Have you ever lied to make yourself look good, or maybe not told the whole truth? Of course, we all have. Have you ever lied to make yourself look bad? No, unless there are circumstances that go beyond our self-interest, most people don’t go around telling stories to make themselves look bad. Who wants to embarrass themselves? None of us want to look foolish, and the times we have can be uncomfortable even to recall. 

History is packed with embarrassing accounts, usually on the losing side. In 1905 the Russian Navy experienced a crushing defeat by the Japanese Navy in the battle of Tsushima. In 1940 the battle of France was over a month and a half, almost 2 million French troops taken prisoner by the quickly advancing German military. Our own Vietnam war, politics aside was a tragic loss of American lives with the U.S. finally withdrawing and nothing to show for it. All of these events have personal stories within them which caused embarrassment to individuals.

The criterion of embarrassment says that if a historical record has embarrassing testimony, then it adds to the credibility to the account. Why is that? Because few would invent an account that was embarrassing to them personally.

Norman Geisler and Frank Turek list seven criteria historians use to determine if a historical document is giving an accurate account of a past event. 

  1. Early Testimony. (Generally, the earlier the sources the more accurate the testimony.)
  2. Eyewitness testimony. (Eyewitness testimony is considered the best way of establishing what took place)
  3. Testimony from multiple, independent, eyewitness sources. (True independent sources typically tell the same story, but with differing details.)
  4. Are the eyewitnesses trustworthy? (Should we believe them? What is their character?)
  5. Do we have corroborating evidence from archaeology or other writers? 
  6. Do we have any enemy attestation? (If we have accounts from those hostile to what is being claimed, but support many or all of the facts then it is probably true.)
  7. Does the testimony contain events or details that are embarrassing to the authors? (Most people don’t like to record negative information about themselves.)1

I want to take a moment and look at just number 7 in the above list. An excellent example of this is found in Mark 8:22-26. Most historians agree that this is a real historical account of Jesus healing a blind man. Why is that? If you read the account, it seems as if Jesus’ first attempt to heal the blind man failed. In contrast to other healings, Jesus simply pronounced it, and it was done. Also, in other healings, Jesus did not use saliva, suggesting to some it has some ‘magic’ properties. 

Both of those details would be a cause for embarrassment for early Christians. Also, most scholars believe that both Matthew and Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a source along with the lost source called “Q”. If that is true, then both Matthew and Luke may have left out that story because of the embarrassment it would cause. 

Embarrassing testimony is found throughout the New Testament. The Gospel writers often depicted themselves as ignorant, simpleminded, and dimwitted. They often didn’t understand what Jesus is trying to tell them. Mark 9:32, Luke 18:34, John 12:16

Peter, was called Satan by Jesus. Ouch! Peter also said he would never leave Jesus; even if everyone else does, he will remain faithful and true. Everyone then quickly agreed so not to be left behind in the chest-thumping. Jesus then prophesied that Peter would deny Him three times. Matthew 26:33-35 Then guess what happened? Matthew 26:69-75, Matthew 26:55-56 

In Galatians chapter 2 Paul rebukes Peter. Don’t you think that it would be embarrassing to add an account where one apostle is publicly calling out one of the other apostles? Galatians 2:11-14 And this is Peter no less, the Rock Christ would build His church on. Matthew 16:18

The Gospel accounts also wrote that women were the first to discover the empty tomb. Today, of course, that is not a big deal, but in first-century Palestine, a woman’s testimony was not even admissible in court. Women could not be trusted to give an accurate account. They could not provide the facts without mixing it up or adding in emotional and sentimental feelings that would cloud the truth. Yet, the Gospels share this embarrassing detail that women discovered the empty tomb. Timothy Keller wrote, “Women’s low social status meant that their testimony was not admissible evidence in court. There was no possible advantage to the church to recount that all the first witnesses were women. It could only have undermined the credibility of the testimony.”2 In fact, all four Gospel accounts confirm this embarrassing detail. The Gospel accounts also state that Jesus first appeared to the women after His resurrection. If they wanted to start a new religion based on the resurrection of a savior, it would have been absolutely foolish to base the first testimonies on that of women. No one in the first-century Palestine would have done that. 

The New Testament also portrays the apostles as uncaring. Mark 14:32-41 They fall asleep more than once when Jesus is asking them to pray, oblivious to what is about to happen to Him. 

In other accounts, Jesus is thought to be out of His mind by His own family. (Mark 3:21,31) If you are trying to promote a following, would you want to include accounts that state the leader is out of His mind? Some say the New Testament authors invented Jesus. If that is true, why would you include an account that says His own family wants to take Him away because He has lost His mind? 

Jesus was called a drunkard and demon-possessed. Luke 7:33-34, Luke 7:33-34 Jesus also associated with prostitutes. Luke 7:36-39 How is that for character reference? It should also be pointed out that Jesus has two prostitutes in His blood line, Rahab Joshua 6:25 and Tamar Genesis 38:24 Although technically Tamar was not a prostitute, but simply acted like one to lay with her father-in-law. Arguably that could that be worse, for whatever her reasons. 

Some people put the burden of proof on Christians without providing an alternate answer for Christianity. Skeptics come up with explanations for the empty tomb and the claims of a resurrection. Some claims the disciples were hallucinating, they returned to the wrong tomb, Christ didn’t actually die, but just passed out on the cross, the disciples stole the body, or they just copied pagan resurrections myths. Timothy Keller put it this way, “It is not enough to simply believe Jesus did not rise from the dead. You must then come up with a historically feasible alternate explanation for the birth of the church. You have to provide some other plausible account for how things began.”3

If parents, pastors, youth leaders continue to deal in the realm of the heart and not the head, our culture will continue to sway more and more young believers away from the Christian faith. Nancy Pearcy, in her book Total Truth, wrote, “Not only have we ‘lost the culture,’ but we continue losing even our own children. It’s a familiar but tragic story that devout young people, raised in Christian homes, head off to college and abandon thier faith. Why is the pattern so common? …Christianity has been restricted to a specialized area of religious belief and personal devotion.”4

Christians, whether they want to admit it or not, have a responsibility to give thoughtful answers to questions many unbelievers or skeptics have about their Christian world view. 1Peter 3:15 Our faith goes beyond ‘feelings’, beyond emotional highs. Unlike all other religions, ours has a documented historical element that we can research with confidence. Written accounts from eyewitnesses who not only experienced the risen Christ, but saw, heard, and felt Him. 1John 1:1-3

According to the Barna, (a cultural research group), 2/3 of all Christians and former Christians have experienced doubt and more than 1/4 of those continue to struggle with doubt about their faith. The common response for those who have experienced doubt was to quit attending church because they could not find answers to their questions.5

Sadly most of those cases could have been avoided. Do you attend a church where the pastor publicly answers questions, tough questions by his congregation regularly? If he does not want to be put on the spot, then have a panel of men and women who could assist him in responding to issues that plague some in the congregation. Mark Clark and Timothy Keller are two pastors who have done this in the past and experienced significant church growth. Both have attributed (in part) the growth to their openness to answering questions from the congregation and guests. Many of the congregation would bring their non-Christian friends to hear what was said during the Q & A. Does your youth group allow teens to ask tough questions? Do they provide a once a month Q & A for them to invite their friends? The questions are there; they just might not be asking them. Christianity is so much more than an emotional high; it is an intellectual proposition that can be substantiated and defended.

I read a story of a well-meaning young Christian high school teacher who strode to the front of the classroom and drew on the whiteboard a heart on one side and a brain on the other. He then told the class that the heart is what we use religion for, and the brain is what we use for science. Sad but true, and this line of misguided thinking is not only being taught in private Christian schools but at home and in the church. 

Do you attend a church that is losing its youth? I am not talking about while they are under the covering of the congregation (though many may lose their faith while still attending from home), but after they leave, move away or attend college. If this concerns you, and it should, then encourage the youth you are involved with to seek more than feelings for their faith, but also the truth of their faith. 

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Are the Gospels True Accounts? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

  1. Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Crossway, 2004. Print. []
  2. Keller, Timothy. “The Reality of the Resurrection.” The Reason for God, Riverhead Books, 2008, p. 213 []
  3. Keller, Timothy. “The Reality of the Resurrection.” The Reason for God, Riverhead Books, 2008, p. 210 []
  4. Pearcy, Nancy. Total Truth. Crossway, Wheaton: Crossway, 2005, Print []
  5. Stone, Roxanne, and Alyce Youngblood. “Trending in Faith.” Barna Trends 2018: What’s New and What’s next at the Intersection of Faith and Culture, Baker Books, 2017, pp. 132–133. []

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