Saturday, September 19, 2009

McDowell's Trilemma Argument - Part 8

Josh McDowell's Trilemma includes the following key premise:

Jesus claimed to be God. (EDV, p.104).

McDowell's Trilemma argument is weak because it depends heavily on quotations of Jesus from the Gospel of John and on the following assumption:

(ROJ) The Fourth Gospel is a reliable source of the words and teachings of Jesus.

In previous posts, I have shown that this assumption has been rejected by most of the leading Jesus scholars in our time. For this reason, we can safely ignore about 90% of the evidence presented by McDowell in support of a key premise of the Trilemma.

However, McDowell recognizes that there are objections to his use of the gospel of John as a source of the words and teachings of Jesus, so he also presents some evidence from the synoptic gospels:

When I was lecturing in a literature class at the University of West Virginia, a professor interrupted me and said that the only Gospel in which Jesus claimed to be God was John's Gospel and it was the latest one written. He then asserted that Mark, the earliest Gospel, never once mentioned Jesus' claiming to be God. It was obvious this man hadn't read Mark--or hadn't paid much attention to what he read. (MTC, p.18)

So, McDowell's argument cannot be dismissed until we examine the evidence he points out from the synoptics.

In More than a Carpenter, McDowell makes four key points based on passages from the synoptic Gospels:

1. "...Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sins." (MTC, p.18)
2. "...Jesus received worship as God." (MTC, p.12)
3. "Jesus responded to Peter's acknowledging its validity..." (MTC, p.12)
4. Jesus "confessed his divinity" at the trial before the high priest. (MTC, p.23)

Questions that a critical thinker needs to consider about each of these points:

Q1. Are there reasonable doubts about whether the general event in the synoptic passage is an historical event?
Q2. Are there reasonable doubts about whether key details in the synoptic passage are historical?
Q3. Are there reasonable alternative interpretations of the synoptic passage or event that do not involve Jesus viewing himself as being God?