Liar, Lunatic, Lord? In my last post I presented a brief survey of this argument. A fourth option was eventually suggested as equally viable. Legend- Jesus is not a historical person but is a myth of some sort.
This is just the sort of argument that pseudo-intellectuals will bring up on college campuses. Or the sort of headline story you’d find in the grocery store check-out line. It is either a mark of ignorance or a strategy for sensational journalism and should not be seriously entertained.
For instance, CNN ran a story during Easter (Aug. 7th) this year entitled, The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth. The article elicited 8, 618 comments. The next day, they ran a follow up article entitled, Your take: Comments on Jesus deniers, which racked up 2, 413 comments.
This is just the sort of thing that is great for business. It’s similar to posting on Facebook something like, men > women. You’re going to get some great reactions and a lot of attention.
Why do claims like these endure? Hasn’t this case been closed? Isn’t this a little like that persistent group of people who claim we never landed on the moon? Or that Dinosaurs didn’t really exist? Most people who want to seriously make this claim, simply have not done enough reading.
Bruno Bauer, Arthur Drews, and J. M. Robertson are some of the major culprits in this tradition. But they have been apprehended and aren’t at large. In short, there’s no reason to worry.
Since that time [early 20th century] the historical existence of Jesus has not been disputed by any serious scholar. Obviously this has not prevented less serious writers from going on writing less serious things about Jesus. –Hans Küng
In 1970, true to his times, J. M. Allegro published a book entitled The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. In an era of magic carpet rides, kaleidoscope eyes, and psychedelic experiences is it any surprise that Allegro interprets Jesus as the “secret designation of a hallucinatory fungus” named amanita muscaria? This sounds like the stuff of Scooby Doo.
Jesus of Nazareth is not a myth. He is a real person, who’s history can be located and dated.
All the major markers of His short life are tied to historical times, places, and even people.
Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Rome, the Jordan River, Golgotha, Caesar Augustus, Caesar Tiberius, Herod the Great, Pontius Pilate, Porcius Festus- all establish hard data points for the life of this Jesus.
Christian faith is essentially historical faith… It was only as a historical faith that Christianity was able to prevail at the very beginning against all the mythologies, philosophies and mystery cults. -Hans Küng
The early apostles and proclaimers of Jesus Christ appealed to the very real current events of their message.
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we became eyewitnesses of that One’s majesty.” -2 Pet. 1:16
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man shown by God to you to be approved by works of power and wonders and signs, which God did through Him in your midst, even as you yourselves know.” -Acts 2:22
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus, but am uttering words of truth and soberness. For the king knows about these things, to whom also I speak freely, for I am persuaded that none of these things have escaped his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.” -Acts 26:25-26
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to draw up a narrative concerning the matters which have been fully accomplished among us, even as those who from the beginning became eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us… so that you may fully know the certainty of the things concerning which you were instructed.” -Luke 1:1-4
All the hullabaloo about the ‘death of God’ has not made Him any deader. In fact, He seems to be quite alive and active today in millions of people’s lives. In like manner, all the denials of the existence of Jesus have not diminished His place in history.
- Refuting the Jesus Myth (bede.org.uk)
- The Evidence for Jesus (leaderu.com)
The Christian faith is indeed historical. With copious amounts of secular historical documented text of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, a genuine scholar can not deny His place in real history.
Historical yet transcendent. It is anchored on two ends- to the shores of Galilee and to the great I AM. The secular historian can only bring us so close to what Paul calls “the great mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16).” Only a faint outline emerges. Still, enough is established to quell critical skepticism. The Gospels flush out who Jesus was intrinsically, not with the glasses of archeology to prove His existence but with the glasses of faith to prove His substance. They pull back the skin of this very real man and reveal His true character.
“But you did not so learn Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him as the reality is in Jesus.” -Ephesians 4:20-21
To me, the fact that the fourth “L” here was added points to an inability to reconcile the original “Three Ls”, so to speak. If you think through the fact that Jesus could only be one of Liar, Lunatic or Lord, then you realize that there must be reality in Him being Lord, as nothing as substantial and long lasting as Christianity could rise from merely a lunatic or particularly a liar. So they grope for other explanations that could explain away the real dynamo of the Christian faith, that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Well said Mark. It is a false parachute. Again, why wouldn’t the Jews have called their bluff right away?
I find this argument utterly unconvincing. First, you quote Kung saying that serious scholars do not view Jesus as legendary, which allows you to entirely avoid addressing the arguments. If the arguments for legend status are so easily refuted, why not refute them? Here is another quote for you:
“Apart from fundamentalist Christians, all experts agree the Jesus of the Bible is buried in myth and legend.” -Richard Carrier
There, now we both have quotes from experts. That got us nowhere.
Second, you point out that the Bible places Jesus in historical sites speaking to historical figues. The Niebelungenlied, a German epic poem, tells of Norse gods and heroes. Characters in the story include the Burgundian King Gunther and Atilla the Hun. Places visited in the story include the Rhine, Worms, Burgundy, the Danube, and Hungary. All of these people and places are known to be real. Does this mean that we should worship Odin or fear a dragon attack? Of course not. The fact that historically accurate people and places are tied into the narrative in no way proves that the magical bits are true.
Finally, you point out that there is eyewitness testimony in the Bible. There is also eyewitness testimony in the Book of Mormon. So why aren’t you a Mormon? In fact, eyewitness testimony is far from exclusive to the Christian faith. If you claim that such assertions prove that Jesus was divine, then to be intellectually consistent you must also believe that Joseph Smith and Muhammad were prophets. You should probably also start believing in alien abduction and Bigfoot, because there are plenty of people around who will testify to the veracity of those claims as well.
Really, the King Arthur effect seems like a highly plausible explanation. There may be some truth buried under the layers of legend, but it probably doesn’t include anything supernatural.
This was not an argument per se. More of a conclusion. I don’t refute the counterarguments here because others have already done it. I could quote a long list of distinguished scholars and historians, beyond Hans Kung, who hold the same view. Others have written extensively on this topic. People can go read the works of others if they want the arguments themselves and the nitty-gritty.
Yes, there are many works of fiction that incorporate real people and places. Yes, the Nibelungenlied mentions people and places, but no one is going around preaching this as the gospel and converting millions of people. This is an inconsequential piece of literature in that sense, not someone’s sacred text. Christianity was up against a more potent version of this at its inception- Greek mythology- and it emerged victorious. Today roughly 98% of Greece is Greek Orthodox, which means they believe in Jesus.
There is no comparison between the New Testament and the Nibelungenlied. The New Testament was written at least 1,000 years before the Nibelungenlied. It was being written and its contents were being heralded while the events it describes were still fresh. Compare 35 partial manuscripts of the Nibelungenlied dating from the 13th century to thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament dating from the early second century.
The New Testament is the best investigated book in world literature, circulating in about 2,000 languages. It has been proven to be a reliable document. So its contents shouldn’t be written off haphazardly. The time span between the events themselves and the New Testament is too short for legends to have come in. They would have been called on the carpet. This would be like a writer today making up things about WWII and publishing a book on it. He would be called out.
The Jews themselves never took the approach of trying to say that Jesus didn’t exist. That’s the point of the quotes from Peter appealing to their own awareness of the very real nature of the current events. Plus, there are some ancient witnesses to Jesus, who were not committed to His cause. Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Suetonius, Lucian of Samosata, and Josephus all mention Jesus Christ in their writings in the first or second century.
Mormon? The point is that Jesus was a real person in history. Joseph Smith and Muhammad both believed that. Muhammad believed Jesus was a prophet for that matter and prophets of Allah certainly don’t lie. So Muhammad himself is flung back upon the trilemma. Eyewitness testimony in a very reliable historical document doesn’t prove Jesus was divine, but it does support the claim that He was real.
The Nibelungenlied was simply an example to illustrate the idea that the fact that some aspects of a story are verifiable in no way proves that other parts are true (i.e. even if we could prove that Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, that would not prove any of the supernatural parts of the story). Also, I do not consider the forced conversion of European pagans to Christianity at sword-point evidence that the doctrines are true. Even if they had converted voluntarily, this would still be an argument from popularity and would not say anything about the veracity of the claims. Finally, exaggerating Jesus’ life several decades later would be nothing like lying about WWII. We have photographic evidence, audio, video, newspaper stories, newsreel footage, etc. For a society with no such documentation, a decades-long game of telephone is plenty of time for a wandering preacher to be exaggerated into something more, even if he never claimed to be anything more. In fact, if you study the order in which the four books of the Gospel were written, the amount of supernatural activity increases as you go (with Mark, which is generally agreed to have been written first, and having very little magic in it).
“I don’t go in for ancient wisdom. I don’t believe just ’cause ideas are tenacious it means that they’re worthy.” – Tim Minchin
You’re missing my point in this post. I’m not talking about “supernatural parts of the story” or the doctrinal teachings of the historic church. I’m talking about the reality of this “wandering preacher’s” existence and biographical sketch. Many basic points about Jesus’ life and story can be verified to a great extent, especially relative to how much we know about other figures of antiquity.
If you doubt that Jesus was a real person, you are placing yourself in a very small percentage of the population, a minority with no evidence beyond extreme skepticism and conspiracy theories. Doubt can be stubbornly applied to everything. Some people doubt their own existence or the existence of the world around them. But there is no reason for skepticism of this magnitude.
The only problem I see is that arriving at the point of faith by a purely intellectual process doesn’t actually require faith at all – it is simply choosing the most compelling answer. In Heb. 11:27 Moses was commended because “He saw Him who is invisible”… ultimately each one of us must go beyond the intellectual defense of the faith into what Paul describes in Eph. 3:19 ” to know this love that surpasses knowledge”… just my thoughts, Graeme
Definitely. I agree wholeheartedly. Faith is not mental assent to irrefutable facts. We don’t believe in Jesus the same way we believe in Alexander the Great or in valence electrons. John equates believing with receiving. John 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God, to those who believe into His name.” Also, faith is related to our spirit where we receive the Lord (2 Cor 4:13). People may be subdued by the best arguments but still not believe and receive Christ.
great conversing with you Kyle. It seems to me Christ is just waiting for us to take Him at His word and believe Him. thanks my friend, G
Every time I’ve seen a major network such as CNN or National Geographic discuss the life of Jesus, they’ve offered a theory that is contrary to the bible. They keep trying to put Him under the microscope, but they haven’t found one big enough yet!
I like you’re opening line Kyle, “liar, lunatic, or Lord?” The only person I’ve heard of claiming to be THE truth is Jesus of Nazareth… no one else.
When Luke says, “even as those who from the beginning became eyewitnesses”, in Greek he is using the word autopsy. In other words, its like the original disciples went back to look at and carefully examine Jesus after His death. To look at Jesus in light of their experience with Him, His works and teachings, and all the Old Testament prophecies. They were the only ones qualified for this job, and they’ve already put Him under the microscope for the rest of the world to see. The 4 Gospel accounts present a composite revelation of who Jesus is. Of course, they weren’t going for a sort of Jesus Commission Report. They see Him with the eyes of faith and they intend to rouse faith in their readers.
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