Jesus: Liar, Lunatic or Lord?

by Josh D. McDowell and Sean McDowell, excerpt of More Than a Carpenter.

Many people want to regard Jesus not as God but as a good, moral man or as an exceptionally wise prophet who spoke many profound truths. Scholars often pass off that conclusion as the only acceptable one that people can reach by the intellectual process. Many people simply nod their heads in agreement and never trouble themselves to see the fallacy of such reasoning. Jesus claimed to be God, and to him it was of fundamental importance that men and women believed him to be who he was. Either we believe him, or we don’t. He didn’t leave us any wiggle room for in-between, watered-down alternatives. One who claimed what Jesus claimed about himself couldn’t be a good moral man or a prophet. That option isn’t open to us, and Jesus never intended it to be. Jesus claimed to be God. His claim must be either true or false, and everyone should give it the same kind of consideration he expected of his disciples when he put the question to them: “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15). There are several alternatives.

Was Jesus a Liar?

To conclude that Jesus was a deliberate liar doesn’t coincide with what we know either of him or of the results of his life and teachings. Wherever Jesus has been proclaimed, we see lives change for the good, nations change for the better, thieves become honest, alcoholics become sober, hateful individuals become channels of love, unjust persons embrace justice. Historian Philip Schaff says: “A character so original, so complete, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and set so high above all human greatness, can be neither a fraud nor a fiction. The poet, as has been well said, would in this case be greater than the hero. It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus.” Elsewhere Schaff gives convincing argument against Christ’s being a liar: “How in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an imposter—that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man—have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could he have conceived and carried out a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed his own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of his people and age?” If Jesus wanted to get people to follow him and believe in him as God, why did he go to the Jewish nation? Why go as a common carpenter in an undistinguished village in a country so small in size and population? Why go to a country that so thoroughly adhered to the concept of one God? Why didn’t he go to Egypt, or even to Greece, where they already believed in various gods and various manifestations of them? Someone who lived as Jesus lived, taught as Jesus taught, and died as Jesus died could not have been a liar.

Was Jesus a Lunatic?

Today we would treat someone who believes himself to be God the same way we would treated someone who believes he is Napoleon. We would see him as deluded and self-deceived. We would lock him up so he wouldn’t hurt himself or anyone else. Yet in Jesus we don’t observe the abnormalities and imbalance that go along with such derangement. If he was insane, his poise and composure was nothing short of amazing. In light of other things we know about Jesus, it’s hard to imagine that he was mentally disturbed. Here is a man who spoke some of the most profound words ever recorded. His instructions have liberated many people in mental bondage. Psychologist Gary R. Collins explains that Jesus “was loving but didn’t let his compassion immobilize him; he didn’t have a bloated ego, even though he was often surrounded by adoring crowds; he maintained balance despite an often demanding lifestyle; he always knew what he was doing and where he was going; he cared deeply about people, including women and children, who weren’t seen as important back then; he was able to accept people while not merely winking at their sin; he responded to individuals based on where they were at and what they uniquely needed. All in all, I just don’t see signs that Jesus was suffering from any known mental illness. . . . He was much healthier than anyone else I know—including me!” Philip Schaff reasons: “Is such an intellect—clear as the sky, bracing as the mountain air, sharp and penetrating as a sword, thoroughly healthy and vigorous, always ready and always self-possessed—liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning his own character and mission? Preposterous imagination!”

Was Jesus Lord?

I cannot personally conclude that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic. The only other alternative is that he was—and is—the Christ, the Son of God, as he claimed. But in spite of the logic and evidence, many people cannot seem to bring themselves to this conclusion. When I share with most Jewish people the claims Jesus made about himself and then put to them the options: Was he contained in the trilemma (liar, lunatic, or Lord)? When I ask if they believe Jesus was a liar, they give me a sharp “No!” Then I ask, “Do you believe he was a lunatic?” Their reply is, “Of course not.” Do you believe he is God?” Before I can get a word in edgewise, I hear a resounding “Absolutely not!” Yet one has no more choices. The issue with these three alternatives is not which is possible, for obviously all three are possible. Rather, the question is, “Which is most probable?” You cannot put him on the shelf merely as a great moral teacher. That is not a valid option. He is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord and God. You must make a choice. Your decision about Jesus must be more than an idle intellectual exercise. As the apostle John wrote, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and”—more important—“that by believing in him you will have life” (John 20:31). The evidence is clearly in favor of Jesus as Lord.

More Than a Carpenter by Josh D. McDowell and Sean McDowell

The inspirational classic, More than a Carpenter, is now updated for a new generation of seekers with a fresh look, revised material, and a new chapter that addresses questions commonly raised today. Former skeptic Josh McDowell is now joined by his son Sean as they examine the evidence about Jesus. Is he really the Lord he claimed to be? How can we know for sure? More than a Carpenter offers arguments for faith from a skeptic turned believer. Since its original publication in 1977, this modern classic has sold over 15 million copies, been translated into dozens of languages, and introduced countless people to the real Jesus. Now with new content that addresses questions raised by today’s popular atheist writers. Audio edition read by Sean McDowell.


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