Eight Reasons Why the Gospels are Embarrassing

by Michael Patton

I don’t know if you have ever realized this, but the Gospels are quite embarrassing. No, I don’t mean that the Gospel itself is embarrassing, but that the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are embarrassing. Well, let me be a bit less provocative and a little more precise: the Gospels contain many accounts of the Christ story that, if true, would cause early Christians to blush.

Criterion of Embarrassment

I want to briefly talk about the “criterion of embarrassment.” This is a criteria that helps historians determine the truthfulness of historic accounts. The basic idea is this: when people lie, embellish, or make stories up, they normally do not include material that causes them to lose credibility. Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd call this “self-damaging” material (The Jesus Legend, 408).  E. P. Sanders calls it “against the grain” (although that it a bit too close to the “criterion of dissimilarity”).  Most people don’t make stories up about losing a fight or being the bank employee who failed to lock the safe the night before. We normally cover up our mistakes or embarrassments in order to look more polished. When someone gets pulled over by the police late at night and the officer asks if they have been drinking, they would not say they had been drinking if they really had not. People don’t lie on resumes and say they did not graduate high school when, in fact, they have a masters degree.

In the ancient world, this was no different. It was the tendency to omit, change, or lie about things that would bring shame upon the writer or his community. When histories are written by a nation, those in power want their nation to look as good as possible; therefore, they only include accounts that put them in the best possible light. For example, the Assyrian Lachish Relief is the story, carved in stone, of Sennacherib’s conquest and defeat of Judea in the 8th-Century BCE. This story was proudly displayed by the Assyrians in order to show their power and intimidate outsiders. This was a common practice. Rarely, if ever, do we discover similar instances where nations make prominent displays of their failures.

The basic idea is this: people always want to put their best foot forward when introducing themselves. How much more would we expect this to be the case in the Bible when the first Christians are attempting to convert others to Christianity? But, as we will see, there are many stories in the Gospels, having to do with the historic Jesus that are quit embarrassing and hard to explain if the story was made up.

Here are 8 of the most embarrassing moments in the Gospels…


Eight Reasons Why the Gospels are Embarrassing