Apologetics ~ Part 2 ~ The Trilemma ~ Jesus was Either a Lunatic, a Liar, or Lord

Part 1 of this series (Apologetics ~ Part 1 ~ External Proofs Regarding Christ’s Existence & Resurrection), dealt with External acknowledgments concerning the existence of Jesus Christ in the form of reference to historians and notable individuals who presented Christ as a historical figure.  Next we dealt with an external proof regarding the resurrection, that of the disciples willingness to die rather than recant concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When considering the claims of Jesus Christ, there are only three considerations that are plausible, if not possible.  In philosophy this is referred to as a “Trilemma,” either Christ was a lunatic, a liar, or who He said He was; the Lord.  It is these 3 considerations that we will examine in part 2 of this series.

The Trilemma of Jesus Christ (#1) is a philosophic question used by apologist in presenting the deity of Jesus Christ.  A Trilemma is a situation presented in which three options are mandated with only one possible answer due to the logic of the presentation, normally speaking all three answers are equally unpleasant.  The argument goes something like this:

If Jesus repeatedly and clearly defined Himself (I have capitalized pronouns concerning Christ, because I have already asked these questions and come to the conclusion that He is divine, the Son of God) as divine, the Divine Son of God.

We are left with only three choices concerning the personage of Jesus Christ due to these claims.

Either He truly believed Himself to be divine, though He was human, which meant He was self-deceived in a manner which would commonly referred to as mentally disturbed, hence a lunatic. Or, knowing that He was merely mortal, He was a liar, and due to the severity of the lie, wherein people gave up everything for Him, this was an evil man, or else He was correct in what He stated and was truly divine.

There are only three possible conclusions when the presentation is laid out thoroughly, wherein the establishment that Christ was a historical figure that did exist, His actions are referred to both in the Bible and secular sources, including statements wherein He claims divinity.  Once this groundwork is laid out, there is only three conclusions concerning his true identity.

This argument, based upon logic is powerful when used with individuals who deny the Divinity of Jesus Christ, yet assert that He was a good and wise teacher.

The point being is that either He was who He says He was, the Divine Son of God, or He was evil; convincing people to give up their possessions, their freedom, and follow Him in His deception: believing that they were eternally secure, potentially missing out on worshiping the true deity rather than the false one that they were following.  Indicating that beyond the loss of temporal possessions, individuals potentially lost their souls and damnation by following a faults profit.

This would define Christ as not only a liar, and deceiver, but a wicked, wicked evil man.

Therefore, as a Christian would debate a unbeliever who would attempt to cushion their position by stating that Christ was a wise and good man, they would be forced into rejecting Him as evil – at his worst, a lunatic at his least – or who He says He was; the divine son of God.

And with this last consideration their only two choices, to surrender one’s life to the Lordship and salvation of Jesus Christ, or to openly and admittedly reject salvation.

This is the intellectual conundrum that this argument lays out.

The first step in addressing this issue is the historical argument concerning the existence of the person of Jesus Christ and at the time and place which the Bible declares.  This is the main basis for defeating the argument, the presentation that Jesus was simply a legend and never existed.

The second basis for defeating the argument is an attack upon the character of Jesus, supporting the idea that He was an evil instigator of a rebellion against the Romans, and knowingly manipulated situations and events to make Himself appear to fulfill the prophecies of the Messiah in order to gain credibility in establishing is rebellion.

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked his disciples, saying, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?”

They said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”  (Matthew 16:13-17 KJV)

This is the question that every man must deal with in his life?

Who was Jesus.  the Philosophic 3 point presentation forces one into the only realistic consideration that Christ was who He says He was, the Divine Son of God.

The Apologist, in utilizing this tool, attempts to bring the person to the last consideration, that Jesus truly was who He says He was; leaving only 2 choices, to accept Christ or to reject Him.

This takes us to the place where it is only the Holy Spirit that has control of the situation.

Apologetics are never meant to imply that one can be argued into the kingdom of heaven.  God will not violate the sovereignty of man, yet it is God’s drawing of man into His Kingdom wherein sight is gained, and servitude is volunteered; that a man becomes what he was destined from they founding of our world (Eph. 1:4), to be a child of God – a Believer – a follower of Christ – one that exercises faith in God and His only Begotten Son.

1. The Trilemma (a situation in which a choice has to be made among three possible courses of action, especially if the options are equally unpleasant) of the Divinity of Christ, is considered to have been originated by the American preacher Mark Hopkins (1802-1887) around 1844, concerning lectures that he presented, and published in his book “Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity,” in 1846.  A few years later the Scottish preacher John “Rabbi” Duncan (1796-1870) used this same presentation in his sermons, arguing that “Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.”  This presentation was also used by R.A. Torrey (1856-1928), and W.E. Biederwolf (1867-1939); however it was given its greatest acclaim by C.  S.  Lewis (1898-1963) in his BBC radio talks, as well as his lectures, and referred in a few of his books, and commonly entitled as “lunatic, liar, our Lord,” or more technically known as Lewis’s trilemma.  Josh McDowell (Born 1939) has used it in his books “More Than a Carpenter,” and “New Evidence that Demands a Verdict.”


  1. […] A post is published which will explain how the Trilemma works, and how it is used when it is employed as an apologetic tool in the hands of Christians in discussing the person of Jesus Christ with atheist ~ LINK. […]


  2. silver account · ·

    The first truth we need to understand is that Jesus is one Person who has two natures a divine nature and a human nature. In other words, Jesus is both God and man. We will look at each nature accordingly.


  3. Parker,

    Thank you For your comment.

    However, this really doesn’t address the presentation.

    As I stated the presentation has to do with apologetics, and how one deals with an atheist that does not believe the presuppositions that you when I hold concerning the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ and his deity.

    The tool I present is meant to be utilized with an intellectual that normally has a higher IQ than you or I, that can’t seem to wrap his arms around the concept of one being having to natures.

    In fact from the humanist point of view this is an impossibility, and actually quite naïve just to make the statement that Jesus has two natures.

    What does that mean, can you give us an example of where that is ever been seen before. And what do you base that assertion upon.

    If you base it upon the Bible, the humanist will simply state that there is no concrete evidence, just your presupposition concerning a book which appears to be religious.

    This is why you utilize apologetics in a manner that you can cut fish with a fisherman, speak about sheep to a Shepherd, or as correctly understood in the statement by Paul “be I am made all things to all men.” 1 Cor. 9:19-23

    Paul wasn’t talking about acting like others, this is not found in the Greek verbs or nouns that Paul uses in this passage. He was talking about communicating to men on a level that they could understand when we tell them about Jesus Christ and salvation. See: https://faithbibleministries.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/all-things-to-all-men/

    Simply walking up to an intellectual or someone who does not believe in God’s Word and telling them that we have to take on face value that Jesus has 2 natures, wherein He is all God and all man; without any type of transfer device, referred to as a model; which Jesus used all the time, a story/Metaphor or analogy; yet not being able to supply a way for him to understand this Type of duality, where they could wrap their minds around such a lofty comment, becomes fruitless to them, and violates what Paul was referring to.

    The point is this is a very lofty and deep subject when you get into presenting Jesus Christ in the Bible to the intellectual unbeliever. Yet there are tools that force them into a mental conundrum, wherein the Holy Spirit can provide spiritual site for even those that are so entrenched.

    And for those that would say out of their own pride and arrogance, that they just want approach these kind of intellectuals; they forget the fact of all the thousands of people that died believers who fit these ranks.

    One of these individuals was CS Lewis.

    I have attempted on my own menial level to explain this complexed paradox concerning the duality of Jesus Christ.

    It is perhaps very simplistic, yet I would appreciate your insight.

    Thanks again, Brent

    Please see: https://faithbibleministries.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/gods-essence-attributes/


  4. One of the foremost interpretations of the self-limitation of Christ is taken from the crucial passage of Philippians 2:6-11, which states in verse seven that Christ “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.” The term “emptied Himself (NAS)” or “made himself nothing (NIV),” is taken as direct proof that the kenosis of Jesus means He removed Himself of any capacity to exercise divine powers while in the form of a human being.


  5. Weston,
    Great insight. Perhaps you might examine the article entitled: “The Preeminence of Christ ~ Part 6 ~ Jesus ~ The Ultimate Example of Faith ”, and tell me what you think. This is a topic which most Christians refuse to consider, yet I believe you and I agree. Any further insights on the subject of Jesus empting Himself, which would be necessary for Him to have to exercise faith, and therefore be the “author” (archegon) and “finisher” (teleioten) of faith (Hebrews 12:1-2); would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Brent



  6. […] A post is published which will explain how the Trilemma works, and how it is used when it is employed as an apologetic tool in the hands of Christians in discussing the person of Jesus Christ with atheists ~ LINK. […]


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