandon it.

True faith in God, however, is well worth clinging to
(http://wp.me/p1eZz8-6F).

GREV said...

Walter:

The further fascinating thing for me is; I also confront scientific reality and my faith remains. I love science and read all that I can. Not as much as I can in my role as a Pastor.

Belief in the Risen Christ will never lose out to science because both address different things.

Faith is lost for reasons other then scientific reality. So, I respectfully disagree that Science Buries God.

woodchuck64 said...

Thomas,


If understand the current state of historical Jesus studies correctly, most of the scholars these days think that Jesus´s Son of Man passages (reference to Dan. 7:13-14) in the Temple were autenthic, and thus, Jesus probably made claims to be divine.


John H.'s original comment is relevant here:


Lydia, Carrier's criticisms seem off the mark, but I have to wonder what your thoughts are on the standard view of critical scholars that Jesus was a failed prophet, pointing to the Olivet Discourse ("this generation") and the expectation of a 1st century Parousia by the apostles. Allison and Sanders are good representatives of this view and certainly more respectable than Carrier.


In this view, Jesus did not claim to be God but rather a special kind of apocalyptic prophet, therefore not hitting the "Lunatic" horn quite so hard.

Mr Veale said...

But you'd still be saying "Lunatic". (Especially given Jesus' view of his own role in the Kingdom.)

Graham

Mike Gantt said...

woodchuck64, Jesus was indeed an apocalyptic prophet, the last prophet of Israel, and God in the flesh.

The 1st Century Parousia occurred in just the timeframe He said it would. That is, Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again
(http://bit.ly/f2iwox).

Walter said...

GREV says...Faith is lost for reasons other then scientific reality. So, I respectfully disagree that Science Buries God.

That depends on whether you were raised in a religious tradition that was at odds with the findings of science. You may not have been, but I was. The reality of science destroyed my YEC fundamentalism.

Are you not a Calvinist? If so, then you don't think that faith is ever lost by the predestined elect, is that not right? The Calvinist answer for one like me that falls away, is to assert that I was never truly saved in the first place.

woodchuck64 said...

Mike Gantt,

Jesus was indeed an apocalyptic prophet, the last prophet of Israel, and God in the flesh.


But "God in the flesh" is not anything like a scholarly or historical consensus. If scholars such as Ehrman and Sanders conclude that Jesus probably did not claim to be God, the issue must not be so clearcut. I conclude it is intellectually responsible to take the historical record as inconclusive in demonstrating that Jesus is God.

woodchuck64 said...

Mr. Veale,

But you'd still be saying "Lunatic". (Especially given Jesus' view of his own role in the Kingdom.)


Are all self-proclaimed prophets (excepting the "real" ones) lunatics? I personally don't think so; I think religious experience is a real but natural phenomena and a person can misinterpret the mundane origins of a religious experience and not be certifiably insane. Thus, I don't believe Jesus would be necessarily insane for wrongly believing he was a chosen viceroy of God. On the other hand, if Jesus actually went so far as to wrongly claim "I am God in the flesh", lunacy (extreme delusions of grandeur) would approach a better explanation to me (i.e, I would be sympathetic to the trilemma as originally stated).

Mike Gantt said...

woodchuck64, Jesus is not a consensus builder, He's a polarizer.

I see nothing wrong with listening to scholars or historians, but if you give them your proxy for deciding the veracity of truth claims by Jesus you have abdicated your most important and valuable responsibility.

GREV said...

GREV says...Faith is lost for reasons other then scientific reality. So, I respectfully disagree that Science Buries God.

That depends on whether you were raised in a religious tradition that was at odds with the findings of science. You may not have been, but I was. The reality of science destroyed my YEC fundamentalism.

Are you not a Calvinist? If so, then you don't think that faith is ever lost by the predestined elect, is that not right? The Calvinist answer for one like me that falls away, is to assert that I was never truly saved in the first place.



Walter, I am a person of Reformed leanings. I like to think of that as more then just Calvinist.

The historian Richard Muller, considered one of the best Calvin scholars, said Calvin was first and foremost a Pastor and would have considered his theology as being an unfinished business. I know that will upset some Calvinists and surprise some of his critics but I find that many who claim to know about Calvinism often know surprisingly less then they think they know.

In Calvin's commentary on Jeremiah, Calvin lays great stress on the grace of God who stands ready to grant repentance to someone who turns to Him. In the section concerning the Potter and the Clay.

The Faith of a person can be sorely tried and tested and some indeed will fall into disobedience and then return. And others will fall away from the faith they once claimed and never return. The Scripture is clear in the Parables of Jesus that faith never takes root in some lives. While in other lives it will have a harder time taking root.

While a person is still alive I will always consider a person as being able to repent and return to God. Calvin said this was God's position in his commentary on Jeremiah. I think it is a safe position to take and even more importantly a Biblical position.

I remember well the first words out of a man's mouth as he reflected on leaving the faith at 17 and returning at 43. Why did I waste all those years. I said forget that which is behind and press on towards what God is now calling you to.

The proper answer is to say that one who falls away might still return and if they die in their sins then indeed the person is not a child of God. And to also add shall not the judge of all the Earth do what is right? But then a better person then me said that. Abraham in the book of Genesis.

Walter said...

The proper answer is to say that one who falls away might still return and if they die in their sins then indeed the person is not a child of God

So if you reconvert before you die it means you were always predestined to be elect, and if you are a lifelong Christian who loses his faith right before dying it means you were always predestined for damnation. Got it.



And to also add shall not the judge of all the Earth do what is right?

When the judge of all the earth supposedly creates most of his children for the express purpose of populating hell to further his own glory, then I must question the morality of the judge that you conceive of. But that discussion is for another day.

Mike Gantt said...

When the judge of all the earth supposedly creates most of his children for the express purpose of populating hell to further his own glory, then I must question the morality of the judge that you conceive of. But that discussion is for another day.

What furthers God's glory is that while everyone is judged, everyone is also going to heaven.
http://bit.ly/dSt5Ry

GREV said...

Walter – I find your answers not dealing fairly with several things that people wishing to make the points you do – do not want to deal with.

1) Regarding the morality of the judge. Back up a few chapters in Genesis and you see promised several times that the descendants of Abraham will be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the shore. So your charge fails on several levels. Not the least being that the children of God will be far more numerous then what the enemies of God like to say is the case.

One way it fails especially, is the idea that a Creator is by virtue of being a Creator not answerable to the objections of His creation. You want God to be fair as do many Christians. I want God to be perfect. I think that is much better than the limitation of fairness.

2) The struggles of a believer and their final status before God is up to God. The believer is promised the strength of God to achieve a life of living to the glory of God because salvation of the person is about God in the end and not about ourselves.

So these back and forth arguments of trying to determine someone's status do not really get a person anywhere.

You seem to want to make it – it appears – all about the person. I desire to make things about the purpose of God. God owes us nothing and by His grace we are given everything. That is God's perfection. If I adopt the demand that God be fair I might be in agreement with what you argue for. But I do not. And I contend you argue what is mistaken.

GREV said...

In the end the argument on this thread is about the claims of Jesus regarding himself. And though the Trilemma argument might need refinement it still holds.

What is perhaps more interesting is Lewis' views on the atonement.

Walter said...

Grev

I am going to let your responses go for now because this particular thread is not about Calvinism. We will surely return to that topic in the future.

As far as the Trilemma argument goes, I think that the argument requires a near inerrant transcript of Jesus' words before it can be effective. I do not believe that we have such a transcript.

GREV said...

Walter:

Fair enough. I do believe we have the words of Jesus so the argument is a sound one.

Mike Gantt said...

I do not believe that we have such a transcript.

Even if we didn't have His words in the gospels, the Trilemma would still be facing us because we still have the rest of the New Testament which declares Him to be the Messiah, and the Old Testament which declares that the Messiah is God. We know Jesus acknowledged being the Messiah because this is what got Him crucified. Thus professing ignorance of Jesus' words is an inadequate dodge of the Trilemma.

Walter said...

... and the Old Testament which declares that the Messiah is God

The Hebrew bible does not prophesy that the messiah is God. The messiah is to be a warrior/king that restores Israel to greatness, not a meek lamb nailed to a tree; this is why Paul proclaimed the crucifixion to be a stumbling block to the Jews.

I have already stated that Jesus probably considered himself to have a special relationship with the Father. This alone would be enough to draw the ire of the religious leaders of his day. BTW, it was not a capital offense for a first-century Jew to consider himself the messiah.

Mike Gantt said...

It is true that no 1st Century Jew expected the Messiah to be God, but neither did they expect Him to be crucified. This is because the prophecies were made in a "mystery" as Paul calls it - or you could call it a riddle. Events would reveal that the crucifixion had been prophesied all along, even though previously hidden by the mystery (Isaiah 53). In the same way, events would reveal that His deity had been pronounced ahead of time, too (Isaiah 9).

BTW, it was not a capital offense for a first-century Jew to consider himself the messiah.

Agreed, However, since Jewish leaders could find no other charge on which to convict Jesus, and since they needed to make the case of insurrection so as to induce the Romans to exact the death penalty, in Jesus' case it was used.

Walter said...

This is because the prophecies were made in a "mystery" as Paul calls it - or you could call it a riddle. Events would reveal that the crucifixion had been prophesied all along, even though previously hidden by the mystery (Isaiah 53). In the same way, events would reveal that His deity had been pronounced ahead of time, too (Isaiah 9).

I could make the same case for Nostradamus's prophecies. The event has to happen before the "mystery" of the prophecy is revealed.

Mike Gantt said...

That you might make a claim about Nostrodamus is irrelevant to the issue of whether Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and whether the Messiah was prophesied to be God:

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."

The Trilemma stands.

Walter said...

That you might make a claim about Nostrodamus is irrelevant to the issue of whether Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and whether the Messiah was prophesied to be God:

The point being: people can take very ambiguous "prophecies" and creatively interpret these vague prophecies to apply them to a contemporary event. This is the M.O. of the Nostradamus nutters, and I believe that the early Christians quote mined the Greek Septuagint to find passages that they could creatively interpret as applying to Jesus. The most famous example being that of Isaiah 7:14. I know we're not going to see eye-to-eye on this, so this will be my last comment on this particular subject.

woodchuck64 said...

Mike Gantt,


I see nothing wrong with listening to scholars or historians, but if you give them your proxy for deciding the veracity of truth claims by Jesus you have abdicated your most important and valuable responsibility.


In what sense do I have a personal responsibility to explore truth claims beyond being aware of the consensus or lack of consensus of mainstream scholars/historians/scientists? It seems to me you presume a world view where a god in the afterlife judges each person according to the individual effort made to find the truth. That's not my view.