The Christological argument for the existence of God is based on certain claims about Jesus. The argument, which exists in several forms, holds that if these claims are valid, one should accept God exists. There are three main threads; the Argument from the wisdom of Jesus, the Argument from the claims of Jesus as son of God and the Argument from the resurrection.
Argument from the wisdom of Jesus
The essential structure of this argument is as follows:
- The character and wisdom of Jesus is such that his views about reality are (or are likely to be) correct.
- One of Jesus' views about reality was that God exists.
- Therefore, the view that God exists is (or is likely to be) correct.
Some forms of evangelism take this approach. Potential converts are introduced to Jesus as a historical character and the merits of Jesus' teachings are discussed. In such a context, the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is a crucial factor in assessing the argument.
The principal objections to (1) are the suggestions that:
- The reports of Jesus' character in the Bible are not reliable.
- Jesus' views about reality are not (or not likely to be) necessarily correct. Bertrand Russell, in his essay "Why I Am Not a Christian", criticized Jesus' personal character and philosophical positions on various grounds.
- Even supposing that Jesus was correct, wise, and knowledgeable about a great many things does not imply that he was knowledgeable about everything. A deep knowledge of moral philosophy and the iniquities of the human condition, for example, do not necessarily imply any valid expertise on astrophysics, Phoenician literature, or the literal existence of God.
Argument from the claims of Jesus to divinity
A related line of evangelical argument addresses the notion that Jesus Christ was a great philosopher and ethicist, but not God. It draws on the Trilemma as postulated by C. S. Lewis and others, which argues that Jesus claimed to be God, and either this claim was true and Jesus was in fact divine, or else he was a charlatan or a madman. Assuming the trilemma to be accurate, the argument proceeds in stating that neither a charlatan or a madman could be considered a great moral teacher and that therefore the possibility of Jesus being merely a great moral teacher is excluded.
The argument conditionally argues for the existence of God; it relies on the premise that Jesus was a great moral teacher. The structure of the argument is as follows:
- Jesus claimed to be God
- Jesus was a wise moral teacher
- By the trilemma, Jesus was dishonest, deluded or God
- No wise moral teacher is dishonest
- No wise moral teacher is deluded
- By 2 and 4, Jesus was not dishonest
- By 2 and 5, Jesus was not deluded
- By 3, 6 and 7, Jesus was God
- By 8, God exists
Those who dispute these premises suggest that:
- Disputing premise 1: Jesus was indeed a wise moral teacher, but his reported teachings have been distorted or misrepresented. For instance, he may not have actually claimed to be divine; this claim may have been added by later writers. Many modern New Testament scholars argue that Jesus did not, in fact, claim to be God.
- Disputing premise 2: C.S. Lewis expressed the opinion that any mere man who claimed to be God could not, by definition, be a wise moral teacher (and that, conversely, any wise moral teacher would not claim to be God). Christopher Hitchens argued that Jesus was not a wise moral teacher by arguing against several of his teachings. For example, of Jesus' teaching "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone", Hitchens wrote: "if only the non-sinners have the right to punish, then how could an imperfect society ever determine how to prosecute offenders?"
- Disputing premise 4: A person can be a wise moral teacher despite lying. Jesus could have believed (as some later philosophers have held) that religion is false but beneficial to society, and that by establishing a new religion (or a reform of Judaism) he was doing a good deed nonetheless.
- Disputing premise 5: A person can be a wise moral teacher despite being delusional. Granting credence to some, or even most, of someone's claims does not require that we give credence to all of them. Someone can believe Socrates' philosophical claims about justice without also believing Socrates' theological speculations about the Greek gods, or accept Aristotle's views on poetry without also accepting his claim that heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones.
Another form of attack (similar to the Argument from inconsistent revelations) does not directly dispute the premises, but instead underlines the applicability of this argument to other historical religious figures, such as the Buddha and Muhammed, each of whom is revered in their faith as a wise and moral teacher, and each of whom made specific claims regarding their interaction with the divine.
Furthermore, the argument could be interpreted as a fallacious argument from authority and therefore logically flawed.
Argument from the resurrection
Another argument is that the resurrection of Jesus occurred and was an act of God, hence God must exist. Some version of this argument have been presented, such as N. T. Wright's argument from the nature of the claim of resurrection to its occurrence and the "minimal facts argument", defended by scholars such as Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, which defend that God raising Jesus from the dead is "the best explanation for a set of claimed historical facts about Jesus and his disciples".
William Lane Craig, another advocate of this last argument, includes in the list of facts:
- After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea
- On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers
- On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead
- The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.
In light of these, he goes on to say the best explanation is that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Such arguments have had many responses which depends on the version in question. The "minimal facts argument", for instance, have been criticized both regarding the actual veracity of the claimed historical facts as well as the inference to the best explanation being that God rose Jesus from the dead. In the second case, people such as Gerd Lüdemmann justify their rejection based on philosophical reasons while others, such as Bart D. Ehrman, do by more methodological reasons. Regarding the claimed facts, Ehrman and others defend that the sources used in their defense (normally the Gospels) are not trustworthy and so the facts can't be credibly established, while others have provided positive reasons to attest them as false.
This is the major position in Islam, which rejects that Jesus ever was crucified. Islamic texts categorically deny the crucifixion and death of Jesus at the hands of the Jews. The Qur'an states that the Jews sought to kill Jesus, but they did not kill or crucify him, although a likeness of it was shown to them. Traditionalists believe that Jesus was not crucified but instead was raised alive into heaven. This raising is understood by them to mean bodily ascension, while some Qur'anic scholars, such as Muhammad Asad, while cross referencing the text consider it to mean being raised in honour:
"That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of God";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- Nay, God raised him up unto the himself; and God is Exalted in Power, Wise."[Quran 4:157–158]
According to some Muslim traditions, Jesus was replaced by a double; others suggest it was Simon of Cyrene, or one of the disciples such as Judas Iscariot. Some others view it as Jesus surviving the crucifixion. A minority of commentaries of Ismaili or rationalist (falāsifa) leaning affirmed the crucifixion by arguing that Jesus' body had been crucified, but his spirit had ascended. However, this interpretation was generally rejected, and according to the Encyclopedia of Islam, there was unanimous agreement among the scholars in denying the crucifixion, despite famous Muslim apologist Shabir Ally have demonstrated that it is possible that Jesus was not crucified at all. Modern commentators such as M. Hayek interpret the verse to say that the crucifixion "seemed thus to them" [i.e. the Jews].
- This is the principal line in The God Delusion although there are subsidiary suggestions that Jesus may not have existed.
- John Hick, The Metaphor of God Incarnate: Christology in a Pluralistic Age, Westminster John Knox Press, page 27.
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
- Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, Chapter 8.
- See "The Resurrection of Jesus" by William Lane Craig at ReasonableFaith.org
- "Isa", Encyclopedia of Islam
- Neal Robinson, Crucifixion, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an
- The Encyclopedia of Islam further elaborates: "The denial, furthermore, is in perfect agreement with the logic of the Qur’an. The Biblical Prophets alluded to in it (e.g., Job, Moses, Joseph etc.) and the episodes relating to the history of the beginning of Islam demonstrate that it is “God's practice” (sunnat Allah ) to make faith triumph finally over the forces of evil and adversity. “So truly with hardship comes ease”, (XCIV, 5, 6). For Jesus to die on the cross would have meant the triumph of his executioners; but the Quran asserts that they undoubtedly failed: “Assuredly God will defend those who believe”; (XXII, 49). He confounds the plots of the enemies of Christ (III, 54)." (cf. `Isa, Encyclopedia of Islam)
- See Shabir's debate with William Lane Craig, where he demonstrated to be open to the possibility of a real crucifixion without death.