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Jesus may not have been a liar, just mistaken

January 25, 2011

A friend of mine made this point to me in an email: Some who don’t believe that Jesus was the son of god will still call him a “great teacher.” But if Jesus wasn’t really the son of god, then he must have been lying when he said he was the son of god, which would disqualify him from being a great teacher.

Let’s assume 1) that Jesus said what he is purported to have said, and 2) that he was a great teacher. I can elaborate on some challenges to these two assumptions, but let’s assume them for now.

Jesus could very well have believed what he said. Now he may have been mistaken, but he still could have truly believed what he said, in which case he wouldn’t have been “lying,” and he still could have been a great teacher.


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  1. Good afternoon Kevin, I realize that this blog entry is about 5 months old now (sheepish grin,) but I just stumbled across your blog for the first time and was reading back through your older entries.

    I wanted to contribute a thought on this one. It appears that what your friend was proposing may have been a form of what is often called “Lewis’s Trilemma.” As in CS Lewis, the author. The idea is certainly older than Lewis, but he popularized it in a series of BBC Radio talks. The trilemma proposed is sometimes referred to as “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” or “Mad, Bad, or God.” It essentially tries to say that Jesus must have been one of: a liar, a crazy person, or the son of God. Apologists then tend to rely on this series of false dilemmas as proof that Jesus must be Lord, since he is obviously not a liar or a lunatic (based on a bunch of supposed evidence from the New Testament and circular logic that they trot out.)

    But why must this “trilemma” exist? Why not add a fourth L that could be possible, like Legend. In other words, what if Jesus is a legend, or myth, manufactured by man? I’m pretty sure that a quick Wikipedia of Lewis’s Trilemma would bring up an entry for it.

    In any case, you have hit the nail on the head in your analysis of the dilemma proposed by your friend, which is that denying one half of the equation (that he was Lord), doesn’t necessarily negate the other half; that he was a great teacher. Nor does it preclude other possibilities outside of the two proposed.

    In any case, that’s my two cents for the afternoon. Great blog, you have been added to my feed reader.

    -A Fellow Atheist Dad

    • Thanks friend. Yes, I could have been more explicit about the lord/lunatic/liar trilemma as I had read it in Mere Christianity as well as in Lee Stroble’s The Case for Christ (I think he mentions the fourth “L” for legend, then attempts to refute that as an option), and in Dawkin’s The God Delusion. Unfortunately, there’s no good synonym for “mistaken” beginning with the letter L, but mistaken is my best response so far. Same goes for someone like Harold Camping. I don’t think he was a liar, and probably not a lunatic (although he’s probably been called that). He was just mistaken.

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