The Old Testament Is Embarrassing

by Sean McDowell

This summer, I have been studying the book of Exodus. As I have been paying attention to the story of Moses and details of the Mosaic Law, it has become clear to me that the Old Testament is embarrassing. It is chalk full of embarrassing material. Let me explain.

One of the criterion New Testament scholars use to weigh the reliability of an ancient saying or event is known as the principle of embarrassment. As my father and I explain in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, the principle of embarrassment is a criterion that looks at ancient writings to see if there are hard, embarrassing, or unfavorable details about the author(s) or with the story’s purpose. If such details exist, positive conclusions can be made about the integrity of the author(s).

Using this criterion, even many critical scholars conclude that a number of events in the New Testament are likely true, such as the disciples not understanding the teachings of Jesus (Mark 4:1-12), the three disciples falling asleep at Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46), the crucifixion of Jesus as a criminal (Mark 15:21-41), and women discovering the empty tomb (John 20).

The fact that these hard, embarrassing, and unattractive stories exist in the New Testament indicates that the authors were more interested in accuracy than reputability.

The criterion can also help establish the reliability of the Old Testament, which is filled with embarrassing material.[1] Consider three brief examples…


The Old Testament Is Embarrassing