Beside Himself 

Family Grandiose Religious Delusion
Zero Sum James the Just
Bishop Spong Ockham's Razor


Early in His ministry, Jesus narrowly escaped a 'commitment' attempt:

  • “And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.
  • “And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.”
  • (Mark 3:20-21).

The King James Version uses 'friends' to translate 'οι παρ αυτου,' 'those near him,' 'those beside him,' which has more the meaning of relatives or family members: "Literally, 'they that were of him', that is, his relatives: for they that were mad were brought to their relatives." (Geneva Bible Notes).

"Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind." (Mark 3:20-21 NKJV).

"Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, 'He has gone out of his mind.'" (Mark 3:20-21 NRSV).

"Then he went into a house; and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat their bread. When his own people heard of this, they went forth to get control of him, for they said that he was out of his mind." (Mark 3:20-21 Richmond Lattimore translation).

"Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, 'He is out of his mind.'" (Mark 3:20-21, ESV).

"With not more than a year left to Jesus's life on earth, those who have grown up with Him are convinced He is insane." (Timothy J. Stoner, Crucify: Why the Crowd Killed Jesus, Chapter 12, p. 147). It is noteworthy that His brothers did not believe in Him at that time:

  • “His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest.
  • “For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, show thyself to the world.
  • “For neither did his brethren believe in him.”
  • (John 7:3-5).

Jacques Joseph Tissot, Brow of the Hill in Nazareth

The family members who sought to gain control of the Lord in Mark 3:20-21 may be the 'mother and brothers' who turn up in 3:31, although the brothers are plainly stated to have been unbelievers, whereas Mary treasured the memory of the events of His birth in her heart: "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19). However, what she expected on the basis of the marvellous signs and prophecies she saw and heard may not have been what she was now seeing and hearing; perhaps she had not understood that the Messiah, her son, was to be God incarnate.

"His friends (οι παρ αυτου). The phrase means literally 'those from the side of him (Jesus).' It could mean another circle of disciples who had just arrived and who knew of the crowds and strain of the Galilean ministry who now come at this special juncture. But the idiom most likely means the kinspeople or family of Jesus as is common in the LXX. The fact that in verse Mark 3:31 'his mother and his brothers' are expressly mentioned would indicate that they are "the friends" alluded to in verse Mark 3:21. It is a mournful spectacle to think of the mother and brothers saying,

"He is beside himself (εξεστη). Second aorist active indicative intransitive. The same charge was brought against Paul. (Acts 26:24, 2 Corinthians 5:13). We say that one is out of his head. Certainly Mary did not believe that Jesus was in the power of Beelzebub as the rabbis said already. The scribes from Jerusalem are trying to discount the power and prestige of Jesus. (Mark 3:22). See on Matthew 9:32-34; see also Matthew 10:25; see also Matthew 12:24 for Beelzebub and Beelzebul. Mary probably felt that Jesus was overwrought and wished to take him home out of the excitement and strain that he might get rest and proper food. . . The brothers did not as yet believe the pretensions and claims of Jesus. (John 7:5)." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament).

This verse is generally counted authentic by even the most destructive critics, because later followers would have no motive to invent the embarrassing circumstance that those nearest if not dearest to Jesus thought Him insane. But why would the relatives have thought this? What claims was Jesus making in the hearing of those around Him which would trigger such a diagnosis? Though singly attested, Marcus Borg of the 'Jesus' Seminar concedes it really happened:

"Some English translations (including the widely used NRSV) obscure the meaning of the Greek text by translating the second 'they' as 'people,' thus attributing the perception that Jesus was 'out of his mind' to 'people' and not to his family. But the Greek text has the word 'they' (not 'people') and the antecedent is clearly 'his family.' The verse is startling even to many people who are familiar with the gospels: the family of Jesus thought he was insane, crazed." (Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, p. 127).

And why would they think that? Is it not worth noting that, as a rule, people who claim to be God, as the gospels report Jesus did, commonly meet with this reaction? Secular Bible study is prone to deliver to us a 'Jesus' who never would have been crucified, nor would His family have wanted Him committed. Yet these are historical facts as stubborn as any others which must be explained. And the gospels do explain them; the gospels attest that Jesus claimed to be God.


Grandiose Religious Delusion

Most of the people who say 'I am God' say it to a psychiatrist who, after all, is paid to listen to such talk. It is by no means unheard-of for God-claimants to turn up in the hospital emergency room, their presenting complaint 'I am God.' The diagnosis is 'Grandiose Religious Delusion:'

  • “Delusions can be persecutory ('The CIA is spying on me.'), grandiose ('The peace postcard I mailed to you brought about a cease-fire in Nicaragua and again in the war of Iraq and Iran.'), somatic ('There is a knife growing in my stomach and it causes me pain.'), and/or religious ('I am Christ.') in nature. Whatever the content of the delusion, primary process thinking in which thoughts are not governed by logic usually prevails. The following comments of a thirty-four-year-old woman with schizophrenia illustrate this disturbance in thought content:

  • “'I heard my name on the radio. They said the Christ child had been born. I am God, but would never admit it. I'd rather be a pathological liar. . .I sang and they applauded. I turned on the radio again and they offered me a Motown contract. They must have heard my voice in the underground.'

  • “The following letter, written by a man with schizophrenia to his therapist, offers us another illustration. Note his grandiose delusions, and how these delusions provide an explanation for the painful loneliness in his life.

  • “'I am in true birth the living God child and son, kidnapped from Berlin, Germany, of Adolf and Eva Hitler .'.”

  • (Inside out and Outside in: Psychodynamic Clinical Theory and Psychopathology, by Joan Berzoff, Laura Melano Flanagan, Patricia Hertz, p. 289).

Had this lady heard, if you are God, you can ride upon a cherub?: "And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind." (Psalm 18:10). At any event, she tried to open the door on a passenger plane while in flight:

"Passengers on a US flight were forced to wrestle a woman to the ground after she tried to open the cabin door mid-flight, while repeatedly yelling 'I am God.'” ('Woman tries to open plane cabin door during flight, while shouting "I am God, I am God,"' Independent, 3/6/18, Mythili Sampathkumar).

Perhaps equally concerned about the effects of rapid decompression on their own well-being, as to whether her experiment in human-powered flight would work out as she hoped, the passengers managed to wrestle her to the floor and restrain her until the plane reached Boise; thereupon the authorities took her to wherever one takes 'God.' The pilot got on the loudspeaker and asked the passengers to stop her "at all costs:" "In the pandemonium, the pilot got on the loudspeaker, urging other passengers to help intervene, Torres recalled. 'The pilot came on the loudspeaker and told us to "stop her at all costs" from opening up the door,' he said." ( , 'I am God:' Passenger on Boise-bound flight tried to open cabin door in midair; Boise Police and the FBI are investigating the incident.' Author: Katie Terhune, Published: 8:47 AM MST March 6, 2018). The 'normals' were suspicious of her from the start: "'She wasn’t acting right, or normal, from the very beginning [of the flight],' said Scott T. Smith, a California man who was seated behind the woman and someone who appeared to be her traveling companion. . .Smith said he heard the woman rambling and repeating phrases over and over including: “God has all the data.” “I don’t have any data.”" (The Idaho Statesman, 'Passenger describes ‘odd’ scene as woman tried to open door on flight to Boise,' by Christina Lords and Katy Moeller, March 05, 2018 03:23 PM). While it's true that God has access to the entire data set, it's not quite true that we have none.

For God to turn up on a routine flight to Boise would be unusual, a departure from the normal course of nature. For someone to claim to be God is no departure from the routine of psychiatry textbooks. People don't still claim to be Napoleon, but they still claim to be God. People in the 'Jesus' Publishing Industry get mixed up on this point all the time. The passengers who report they heard this woman yelling 'I am God' are not reporting any supernatural event. Atheists, of course, are not allowed to believe in supernatural events. But the reporters who relate that the woman claimed to be God are not reporting anything supernatural; atheists who feel they must deny it are simply being whimsical and irrational.

Portrait of Christ

In almost all cases, this diagnosis is right on the money; at a minimum 99.99% of all the people who have ever sincerely claimed to be God are delusional. Some who have made the god-claim, like Father Divine and Wallace D. Fard, seem to have had pecuniary motives, and may have been deliberate frauds rather than self-deceived deities. What percentage of god-claimants are fraudsters is difficult to estimate. Given the punitive, retaliatory response these people tend to receive from society, it may be that few claimants enjoy any net benefit. There is only one case where this claim has been made and the subject is neither a con-artist nor delusional. But given the rarity of such an event, it is no wonder the misdiagnosis was made by family members. People play the percentages, and are usually prudent to do so. This might explain an otherwise mystifying occurrence. Usually a theory that explains the evidence is preferred to one which does not; only in the 'Jesus' scholarly enterprise it it otherwise.

Prince of Tyre Salmoneus
Phya, the Tall Woman Saturn, King of Italy
Empedocles Zalmoxis
Menecrates Amulius
Demetrius Apsethus
Jesus of Nazareth Simon the Samaritan
Epiphanes, son of Carpocrates Little Gods
Jewish Messiahs Gaius Caesar
The Khlysty Muslim Gods
Wallace D. Fard Father Divine
Jim Jones The Maharaj Ji
Draftees Romulus
Apollonius of Tyana Ras Tafari
Jehovah Wanyonyi

Vasily Polenov, Life of Christ

Zero Sum

If one were to confront an adherent of 'scientism' and demand, 'Defend if you can the existence of phlogiston or the luminferous aether,' he would respond in puzzlement, 'Why should I want to defend those things?' 'Well, because they are the center-piece of naturalistic scientific theories.' 'To be sure they are, but those theories have been falsified.' No one expects that, if you buy into science, you must buy in bulk: that either all scientific theories are false, or all are true.

Oddly enough some people think this way about god-claims, and there are even pseudo-scientific and pseudo-scholarly disciplines that proceed by levelling the field between these various god-claimants. But just as the theory of phlogiston and the theory that burning is rapid oxygenation cannot both hold the field,— they are incompatible,— so the various god-claimants cannot all stand vindicated, because they debunk one another's claims. Two contradictory claims cannot both be true; either both are false, or only one is true. It is odd that this point should require explanation.

James the Just

Jesus suffered many insults during His earthly ministry, including the jibes of Roman soldiers, the gainsaying of the religious authorities, and even the exquisite cruelty of hearing family members say that He was crazy, in accordance with the scriptures:

"I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting." (Isaiah 50:6).

After the resurrection, Mary,— if indeed she ever doubted,— turns up in the upper room and James the Just emerges as the leader of the Christian church at Jerusalem. Although he did not sit at Jesus' feet to hear His teaching as did Peter and the other disciples, his family connection to Jesus was undoubtedly one recommendation in the public mind for this office, as was his personal sanctity:

"Hegesippus who lived near the apostolic age, in the fifth book of his Commentaries, writing of James. says “After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. He alone halt the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not use woolen vestments but linen and went alone into the temple and prayed in behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels’ knees.” He says also many other things, too numerous to mention. Josephus also in the 20th book of his Antiquities, and Clement in the 7th of his Outlines mention that on the death of Fetus who reigned over Judea, Albinus was sent by Nero as his successor. Before he had reached his province, Ananias the high priest, the youthful son of Ananus of the priestly class taking advantage of the state of anarchy, assembled a council and publicly tried to force James to deny that Christ is the son of God. When he refused Ananius ordered him to be stoned. Cast down from a pinnacle of the temple, his legs broken, but still half alive, raising his hands to heaven he said, “Lord forgive them for they know not what they do.” Then struck on the head by the club of a fuller such a club as fullers are accustomed to wring out garments with — he died. This same Josephus records the tradition that this James was of so great sanctity and reputation among the people that the downfall of Jerusalem was believed to be on account of his death. He it is of whom the apostle Paul writes to the Galatians that “No one else of the apostles did I see except James the brother of the Lord,” and shortly after the event the Acts of the apostles bear witness to the matter." (Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 2).

How did James make the jump from skeptic to believer? According to Paul, he was the recipient of a post-resurrection appearance by the crucified and risen Savior: "And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles." (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). The "James" of verse 7 is not one of the twelve, so presumably he was James the Just. Seeing your dead brother alive and kicking would certainly get your attention. The story of his conversion is told in non-canonical sources not now extant, so one cannot evaluate their reliability; the story might be fiction. Nevertheless, Jerome thought it worth recounting:

"The Gospel also which is called the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and which I have recently translated into Greek and Latin and which also Origen often makes use of, after the account of the resurrection of the Savior says, “but the Lord, after he had given his grave clothes to the servant of the priest, appeared to James (for James had. sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he drank the cup of the Lord until he should see him rising again from among those that sleep)” and again, a little later, it says ”’Bring a table and bread,’ said the Lord.” And immediately it is added, “He brought bread and blessed and brake and gave to James the Just and said to him, ‘my brother eat thy bread, for the son of man is risen from among those that sleep.’” And so he ruled the church of Jerusalem thirty years, that is until the seventh year of Nero, and was buried near the temple from which he had been cast down. His tombstone with its inscription was well known until the siege of Titus and the end of Hadrian’s reign." (Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 2).

Bishop John Shelby Spong

Bishop John Shelby Spong is, sadly, a fitting representative of the modern Episcopal Church; he does not believe in the resurrection, the virgin birth, the atonement, or of course the deity of Jesus Christ. He scoffs at the idea that Jesus actually went around the Galilean country-side saying the things that John reports Him as saying; why, if He did that, people would think He was nuts!

  • “The words 'I am' are used in other sayings attributed to Jesus by this gospel writer: one thinks immediately of such Johannine verses as 'Before Abraham was, I am' (8:58) and 'When you see the Son of Man lifted up, then you shall know I am' (8:28, my translation). . .
  • “Of course, Jesus never literally said any of theses things. For someone to wander around the Jewish state in the first century, announcing himself to be the bread of life, the resurrection or the light of the world would have brought out people in white coats with butterfly nets to take him away.”
  • (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 234).

One cannot know whether Bishop Spong's comments about white coats and butterfly nets are a humorous sally; this author is prone to naive anachronism and the humor is often unintentional. In first century Palestine, mentally ill people were handed over to the custody of their family, who had the responsibility to care for them. Certainly, if Jesus did claim to be God as the sources report, it all fits together. if He did not make this claim, then the story presents unexplained loose ends: why would family members suspect a 'good moral teacher' was out of his mind? The fact that Jesus' family tried to have Him 'committed' as a deranged person does not prove that He claimed to be God, but it does fit in with the pattern of documentary evidence that He did make this claim.

People who do not follow the 'Jesus' 'scholarly' field may have a hard time believing it is done in just this slovenly and disreputable way: 'Though there are few facts about the ancient world better attested than that Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be God, he cannot really have made such a claim. Why, that would be insane! . .and, of course, they said He was insane, but not for that reason!' But that is just how it is done! Of course it is not impossible for people to claim to be God, they turn up in emergency rooms even today. Jesus is not the sole such claimant, though, as the Great Physician, He is the sole such claimant not requiring treatment.

Jesus is unique. People who claim to be God, who are legion, if sincere, are, as a general rule, mentally ill. Jesus claimed to be God, but He is not mentally ill. This is a singularity; there is one such case in all recorded history. Unfortunately, the field of secular Bible scholarship simply cannot come to terms with a case which is one of a kind. For example, some people say the early Christians worshipped Jesus realizing He created the world, as related in Colossians 1. Is this possible? No, because to make such a case, one must present other figures in second temple Judaism who were also believed to have created the world:

"If in ancient Jewish tradition the worship of a figure was essentially the logical corollary and consequence of holding certain theological convictions about the figure, then we would expect to find other examples of this. More particularly, we should hope to find one or more other examples of such a development within Jewish monotheistic tradition of the Second-Temple period. Indeed, it is rather essential to have precisely such analogies." (Larry W. Hurtado. How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Kindle Location 280-282).)

And this is a null set, sorry. It should be apparent that, if God became incarnate in a man, then that man must be one of a kind in many respects. That man will then have to remain invisible to secular Bible scholarship, however, because they must have comparable examples, within second temple Judaism, please. He cannot be one of a kind, he must be one of a tribe! Is it not evident that, if the rules of a 'scholarly' discipline are such that God, should He become incarnate, must remain invisible to that discipline, then that discipline can offer little assistance to those seeking God? Besides, it does not seem quite right even in its proper field, else one would have to find a half dozen Napoleon's lurking in nineteenth-century France before one could comment on the one known to history. Moreover, after ruling out rival explanations on grounds of no precedent, this author proceeds to somberly advise us, there is no precedent. And this is by no means the worst of these authors, some of whom delay Jesus' apotheosis to the times of Constantine.

There are all manner of different approaches to history. Some emphasize that the time line runs in only one direction, and you cannot step into the same river twice. A recent author, Jared Diamond, achieved best-seller status by importing into human history the 'Just So' stories so popular in contemporary biology. And then there is uniformitarianism. If they are really going to do uniformitarianism, then they ought to do it. People claim to be God all the time; pagans do it, monotheists do it; crazy people do it, sane people do it. They ought to stop denying that this is even possible. This denial is ahistorical and demonstrably untrue.

Ockham's Razor

The more economical explanation is to be preferred, or so said William of Ockham. We know, from the New Testament, that Jesus claimed to be God; we know that some people considered Him mad. What could be simpler, more self-explanatory? People are prone to diagnose as suffering from mental illness those who say that they are God; it's a very easily and readily documentable tendency. Oft-times the claim is in and of itself sole grounds and sufficient basis for the diagnosis. So the Bible data very simply and cleanly explain themselves. What resort, on the other hand, is left to those readers who deny that Jesus ever claimed to be God? Wild speculation, indeed clear blue sky invention:

"An exorcist might imitate the behavior of the person whom he intended to cure. This might include thrashing about, rolling on the floor, and the like. The only actions that the synoptic gospels directly attribute to Jesus are speaking, touching and spitting; but the passages that mention spitting . . .are not exorcisms. It is, however, possible that the tradition has been purged of material that attributed strange behavior to Jesus. We noted that, according to Mark 3.21, Jesus' family tried to seize him because he was 'beside himself.' Conceivably this is a remnant of a once larger body of material that depicted Jesus as engaging in erratic behavior." (E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, p. 153).

What could be more fatuous! We are expected to visualized Jesus thrashing around, rolling on the floor; there is no evidence of any such behavior, but when have 'scholars' ever needed evidence? Since they deny that He claimed to be God, as the scriptures relate, they are left with nothing. They have tossed out what the evidence shows: that Jesus claimed to be God, and finding the traces still of what is a fairly common and normal consequence of this claim, they are obliged to invent a novel and totally evidence-free scenario to account for it. Like any conspiracy peddler, they explain that the evidence has been "purged"! This does not show us William of Ockham's razor in operation, but rather what happens when you go the other direction, the long way around, and do not choose by preference the parsimonious alternative.