Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Was Christ Divine? Five Options by Peter Kreeft - Part II

In the first post of this set, I noted the reasons why the question of Christ's Divinity is important. It's important not only for those who are seeking the Truth and have not yet accepted faith in Christ. It's also important for those who do have faith but have to this point considered reason and faith to be incompatible or who think it unnecessary to treat people's questions about Christ's Divinity with any seriousness. As noted in the first post of this set, if Christ is Divine, He has a right to all we do and are. Those who do not recognize that right will suffer the consequences, so for them as well as us, the question is a matter of dire importance.

So Kreeft lays out the argument as follows:

Jesus is either Lord, liar, lunatic, guru, or myth.

Those are our five options.

Kreeft takes each of these points and demonstrates how each one leaves us with option A.

We can begin with the first two: either Jesus is Lord or he is a liar.

One of the frequent claims of syncretists, liberal Christians, and followers of non-Christian faiths is that Jesus was a good man. Jesus is almost universally recognized as a good man. Almost universally, honesty is a required virtue for the good man. If Jesus were lying about whom He was and what His relationship with God the Father was, He could hardly be considered a good man.

So we then have to consider that maybe Jesus was a lunatic. In addition to Christ's goodness, however, was His wisdom. His words have inspired people for 2000 years. So could a wise man be a lunatic (that is, someone who believed Himself to be God but was not)? If I believed myself to be George Washington, would my word on any other matter be given much credence? Most likely not. So Christ can't be either a liar or a lunatic.

Probably the most common claim from non-Christians today about Christ was that He was a good teacher or guru but not Divine. However, these people would have to be very selective in their reading of Christ's words to make this claim. They would have to dispense with His insistence that his followers eat his body and drink his blood. They would have to jettison the divisive comments he made: "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." What's more most of the people who cast Jesus in this light try to inject eastern notions into the skin of a first-century Jew. Jesus wasn't a spiritual teacher in any other tradition other than that in which he dwelled: first-century Judaism. He preached from their scriptures and claimed to be the fulfillment of their law.

In addition to this, a measure of a teacher is in those whom he teaches. If Christ were simply a guru, then those students closest to him (Peter, John, James, and Andrew) completely misunderstood his message. And from what we can tell, none of the other followers of Christ after the purported resurrection denounced the Apostles for their beliefs, so they must likewise have been deluded. Is a good teacher always so grossly misunderstood? Is that the mark of a good teacher?

Finally, we come to the last possibility: Christ was a myth, or his followers created a mythos about him that turned him into something he wasn't.

To the first charge, given that the fragmentary early biblical writings in addition to the non-Christian references to Christ constitute the largest collection of historical data on any figure of that period or before, we'd have to call into question whether Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Hammurabi, or any other early personage actually existed. The letters from the Apostles concerning Christ are just as valid as historic documentation as any of the letters passed between Emperors and proconsuls. Yet no one thinks to discount the matter of such documents out of hand because of a delay between the occurrence of the events in those documents and the actual writing of the document.

So why is this historical approach considered an appropriate when the letters or gospels in the New Testament are the subject matter? Even dismissing these documents, what do we do with the extra-Biblical references made by Josephus, Tacitus, and the like?

So Jesus’ existence is as much a part of the historical record as Plato's.

Next, then, is the common assertion that Christ never claimed to be divine. The only alternative (other than Jesus’ Divinity), then, is that His followers intentionally altered what He said. That is, the Apostles wrote the epistles and gospels in order to deceive.

People lie for many reasons, but typically it's for self-gain. So what did the Apostles have to gain by promoting their teacher as something He was not? Were they going to gain much by proclaiming that someone executed as a common criminal was in fact the Messiah, the anointed one of God? Not likely. Were they going to gain financially? Paul's epistles make it clear that he was by no means well off.

What the Apostles and disciples of Christ did gain, starting even before Nero's first persecution, was martyrdom. That is hardly a prize worth lying for, unless you believe what you're saying. So the only motivation the Apostles had for making the claims they did was that it was the truth, and they wanted everyone to know the Truth. In addition, the Apostles operated in a time when many of Jesus’ own family members still lived. These were people who were not His followers before the resurrection. However, Jesus’ brother James held an important position in the early church of Jerusalem, so clearly they came to believe afterward. If the Apostles lied, how is it that all these early letters and gospels agree so well? Even Gamaliel suggested in Acts that a false Messiah would come to naught. One could hardly say that Christianity has come to naught. For whatever reason, we don't have reams of documentation from the same period condemning the facts laid out in the gospels. So an argument against the veracity of the Apostles is an argument from silence.

Jesus wasn't a liar, a lunatic, a guru (or good teacher), or a myth. So we're left with one option. Jesus is Lord.

This is an ultrasynopsis of what Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli set forth in Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Although my treatment condenses many of their points, the authors spend 23 pages on the subject and leave very few (if any) stones unturned. In that same book, they cover the historical reliability of the gospels, the rational basis for belief in the New Testament miracles, and 20 arguments for the existence of God. For the latter, they note that many arguments are inductive—that is, they lead to a reasonable conjecture based on the evidence while not providing conclusive logical proofs.

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