Yes, this is a “2-word-titled post.”  Sometimes with names we do that…


A famous argument for Jesus being God

is the Trilemma*:


According to the Gospel accounts

Jesus must be


(1)  a liar…or

(2)  a lunatic…or

(3)  the Lord himself


But just a “great teacher“?  NO, that’s impossible…


For C. S. Lewis’s statement of this, go through the DOOR for more.




In case you’re unfamiliar with the “Gospels,” or the first 4 books of the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus made these claims about himself:

• He had authority to forgive sins (believing he was God, and the one actually offended); and

• He had always existed; and

• He intended to eventually come back and judge the world. **

(Examples of what Jesus said to support these appear throughout the Gospels.)

Here then are Lewis’s exact words taken from his Mere Christianity ***:

“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 patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

A powerful statement!

But as generally assumed (not that this changes our thinking here), this idea did not originate with Lewis (1898 – 1963). It was articulated, in a perhaps more primitive form years earlier by R. A. Torrey (1856-1928)****. Lewis had a heritage to build upon. About half a century earlier in one of Torrey’s revival addresses on a worldwide tour (including England), he proclaimed the following:

“There is no question that Jesus Christ claimed to be divine; no competent student will deny that He claimed to be divine. Well, then, He was one of three things; he was either divine as He claimed to be, or else He was the most audacious impostor the world has ever seen, or else He was the most helpless lunatic the world has ever seen. He must have been one of these three.” *****

Wikipedia has also added the observation (that I’ve observed but not checked further) that Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, SJ – both professors of philosophy at Boston College - have expanded the argument into a tetralemma (“Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Legend“) — or a pentalemma, accommodating the option that Jesus was a guru, who believed himself to be God in the sense that everything is divine. ******

But for those who consider the Bible records reliable, Lewis’s trilemma remains a strong argument for the deity of Jesus. Lewis, though, while expounding his Christian convictions on the BBC during WWII, was, it seems, standing on the shoulders of several who came before him, most notably the turn-of-the-century (2 centuries ago) Yale-educated R. A. Torrey, who is buried on a mountaintop at the Montrose Bible Conference 5 miles from where I’m writing these words.


* Don’t try to look up “trilemma.” As far as I can tell the word is a neologism, or a newly coined word, created by Lewis himself. It’s meaning: “a special kind of dilemma where a logical choice involves choosing, or being forced to choose, between 3 options. (A “dilemma,” usually involves 2 choices though it can–correctly–refer to more than 2 choices.)

** For these 3 claims see:  Jn. 9:30, “I [Jesus] and the Father [that is, God the Father] are one.” In many places Jesus, or “God the Son,” has declared that he was “with” his Father before creation and will be with him forever after. Mt. 25: 34 & 41 [Jesus is speaking]. “Then [in the end times] the King [Jesus referring to himself] will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you…. Then he [the King] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 

*** C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Macmillan, 1943, 1952) pp. 55-56 (that’s from our paperback, but realize there have been many reprintings of this volume).  Lewis, as we’ve mentioned in an earlier post, is considered by many to be the most important apologist for Christianity in the 20th century. A professor in medieval classics at both Oxford and Cambridge, he first won wide recognition during WWII with his weekly very popular BBC radio broadcasts on the value of Christianity that continued for several years. He’s also recognized for other works including his popular Narnia books for children.

**** R. A. Torrey, a student at Yale and Yale Seminary, was a prominent scholar and evangelist in the early 1900s. A friend of the evangelist D. L. Moody, he was selected by Moody to head the Chicago school later called Moody Bible Institute, and later to found the school that became BIOLA University on the west coast. Familiar with the turmoil in churches after publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, Torrey became of of the 3 editors of The Fundamentals which clarified Christian reaction to much new thinking at the time. Incidentally, Torrey and many other “Fundamentalists,” though not Darwinists, strongly accepted old-earth creationism (the belief that the universe was “millions” of years old, and that was years before the popular developing of The Big Bang).

***** Taken from R. A. Torrey, Revival Addresses and quoted in footnote No. 25 in “Darwinism, Fundamentalism, and R. A. Torrey,” Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith (Vol. 62, No. 1, March 2010).

****** According to R. A. Torrey from Wikipedia.