C.S. Lewis, the leading 20th-century defender of Christianity, famously argued that we could view Jesus in only three ways-as liar, lunatic, or Lord. Lewis eloquently showed that it made no sense, based on the Gospel accounts, to consider Him liar or lunatic, so the only logical choice is-Lord.
I've had atheistic journalism students, though, who argued that Lewis' tripartite divide was flawed: They charge him with assuming that the Gospel accounts are accurate, but couldn't they have been written decades later by distorting propagandists?
Here are two arguments against that contention. Readers far more skilled in apologetics than I am should feel free to offer others.
Reason one: If the Gospels were propaganda brochures, their authors were incompetent. One indication: They gave women vital roles in the founding of a religion. Showing women as the first witnesses to the empty tomb would add to suspicion as to whether Christ truly rose from the dead.
Men in ancient Greece often viewed women as inferior, "guileful of purpose, with impure hearts," as the great fifth-century dramatist Aeschylus had his chorus declare. An Athenian wife was not to eat with her husband's guests nor leave the house without male escort. Spartan women were also kept "under lock and key," according to the second-century biographer Plutarch.
In Rome, men had complete authority over their wives: Husbands could divorce them for going outside without a veil and kill them if they committed adultery. Men commonly spoke scornfully about women: The historian Tacitus wrote that women are by nature cruel, and the humorist Juvenal wrote, "There is nothing a woman will not permit herself to do." The best way for a new religion to win support was to exclude women from participation in it, except as shrine prostitutes.
The Gospels tell of Jesus opposing this age-old pattern. He spoke respectfully to a Samaritan woman and two Jewish women. He let women follow Him. He appeared before several after His resurrection. The apostle Paul wrote respectfully of women who were leaders in pulling together Christians in Colossae, Ephesus, Philippi, and Laodicea. He instructed Christian men to be willing to die for their wives, as Christ died for the Church.
Reason 2: Precision in specific detail shows that the first three Gospels were composed within a generation of the death and resurrection of Christ, when eyewitnesses could attack inaccuracies. Luke's descriptions in his Gospel and in Acts of Roman legal practice, Jewish synagogue customs, the social significance of magicians, and so forth, are authentic in every detail.
The accurate use of official titles is particularly impressive, since Roman titles were far from standard and writers a century later would not have known that officials were called tetrarchs in Galilee, politarchs at Thessalonica, asiarchs in Ephesus, proconsuls in Corinth and Cyprus, and protos in Malta.
Here's a rough parallel: Naval archeologists who had plans, memoirs, and period drawings thought they knew just about the whole story of the USS Monitor, the famous Civil War ironclad. Five years ago, though, when a $14 million project lifted into daylight most of the ship after its 140 years at the bottom of the sea, experts were surprised to find undocumented braces on the gun turret and mustard bottles where the crew ate. If we found in some musty library a document asserting that the crew had added some braces and braced their taste buds by pouring mustard on otherwise inedible biscuits, we would be much more likely to give that manuscript an origin stamp of 1870 rather than 1970.
To get specific detail right, reporters know they should be on the scene or in contact with onlookers and officials, so that knocks out the theory of the synoptic Gospels being written 50-100 years after the fact. Respectful treatment of women knocks out the propaganda theory. Disciples 2,000 years ago were always careful to remember and record the comments of the rabbis they followed, and Jesus' statements concerning His equality with God the Father, ability to forgive sins, and existence before Abraham are clear.
So, after all the questioning we're back to C.S. Lewis' trio of possibilities: liar, lunatic, or Lord. And there's only one logical answer.