It will facilitate matters if I lay out the argument in what I take to be its logical form:
(1) Jesus claimed, either explicitly or implicitly, to be divine.
(2) Jesus was either right or wrong in claiming to be divine.
(3) If Jesus was wrong in claiming to be divine, Jesus was either mad or bad.
(6) Therefore, Jesus was not wrong in claiming to be divine.
(7) Therefore Jesus was right in claiming to be divine.
(8) Therefore, Jesus was divine.
Let me now comment on each premise. Some will require more extended discussion than others.
Premise (1) will turn out to be crucial—indeed, it is probably the crux of the argument—so let us postpone extended comment on it till later. Suffice it for now simply to define its crucial term. Let us say that someone is divine if that person is in some strong sense identical with or equivalent to the omnipotent, omniscient, and loving creator of the heavens and the earth.
Now if (1) is true (as I will argue), then premise (2) follows from a substitution-instance of a well-recognized law of logic, namely, the law of excluded middle. Some philosophers have raised questions about this law (which says that every proposition is either true or, if not true, then false), but it nevertheless seems about as secure as any premise of any argument can be. The vast majority of philosophers will agree that (2) is true. The claim, 'Jesus was correct in claiming to be divine', is either true or, if not true, then false. The MBG argument cannot be successfully challenged here.
But premise (3) can be questioned. Let us say that the statement, 'Jesus was mad', means that he was insane or mentally deluded, just like those confused and frequently institutionalized people today who sincerely believe themselves to be the Virgin Mary or Napoleon. Let us say that the statement. 'Jesus was bad', means that he was a liar, or was at least lying about who he was, just like someone today who intentionally deceives people by claiming to be someone else.
Perhaps Jesus claimed to be divine, was neither mad nor bad, but was merely sincerely mistaken about the matter, just as it is possible for a person to be sincerely mistaken about who her true parents are. Now the defender of the MBG argument will surely not want to claim that it is logically or even causally impossible8 that Jesus was sincerely mistaken in claiming to be divine. If we tried hard enough, we probably could cook up a scenario in which a sane and moral person mistakenly took himself to be divine. But is it probable that Jesus was both sane and sincerely mistaken? Is it probable that
(9) Any good person who mistakenly claims to be divine is mad is false? Or is it probable that
(10) Any sane person who mistakenly claims to be divine is bad9 is false?
These are obviously difficult questions. I am inclined to accept both (9) and (10) (and thus (3) as well), but I do not know how to prove them. Certainly a sane and good person could be sincerely mistaken about who her true parents are. Doubtless this very thing has occurred. But it is hard to see how a sane and good person could be sincerely mistaken in holding the extremely bizarre belief that she is divine (assuming she uses the word 'divine', as Christians normally do in this context, i.e. as indicating a robust identity with the omnipotent, omniscient, loving creator of the world). There is something extremely odd about the notion of a sincere, good, and sane person mistakenly claiming to be God. Nor do I consider it possible for an otherwise perfectly sane and good person mistakenly
8 Let us say that 'Jesus was sincerely mistaken in claiming to be divine' is logically impossible if the statement amounts to or entails a contradiction. Let us say that 'Jesus was sincerely mistaken in claiming to be divine' is causally impossible if its truth entails a violation of one or more of the laws of nature—gravity, thermodynamics, the speed of light, etc.
9 The Revd Jim Jones, whose cult followers committed mass suicide in Guyana in 1978, is reported to have said to them: 'I'm the closest thing to God you'll ever see.'
to consider herself to be God. Accordingly, (9) and (10) (and thus (3)). seem to have a high degree of plausibility. I conclude, then, that while (3) may be false, it is most probably true and can stand as a premise in a successful argument.
One suspects that few will want to dispute (4) and (5). It is possible, however, that someone might want to use them against each other, so to speak, and argue either that:
(11) If Jesus mistakenly claimed to be divine and wasn't mad, then, improbable as it seems, he must have been bad.
(12) If Jesus mistakenly claimed to be divine and wasn't bad, then, improbable as it seems, he must have been mad.
But, again, I believe there is good reason to accept both (4) and (5). Unless the most radical of Gospel critics are correct—those who claim we can know virtually nothing about the historical Jesus10—there is precious little in the Gospels to suggest that Jesus was either a lunatic or a liar, and much to suggest strongly that he was neither.
Virtually everyone who reads the Gospels—whether committed to Christianity or not—comes away with the conviction that Jesus was a wise and good man. He was loving, compassionate, and caring, hardly the sort who tells lies for self-interested reasons. During his lifetime Jesus was apparently accused by his enemies of being demon-possessed and 'out of his mind' (cf. John 10: 20). And Jesus is certainly quoted as making what can seem to be bizarre claims, especially when taken outside the context of his life and the rest of his teachings: for example: 'Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you' (John 6: 53).
But Peter Kreeft argues convincingly that Jesus shows none of the character traits usually associated with those who have delusions of grandeur or 'divinity complexes'. Such people are easily recognized by their egotism, narcissism, inflexibility, predictable behaviour, and inability to relate understandingly and lovingly to others.11 Other seriously disturbed people show signs of extreme irritability, debilitating anxiety, or inappropriate beliefs and behaviour. This is not the sort of picture of Jesus that we form by reading the Gospels. We live in an age when all sorts of bizarre claims about the historical Jesus are confidently made. But few Scripture scholars of any theological stripe seriously entertain the possibility that Jesus was either a lunatic or a liar. When we return below to premise (1) we will have to enter more deeply into the question of the reliability
10 'I do indeed think that we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus', Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus and the Word, trans. L. P. Smith and E. H. Lantero (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958), 8.
11 Kreeft and Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics, 159.
of the New Testament picture of Jesus. Suffice it to say here that there seems every good reason to accept both (4) and (5).12
Premise (6) is entailed by premises (2), (3), (4), and (5). It is impossible for them to be true and (6) false. Premise (7) is entailed by premises (2) and (6). If they are true, it is true. Finally, step (8), the conclusion of the MBG argument, is entailed by premise (7). If (7) is true, then (8) must be true as well. What we have in the MBG argument, then, is a valid argument. That is, there are no mistakes in logic in the argument; it is logically impossible for its premises (i.e. (1)—(7)) to be true and its conclusion (i.e. step (8)) false.
But is the argument also sound? Let us say that a sound argument is a valid argument whose premises are all true. It appears thus far that while premises (3), (4), and (5) can be criticized, a plausible case can be made for their truth. Clearly the premise that will seem most vulnerable to criticism is premise (1).
Is it true that Jesus claimed, either explicitly or implicitly, to be divine? Before addressing this question directly, it will be helpful to consider the notion of an 'implicit claim', since my argument in the present paper is that Jesus implicitly claimed to be divine. First, what is a 'claim'? Let's say that a claim is an assertion or statement, the kind of linguistic utterance that has a truth value. That is, according to the principle of excluded middle, it is true or if not true, then false. Now an explicit claim that a proposition p is true would be a statement like 'p is true' or 'Not-p is false': or 'It is true that p is true' or even simply 'p'.
What then is an implicit claim that p is true? Well, there appear to be several ways of implicitly claiming that p is true. (1) One might implicitly claim that p is true by explicitly asserting that x, y, and z are true, where x, y, and z logically entail p. If one were explicitly to assert 'R. E. Lee was a Confederate general' and 'R. E. Lee was a famous general' and 'R. E. Lee was a great general', that could be taken as an implicit claim to the effect that 'R. E. Lee was a great and famous Confederate general'. (2) Or one might implicitly claim that p is true by explicitly asserting x, y, and z. where only people who hold that p is true can hold that x, y, and z are true. If one were explicitly to assert that 'R. E. Lee was a Confederate general' and 'R. E. Lee was a famous general' and 'R. E. Lee was a great general', that could be taken as an implicit claim to the effect that 'R. E. Lee was a human being'.13 (3) Most importantly, one might implicitly claim that p is true by doing action A, where the only people, or the only sensible people, who do A are people who believe p. Suppose that Jones, tired and
12 For a fascinating argument against any claim that Jesus was mad, written by a practising clinical psychiatrist, see O. Q. Hyder, 'On the Mental Health of Jesus Christ', Journal of Psychology and Theology, 5: 1 (Winter 1977), 3—12. Hyder's argument falters at one or two places, but he skilfully shows that we find no convincing evidence in the biblical materials that Jesus was delusional, paranoid, schizoid, or manic depressive, and lots of convincing evidence that he was an emotionally sound and healthy person.
13 The diVerence between (1) and (2) is perhaps not very great. In the case of (2), it is quite possible that the one who is making the implicit claim has never consciously formulated the belief. 'R. E. Lee was a human being', while that seems less probable for the one who is making the implicit claim that 'R. E. Lee was a great and famous Confederate general' in (1).
perspiring at the end of a long run, bends over and drinks from a drinking fountain. This might be taken as an implicit claim on Jones's part to the eflEct that 'The liquid emanating from this drinking fountain is potable'.
We are now able to return to the question whether Jesus implicitly claimed to be divine. This is a good question, to say the least. Much ink has been spilled over it, especially in the past two centuries. (Before that it would have been taken as virtually axiomatic that the answer is yes—indeed, that he explicitly claimed as much.) What is clear, and I think is quite beyond dispute, is that a literalistic and ahistorical reading of the Gospels, and especially the Fourth Gospel, strongly supports premise (1). Notice, for example, the following statements that are attributed to Jesus there (as well as, in some cases, the reactions of those who heard him):
But Jesus answered them, 'My Father is still working, and I also am working.' For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God. (John 5: 17-18)
The Father judges no one but has given all judgement to the Son, so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. (John 5: 22)
'Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.' So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8: 58-9)
'The Father and I are one.' The Jews took up stones again to stone him. (John 10: 30-1)
'The Father is in me and I am in the Father.' Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands. (John 10: 38-9)
'Have I been with you all this time. Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father'. (John 14: 9)
Now there appear to be four main attitudes that might be taken towards claims such as these. First, perhaps Jesus explicitly taught his own divinity, that is, perhaps words such as these constitute the ipsissima verba of Jesus. Second, perhaps Jesus only implicitly taught his own divinity. Third, perhaps Jesus said the things, or some of them, that have been taken to imply his own divinity in John's Gospel and elsewhere, but this is not the proper interpretation of those sayings. Those who defend this option (which corresponds to the third objection to the MBG argument mentioned in Section I) might argue as follows: the words from Jesus like those just cited should be interpreted as indicating something less than robust identity with God: perhaps Jesus was only indicating unity of purpose or will with the Father, or something of that sort. What Jesus really meant, so it might be said, is that he had a very special place in God's redemptive plan, or he had an extraordinarily strong desire to do God's bidding, or he felt such an intimate closeness to God that it was almost as if God were his own father.14 Fourth, perhaps Jesus said nothing about the matter, and the relevant
14 This is certainly the route that must be taken by all those who, like Jehovah's Witnesses, claim to accept the full theological authority of the Bible but reject the idea that Jesus was God incarnate.
statements attributed to him in the Gospels are inauthentic; they represent the beliefs not of Jesus but of the Christian church at the time that the Gospels were being written.
In the present chapter. I do not intend to defend the first option, but rather the second; thus I must argue against options three and four.
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