Multiple times in the four Gospels, the Apostles seem to act foolishly. They are around Jesus for a long time, witness miracles, and still lose faith pretty easily. Another example: Jesus says a parable, they don't understand the meaning behind it, so Jesus needs to explain as if they were children. Or they try to heal the sick or perform exorcism, and fail miserably.

I'm wondering what significance has this depiction of the Apostles.

If they only cared to look better and show later Christians that "the group you are joining is the best", they wouldn't have included these unflattering descriptions about themselves.

Please include either the view of a notable Christian denomination, or at least a citation from a notable theologian.

  • 2
    You do know that the Kings of Israel weren't necessarily "perfect" either - right? Between David & Bathsheba, Solomon, Ahab, Manessaseh, and even Josiah - the greatest King of them all - The tradition was always compelete honesty. This question would be better served by acknowledging that and asking if this is a continuation or if it is a separate matter. Mar 25, 2013 at 19:10
  • humility is a virtue
    – Dan
    Mar 25, 2013 at 22:26

3 Answers 3


I think the answer can be summed up in what John the Baptist says regarding Jesus in John 3:30:

"He must increase, but I must decrease."

That is to say, the Gospels were not primarily about bolstering confidence in the disciples, but rather about telling the truth about and bolstering confidence in Jesus.

In other words, I think you partially answered your own question, when you said, "If they only cared to look better and show later Christians that "the group you are joining is the best", they wouldn't have included these unflattering descriptions about themselves."

That's just the point, they weren't only trying to show later Christians that they group they are joining is the best. They were telling the truth, and leaving it to the reader to decide whether to accept the truth or not.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

The entirety of the Gospels is written to depict the interaction of God with the interaction of fallen, feeble, and confused human beings, so let me answer the question with a question: How could the authors have demonstrated Jesus's patience and love for immature and confused people without showing their sinfulness, immaturity, weakness, and confusion?

The answer is, they can't. The greatness and wisdom of Christ can only be seen clearly against the backdrop of the sinfulness and short-sighted nature of people. Take away the immature sinful behavior of the disciples, and all you have is a set of smart, perfectly kind, loving people talking about smart, perfectly kind, loving things in complete agreement with one another.

Without conflict, there's no story.


The unflattering details included in the writings of the Gospels attest both to their accuracy and to apostolic authorship.

If Christians of later centuries who venerated the apostles had been the actual authors, it is highly improbable that such unflattering details would have been included. Those we venerate we do not shame. Yet, time and time again, the Gospels describe the slowness of the apostles to believe, their prejudice, their difficulty to understand, their self-serving deeds, etc. Thus, it seems more likely that the apostles themselves were the ones to write the Gospels.

Secondly, the unflattering details give very weighty evidence to the accuracy of the accounts. The apostles proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus Christ and suffered greatly for it. If the story had been made up, then to what purpose was it? If they had truly loved the man Jesus and just wanted to make history remember him, then no doubt their created stories would have described themselves as never-doubting, always convinced, ad always faithful to Jesus Himself and to His teaching.

As someone once suggested... What kind of story would they have told if they wanted the whole world to believe something they themselves knew to be false?

  • Would they have sought to convince the world by proclaiming their own doubts?

  • Would they have endeavored to inspire faithfulness by revealing their own unfaithfulness?

  • Would they have hoped to draw many to follow their teaching by admitting their many faults and unworthiness to be considered leaders?

  • Would they have sought to make many believe in Jesus by recalling how so many learned men rejected Jesus and only the simple received Him?

  • Would they have endeavored to appeal to men of wealth and power by recording the harsh way in which Jesus often dealt with such men?

The answer is "No!" The disciples would have told none of this if it were not actually true? In fact, if the Gospels were made up stories, then they would be drastically different.

Thus, the fact that there are so many unflattering details points to both apostolic authorship and historical accuracy.


The Catholic response you'll often hear: To show that they're weak, stupid, feeble humans.

In the economy of salvation, God is the only "thing" that needs to be perfect. All else can be weak and broken -- you, your neighbor, your church leaders, and so on. And the inclusion of the weaknesses and imperfections of the 12 in the Gospel properly aligns this expectation. It attempts to prevent the Gospel readers from putting their faith in a perfection that doesn't exist. It was like telling the communities they wrote to, "Hey. Don't look at us as prime examples of anything. We're just telling you what we saw and offering the sacraments that Christ, who is perfect, gave us."

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