A long while ago I participated in a email debate with an extremely hostile atheist. In the course of our discussion he mentioned an argument for the divinity of Jesus that I was not defending. But since he brought it up I decided to make some comments on the arguments validity which he quickly dismissed. The following is a slightly amended version of that portion of the debate.
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The trilema you referred to goes like this;
1) Either Jesus was a liar, a lunatic or is Lord.
2) He was not a Liar
3) He was not a Lunatic
4) He is Lord
In defence of 1) I think it is intuitively obvious. These options seem to exhaust the possible alternatives as we have already discounted the possibility of Legend, though we can discuss that further if you wish.
In defence of 2) there are five points I’d like to make;
2i) Most recognise that Jesus taught the highest standards of morality ever taught, and great moral teachers would not teach lies such as he was God.
2ii) Jesus had a positive impact on mankind like no other man. A positive impact does not come from teachings based on lies.
2iii) Jesus’ love an compassion for his fellow man does not fit the profile of a selfish liar.
2iv) His resurrection was genuine.
2v) Deceitful men do not die for what they know to be false. He was arrested for his claims all he needed to do was to say he was not God. Instead he was silent before his accusers and surrendered himself to the most brutal form of torture devised – crucifixion.
In defence of 3) there are seven points I’d like to make;
3i) Jesus was the greatest teacher that ever lived and insane people make lousy teachers.
3ii) His miraculous life proves he was not a lunatic (even the Jewish Talmud refers to Jesus as a sorcerer so even between 70 and 200 AD the Jews still could not deny there was a supernatural element to his life.)
3iii) Lunatic’s disciples eventually come to their senses, and Jesus’ disciples were at least willing to go die for their beliefs.
3iv) A lunatics moral example does not endure many generations.
3v) Lunatic’s lives do not inspire movements that change the world.
3vi) Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
3vii) Christ’s life and work were prophesied centuries beforehand. Over 300 prophesies were fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. For now I’ll just include three;
Dan 9:24-17 – That the Messiah would come before the destruction of the Temple – that happened in 70 AD.
Isa 53:3 – That the Messiah would be rejected by the Jews
Isa 65:1-2 – That the Messiah would be accepted by a wide gentile following
So I think the argument is better than your short refutation has made it out to be. Premise 2 and 3 are implausible which makes the conclusion of 4 – that Jesus is divine – the only option available to someone who will honestly evaluate the evidence available.