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Jesus’ School of the Logical Dilemma (Part 1)

A dilemma (Greek: δίλημμα = a double assumption, twin premise, or ambiguous proposition) is an argument which is equally conclusive by contrary assumptions. The dilemma creates a situation which requires a choice between two equally balanced alternatives. Usually the dilemma is presented to an antagonist as a choice between two solutions to a problem, both of which are conclusive, but neither of which is acceptable.

If this is true, then this is the conclusion.
But if that is true, then that is the conclusion.
Yet neither this conclusion nor that conclusion is acceptable.

The antagonist is then caught between two difficulties, and is moved either to admit defeat or to choose the unacceptable.

The classical sophist’s dilemma is a good illustration:

A lawyer promised to finally pay his teacher whenever the lawyer first won a case. The lawyer never paid his teacher, and so the teacher sued the lawyer.

The lawyer declared, “If you win the suit, then I owe you nothing because I have not won a case, and if I win I owe you nothing because the judge so rules.”

But the teacher responded, “If you win the suit, then you must pay because you have won a suit, and if you lose the suit you must pay because the judge so rules.”

By suing the lawyer, the teacher created this dilemma. If the teacher had not sued the lawyer before the lawyer had won his first case, then this dilemma would never have existed. (The lesson in this is, “Be careful when you sue a lawyer!”)

Jesus both delivered dilemmas to others and responded to the dilemmas of others. In Matthew 21:23 through 22:46 (seventy continuous verses) we find a supreme example of Jesus’ method of argument, including one of His own dilemmas, three of His logical parables, His response to three of His adversaries’ dilemmas, and His final dilemma of dilemmas.

Jesus’ First Dilemma:
Is John’s Baptism from Heaven or from Men?

Matthew 21:23-27
[23] And so {when} He came into the temple, the chief priests, and the elders of the people came directly to [/confronted] Him, {while He was} teaching, saying, “By what sort of authority are †You doing these things? And who gave to †You this authority?” [24] Then Jesus told them in response, “I Myself likewise will request one statement [\word] from ‡you, which, if ever ‡you should tell me, {then} I Myself likewise will tell ‡you by what sort of authority I am doing these things: [25] From what source was John’s baptism? – From heaven? Or from men?” So they were reasoning carefully {for some time} among themselves, saying, “If ever we should say, ‘From heaven,’ {then} He will say to us, ‘Then for what {reason} did ‡you not believe him?’” [26] Yet if ever we should say, ‘From men,’ {then} we fear the crowd, for they all are holding John as a Prophet.” [27] So they told Jesus in response, “We do not know.” He Himself also was affirming to them, “Neither am I Myself going to tell ‡you by what sort of authority I am doing these things.”

Jesus had cleansed the temple of moneychangers and merchants (Matthew 21:12-17), and He had occupied the temple daily in order to teach (Luke 19:47,48). What authority did Jesus have to do these things? Only priests had authority from God in affairs of the temple. Jesus was not a priest. Or was he?

As a matter of fact, Jesus was a priest of the order of Melchizedek, a higher priesthood than that of Aaron. (Hebrews 5:5,6; 6:20-7:28) When, and by whom, was He officially anointed into office? John the Baptist was a priest (Luke 1:5-25; 57-80). A priest entered office at thirty years of age (Numbers 4:3,23,30,35). Jesus was thirty years old at his baptism (Luke 3:23), and John was six months older than Jesus (Luke 1:36), so John had already been a priest for six months when Jesus was baptized. We know that Jesus was sinless and therefore could not have been a proper subject for John’s baptism of repentance (Matthew 3:6-9,11; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:3,7-14; Acts 13:24; 19:4). So John tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized, but finally allowed it only when Jesus explained that in this way alone could all the righteous requirements be fulfilled (Matthew 3:14-15). And so, in obedience to the law, Jesus was anointed through baptism into the office of priesthood by John the Baptist, and the uniqueness of this “baptism” was immediately marked by God the Holy Spirit descending and alighting upon Jesus, and God the Father audibly acknowledging Jesus as His Son. Hence in a formal sense, Jesus’ authority to do these things came from His baptism by John (Matthew 3:16-17).

By tracing His authority back to John, Jesus created a dilemma for the chief priests and elders. If Jesus cleansed the temple by the authority of John’s baptism, then the question of the authority of John’s baptism had logical priority over the question of Jesus’ authority to do these things. “You tell me about the authority of John’s baptism – human or divine – then I’ll tell you about my authority in the temple – human or divine.” But these chief priests and elders did not fear God. They feared only man – particularly the people. They recognized that if they denied John’s divine authority, then the people would oppose them and stand behind Jesus. However, they also recognized that if they affirmed John’s divine authority, then they would be confirming Jesus’ divine authority, which would move the people even more toward supporting Jesus, because John had fully endorsed Jesus.

Recognize Jesus’ method of argument: The ultimate question of questions is the question of authority. Those on the side of error have no legitimate authority. But they never want to acknowledge that their opponents have a legitimate source of authority. We must drive those who oppose the truth back to the source for our own authority – which they will have difficulty denying – or else we must drive them back to the source for their own authority – which they will have difficulty defending.

Jesus followed this dilemma with three logical parables.

Jesus’ First Logical Parable:
Who Finally Did His Father’s Will?

In Matthew 21:28-32, Jesus told the parable of two sons, one son first refused to work, yet finally did; and the other son first promised to work, yet never did. When Jesus asked them which son did his father’s will, they pointed to the first. Jesus compared the revenue agents and the prostitutes to the first son – they first refused to do righteousness, yet finally repented at John’s preaching of righteousness. Then Jesus compared the chief priests and elders to the second son – they first professed to love righteousness, yet would not truly follow the way of righteousness at John’s preaching.

Recognize Jesus’ method of argument: Disarm those on the side of error with a parable which seemingly has no connection to them, yet which plays out precisely the principles in which they do err. Then describe the parallels between the parable and the errorists. The errorists will have no place to hide because they’ve already, in principle, admitted their own guilt. In this way, they condemn themselves.

Jesus’ Second Logical Parable:
The Owner Leases the Vineyard to Those Who Bear Fruit

In Matthew 21:33-46, Jesus told the parable of the landowner who share-leased his vineyard out, but when he sent for his shares, then the lessees beat, killed, and stoned his messengers. At the end, they cast his son out and killed him. When Jesus asked the chief priests and elders what the landowner would do, they said that he would destroy the wicked lessees and lease the vineyard to those who would render its fruits. Jesus then quoted a key Messianic prophecy which predicted that the Messiah would be rejected by the “builders” – meaning them – then the Kingdom of God would be taken from the “builders,” while the Messiah would fall on the “builders” and grind them to powder. The kingdom would then be given to others who would fall on the Messiah and be spiritually broken, and therefore be enabled to bear the spiritual fruits of the kingdom. The chief priests and Pharisees perceived that He spoke of them, but they were afraid of laying hands on Him because they feared the multitudes who took Jesus for a prophet.

Recognize Jesus’ method of argument: He was gentle with the teachable, but caustic with the unteachable. First they refused to admit John’s authority, then they unwittingly admitted in a parable their own unrighteousness, and finally they begrudgingly admitted in a parable that their rejection of Jesus warranted judgment. Jesus was careful to point out that they condemned themselves.

Notice also that the wicked fear the multitudes. They do not fear God, but they do fear man. That is why the wicked always seek to control the multitudes by whatever means available. At this point in the narrative, Jesus still enjoyed popular support. But eventually the priests would manipulate the multitudes into calling for Jesus’ assassination. We should always keep aware of what the wicked are doing to stir up the multitudes.

Jesus’ Third Logical Parable:
Many are Called, But Few are Chosen

In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus told a parable describing His eventual victory over the chief priests and elders. A king [=God] sent servants to bring the “invited” guests [=Jews] to his son’s [=Jesus’] wedding feast [=kingdom]. Some of those “invited” made light of it and went their own way [=unbelieving Jews], while others seized his servants and killed them [=jealous Jewish leaders]. The king sent armies [=Romans], destroyed the murderers [=unbelieving Jews] and burned their city [=Jerusalem]. Then he filled the wedding feast [=kingdom] with guests from the highways [=Gentiles]. There was a man present without a wedding garment [=false profession of faith] who was speechless [=did not show fruits of repentance and faith] and he was cast out [=excommunicated]. The moral of the parable is: many are called [=outwardly summoned to perform their legal duties of repentance and faith] but few are chosen [=inwardly summoned to receive the gospel graces of repentance and faith].

Recognize Jesus’ method of argument: With His reasoning, Jesus had been exposing the hearts of the chief priests and elders. He no longer asks for their opinion about what should be done. Instead, with this parable, Jesus Himself answers the murderous thoughts which are in their hearts (21:46). Jesus told them that if they refused to respond to His call to repentance, but continued to think in the same way which they had been thinking, then they would be among those destroyed by armies. In other words, Jesus showed them the true consequences of their murderous thoughts and evil reasoning. After we have eliminated the many persons who have made light of the wedding feast, who have preferred other things over it, or who were openly hostile to it, then we will find that few among those outwardly called are also inwardly chosen and motivated to come to the feast and to wear the wedding garment. So the outward call of God has a twofold purpose: to expose men’s hearts, and to gather the chosen.

“Now {may} thanks {be} to God, Who at all times is {continually} leading us in a triumphal procession in Christ, and {Who} in every place is {continually} making the fragrance of the {experiential} knowledge of Himself apparent through us. For we are {a} sweet aroma of Christ to God, among those who are being rescued [/saved], and among those who are being ruined [/perishing]: Now to the {latter} ones, {we are a} fragrance {of experiential knowledge} of death extending into {eternal} death; yet to the {former} ones, {we are a} fragrance {of experiential knowledge} of life extending into {eternal} life. And who {is} competent [/adequate] {in himself} for these {two roles}? For we are not as the majority who are deceptively making cheap merchandise of the Word of God. But rather, {we are speaking} as from transparency, but rather, we are speaking in Christ in the presence of God, as from God.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

In part 2 we will examine how Jesus handles the dilemmas with which the Pharisees and the Sadducees confronted Jesus, and we will examine the final dilemma with which Jesus confronted them.

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