Bill Vallicella takes a closer look at C.S. Lewis and the problem with his famous ‘trilemma’. (He doesn’t spare Peter Kreeft either.)

When Jesus says, “I and the Father are one,” for example, this could be taken as an exaggerated expression of the proposition that Jesus and the Father are on extremely intimate, or even uniquely intimate, terms, that Jesus is the recipient of mystical graces that he would share with his followers if only they would accept him as standing in this most intimate relation with the Father. Or something along these lines. On this reading, Jesus is not saying that he is literally identical to God, but that he is ‘one’ with God in perhaps a sense not too different from the sense in which I am ‘one’ with my wife. One could say that man and wife and ‘one flesh’ without meaning that they are Siamese twins or that they are literally one and the same.
I am not saying that this is a good interpretation of Scripture; it is beyond my competence to engage in Biblical hermeneutics. I am saying that it is a possible interpretation that shows that the notion that there are exactly three possibilities is dubious. Let us be clear that the question before us is solely whether there is good reason to think that the three-way disjunction, lord or lunatic or liar, is logically exhaustive. 

3 thoughts on “

  1. But there are other, more overt passages (particularly in John) where Jesus says stuff like "Before Abraham was, I am" which immediately caused the Jews who heard it to try to stone him. So, it seems to me, there are only the three choices if you assume that the statements attributed to him in the Gospels are actual.

    If you're picking and choosing which ones you like, on the other hand, then of course the choices are pretty much limitless, and you can have Jesus be whatever you like.

  2. We also have to be careful about taking the argument out of context. In every case where Lewis himself uses it, it's reasonable to interpret him as using it only within a specific kind of context (and sometimes he is very explicit abou this) — namely, it's an argument to use as an objection against a particular kind of position, which Lewis saw as fairly common in his time. Context is important, because it is relevant to assessing whether any division is logically exhaustive — if some things are ruled out before you even get around to the division then a division that fails to be exhaustive of all possibilities may yet be exhaustive of all relevant possibilities.

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