Author Greg Koukl
Published on 10/02/2017

Was Jesus Just a Great Teacher?

Greg unpacks why Jesus was more than just a morally good teacher.


So, was Jesus just a great teacher? The key word in that sentence is the word just because pretty much everybody acknowledges that Jesus was a great teacher. What’s curious about that is even people who challenge the legitimacy or authority or reliability of the Bible as an historical text, these people still have an opinion about Jesus and they’ll come forward with it quickly. Oh, he was just a great teacher, he was just a great moral prophet so to speak, you know. So that depends on the documents being reliable at least as far as they speak to that issue.

But then they want to leave it at that. They want to say, “Well, he wasn’t God, he wasn’t the Messiah, he wasn’t the only savior of the world.” Now, there’s a problem with this and the problem is, and this is famously developed by CS Lewis so I’m just hitchhiking on his thoughts here, that if Jesus made the claims that the primary source historical documents, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John say that he made, then that person cannot be called a great teacher if he’s not right about those traumatic and controversial claims. Principally, that he is the God who made everything now come to earth. And Jesus did make that claim in ways that was very evident to the people of his time, “You being a man make yourself out to be God. You being a man make yourself equal with God.”

I mean this got him in big trouble with the Jews of his time. They understood what he was saying. And then later, those who Jesus personally trained to follow after him, and wrote other letters and material for the New Testament, they made the same claim more explicitly. So, make no mistake about the fact that he did make this particular claim.

But what if he was mistaken? And as a lot of people think. No he wasn’t that, he was this. He wasn’t God, he was just a good moral teacher, or something like that. Well, if he’s mistaken then he either knew he was mistaken, which would make him a liar and therefore not a good man, or he didn’t know he was mistaken and he actually believed that he was God. He was the God who made the world. He was the God to whom everybody should bend the knee. Now anybody who thinks that about themselves, who isn’t God, is nuts. I mean, let’s just face it. That’s crazy. That’s lunacy. And this is why there’s this famous way of characterizing this that many have used, it goes way, way back to the ancients, “cur deus cur homo malus” in Latin it mean, “Either God or a bad man.”

But there’s no middle ground. Either Jesus was who he claimed to be, and therefore, he was God, and he was the Messiah, and he was the only way of salvation, and a great teacher. Or, he wasn’t who he claimed to be, which means he was either lying or he is nuts. And if he’s either of those, he’s not a
great moral teacher. He’s not a great teacher at all. He’s a lunatic or a liar. As C.S. Lewis properly put it, “He did not leave the other option open to us. He did not intend to.”