Could Jesus Have Been Mistaken?

Last week, I shared C.S. Lewis’s famous “liar, lunatic, or Lord” quote.  As long as Jesus claimed to be God, these are the only options we have about His identity.  I went on to show that, using the best scientific criteria for determining what’s historical, modern scripture scholarship is unearthing more and more evidence from the Gospels that clearly shows Jesus thought of Himself this way.  According to Lewis, this leads to the inescapable conclusion that Jesus can be none other than the Lord of All—He was too good to be a liar and too wise to be a lunatic. 

But, as I often wondered when I first heard this quote, what if Jesus was just sincerely mistaken?  What if, being of sound mind and character, truly good and wise, Jesus was just flat wrong?  Perhaps He simply misinterpreted the Scriptures, misread the times, misunderstood His experiences.  He might have genuinely thought He was God’s Son specially anointed to usher in the Kingdom of God, but made an honest miscalculation, as even good and wise people are known to do.

Ultimately, the only adequate and definitive proof that Jesus is who He claimed to be is the Resurrection.  Without dying and then rising from the grave, on its own Lewis’s clever argument—or anything else for that matter—can’t establish that He is divine. 

But consider for a moment the following remarkable facts:

Jesus wasn’t just wise.  His wisdom was sublime.  As psychiatrist James T. Fisher puts it: “If you were to take the sum total of all the authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental [health and] hygiene—if you were to combine them and refine them and cleave out the excess verbiage—if you were to…have these unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount.” (as quoted by John Powell, Fully Human, Fully Alive, Allen, TX: Argus Communications, 1976, p.169)

While often radical and thus seeming to be “out of this world” (love your enemies, for example), Jesus’ teaching towers over all other ways to human wholeness and well-being.    

And Jesus wasn’t just good.  His goodness was exceptional.  Paul writes his second letter to the Corinthians roughly twenty-five years after Jesus’ death when some of those who knew Jesus, both friend and foe, would still be alive.  In Chapter 5, verse 21, Paul says that Jesus “did not know sin”—in other words, that Jesus NEVER sinned.  This is astounding!  If Jesus hadn’t lived such an extraordinary life; if Jesus hadn’t impressed his contemporaries, friend and foe alike, as someone who was so perfectly loving that He couldn’t be accused of sin; if there was the slightest hint that Jesus sinned even once, Paul never could have gotten away with saying this.

While we can’t know for sure Jesus didn’t sin (in private, or in His thoughts, for example), Jesus must have lived such a uniquely good and perfect public life that no one, including His enemies, could accuse Him of sin—a humanly impossible feat.  (The only “sin” His enemies ever really accused Him of is blasphemy, which isn’t a sin if He actually is God; even when they level accusations against Him, like healing on the Sabbath or driving out demons by the power of Beelzubul, they acknowledge that what He is DOING is unequivocally GOOD.)

This all leads to a brilliant observation by Timothy Keller.  On the one hand, Jesus is one of a very select few people who founded a major religion or set the course of human thought and history through their philosophy.  On the other hand, like a number of people through the ages who have made similar pretentions, some of whom where charlatans, others of whom were megalomaniacs, Jesus claimed to be divine.  However, Jesus is the only person in this second group who is also part of the first. 

The first group has impacted millions because people found their teaching and character to be so extraordinary.  But none of them—Buddha, Muhammad, Socrates, and so on—ever claimed to be divine and would adamantly deny they were.  The second group did make these claims but could never get significant numbers to follow them. 

And here’s the point.  It’s virtually impossible to teach and live in such an extraordinary way that enormous numbers of people would be compelled to conclude you’re not merely human.  Jesus is the only person in history who ever claimed to be divine and got millions to believe it because His wisdom and character were so “out of this world” exceptional.  (Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, New York, NY: Viking, 2016, p.237)

Yes, it takes the Resurrection to definitively conclude Jesus is divine.  But—among other things—Jesus’ sublime wisdom and exceptionally unique character strongly suggest that He was no mere mortal.

Do you think Jesus’ wisdom and character are exceptional enough to be divine?  Go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and let me know what you think.  I’d love to hear from you!  Also, please “Like” our Facebook page, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and keep telling your friends about us!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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