Liars, Lunatics, or Pathetic Gullible Dupes?
by Greg West
I was recently reading an essay authored by an atheist who was critiquing the apologetic methods of C.S. Lewis. His main argument was that Lewis tended to offer an “either/or” dilemma, forcing the reader to make a choice between his seemingly logical conclusion, and another seemingly unlikely, foolish, or absurd, possible conclusion.
The author of the article uses as an example Lewis’ famous passage from Mere Christianity; “[Jesus] 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.”
The author then goes on to explain how Lewis’ argument is faulty because he is not presenting all of the possible options. Although I do not believe that this in any way undermines Lewis’ argument, he is correct in stating that Lewis is not presenting all of the possible options. The author then presents what he considers to be other possible explanations; “Perhaps Jesus was simply mistaken or that we don’t have an accurate record of what he truly said — if, indeed, he even existed.”
The first option, that Jesus was simply mistaken, can be ruled out on the grounds that Lewis has already covered this option under the category of “lunatic”. One who claims to be God or the Son of God, and believes that he is so, would not be “simply mistaken”. If I believed myself to be God and ran around making this claim, people would likely be calling the funny farm to have me committed. They would not simply dismiss my claims as my being mistaken. “Greg thinks he’s God; he is obviously mistaken but he’s a good guy so we’ll just let that go and see if he has anything else interesting to say.” It is truly doubtful that anyone would react this way to my claims.
The third option the author presents, the possibility that Jesus never existed, always leaves me perplexed as to why some people still persist in asserting it. To deny the existence of Jesus as an actual historical person is living in sheer denial. To do so would be to cast doubt on the historicity of a plethora of other ancient historical figures, if we are to use the same criteria for them that we use to determine the historicity of Jesus. Why is it that when it comes to historical figures, such as Alexander the Great, or Julius Caesar, that no one questions whether or not they actually existed, but when it comes to Jesus, they can simply dismiss him as the figment of someone’s (or a lot of some ones’) overactive imagination?
The only other viable option presented that Lewis omits, is that it is possible that we don’t have an accurate record of what Jesus actually said. This is an argument worth looking into, but when we do, we are forced to look at the same options for the New Testament authors and copyists that Lewis presents for Jesus; that they were all liars, madmen, or they were telling the truth. Oh, and in this instance, we can even throw in the possibility that the disciples were simply mistaken, which would mean that a large group of people have been collectively duped in a major way.
1 Corinthians is one of the New Testament epistles (letters) that nearly all biblical scholars, including critical scholars, accept as actually being written by the Apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul states that the resurrected Jesus was seen by over five hundred of his followers at the same time, and that most of these people were still alive. What Paul is saying here is, “Don’t just take my word for it, go ask some of these five hundred witnesses, and they will tell you that they too, saw the resurrected Christ.”
So now we have over five hundred people running around thinking that they have seen the resurrected Jesus. Perhaps they were all simply mistaken, or perhaps they were all part of one giant conspiracy. But!- once again we are left with an omitted option; That the New Testament we have today does not correctly reflect what actually happened. Since we do not have the original manuscripts (common of nearly all ancient literature), all we have to rely on are copies; thousands of copies. In fact, we have more manuscript copies of the New Testament than any other works of ancient literature, and among those thousands of copies, written down by thousands of copyists, there are bound to be mistakes, or even a doctoring of the original text, in an effort to paint a picture of Jesus being a messiah that he never originally claimed to be.
The New Testament manuscript copies that we have today have been discovered in many different geographical locations throughout the near east. If there was a wide conspiracy among the copyists responsible for transmitting the New Testament documents throughout the early centuries, who resided in all of these different ancient geographical locations, to invent legends about Jesus that they hoped would eventually be believed and accepted over time, then we would have no choice but to conclude that these copyists have pulled off the biggest, most cruel hoax of all-time, and that anyone and everyone who claims to believe it is either a liar, a lunatic, or a pathetically gullible dupe!
I have come to the reasonable conclusion that the New Testament is true and that Jesus is not only the Messiah, but God incarnate; Immanuel (God with us). To me, it is a reasonable conclusion, but at the same time, the story that my conclusion is based on is so incredible, that to believe it, one might consider me to be a pathetic gullible dupe, or a lunatic along the level of someone who says he is a poached egg.