One well-known trilemma considered a proof of the divinity of Jesus is most commonly known in the version by C. S. Lewis. It proceeds from the premise that Jesus claimed to be God, and that therefore one of the following must be true: Lunatic: Jesus was not God, but he mistakenly believed that he was. Liar: Jesus was not God, and he knew it, but he said so anyway. Lord: Jesus is God. Source: Trilemma

However, I have come across other arguments against the person and divinity of Jesus Christ, such as the notion he did not exist, and the suggestion that he lived in India for a time and returned as some sort of mystic. I am looking for reliable information that gives insights into these arguments and any biblical and Christian counter-arguments. This question is directed at all Trinitarian Christian denominations.

  • 1
    I don't see the trilemma argument as a proof so much as a listing of the available possibilities as to who Jesus was. If he existed, and if he made the claims attributed to him, then certain consequences follow. And we all must make our decision. The question of his existence is a valid but different issue. If Jesus is a legend, then the whole discussion is moot. Aug 7, 2019 at 11:56
  • 1
    My question is asking if there is a quadrilemma argument, what is it, or even if there is perhaps a quintilemma argument. I need to find reliable sources that will explain what they are. Of course individuals must make their own decisions but that can only be done after viewing the evidence. Has anybody come across such arguments?
    – Lesley
    Aug 7, 2019 at 12:11
  • 1
    C.S. Lewis challenged the opinion of H.G. Wells who, in "Outline of History" said that Jesus had made no claim to divinity. Lewis demolished that view and quoted from Free Churchman John Duncan (1796-1870) the 'trilemma' argument; "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." So perhaps H.G. Wells was effectively promoting a quadrilemma and Lewis reduced it to a trilemma by showing that Jesus DID claim divinity?
    – Anne
    Aug 7, 2019 at 16:12
  • 1
    This would mean that John Duncan may be the oldest known source for the trilemma, H.G. Wells proposed a quadrilemma, and C.S. Lewis responded to that by returning it to a trilemma (via showing how Jesus DID claim divinity.)
    – Anne
    Aug 7, 2019 at 16:13
  • Personally I think the other options aren't really important, and the argument remains intact whether it's Jesus who personally claims what he does or his followers. The only one that matters that Jesus said it personally is the lunatic option. For the liar option it doesn't make a difference really if it's him who lies, or his followers.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 8, 2019 at 2:20

1 Answer 1


In the first chapter of The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ, author Brant Pitre discusses C. S. Lewis' trilemma and how he realized that there was a fourth possibility when he first started studying the four canonical gospels: that Jesus is either Liar, Lunatic, Lord, or Legend. He writes:

However, as I continued to study the quest for Jesus, it slowly dawned on me that for many people, there was a fourth option: namely that the stories about Jesus in the Gospels in which he claims to be God are "legends." In other words, they are not historically true. Consider, for example, the words of Bart Ehrman. This is how he responds to C. S. Lewis's argument:

Jesus probably never called himself God....This means that he doesn't have to be either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. He could be a first-century Palestinian Jew who had a message to proclaim other than his own divinity.

Pitre goes on to cite several verses from the Gospel of John (e.g. John 10:30 and John 14:9) and notes the fact that Jesus was accused by the Jews of blasphemy and was nearly stoned to death, which is an indication that the Jews thought Jesus was claiming to be God. Pitre explains why scholars such as Ehrman do not accept these verses from John as evidence of Jesus' claim of divinity:

On the one hand, most scholars admit that Jesus does claim to be divine in the Gospel of John....On the other hand, as I came to learn, many contemporary scholars, such as Bart Ehrman, do not consider the Gospel of John to be historically true when it depicts Jesus saying these things about himself. One of the most common arguments for this position is that Jesus does not make these kind of divine claims in the three earlier Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (known as the Synoptic Gospels). According to some scholars, we have three Gospels in which Jesus doesn't claim to be God (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and only one Gospel in which Jesus does (John). Now, if this were correct -- and as we will see later on in the book, it isn't -- then it would raise some serious doubts about whether Jesus ever actually claimed to be God.

Pitre explains that the purpose of the book is to address this fourth option and provides a brief outline of his argument in the first chapter of the book:

As we will see, there are compelling reasons for concluding that the four Gospels are first-century biographies of Jesus, written within the lifetime of the apostles, and based directly on eyewitness testimony.

.... equally important, the more I studied first-century Judaism, the more I began to see clearly that Jesus did claim to be God—but in a very Jewish way. And he does so in all four first-century Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But in order to see this clearly, you have to take one very important step. You have to go back and read the Synoptic Gospels from an ancient Jewish perspective. Otherwise, it’s easy to miss what Jesus is really saying about himself. To be sure, Jesus doesn’t go around shouting, “I am God!” But this doesn’t mean that he didn’t claim to be divine. As we will see, Jesus reveals the secret of his identity by using riddles and questions that would have made sense to a first-century Jewish audience. In fact, it was precisely because his audiences understood that Jesus was claiming to be God that some of the Jewish authorities charged him with “blasphemy” and handed him over to the Romans to be crucified. And by the way, in a first-century Jewish context, it wasn’t blasphemy to claim to be the Messiah. But it was blasphemy to claim to be God.

These arguments (e.g. that the Gospels are first-century biographies of Jesus which are based on eyewitness testimony) also attack notions that Jesus didn't exist or that he lived in India.

Pitre explains in his book that it is written for

anyone who has ever had questions about exactly who Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be

and that it is

not written for scholars, though I cite lots of them in the endnotes.

Therefore the book would be a good introduction to the "quadrilemma".

  • 1
    Yes, Pitre's book would certainly be a good introduction to the subject, and all the better for not being written for scholars but for ordinary folks like me. +1
    – Lesley
    Aug 7, 2019 at 16:30
  • Does this satisfy the criteria “I am looking for reliable information....,”? A book written in 2016?
    – Kris
    Aug 8, 2019 at 15:20
  • 2
    @Kris I think so. If you follow the link to Brant Pitre's Goodreads profile (which also links to his own website) you can see his credentials as a Bible scholar. And, as noted in my answer, Pitre is addressing arguments by Bart Ehrman, a famous apostate New Testament scholar -- so the "quadrilemma" argument presented is by someone who should be able to make a strong one.
    – Null
    Aug 8, 2019 at 15:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .