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Why Be A Christian? (4)

This is a seven-part series on why everyone should be a Christian.
Click on the following links to explore the various installments:

(4) The Conclusions About Christ

 

In light of Jesus’ claims about himself (see here), there are only five possible conclusions we can draw about him. He was either:


(1) A legend,


(2) A lunatic,

(3) A loudmouth,

(4) A liar, or


(5) The lord.

Consider a more fleshed-out explanation of these conclusions.


The Logic Explained

In logic, the principle of excluded middle affirms that a statement is either true or false — a thing either is or it is not. There is no middle ground.

Let’s apply this method of reasoning to the claims of Jesus.

First, either Jesus existed or he did not exist. If he did not exist, then he was a legend — too good to be true.

On the other hand, if Jesus existed, then either his claims were true or they were false. If false, then either he knew that his claims were false or he did not know they were false.

If he did not know he wasn’t the eternal God — i.e. if he genuinely believed it — then either one of two conclusions follow: He was either

(1) A lunatic — since a common man who genuinely thinks he “came down from heaven” (Jn. 6.41) as the God who existed long “before Abraham” (Jn. 8.58) — without realizing such claims are false — is as deluded as ”the man who says he is a poached egg” (Lewis, 1952, p. 56);

(2) Or a loudmouth — a mentally competent braggart who, for selfish motivations, arrogantly believed he was more than what he was.

On the other hand, if Jesus knew that his claims were false, then he was a liar — for a man who claims to be God but knows he is not is a charlatan, interested only in earthly fortune, fame, and/or power.

However, if none of these conclusions are valid, then his claims are true. And if true, then he is the lord of Heaven and Earth.


Let’s explore each of these possible conclusions. By process of elimination, we can ascertain the truth about the matter.


Was Jesus A Legend?

In the first place, Peter denied that Jesus was some “cunningly devised fable” the early Christians made up. Instead, they testified to his reality as “eyewitnesses” (2 Pt. 1.16). Thousands felt him, heard him, and saw him with their corporeal senses (cf. 1 Jn. 1.1-4)

The biblical and extra-biblical sources that documented Jesus’ historical reality are too preponderant for an honest person to deny (see “Jesus Christ—Real Or Myth?”). In fact, there are

“scarcely any New Testament critics [who] think that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical figure but is just a sort of literary creation” (Craig, “Jesus Under Fire”).

Even the agnostic-atheist Bart Ehrman argues irresistibly for the historicity of Jesus:

“Jesus existed, and those vocal persons who deny it do so not because they have considered the evidence with the dispassionate eye of the historian, but because they have some other agenda that this denial serves. From a dispassionate point of view, there was a Jesus of Nazareth” (Ehrman, p. 8).

Professor F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) observed:

“Some writers may toy with the fancy of a ‘Christ-myth,’ but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the ‘Christ-myth’ theories” (Bruce, p. 123).

The French infidel philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that

“The doings of Socrates, which no one doubts, are less well attested than those of Jesus Christ” (Rousseau, p. 600).

Indeed, Jesus was no mere legend.

In addition, it is equally absurd to suggest that, though Jesus existed, the authors of the New Testament simply exaggerated who he was and what he did. This doesn’t pass muster for at least four reasons:

(1) As monotheists — i.e., those who believe in only one God — the Jewish authors of the New Testament would have been the most reluctant to affirm that one of their fellows was God just like the heavenly father. In fact, the Jewish people put Jesus to death in part for this very reason, accusing him of blasphemy. C. S. Lewis observed that the apostles of Christ

“belonged to that Nation which of all others was most convinced that there was only one God—that there could not possibly be another. It is very odd that this [supposed] invention about a religious leader should grow up among the one people on the whole earth least likely to make such a mistake. On the contrary, we get the impression that none of His immediate followers or even of the New Testament writers embraced the doctrine at all easily” (Lewis, 2023).

The legend hypothesis is culturally implausible.

(2) What’s more, the New Testament was not written in the mythical genre — as if it were a collection of legendary tales designed for moral guidance — but in historical prose. Lewis again remarked that

“As a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view, they are clumsy, they don’t work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so” (ibid.).

The legend hypothesis is literarily implausible.


(3) Furthermore, the ministry of Christ was a public matter. Jesus impacted the lives of tens of thousands of people, some of whom were in positions of public prominence. As Paul put it: “This thing was not done in a corner” (Acts 26.26).

If Jesus’ ministry were a legend, the Jewish people — who were obsessed with history and reality — would have seen through it instantly. Indeed, the reports of Christ are too detailed, numerous, open to public scrutiny, and down-to-earth to be legendary.

(4) Finally, the eyewitnesses of Jesus were willing to die for insisting that their testimony about him was true. As Wayne Jackson put it:

“It cannot be maintained that Christ’s disciples foisted a false ideology regarding the Savior upon the New Testament record. They were willing to forfeit their very lives for their conviction that he was the divine Son of God. And their resolution was not based merely upon a purely emotional “faith.” It was grounded in what they had seen and heard over a period of three and one-half years — faith anchored in facts” (p. 43).

Indeed, they testified that Jesus was a real figure in time and space. He had a documented ancestry (cf. Mt. 1.1-17). He walked down real streets in real cities among real people during the political administration of real historical characters like Augustus and Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, and Philip the Tetrarch (cf. Lk. 2.1; 3.1-2).


For their testimony, they were hated as the “filth of the world” (1 Cor. 4.13); they were beaten (2 Cor. 11.23ff); their possessions were confiscated, rendering them homeless (Heb. 10.34).


Liars recant their fabrications once they realize their sordid worldly ambition will not be realized — even more so when they suffer for their lies. But the eyewitnesses of Christ, despite their suffering, never disavowed their testimony.


Dr. Peter Kreeft put it like this:

“There could be no possible motive for such a lie. Lies are always told for some selfish advantage. What advantage did the "conspirators" derive from their "lie"? They were hated, scorned, persecuted, excommunicated, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, crucified, boiled alive, roasted, beheaded, disemboweled and fed to lions—hardly a catalog of perks!” (“Refuting the Conspiracy Theory…”)

But the skeptic says: So what? Muslims are willing to die for their faith as well. Does that mean their religion is true too? Such reasoning pitiably misses the point.


First, Christians do not argue that since the apostles of Christ died for their faith, Christianity must be true. Rather, we appeal to the reasonableness of their testimony based on their character.


The disciples of Christ were not merely believers in a cause — they were eyewitnesses. It is one thing to die for an ideology in which you believe (which could be very false), but when witnesses of historical events stake their lives on the accuracy of their testimony — gaining nothing and losing everything of earthly value because of it — their credibility is made all the more convincing.


Second, Christians acknowledge that the martyrdoms of the apostles of Christ are not sufficient to prove their claims. Rather, their willingness to die without recanting their testimony proves that they were honest about what they reported. They were not liars who made up a legend. If what they reported was false, it could only be because they were deceived by Jesus himself, not because they were deceivers themselves.


Hence, Jesus existed. And his eyewitnesses did not exaggerate their claims — they genuinely believed what they had “seen and heard” (1 Jn. 1.3).


To be clear, if Jesus’ claims are false, he still could be a lunatic, a loudmouth, or a liar who misled his followers, but based upon the unrelenting testimony of his eyewitnesses, the one thing he cannot be is a legend his followers made up.


Was Jesus A Lunatic?

In the next place, Jesus’ mental prowess demonstrates that he was not a lunatic.


People who are of unsound mind express cluttered thoughts and behave in disorderly ways. Others tend to avoid them. That is not the way Jesus acted. And people flocked to him.


When Jesus exposed the errors of the religious leaders of his day and shed light on the meaning of Scripture, the crowds were amazed by his wisdom and logical insight (cf. Lk. 2.47; Mt. 7.28; 13.54; 22.33; Jn. 7.15). Even his enemies acknowledged Jesus’ impressive skill of comprehension and explanation (Jn. 7.46).

Jackson trenchantly asks:

“If Jesus was insane, why have so many skeptics praised his intellect?” (p. 42).

He then cites Ernest Renan as an example, a skeptic “who attempted to undermine the integrity of Christianity.” Renan wrote:

“The faith, the enthusiasm, the constancy of the first Christian generation is not explicable, except by supposing, at the origin of the whole movement, a man of surpassing greatness” (Renan, p. 221).

As demonstrated in part two of this series, Jesus possessed a keen intellect and flawless skills in logic. He was far from insane.


Since Jesus claimed to be God, that claim cannot be dismissed on the grounds that he was a lunatic who didn’t know his claims were false. Rather, he knew what he was claiming and he did so with a sound mind.

Was Jesus A Loudmouth?

Third, if Jesus’ claims are false, then since he was sound in mind and yet believed he was God incarnate, he must have been an exceedingly selfish loudmouth with a high opinion of himself.

Again, Jesus was a self-centric teacher (see part one). The salvation of the human race revolved around him (cf. Jn. 10.9-10; 11.25; 14.6).


In the ancient world, many kings and pharaohs made similar bombastic claims. And they lived in luxury as a result, demanding that the people serve them.

Conversely, Jesus wielded no earthly power. He was a common Jew.


Nor did he live in palaces. He lived mostly nomadically.


Nor did Jesus oppress people as ancient rulers frequently did for the sake of their own pleasure. Rather, he “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10.38). He came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20.28).

Often, when Jesus healed others miraculously, he did not heap praise upon himself (and sometimes discouraged others from doing so, Mk. 7.36). Rather, he praised the recipient — “your faith has made you well” (Mk. 10.52).


Indeed, Jesus drew people to himself, not by elevating himself but by elevating others (cf. Phil. 2.3-8). And his willingness to sacrifice his life on the cross without resistance is the ultimate example of his unselfish humility.


In short, the character of Christ is inconsistent with a conceited loudmouth who falsely believes he is God. He spoke like God, and yet he lived humbly like the lowest of men.

Was Jesus A Liar?

Fourth, Jesus was not a worthless fiend who knew his claims were false, deliberately deceiving millions into suffering and dying for him with false hope. On the contrary, his life was filled with honesty. Consider but a few examples.


(1) Jesus told the truth, even when it went against popular sentiment.

On one hand, whereas the public thought someone was good, Jesus exposed them as bad.


For example, the Jewish people regarded the Pharisees with reverence. The Pharisees were upstanding members of society — scrupulous in religion, dedicated to tithing and fasting often, faithful in their marital life, etc. (Lk. 18.11-12). The Jewish community largely respected the Pharisees and they frequently sought their counsel.

However, rather than curry favor with this powerful class of people as a charlatan would, Jesus instead lambasted their character, calling them “whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mt. 23.27); they were “hypocrites” (Mt. 23.23) and “blind guides” (Mt. 23.24). Instead of buttering them up to get something from them, Jesus dressed the Pharisees down.


On the other hand, whereas the public thought someone was bad, Jesus saw the good in them.

The Jews dismissed tax collectors, harlots, and other “sinners” as outcasts. The Pharisees avoided them. Society deprived them of both civil and social rights.


But Jesus went against the grain. He believed these sinners needed him to save them from their spiritual illness (Mt. 9.10-13; Lk. 19.1-10). More than that, he saw that many tax collectors and sinners were humble enough to acknowledge their own wickedness, repent, and follow him with a righteous faith (cf. Mt. 21.31-32; Lk. 18.13-14). He frankly called them out too — but he warmly welcomed them to his fold because they answered the call.

These unpopular judgments of Christ are indicative of a character who was dedicated to the truth rather than to popularity among people (cf. Mt. 22.16).

(2) Jesus told the truth, even when he had nothing to gain from it.

For example, Jesus told a young rich man who wanted to know what to do to go to Heaven, but whose love for wealth was a spiritual encumbrance (cf. Mt. 19.22):

“Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mt. 19.21).

Would that not have been a prime occasion for a door-to-door quack to transfer that wealth from the young man’s pocket into his own? Yet instead of counseling the man to give his money to him and his “ministry” — as any shrewd swindler would — Jesus directed the man to give his funds to the poor, trusting that Jesus would take care of him. Hardly kosher for a confidence man!

More than that, Jesus has inspired millions of people to be honest in all their doings (cf. Eph. 4.25; 6.5-8; 2 Cor. 8.21) and to give, “hoping for nothing in return” (Lk. 6.35) — for that is precisely how Jesus himself lived his own life.


(3) Jesus told the truth, even when it hurt him.


Never did the maxim, “Honest to a fault,” more suitably fit a man than Jesus.

When salespeople pitch their products to others, they are meticulous in describing the many perks it has to offer them. By contrast, Jesus warned people of the pitfalls of following him. He was not one to sugarcoat what following him meant.

Instead of suggesting that if people followed him, they would always be happy; all their problems would disappear; and all their questions would be answered; he frankly warned them of the opposite reality. To be his disciple, he said we must deny ourselves and be prepared to suffer (cf. Mt. 16.24). Others will hate us (Mt. 10.22; Jn. 15.18-19). Even our family members and loved ones will be at variance with us when we follow him (Mt. 10.34-39). He warned his disciples that they would be persecuted (Jn. 15.20; 16.33) and even murdered for their faith in him (Jn. 16.1-4). Instead of a bed of roses, Jesus offers us a crown of thorns. Not exactly the best sales pitch!

Moreover, Jesus often took up thorny issues like marriage (Mt. 19.1ff), divorce (Mt. 5.31-32), taxes (Mt. 22.15-22), and how to deal with wrong-doers and enemies (Mt. 5.38-48). He taught challenging concepts, which made thousands abandon him (Jn. 6.52-66). His propensity to tell the cold, hard truth often cost him followers.


Most telling of all, Jesus’ frankness offended brutes who were intent on murdering him — and they eventually did. Why would Jesus risk popularity, wealth, followers, and even his own life to say these hard and offensive things if he knew he was a fraudster? As one writer put it:

“If Jesus was a charlatan who made a brief career of duping people, what did he gain as a result of his alleged hoax? Certainly not wealth (Mt. 8.20); nor is there any other base motive that may be established. Why would he go to the agony of the cross for what he knew to be a fabrication? That hasn’t a particle of common sense about it” (Jackson, p. 42).

Indeed, Jesus was both mentally competent and full of integrity. The biblical record is filled with examples of its heroes engaging in sinful or foolish behavior. It frequently documents the failures of its protagonists. Yet that is not the case with Jesus, who was “without blemish and without spot” (1 Pt. 1.19; cf. 2 Cor. 5.21; Heb. 4.15; 7.26).


In short, Jesus’ life is not consistent with the modus operandi of liars and frauds.

Conclusion

If Jesus was not a legend, then he existed. Since he existed, his claims were either true or false. If false, there are only three possible explanations: If he did not know his claims were false, then he was either a lunatic or a loudmouth. But he was neither of these. If he knew his claims were false, then he was a gross liar. But he was no such thing.

Since Jesus was neither a legend, a lunatic, a loudmouth, nor a liar, there is only one rational deduction left: Jesus is exactly who he claimed to be — the lord of Heaven and Earth (cf. Acts 2.36; Mt. 28.18).


Therefore, you should be a Christian because the objective evidence for Christ is overwhelmingly convincing. He made lofty claims. And these claims are buttressed by his character, by the dispassionate testimony of John the immerser, by his supernatural works, by the testimony of the Father himself, by the prophecies of Scripture, by his death, his burial, and resurrection, and by the demonstrable power of logic itself.


 

Why not keep studying? Move on to part 5:

 
Resources
Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981.

Craig, William Lane. “Jesus Under Fire,” Reasonablefaith.org. February 05, 2017. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/jesus-under-fire

Ehrman, Bart. Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. Harper Collins, 2012.

Kreeft, Peter. “Refutation of the Conspiracy Theory: Seven Arguments,” Peterkreeft.com. Accessed May 29, 2023. https://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/resurrection-evidence.htm

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952.
Lewis, C. S. “What Are We To Make Of Jesus Christ?” Apologetics.org. Accessed May 24, 2023. https://apologetics.org/resources/articles/2018/06/18/what-are-we-to-make-of-jesus-christ/
Jackson, Wayne. Jesus Christ: The Master Teacher. Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications, 2013.

Renan, Ernest. The Life of Jesus. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1991.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Emile. The Floating Press, 2009.

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