The reason why this question is not opinion based, is because I am asking how C.S Lewis himself arrived to the conclusion of his dilemma. Because as it reads from this excerpt, his conclusion is arbitrary. Now, that's not to say that his decision truly is arbitrary, maybe there is something to be said about his decision from citations from his other works. But the question remains the same, I am asking it to be point outed how C.S Lewis himself came to this conclusion, there is no matter of opinion involved.

Now to the question itself:

Reading Mere Christianity by C.S Lewis, Lewis tries to go point by point from merely observing reality and our nature to arriving at the Christian God, so cutting to the chase -- he basically says that by observing ourselves we come to conclude that we are under an inescapable Moral Law of good and evil. He eventually goes on to say that this is evidence of a higher power, and eventually God, and evidently that this is a God that takes sides and espouses good, and so he narrows it down to Judaism, Christianity and Islam which are centered around a God that espouses moral laws of good and evil. This is where I start to really disagree with him, he narrows it down to say that it is Christianity to be chosen but he doesn't address why Judaism and Islam fitting his standards were unfitting candidates.

In any case, he goes on to say the following:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really fool-ish 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 a 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.

We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, how-ever strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form.

C.S Lewis then goes on to his next point explaining the basics of Christian doctrine and theology, treating the matter established -- yet he has not. He gives us a dilemma, that Jesus is either a lunatic, truly God, or something worse, then says "how-ever strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God" then treats it as a closed cased, but hold on, why do we come to say that he is God simply like that if he could also be a lunatic or something worse? He made this huge leap in his argument without giving any valid reasons, yet he simultaneously acknowledges that it is strange, terrifying, and unlikely.

So why does C.S Lewis conclude that Jesus is God?

  • There's a whole lot of context missing here. For example, one of the points Lewis makes is that, within the biblical economy, all sin is ultimately against God and yet Jesus forgave sin as though it were against himself. This is just one of the pieces Lewis uses to build the case for his "trilemma". Oct 28, 2020 at 13:58
  • @MikeBorden Jesus claiming to be God was never a matter in question. The issue is why he is God, as opposed to (per his argument) a lunatic or something else.
    – RandomUser
    Oct 28, 2020 at 14:34
  • 1
    @RandomUser C.S. Lewis wears many hats in his works as literary scholar, apologist, theologian, logician, and philosopher, so understandably he offered several lines of argument of why he believes Jesus is God. Mere Christianity was targeted to reasonable layman not a scholarly piece. His other books like "Surprised by Joy" and "The Pilgrim's Regress" offer much more rigorous argument. So it's unfair to expect precision from a book based on radio talk. I agree that the trilemma assumes a LOT, based on one's reading of the gospel account, but the argument itself is roughly sound enough. Oct 28, 2020 at 15:11
  • Unless we know absolutely for sure how C.S Lewis himself arrived to the conclusion of his dilemma, there will be several opinions by others as to try to understand how this came about!
    – Ken Graham
    Oct 28, 2020 at 20:06

2 Answers 2


why do we come to say that he is God simply like that if he could also be a lunatic or something worse? 

Lewis, at this point in the book, is arguing against a specific view of Jesus - namely that he was a wise man, a good man, a great teacher - but not God! It's a widely held view among people who haven't looked closely at the Gospels, and it's a convenient one for people who want to acknowledge Jesus as an ideal, but either don't want to accept the supernatural or acknowledge Jesus as their Lord . So Lewis isn't looking to refute the "lunatic" or "fiend" viewpoints in that section. Neither is he looking to produce a "mathematical" proof.

So the point of the section of the book is that only three views of Jesus are reasonable. Which one you choose is left to other parts of the book, and the reader's own investigations.

As he says:

It seems to me obvious that he is neither a lunatic or a fiend.

He has read up about Jesus, both the stories of his life and what others have thought of him, and come to the conclusion that "lunatic" and "devil" are both off the table. Most people, even those who don't believe Jesus is God, would probably agree.

  • 2
    I apologize, but this answer is pointless. Was it not obvious that this is why I asked the question? He says it seems "obvious" then provides no reason whatsoever, and then continues on with his points about Christianity and its tenets, as if he had established his claims -- which evidently he did not. It is also of no use to me when you say he talks about specific reasons elsewhere yet you give no citations. If it's obvious, then what is so obvious?
    – RandomUser
    Oct 28, 2020 at 1:37
  • 2
    @RandomUser I have cancelled the down-vote to this answer. (+1). I think you answered your own question in that CSL's conclusion is illogical on the basis of his own thesis. He does not take his faith from the scripture which is where all the evidence is arrayed in great detail. DJClayworth has merely pointed out to you your own conclusions within your own answer. If DJClayworth's answer is (according to yourself) 'pointless' then so was the question in the first place. (IMHO.)
    – Nigel J
    Oct 28, 2020 at 6:23
  • @RandomUser Have you read the rest of the book? Or the Gospels? Do you consider it reasonable that the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels was either a lunatic or a devil? If you do then you are free to hold that conclusion, but the vast majority of people who have read them don't. Oct 28, 2020 at 13:19
  • @DJClayworth I've read all four gospels. After C.S Lewis made this point I read a little further to see if he addresses the decision of his conclusion, but he does not. In the start of his book he proceeded to the next point only after establishing the previous one. In this case he had not settled his dilemma. I have no issue with C.S Lewis arriving at the conclusion that Jesus is God, the problem is that he does not explain why. He provides a dilemma then settles it, and arbitrarily so as unfortunate as it seems.
    – RandomUser
    Oct 28, 2020 at 14:39
  • @RandomUser If C.S. Lewis is still alive to see another edition of his book, I think he would have added some more material. But to his audience back in the 1940s he didn't need to (especially since the book was based on radio talk). For 21st century reader, C.S. Lewis made up this gap in his many essays and other books esp. in defending how the gospel accounts are not Legend. Oct 28, 2020 at 14:54

The trilemma is NOT C.S. Lewis's only reason on why he came to the conclusion that Jesus is God (he covered this topic in his other books). I think C.S. Lewis used this logic in Mere Christianity only to refute the false assertion that Jesus was a mere teacher. It was intended as a short summary to brush away a distraction from the main meat of the book: an informal presentation of the Christian faith. It wasn't meant as a rigorous scholarly argument. I think in the passage you cited C.S. Lewis was merely trying to disabuse his listeners in just 1-2 minutes (Mere Christianity was originally a radio talk) of the false argument that Jesus was a mere teacher, so his listeners kept an open mind when reading the gospel accounts, which everyone accepts to be an indispensable extant account into who Jesus was.

If this question focuses on the insufficient details in the trilemma, this is a legitimate assertion; the Wikipedia article on Lewis's Trilemma lists criticisms based on false premises, ambiguous terms, and unsound logical form by credentialed Bible scholars and philosophers.

I myself used to struggle with this, but after 1) I accepted a major unstated premise (that the Gospel accounts are not Legend) and after 2) properly reading the Gospels in the context of the Old Testament, I can accept the Trilemma as "obvious" and reasonable. The Responses section of the same Wikipedia article, also lists some defenders who are also credentialed philosophers.

  1. The gospel accounts are not Legend. This means that the Gospels is a trustworthy account by the earliest witnesses.
    • Jesus really said the words printed in red in some Bibles. They don't have to be word for word verbatim (like in a court transcript), but each of Jesus's sayings was reproduced by the gospel author faithfully without corrupting Jesus's original meaning.
    • We have to allow each gospel author's adding a structural/narrative form around the sayings to make additional theological points that also do not corrupt Jesus's original meaning.
  2. The gospel accounts need to be read from the point of view of Jews who knew their Scriptures (the OT). This is how C.S. Lewis read the gospels, of course, since he was a literature scholar who obviously knew how to approach ancient literature properly and consequently knew how to bring into the reading necessary contexts, idioms, belief systems, word meanings, etc. assumed by the original audience. In Mere Christianity he implied we would read the gospel accounts similarly, which mean we need to be cognizant of the plethora of OT references and prophecies such as:
    • The significance of Jesus's usage of "The Son of Man"
    • God's fulfillment of the Davidic covenant in Jesus as the everlasting King
    • The precise wording in the saying that implies he exists before Abraham Jesus claimed to be God (which was similar to God's self-identification to Moses in the burning bush)
    • Jesus's claims that he was greater than Moses because he gave "manna from heaven" that doesn't go bad after 1 day, also implied by the 2 miracles of the feeding of thousands
    • a) Jesus's offering "The Sign of Jonah" before his death and b) his resurrection as empirical validation of the sign, proves that Jesus is a true prophet according to the OT logic of validating a prophecy / prophet.
    • The argument that the power of his miracles come from God, not the devil, shows that he was not a devil trying to deceive his audience by tricks
    • The significance of God's affirmation from heaven during his baptism and his transfiguration meant third-party validations of Jesus's claim by authorities already accepted by the audience: God the Father as well as Moses and Elijah (transfiguration)
    • The significance of another prophet John the Baptist's testimony of Jesus as the greater one is another third party testimony.
    • etc.

Armed with the above two points we are now more ready to assess C.S. Lewis's trilemma as Jesus being either Lord, Liar, or Lunatic:

  1. Lord: the Gospels properly read by the original audience and deemed trustworthy by the early church clearly made the case that Jesus claimed to be King, Prophet, Priest, Messiah, Judge (at second coming) and God. Someone like this, who also survived death (and defeated Devil) deserved to be a Lord. What's more, God in heaven (God the Father) gave His stamp of approval! If we trust God the Father (like the gospel's original audience) and if we trust that everything described in the Gospel accounts came true, this option is very compelling to reasonable people.
  2. Liar: or "fiend" implies the power of his miracles came from the Devil who tries to trick people into committing blasphemy by regarding Jesus as God. The Pharisees argued for this option (false messiah, false prophet, power coming from the Devil) but I think the Gospel account properly read contain sufficient material for us to exclude this option.
  3. Lunatic: implies Jesus was deluded or a megalomaniac, and that the early followers were similarly crazy. Many apologists including G.K. Chesterton in his book "Orthodoxy" argue that the Gospel accounts don't present a person (Jesus) who is lunatic.

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