Lord, Liar, Lunatic Trilemma: How the Accounts Prove the “Legend” Answer Fails, Too
I could use your help with a presentation I’m preparing. Read on to find out how.
C. S. Lewis popularized what’s come to be known as the Lord, Liar, Lunatic trilemma: it’s impossible to look at the accounts of Jesus and think he was a great moral teacher but not God. The famous passage in Mere Christianity reads:
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 was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the 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.
What About the Fourth L, “Legend”?
If we take the accounts seriously, we have to conclude Jesus was more than a man; he was God. But atheists and skeptics respond that we don’t have to take the accounts seriously. “Sure, you can claim that Jesus was a God if there ever was a Jesus like the one in the Gospels, but who says the gospel stories really happened?” It isn’t a trilemma, it’s a quadrilemma: Lord, Liar, Lunatic, or Legend.
There are good historical reasons not to dismiss the stories as mere legend. For starters: the accounts were recorded too soon after the events for legends to have developed, the historical record in the accounts is corroborated in too many ways, and the witnesses proved their credibility by putting their lives on the line for what they were saying.
I consider those answers persuasive, but they take a lot of digging into history.
“Lewis-esque” Article Shows the Quadrilemma Takes Us To the Same Destination
Back in 2014 I presented an argument that the story itself — straight out of the gospels, just like the Trilemma — demands that we take it seriously. Therefore the Legend objection falls down right along with Liar and Lunatic.
The distinguished New Testament scholar Dan Wallace called that article “Lewis-esque,” certainly the highest compliment I’ve ever received for my writing. He adds,
Gilson wrestles with a number of objections, but marches through them and lays out an eminently reasonable case that no author could have created the likes of Jesus of Nazareth out of whole cloth. He may well be on to something. In turn, this argues for historicity.
So what’s my argument? You really need to read the article, but here’s a preview:
The story of Jesus is unique in all history and all literature. It’s the only one ever told of a person who was both immensely powerful and completely self-sacrificial and other-centered, never using his great power for his own benefit. If the early church made him up, they accomplished a feat of ethical and literary genius far above any poet, playwright, novelist, or philosopher.
This is not merely unlikely. According to the skeptical explanation, the gospels were produced by a community that was suffering from delusions and/or guilty of intentional deceit, and the process by which they produced this “legend” was riddled with error. It’s impossible to think this community and this process could have produced a character as uniquely, consistently, and perfectly selfless as Jesus Christ.
Your Help Needed: What Objections Have I Missed?
Why am I bringing this up now? I could use your help.
I’m expecting to present this argument at a conference in March, and I’m interested in knowing whether I’ve missed any good objections in my “wrestling.”
Here’s one I’ve heard already: Jesus wasn’t that good after all, since he didn’t argue for equal rights for minorities, women, and gays, and he didn’t speak out against slavery.
I have a long answer: even if he didn’t address these things explicitly, the way of Jesus leads ultimately to the right ethical answer on all of these.
But there’s a short answer that’s a lot easier: So what?
Suppose you were walking across a desert, and you stumbled over a huge glittering diamond. You wouldn’t say, “No big deal. Other than that, it’s just sand everywhere you look.” You’d say, “This means something. Either someone lost a diamond or we should dig for more!”
Neither does a reasonable person ignore the uniquely complete and perfect selflessness Jesus displays. So what if you think there’s something else about him that isn’t perfect? You still have to explain the perfection that is there.
That’s one objection. Are there any others?
Image Credit(s): Central Baptist, Waycross, Georgia.
Briefly, why I personally don’t find these persuasive:
– It seems plausible that the earliest NT books could have been written in a geographical location with few eyewitnesses (to an event that occurred ~20 years earlier). Perhaps the lack of eyewitnesses in a given area was precisely a main reason why these recollections were written down in the first place. But “plentiful eyewitnesses” is usually the reason given for why the early accounts could not have acquired legendary elements.
– Corroboration of contemporary historical events is hardly surprising. It’s not controversial that the earliest NT documents date from only a few decades after the fact. This doesn’t mean they are therefore correct in the details. It doesn’t even increase the probability of the miraculous stories being correct, in my opinion. Additionally, there are unresolved difficulties like the Census of Quirinius.
– Every religion has adherents willing to die for the founder and/or the doctrines of the faith. No surprise here.
– I’m sure you’d get an argument from a Buddhist or a Muslim about whose founder is the “most selfless”. Muslims claim similarly that no human could possibly produce a single sura as beautiful as any in the Qu’ran. I don’t find such arguments resolvable — or interesting, for that matter.
Thanks for that, BillB, except the thing is, you’re answering a question I didn’t ask here. That part was parenthetical. I’m not going to pursue any of that on this blog post.
If however you think there’s an actual solid objection — not just “I’m sure you’d get one” — concerning who was most selfless, I’d be open to hearing it.
I know there’s a claim that the Qu’ran is the most perfect writing. I don’t have a claim, I have an argument. I give reasons for my conclusion.
Merely mentioning that someone else’s claim is false does nothing to answer an argument. Merely saying “I don’t find these arguments resolvable” doesn’t tell us what you think of the specific argument in question. You haven’t even addressed whether this should or shouldn’t be considered one of “these arguments” — especially since the other “arguments” you’ve named here aren’t necessarily arguments at all, but mere claims, or suppositions that someone might be able to state an argument.
and the witnesses proved their credibility by putting their lives on the line for what they were saying.
This argument has always baffled me. There are plenty of cases where people have risked their lives or even intentionally sacrificed themselves for ideas we all agree are not only false but also morally repugnant, and we don’t think those people are credible at all.
I wrote an article about one particular argument, and I asked for help related to that argument. I mentioned another line of arguments because I didn’t want people saying, “Didn’t you know this other line of evidence exists?” It was parenthetical.
I really do want conversation on the question I asked. If we get off on these other topics that request is going to get lost. (See comment 2.) I’ve seen it happen over and over again.
So this time I’m going to be aggressive about cutting off (deleting) conversation that goes off on this parenthetical tangent. If your comment doesn’t relate to the main topic and main question of the original post it will disappear without further explanation.
If however you think there’s an actual solid objection — not just “I’m sure you’d get one” — concerning who was most selfless, I’d be open to hearing it.
I think there is, in the Buddhist concept of a Bodhisattva – someone who vows to attain enlightenment in order to benefit not just humans, but all sentient beings. It could be reasonably argued that a Bodhisattva is more selfless than Jesus for two reasons: first, because the path of a Bodhisattva spans many lives, far longer than the 30ish years Jesus walked the earth; and second, because it covers not only all the humans that Jesus wanted to be saved, but also animals, sentient aliens (if they exist), and sentient A.I.s (if they’re one day invented).
Has any Bodhisattva’s life been recorded, whether historical, speculative, or imaginative?
Tom #5: Ok, fair enough. Do you want a brief overview of my objections, or should I take more time and write up something more detailed?
Tom #7: Yes. See for example the Jataka Tales, the Sutta Pitaka, and the Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra (to name a few).
Whatever you think would be most helpful. Thanks. If you’re planning to give it that much thought, you’ll definitely want to read the original article first.
I appreciate it.
Fair enough. Re-reading your post, I see you were asking for objections primarily to your newer argument based on the story itself.
Again, I don’t find it fruitful or interesting to debate which religion’s founder is “most selfless” or most perfectly ethical. But even if I do grant this about Jesus, I don’t see how that makes the story any likelier to be true. It sounds a bit like the (unconvincing) Ontological Argument — “We can imagine a being of maximal perfection, and it is more perfect to exist than not to exist, therefore the imagined being must exist.”
I can certainly grant that the Gospel writers came up with a good story — and clearly it is a good story, whether true or not, since it has been a very popular one for 2000 years. But it doesn’t follow that therefore the story cannot be a legend.
Did you read the original article, BillB? Just wondering, so I know better how to respond.
In the meantime, though…
Your granting that “the Gospel writers came up with a good story” means nothing in this context, since it has nothing to do with what I wrote.
Good stories abound. There are lots of them. Literary geniuses have produced loads of them. This isn’t one of those. I’m this is a story unlike all others in the ethical perfection of its main character. No one else has done anything approaching it in that sense.
I could add, too, that it’s a good story. That’s important, too, as, I’ve mentioned in speaking on this subject. It’s easy enough to come up with a boring story about a perfectly selfless character: “Alvin was immensely powerful, and he never did anything but help people with his power. The end.”
But the story the gospel writers wrote wasn’t just one that displayed an ethically perfect character, it’s also one that billions of people from virtually every culture have found to be so compelling it’s changed their lives.
Again, it’s easy to make a selfless character, but no one but the gospel writers has presented one who was interesting enough to pay attention to (much less to change the world for thousands of years to come).
Anyway, enough of this careless nonsense about a “good story.” I wasn’t talking about that.
[See Comment 5 — Tom]
Tom, here’s some objections that I’ll expand on later when I have time:
1. The argument’s method is inappropriate for the subject matter.
2. Your objection to the Legend hypothesis fails because (a) there were fewer sources than your claim, and (b) the sources were not writing independently.
3. There is at least one other example of a character who is both powerful and selfless in a manner similar to Jesus*.
4. The truth of the Legend hypothesis would not make the authors literary geniuses.
5. Universal, unconditional, selflessness is not something to be praised, but a character flaw.
*I have an example in mind, but I’m not going to say what it is yet, because (a) I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone, and (b) the story also contains extremely explicit sexual content. It’s gonna be hard to figure out how to discuss it here given your site rules.
(Oh, and by the way, you’re totally wrong about Gandalf’s dependence on hobbits! 😛 )
1. How so?
2. There are four accounts. They were produced interdependently but they all landed in a place of perfect selflessness. That is, there were four opportunities for that perfection to be marred, but that didn’t happen in any of them.
3. You can send me a message via the Contact link above.
4. If the Legend hypothesis is true, and they produced a character whose selflessness exceeds that of all other characters in literature, then how is that not ethical and literary genius?
5. Jesus’ selflessness was joyful and healthy. He wasn’t some clueless doormat. Read the accounts.
Having responded as I have, though, I’d be remiss not to thank you for suggesting those topics for me to cover in my presentation. I should have said that first, and I apologize for getting it out of order.
And as I said, the success of Gandalf’s mission actually did depend on Frodo and Sam. 🙂
The problem with the “Legend” criticism is similar to those who speculate that the NT is a myth or some kind of embellishment. There just isn’t the time/opportunity for that kind of thing to develop. We know that the NT records creedal statements and facts that date withing a few years of Christs death. We know that the NT was written by eyewitnesses themselves and people that had access to eyewitnesses and the events they saw for themselves. And remember, the eyewitnesses that were available to speak to were both both believers and non-believers. Further, from a literary perspective you just can’t know anything about myth/legend literature, read the NT and believe it is that kind of writing. From a modern perspective, the only alternative is that it’s fiction. But fiction wan’t invented for another 1500 years.
But fiction wan’t invented for another 1500 years.
I think he’s referring to this from C.S. Lewis:
(The usual disclaimer applies: read the whole article before you find fault with an excerpt.)
Thanks Tom. Yes, Skep , that’s the thing I think is hard for modern readers to keep a perspective on. You read the NT and think, yeah, this could be made up. It sounds just like all the fiction I read. Full of details that make the story believable. Makes it sound just like the writer was there. However, in the 1st century A.N.E. that form of literature didn’t exist. Mythology, sure. Reportage, yes. Fiction, not for another 1500 years.
CS Lewis himself on the utter uniqueness of the writings. From ‘God in the Dock’.
” 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. Apart from bits of the Platonic dialogues, there is no conversation that I know of in ancient literature like the Fourth Gospel. There is nothing, even in modern literature, until about a hundred years ago when the realistic novel came into existence. In the story of the woman taken in adultery we are told Christ bent down and scribbled in the dust with His finger. Nothing comes of this. No one has ever based any doctrine on it. And the art of inventing little irrelevant details to make an imaginary scene more convincing is a purely modern art. Surely the only explanation of this passage is that the thing really happened? The author put it in simply because he had seen it.”
“The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death; they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the universe. Something new had appeared in the universe: as new as the first coming of organic life. This Man, after death, does not get divided into ‘ghost’ and ‘corpse’. A new mode of being has arisen. That is the story. What are we going to make of it?
The question is, I suppose, whether any hypothesis covers the facts so well as the Christian hypothesis. ”
4. The truth of the Legend hypothesis would not make the authors literary geniuses.
I’ll tackle this one first. In the Touchstone article, Tom writes:
The challenge is not simply to invent a character and impute to him massive power and towering goodness, but to flesh that character out, to make him interesting and compelling—in short, to make him believable.
Shakespeare never created such a character. Homer didn’t either. Dostoevsky never dreamed of such a person. In fact, none of the great poets and writers of any age created a figure who would satisfy question three. I don’t know whether that’s because they were unable to do so, or because they simply chose not to. But it seems safe to say that, if anyone ever did create such a character and make him believable, that author would have to be counted among the greats, if not as the greatest moral and literary genius of all time.
Assuming the gospels are fiction, is Jesus interesting and compelling? Is he believable? Is he a well-written character? I don’t think so. Let’s look at Frodo in Lord of the Rings. I think most people can agree that Frodo is interesting and compelling. But if asked why, people would give answers that look something like this:
– Frodo is interesting because he faces real challenges that he might not overcome.
– Frodo is compelling because the challenges he faces are not just external, but internal.
– Frodo is believable because I’ve faced challenges in my life analogous to the ones he faced.
In other words, Frodo is a good character because Frodo is relatable. Like Frodo, we’ve all had times in our lives when we thought we might not succeed, or times when we doubted ourselves, or times when we actually failed, or times when we were afraid. Jesus, on the other hand, isn’t relatable at all, specifically because he was perfect. When he was being tempted in the desert, there was never a moment where he seriously considered Satan’s offers. He didn’t flee from the Roman guards. He didn’t try to get revenge on Judas for his betrayal. He never exercised poor judgment. He always gets it right, every time. There’s no conflict for him to overcome. His perfection is what makes him an uninteresting character.
If we were to summarize the story of the gospels in the barest possible terms, it would read something like this: “Jesus was born. Then he taught people some things. Then he taught people some more things. Then he healed some people. Then he made the correct decision. Then he did the right thing. Then he did the Big Right Thing with no problem. Then he saved everyone. Then everything turned out ok for Jesus.”
This, to me, doesn’t sound like literary genius at all. It’s like if Frodo carried the ring with a cheerful skip in his step, caught Gandalf before he fell, convinced Boromir not to attempt to steal the ring, dropped the ring into Mt. Doom with a shrug, and then convinced Sam to adopt Gollum. That would be a very uninteresting story.
Whether Jesus is believable is the question in debate. To suggest he is not compelling, however, is to ignore the obvious lesson of billions of people down the centuries. You’re just wrong on that.
You’re equivocating on “good” when you say Frodo is a good character because he’s relatable.
Your summary of the fospels is a grossly inaccurate caricature. Especially the “no problem” part. And your last paragraph reads as if you have never read a word of what you’re talking about. It’s at least that ignorant of the actual content there. Have you read the gospels? I had thought up you had. But now I have to conclude that you haven’t read them, or you don’t care what they say. It’s that far from reality.
Hi, SteveK. Nice to hear from you!
Skep, I know it’s possible you yourself don’t find Jesus a compelling character. If he was the way you’ve described him to be, I can’t imagine anyone would. Yet billions have.
That in itself should tell you that your description can’t be accurate.
Tom, I’m skeptical of the claim that billions of people have found Jesus to be a compelling character. Yes, of course billions have found him important, but that’s not the same thing as being compelling. And in fact, even the plot or themes of the gospels being compelling isn’t the same as Jesus himself being a compelling character.
Regarding my summary of the gospels: yes, of course I’ve read them. Multiple times, in fact. And I don’t find my summary inaccurate at all, at least as far as character is concerned. If you disagree with my summary, please point out where Jesus did something that was genuinely difficult for him to do, or where he made a bad decision, or where things didn’t turn out ok for him. After that, explain how that squares with Jesus being omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.
I’m sad to hear your opinion comes after reading.
I need not point out where Jesus did something genuinely difficult to do. You’ve already read it and discounted it.
And you think that he has changed all those billions of lives since then by being merely important, not really compelling.
I can’t imagine you having anything further to contribute to this discussion. I certainly don’t have any interest in continuing in it with you. Too much ignorance, not enough dealing with reality.
It just isn’t compelling.
Tom, I think you’re misunderstanding my point here. It’s certainly true that Jesus did many things that would be difficult if you or I attempted them. But Jesus is supposedly God. And if Jesus is God, then what could possibly be difficult for Jesus? Maybe I am being ignorant, but I genuinely don’t know what you have in mind here.
But oh well, I guess.
Your recent comment on this topic was such a massively inaccurate caricature of Jesus I had no idea what you intended anyone to understand, except maybe that you didn’t know what you were talking about.
If you don’t know what Jesus did that was difficult for him, first bear in mind that he was fully human and fully God. In his human nature he was subject to pain, hunger, thirst, and death. As God and man he was subject to grief and sorrow, love and joy. None of this is difficult to find in the gospels. Go look for it again and you’ll find it. Your picture of everything being easy and boring for him is embarrassingly divorced from the accounts.
So is your supposition that his story isn’t compelling. Only compelling enough to change all global history? Pretty good work for an everyday boring character, I’d say. Unbelievably good work. Emphasis on, how on earth could you believe it?
His story isn’t compelling to you because you’re not reading it for what it is.
Skep @#9: I missed that earlier. Could you give me some guidance on where to begin first and where to find it?
Jataka Tales – http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/jataka.html
Sutta Pitaka – http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sutta.html
Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra – http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/clubs/buddhism/ksitigarbha/content.html
As for where to begin, well…that’s kind of tough. The Buddhist canon is many times larger than the Judeo-Christian canon (it can fill an entire bookshelf!), and it’s all interrelated. So unfortunately I don’t really have advice for you here other than to just start reading. :/
“Jesus wasn’t that good after all, since he didn’t argue for equal rights for minorities, women, and gays, and he didn’t speak out against slavery.”
There’s a third answer: Maybe these just aren’t that important in the big scheme of things.
Lewis criticised “chronological snobbery” which assumes that the new is better than the old. There’s a parallel to this which assumes that our moral concerns are *the* pressing moral issues of the day. Given that one of the core messages of Jesus captured in the gospel accounts and delivered to his listeners is “Your moral priorities are all confused”, it seems naive to assume that the same might not apply to we moderns.
(That said, Scripture addresses all these in one form or another, even if Jesus & the gospel writers do not. That the answers don’t conform to modern prejudices doesn’t imply that Scripture is the confused party.)
I think that the “liar” part of the dichotomy is further discredited simply on the basis that no sane Jew of that time period could have consciously thought that claiming to be God would be a good way to do anything but get oneself killed. This is born up by what we know of the Jewish culture and the inherent unlikelihood of Jews to “confuse” a man for God given the nature of their religion. So this in my view puts a heavier weight upon the “Lord” or “Lunatic” part of the trilemma.
You have correctly noted one of the ways in which skeptics try to work their way out, in the “legend” escape, which seeks to question the validity of the source material- but this seems to likewise contradict what we know about the unlikelihood of the Jewish people embracing an idea that their religion seems to be inbuilt against the very notion of…
I didn’t see you note, (nor have I seen anyone else note) yet another escape route, used most often by liberal “civil religion/nominal” Christians, that Jesus is a GURU. That is, the apparently difficult passages about Jesus being God don’t need to be dismissed as inauthentic, but merely read as koans. Jesus “awakens to the little god that is in each of us”.
I think Peter Kreeft (whom I should credit in full) definitively puts that silliness down:
“The second escape is to Orientalize Jesus, to interpret him not as the unique God-man but as one of many mystics or “adepts” who realized his own inner divinity just as a typical Hindu mystic does. This theory takes the teeth out of his claim to divinity, for he only realized that everyone is divine. The problem with that theory is simply that Jesus was not a Hindu but a Jew! When he said “God”, neither he nor his hearers meant Brahman, the impersonal, pantheistic, immanent all; he meant Yahweh, the personal, theistic, transcendent Creator. It is utterly unhistorical to see Jesus as a mystic, a Jewish guru. He taught prayer, not meditation. His God is a person, not a pudding. He said he was God but not that everyone was. He taught sin and forgiveness, as no guru does. He said nothing about the “illusion” of individuality, as the mystics do.”
I think you should be prepared to address that distinctive view in any talk you might give, since it is probably more prevalent than any of the others within some parts of the church (though I’d say if you think Jesus is a human guru and nothing more, you’re standing outside).
I also think I should also mention (in response to one of the first comments) that the first apostles died almost to a man (I believe church tradition says that only John was not martyred). The unique thing about this is that those apostles were in a position to know personally whether or not the thing for which they were dying was actually true. This is what differentiates them from say the 9/11 hijackers who were willing to die, yes, but who were not in a position to personally know whether or not their cause was true.
I have never ever come across any example being shown to me of any person who WILLINGLY died for what they PERSONALLY MUST HAVE KNOWN was a LIE. That’s significant.
In regard to the gentleman’s claim that Jesus had an easy time of it- I would point him to Luke 22:44 which refers to Christ in the garden immediately before the betrayal: “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” Have you ever been in such a state of distress?
That’s all I have for now.
As to Bodhisattvas, I remember from my lay Buddhist years that their help is for the most part spiritual: teaching and demonstrating the Buddha’s compassion. But where was the caring for the poor or sick or their healing? You can see in the early Church and later how important it was to lay one’s life down to alleviate real physical suffering. And most importantly, remember that the Bodhisattva’s saving focus was on liberating all sentient beings from the physical world, on bringing them Enlightenment. Jesus genuinely loved people. This is so much more important than having lotus blossoms raining down on the Tibetan countryside. Jesus promised the repairing of our material world and our lives. I found Jesus to be so much superior in character and action compared to the Buddha or to any legendary Bodhisattva – or God for that matter. And he existed in verifiable history, not in imaginary sutra teachings or legends. I became a Christian because of Jesus’ character as recorded by eyewitness testimony.
The Non-Theist who seeks to affirm “Legend” as a valid claim often presents his complaint of “The Main Character Is Not Compelling Enough!!” which itself often comes riding in atop the complaint of “The Main Character Didn’t Address Women!!”
There is this: Shah, Timothy Samuel, and Hertzke, Allen D., “Christianity and Freedom: Volume 1, Historical Perspectives (Law and Christianity).” Cambridge University Press.
Legend, Compelling, and Moral Metrics:
The title of that book by Shah etc. and many others like it comment on the obvious. The modern who opines about Christ, the Gospels, and moral equality fails to account for his own metric, not in the esoteric, but in the hard pains of historical reality. Which metric is it by which the modern attempts his theft of the esoteric in a move to claim it as his own while simultaneously expunging those hard pains of historical reality?
 The metrics where kids are dumped in garbage heaps outside of Rome which was overcome by Christ’s metrics?
 Those of 1st century Peter’s racism in the book of Acts which was overcome in him by his interface with the metrics of Christ? (…see Andy Stanley at Northpoint Ministries and his discussion on the topic of racism called Skin In The Game. The video is at http://northpointministries.org/messages/071016-message and one slice of that discussion is Peter’s struggle with other races as *unclean*….).
 Those of the 19th century Christian’s racism (a minority of Christians of course) which was overcome by the metrics of Christ?
 Christ’s metrics which confronts all of it?
The “Main Character” in question:
The duo of the critic who attempts to support “Legend” in or with or atop the “metrics” of “The Main Character Is Not compelling!!” and/or “What About Women? The Main Character Did Not Mention Them!!” reveals that the content of that argument has no realistic understanding of where Man has actually *been* nor of where modernity *is* nor of how it arrived *there*. Nor of historical trajectories.
And yet they go on about moral metrics.
John Newton *is* on par with modernity’s Christian who *is* on par with what Scripture describes in all of its glorious redemptions and in all of its glorious failures within Man/Mankind. The compelling forces at work there cannot be divorced from the Main Character by which their sight is driven and therefore the legend-route that comes through the moral-equality route obviously isn’t informed by the Gospels.
Observation: given the fact that such critics are demonstrably unaware of historical trajectories and the conceptual mindsets in play atop the world stage closer to our own slice of history, it’s not to be expected that they have all the relevant metrics from the first century in hand.
The Gospels as legend:
“Another point is that on that view you would have to regard the accounts of the Man as being legends. Now, 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. Apart from bits of the Platonic dialogues, there are no conversations that I know of in ancient literature like the Fourth Gospel. There is nothing, even in modern literature, until about a hundred years ago when the realistic novel came into existence. In the story of the woman taken in adultery we are told Christ bent down and scribbled in the dust with His finger. Nothing comes of this. No one has ever based any doctrine on it. And the art of inventing little irrelevant details to make an imaginary scene more convincing is a purely modern art. Surely the only explanation of this passage is that the thing really happened? The author put it in simply because he had seen it.”
End quote. (….by C. S. Lewis, Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University….)
Gospel as Legend?
The failure (…well, another one etc….) of the folks attempting to claim legend is this:
Their theft of the esoteric (….moral metrics… etc…. historical trajectories… ) in a move to claim it as their own *while* simultaneously expunging the hard pains of historical reality. Doctrines are not the language of the Main Character. What is? Nothing less than those hard pains of historical reality.
The Main Character under review is in fact not only Ideal, or not only Historical, but is both Ideal and Historical. No other Main Character we have ever seen confronts reason (….in her proper role as truth-finder…) across the entire spectrum there described.
Tom: I responded fairly thoroughly to your post a few days ago but don’t see it here. Are there rules for getting a comments published that I’m unaware of?
No, nothing secret.
But you might want to review:
You’ve tried to post several times since then, and a lot of it has been equally snarky. I’m not reversing the ban just because of one good one.
One of the metrics which the proponents of Legend have not *themselves* overcome is their own lack of an even-handed and scholarly criticism.
A brief excerpt:
“If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavor……
…….I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends, and myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know none of them are like this………. Then turn to John. Read the dialogues: that with the Samaritan woman at the well, or that which follows the healing of the man born blind. Look at its pictures: Jesus (if I may use the word) doodling with his finger in the dust; the unforgettable en de nux (xiii, 30) . I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage — though it may no doubt contain errors — pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read.”
That is from C.S. Lewis and a 3300 word excerpt from his “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”, at http://lewisonbiblicalcriticism.blogspot.com/
The somewhat longer / original essay is in PDF form at http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1324&context=byusq