Why The Gospels Are Embarrassing
by Wesley Huff
You may have never thought about it before, but if you have ever read the biblical Gospels, they’re actually quite embarrassing. Not that the gospel itself is embarrassing, but that the four biographies of Jesus’ life (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are embarrassing. But while that might sound a little controversial to the Christian ear, it’s actually not. The fact that the four biblical Gospels are embarrassing, that is, their content would have made the early church a little uncomfortable, actually testifies to their reliability and authenticity.
This is what is referred to as the criterion of embarrassment. In other words, this criterion is a measure that historians use to establish the truthfulness of written historical accounts.(1) It can all be boiled down to this one fact – generally, when people fabricate, exaggerate, or embellish stories they don’t tend to incorporate facts that would make them look foolish or leave room for the loss of their credibility. The fact remains that on the whole, when people lie, they don’t generally tell falsehoods that drag their character through the proverbial mud.
This remains just as true in the 21st century as it did in the first century. The tendency in ancient writing was to smooth-over the not so pleasant details. It was common practice to omit, leave out, or generally swing the information in order to make the community of the author look a little more polished. Especially concerning material that would bring shame on the author or those associated with him/her. Ancient historians made their leaders (and the nations those leaders ruled) look as good as possible.
It was common practice to display reminders of great victories. A good example of this is an object known as the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin (2254-2218 BC) The depiction of the battle is literally carved in stone, a relief made from pink limestone that sits six feet high. It depicts the King of the Akkadians, Naram-Sin Hardly, defeating the armies of the neighboring civilization of Lullubi (not to be confused with the civilization of Lullaby – all they did was sleep all day).(2) Very rarely, if ever, do we find any examples of great losses being recorded or written down by the losing party.
It all comes down to the fact that more or less, people want to be perceived in the best possible light. We put our best quality traits on our resumes, try to encourage our ideal strengths, and so on. How much more would we expect this in the first century in the case of a fledgling faith like Christianity. (3) After Jesus’ death the first Christians were desperate to get his message out to the world, why wouldn’t we see records of the amazing, great, and wonderful things that he did (and has done). And it is not to say that we don’t find those things in the Gospel records, however, we also find a good deal more. There are some rather embarrassing and hard to explain things recorded by the New Testament authors that if the story was fabricated, seem rather hard to explain…
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