In Part 1 of this series, I showed that the main argument for the divinity of Jesus given by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli in Chapter 7 of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics goes like this:
1A. Jesus was either God, liar, lunatic, guru, or myth.
2A. Jesus could not possibly be a liar, lunatic, guru, or myth.
3A. Jesus is God.
In this post, we will analyze and clarify the first premise of this argument.
PREMISE (1A): THE FIVE ALTERNATIVES
The first premise of Kreeft’s argument for the divinity of Jesus asserts that there are only five logical possibilities:
1A. Jesus was either God, liar, lunatic, guru, or myth.
The five alternative views are as follows:
- Jesus was God.
- Jesus was a liar.
- Jesus was a lunatic.
- Jesus was a guru.
- Jesus was a myth.
None of these claims is clear as it stands. Each claim needs to be clarified and made more specific.
JESUS WAS GOD
In Part 1, I have already clarified the meaning of the claim “Jesus is God”, and the claim that “Jesus was God” implies that “Jesus is God” because one cannot be God for a day, like being King for a day, or president for a day. Being God, for example, implies being eternal, and one cannot be eternal for just one day or one week.
Furthermore, God’s omnipotence and omniscience are supposed to be eternal attributes, attributes that God has always had in the past, and that God will always have in the future. If some being were omnipotent for just one day or just one week, that being would NOT be God, and that being would NOT even be God for one day. So, if it is the case that “Jesus was God” in the past, then it must also be the case the “Jesus is God” today. Furthermore, the reverse is true as well. If Jesus is God today, then it must also have been the case that “Jesus was God” two thousand years ago, and two million years ago. Thus, “Jesus was God” means the same thing as “Jesus is God”.
JESUS WAS A LIAR
What does the claim “Jesus was a liar” mean? Kreeft provides no definition or clarification of the term “liar”. One important and obvious point to note is that telling one lie does NOT make a person a “liar”. In fact, most people tell lies frequently (most young children and teenagers tell lies, and most young adults/college students tell lies, and most adults in general tell lies), but it is unclear that we should conclude that most people are liars. The point of the use of the word “liar” is to categorize a small subset of people as being particularly dishonest. We tolerate a fair amount of lying as just par for the course. For this reason, the Merriam-Webster definition of “liar” is clearly wrong:
a person who tells lieshttps://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liar
On this definition, everyone, or almost everyone, would be a “liar”. More is required than telling an occasional lie to make a person a “liar”. But how often does one have to lie in order to be properly categorized as being a “liar”? That is NOT at all clear.
Furthermore, it would seem that telling small white lies on a regular basis might not be enough to make one a “liar”. It might require telling some big or serious lies on a regular basis to make one a “liar”. But how many big or serious lies does one have to tell in order to be a “liar”? That is also NOT clear. So, the term “liar” does NOT mean “a person who tells lies”; something more than that is required, but it is UNCLEAR what exactly is required to make a person a “liar”.
Therefore, the term “liar” is a problematically VAGUE and UNCLEAR term, apart from a careful analysis and a clear definition of this term. But Kreeft and Tacelli provide no such analysis or definition of the word “liar”. Apart from a clear definition of the word “liar” it will be difficult, if not impossible, to make a rational evaluation of whether Jesus (or anyone else) was, in fact, a “liar”.
JESUS WAS A LUNATIC
What does the claim “Jesus was a lunatic” mean? Kreeft provides no definition or clarification of the term “lunatic”. He does, however, sometimes use the word “insane” in place of the word “lunatic”, so presumably, he views these words as synonyms (see Kreeft’s use of “insane” and “insanity” when introducing this part of the argument on pages 155 and 156 of HCA).
The dictionary definition of “lunatic” indicates an AMBIGUITY in this term:
People who are NOT insane sometimes believe things that are WILDLY FOOLISH for them to believe. For example, I think that it is WILDLY FOOLISH for Kreeft to believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead, but I do NOT think that Kreeft is insane. So, the word “lunatic” has a stronger and weaker sense. In the stronger sense of the word, to say that “Jesus was a lunatic” means that “Jesus was insane”. In the weaker sense, it means that “Jesus held some wildly foolish beliefs”. Because Kreeft uses the word “insane” as a synonym for the word “lunatic”, it seems likely that he intended the stronger sense of the word “lunatic”:
affected with a severely disordered state of mind: INSANE
However, the term “insanity” is no longer an accepted medical diagnosis:
So, there is no generally accepted medical definition of the term “insane”. Thus, the meaning of this word is problematic and UNCLEAR.
JESUS WAS A GURU
What does the claim “Jesus was a guru” mean? Kreeft provides no definition of the term “guru”. However, he does describe the view that “Jesus was a guru”, and his description could be used to clarify the meaning of the term “guru” in this context.
When Kreeft initially introduces the idea of Jesus being a “guru”, he focuses on Jesus’s alleged claim to be God:
Perhaps even though the Gospels tell the truth that Jesus claimed divinity, and even though he could not be a liar or a lunatic, and therefore the claim is true, yet he didn’t mean it to be understood literally, but rather in a mystical way. According to this theory, we should interpret his claim to divinity…in an Eastern, Hindu or Buddhist, sense. Yes, Jesus was God, and knew it, and claimed it–but we are all God. We unenlightened nonmystics just don’t realize it. Jesus was an enlightened mystic, a guru, who realized his own inner divinity.(HCA, p.165)
I take it that being a “guru” in this context is about Jesus claiming to be God, and Jesus intending this claim to be understood in a NONLITERAL way, such that his view was that every human being is God, just as much as Jesus is God. What this view asserts, then, is that Jesus was NOT claiming to be the creator of the universe, and Jesus was NOT claiming to be omnipotent and omniscient. Jesus was NOT claiming to possess the divine attributes that constitute the western/Christian concept of “God”. In claiming to be “God”, Jesus was merely indicating that he believed that he was “one with God” in the very same way that all human beings are “one with God”.
JESUS WAS A MYTH
What does the claim “Jesus was a myth” mean? Kreeft provides no definition of the term “myth”. However, Kreeft does clarify the view that he has in mind corresponding to the claim that “Jesus was a myth”. Like the view that “Jesus was a guru”, the view that “Jesus was a myth” is, in this context, focused on the idea of Jesus claiming to be God:
All three previous hypotheses –Lord, liar and lunatic–assumed that Jesus claimed divinity. Suppose he didn’t. Suppose this claim is a myth (in the sense of fiction). Suppose the liar is not Jesus but the New Testament texts.(HCA, p.161)
The view that “Jesus was a myth” is NOT the view that there was no actual historical Jesus. Rather, this view assumes that there was in fact a historical Jesus, but that the historical Jesus NEVER claimed to be God. In other words, the Gospels, and other New Testament writings, assert that Jesus claimed to be God, and that Jesus believed himself to be God, but all such claims are FALSE and UNHISTORICAL. The idea that Jesus claimed to be God is FICTIONAL: it is a myth that Jesus claimed to be God, and it is a myth that Jesus believed himself to be God.