Jesus Argued Reductio Ad Absurdum
by Chad Gross
I recently had the pleasure of attending an apologetics conference with a friend of mine who is an atheist. One of the speakers, J. Warner Wallace, pointed out that Jesus was an astute thinker that valued evidence and went on to provided an example. This took my atheist friend by surprise and he seemed to appreciate the fact that Jesus was an intelligent person who valued facts and evidence. This is something that is evident when one begins reading the Gospels; however, the church has not done enough to cultivate this view of Jesus. As followers of Christ, we are often quick to point out how loving He is or how humble He is, but most of us do not think of Him as the smartest man who ever lived, as the late Dallas Willard contented.
In their book The Apologetics of Jesus authors Norman Geisler and Patrick Zukeran demonstrate that Jesus was a master logician and very adept with making arguments. For example, they point out an example of Jesus arguing reductio ad absurdum in the gospels:
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“Reductio ad absurdum (reduction of absurdity) is an argument that demonstrates that if something is supposed to be true but it leads to a contradiction or absurdity, then it cannot be true. It works this way: The argument begins with the premises your opponent holds. Then you reveal how this leads to a contradiction, and thus your opponent’s view is reduced to absurdity. This is a powerful way to reveal the false nature of a view, for if we can show that it leads to a contradiction, then it cannot be true.
Matthew 12:22-28. Jesus uses the reductio ad absurdum argument to respond to the Pharisees’ accusation that he is exorcising demons by the power of Satan. Jesus demonstrates that their premise leads to a contradiction: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out?” (vv. 25-27)
Jesus begins with the Pharisees’ premise that he drives out demons by the power of Satan. He points out that if he is empowered by Satan to drive out demons, Satan is casting out his own servants. This would mean Satan is divided against himself…