Jesus Is Too Good To Be False

Jesus Is Too Good To Be False

Groundbreaking “Lewis-esque” article now available again!

Five years ago I published an article at Touchstone magazine that I titled “Too Good to be False,” and which they titled, “The Gospel Truth of Jesus.” Leading New Testament documents scholar Daniel Wallace paid me the compliment of calling it “Lewis-esque.”

For quite a long time Touchstone displayed it for free on their website, but now it’s behind a subscriber paywall. The copyright is mine, so today I’m republishing it here.

Being five years old, obviously this argument has been discussed before.

A Story of Unmatched Ethical Perfection

This article runs long for a web page, so here’s a shorter form, reprinted from an earlier blog post:

It begins with Jesus’ ethical perfection in the Gospel accounts, unmatched in all of Western literature, and I believe also in all world literature besides. He is the one character portrayed as possessing perfect power while being perfectly other-oriented, without flaw or exception.

This combination is rare beyond rare. The degree to which he displays this dual perfection seriously stretches the meaning of “unique.” Lord Acton said it well: “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely;” but according to the accounts we have, Jesus had absolute power, yet he was absolutely uncorrupted. (To understand that rightly with respect to Jesus, you must take “absolute” in its most absolute possible sense.)

That means that if his story as portrayed in the Gospels really were invented, then those who thought him up concocted a character far greater than any other in all the history of human imagination. No one else has demonstrated the ability to compose a character anything like that. Maybe someone could have, but the fact is, no one has. That’s a hint—not proof, but a pretty good hint—that his greatness surpasses the reach of human imagination: that he is unimaginably great, in the most literal sense of the word.

Where Did Such a Character Come From?

Still we have his story. The skeptics suppose that it really was the product of human imagination. I can’t tell you that’s impossible, since we have only a strong hint that it might be; but I think I can safely say it’s exceedingly unlikely to have happened the way they say it did.

For what they tell us is that Jesus’ character was concocted through a disjointed, error-riddled process of corporate cognitive dissonance reduction. It originated in a culture where even a hint of human deification would get a person stoned to death. That’s where they think this character’s unmatched, divine ethical perfection came from.

And it happened not just once but four times. The number of Gospel accounts we have in the Bible is significant here, not because of how they might or might not confirm one another, but because the authors had four distinct opportunities to get it wrong—to introduce some flaw into Christ’s self-sacrificial, other-centered character—but none of them did. Therefore skeptics must suppose that this decidedly imperfect community not only introduced his ethical perfection but maintained it perfectly over multiple tellings of the story.

The Evidence is Against His Being Merely Imagined

I think what they’re imagining could best be described as a miracle of a different sort.

You can choose which explanation to believe. Take Jesus’ life as true, and you’ll find it fits into a long history, a back-story, as it were. More than that, it’s the central piece in a coherent world picture.

Meanwhile there’s no reason to think that the skeptics’ proposed “community of faith”—actually, non-community of cognitive dysfunction, as I explain in the article—could or would have concocted a character of Jesus’ overwhelming ethical magnificence.

The skeptical version has no coherent back-story. It fits nowhere in what we know of human nature, of literature, or the context of the times. That is, it fits nowhere except by power of shoehorn and sledge hammer (and never mind the bits and pieces flying everywhere!) wielded for the purpose of keeping God out of the story.

If the story of Jesus is unimaginably great, but the story exists anyway, then it’s unlikely it came about by means of the imagination. It’s far more likely that it’s true.

Image Credit(s): Myriams-Fotos/Pixabay.

29 thoughts on “Jesus Is Too Good To Be False

  1. let me make a second apology regarding the word ”peruse”.
    That was a dreadful word choice, and I confess, I don’t know what I was thinking. I certainly did not read 65 articles. I scanned the titles read a few lines from a couple and decided this was not evidence – based on many previous encounters with Christians.
    Sorry for any confusion. My fault entirely.

    So, to this article.

    Let’s start with this:

    It begins with Jesus’ ethical perfection,

    Are we talking about the claimed divine character ( as featured in the gospel story or the character referred to by someone such as Tacitus?)

    Best we clear this point up before anything else, I reckon, don’t you?
    While you are replying I shall re-read the article.
    Thanks.

  2. Re-read? No, actually, you might as well read the article at least once before you ask a question that’s so clearly answered within it. Even this post alone would have answered that for you, had you read the full context. Meanwhile I’ll edit the post to clarify at the precise point you have brought up.

  3. I scanned the titles read a few lines from a couple and decided this was not evidence – based on many previous encounters with Christians.

    That was your evidence that this wasn’t evidence??????

    Goodness, gracious, you have a low threshold for what counts as evidence. But an inconsistent one at best.

  4. I scanned the titles etc ….

    Yes, that is correct. I also asked that you direct me to any specific post you thought carried the post weight for your case.
    You didn’t deign to suggest any post.

    Has this latest comment any relevance to this post – the one you claimed had something I would not have heard before?

  5. Excellently done, Tom. I have never heard an argument like this one before, even after earning a Master’s degree in Apologetics. I love it! I shared it with my Twitter & Facebook followers. Well done!

  6. Okay I see where the confusion is. My bad . You referred me to THIS post.
    Right!
    Let me bang my head on the desk a couple of times.

    So, we have been through the mill re: evidence on the other post – and it is STILL going on.
    Phew!
    So now we are here.
    Do I take it you believe this is the post that demonstrates the veracity of your claims?
    If so, then my opening comment is even more pertinent.

    So, for argument’s sake, I will take it you think this post IS that evidence.
    If this is the case then I flat out disagree as we are talking about the miracle working character, Jesus of Nazareth for whom there is no evidence.
    All there is are biblical claims.
    If I am off the mark , and your intent with this post was otherwise, then I apologise.

  7. This post and the attached article are about the story of Jesus. There is evidence, isn’t there, that there exists a story of Jesus? Are we at least clear on that?

    This is also about two versions of the backstory behind the story of Jesus. There are two backstories, generally speaking, as I noted above. In this post and article I examine the plausibility of the typical skeptical backstory, and I find it severely lacking.

    So given the story, which everyone agrees exists, and the skeptical backstory, which I argue is implausible, we are left with three options:

    1. My argument against the skeptical backstory fails; it’s not implausible after all.
    2. My argument is credible, but the Christian backstory is too unbelievable to be true, so there must be some other explanatory backstory no one has come up with so far.
      Or.
    3. My argument is credible, the usual skeptical backstory fails, there is no other credible skeptical backstory on offer, so therefore the Christian alternative increases in likelihood.

    Now, which of those do you choose? Note that you cannot deflect as you’ve just tried to do, by saying it involves a character “for whom there is no evidence.” It’s about a story for which there is abundant evidence.

    And your “no evidence” claim just takes us back here, anyway. It’s your opinion that there is no evidence for Jesus. We know that it’s your opinion. We’ve even stipulated it. What next? Must we stipulate that we’ve stipulated it?

    Do you not realize that repeated bare assertions do not count as arguments? Why do you bother? Don’t you get bored repeating yourself? I get bored with you doing it. Would you kindly recognize that we’ve already noted that this is your opinion, and you don’t have to give it to us again?

  8. Thank you, Lisa. I’ve searched for other statements of an argument like this, and the most recent ones I’ve found were by Phillip Schaff and Horace Bushnell in the 19th century. Kind of astonishing, if you ask me. I’d love to be proven wrong on that, by the way.

  9. Yes, and story is the right word.

    Now, which of those do you choose? Note that you cannot deflect as you’ve just tried to do, by saying it involves a character “for whom there is no evidence.” It’s about a story for which there is abundant evidence.

    Nope, sorry, you don’t get to twist words to bolster your faith.
    There is a claim and there is an argument for that claim.
    However, there is no supporting evidence for the biblical character, the miracle working divinely attribute Jesus of Nazareth.
    None.
    You simply have to accept this fact and stop trying to fool yourself to believe otherwise.

  10. Enough. You are repeating yourself, repeatedly. You are either incapable of catching the point of what I write, or you are unwilling. You accuse me of twisting words, which I am not doing; and in fact that accusation comes without any supporting evidence of its own.

    This — especially your repetitiveness — is the very definition of an unproductive, time- and space-wasting non-conversation.

    The only thing you say here about the current blog post is that there’s no evidence for Jesus; but your opinion on that isn’t particularly relevant information, even though you love to repeat it (here and on another thread). Your one opinion of the argument I’ve made here turns out not to be about the argument I’ve made here.

    And then you have the gall to demand I accept your “fact” as if you’d provided reasons for it.

    See items 3, 4, and 8 here. I’m going to enforce that now on this thread, and delete any comment you post here that violates those standards as you have been doing. Be advised that I may do the same on the other active thread as well.

    I do not host this blog so that anyone — myself included — can just spout opinions without providing reasons to back them up. I do not host it for comments to get clogged with repeated, unsupported personal opinions. Your opportunity to do that is ending.

  11. Ha! Oh the sweet irony. I have just read Liza’s comment.

    Excellently done, Tom. I have never heard an argument like this one before,

    See? Argument.
    No mention of evidence.
    Argument.

    Well done Liza!
    At last! Point made.
    I think I shall rest my case now.

  12. Please do rest your case. Thank you!

    Those who know the meanings and the relations between argument and evidence will draw different conclusions than you’ve drawn. But let them. It’s over. You’ve tried your very best, and since it seems actually to be your very best, and we can’t expect any better, it would be best if you would quit trying.

  13. Tom, this “Arkenaten”, as she/he calls her/himself, is a rather uneducated, ignorant atheist blogger. Here is his site:-

    (https://attaleuntold.wordpress.com/author/ekhatoh/)

    I mean, I’ve seen some willfully ignorant skeptics in my time, but she/he is right down there with the worst!

    Like, how any reasonably literate, or perhaps it’s not even unfair to say fully sane, person could suggest that there’s no evidence for the historical Jesus when there’s no reputable historian who agrees with that view, is surely evidence enough that this person is not making use of sound reasoning.

  14. Do you suppose there’s a reason for the second t in “attaleuntold”?

    At any rate, what I see here is sad. I had to stop it because of how it was clogging the thread with nothing productive. I do not mean to say Arkenaten isn’t worth conversing with; she/he is a human being with all the worth any of us has. But the conversation was the only point of our connection, and the conversation wasn’t doing anything worthwhile.

  15. I wasn’t aware that the comments on that previous article had gone so crazy, as the comments on the Facebook page were taking all of my attention, & they were just as crazy & irrational. Seriously, I don’t know how you kept up with both of them!

  16. I have referred to your original article over the years to friends: that the person of Jesus was highly unlikely to be a legend made up over time due to the multi-great qualities he exhibited. I think it is a keen insight.

  17. <

    blockquote> But the conversation was the only point of our connection, and the conversation wasn’t doing anything worthwhile</, blockquote>
    I am glad you at least consider I am worth conversing with.
    It is unfortunate that your view of these matters is somewhat narrow and appears to be solely in line with an evangelical direction, rather than a strictly historical view.

    The reality is that, you apply terms and conditions to your belief in the veracity of the divine/ miraculous character in the bible, terms and conditions you would not (likely) grant to claims in any other religion’s Holy Text.

    Historians do not work this way, and it is no great secret that much leeway (from an evidential perspective) is granted by many of those who regard such texts with reverence.

    Apologist, Mike Licona recognised this and acknowledged it.
    This is why it is grossly misleading when an apologist such as Gary Habermas claims to be in possession of ‘facts’ regarding his empty tomb discourse.
    He isn’t in possession of any such thing.
    That is the fact of the matter.

    No one (that I am aware of) on this thread is denying there was likely a figure behind the biblical character, and this is the consensus of Historians.

    The extra ‘T’ was initially a typo which I have never bothered to correct.

    I am male.

    If you were to reconsider your banning and were prepared to engage without being so narrowly focused on this issue maybe further dialogue would be more productive?
    To this end I was advised to use the term Empirical Evidence. Would you be satisfied with this?

    Regards
    Ark.

  18. Arkenaten,

    Licona and Habermas are friends of mine. They would both object to the way you’ve characterized this discourse. You’ve distorted it without realizing it, unless in fact you do realize it; either way you’ve got a problem that’s proven itself resistant to reasoned explanation. I don’t mean you’re resistant to persuasion; that’s normal in these discussions, and I’m fine with disagreement. I mean you don’t even get it when we try to explain normal English vocabulary. That becomes a thread-clogging waste of time.

    So I don’t care if you add “empirical” to evidence. It still wouldn’t show any evidence that you understand the term “evidence;” which is the problem that stalled all our discourse up to the end. And why you think there’s any material difference between “evidence” and an evidence-based argument (as Lisa, not Liza, rightly recognized it to be) is beyond me. The whole thing has also been beyond all my attempts to repair.

    The ban resumes immediately. Don’t expect further exceptions. This is it.

  19. Are you saying that there can be no dispute regarding your assertions over the claims of veracity of the resurrection of the biblical character Jesus of Nazareth, o any other foundational tenets of the Christian faith?

  20. Heavens, no. This blog has produced hundreds of thousands of words of dispute in its comments, if not millions, with dozens of atheists and skeptics of all stripes. There can be no dispute with you, for reasons already stated: It’s just not productive. Goodbye.

  21. Has anyone ever missed the point as badly as Arkenaten has? I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising. Most atheists are on autopilot. Once they have dismissed Jesus’ miracles as crude fantasy, they think their job is done. They don’t stop to ask what kind of people the writers of crude fantasy are. Are such writers also capable of portraying humility and altruism at the most sublime level?

    It is surely significant that Arkenaten couldn’t even understand the question, much less attempt to answer it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: