Lord, Liar, or Lunatic

C.S. Lewis and the Jesus Trilemma (dilemma)

Was Jesus Whom He Claimed?

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a 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. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Lewis’s trilemma is based on the view that, in his words and deeds, Jesus was asserting a claim to be God. For example, in

  • to have authority to forgive sin
  • to have always existed,and
  • to intend to come back to judge the world at the end of time.

Lewis argues that these claims logically exclude the possibility that Jesus was merely “a great moral teacher” because he believes that no ordinary human making such claims could possibly be rationally or morally reliable. Elsewhere, Lewis refers to this argument as “the aut Deus aut malus homo” (“either God or a bad man”), reference to an earlier version of the argument used by Henry Parry Liddon in his 1866 , in which Liddon argued for the divinity of Jesus based on a number of grounds, including the claims he believed Jesus made.

 read “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.