Sean McDowell | February 18, 2020

The Trouble with YouTube

I love YouTube. At least one person sends me a funny video daily worth a good laugh. If you want the latest celebrity gossip, sports commentary, information how to install a garbage disposal, or analysis of a movie trailer, you can’t beat YouTube.

But there is a big problem that often gets overlooked: YouTube is not a good source for truth. This may sound obvious, but since YouTube is the second largest search engine, it is worth thinking about more deeply. Let me explain.

One of my goals for 2020 is to expand my YouTube page. While I am primarily a professor, speaker, and writer, I also consistently produce content for YouTube to help people with tough questions about the Christian faith. As a result, I have spent considerable time watching YouTube videos recently.

What Happened to the Apostles of Jesus?

In particular, I have watched a number of videos on the fates of the apostles. Why? Since I published my doctoral research in an academic book called The Fate of the Apostles, I wanted to see how accurate some of the leading YouTube videos are on the topic. Do they get it right? Or, as well-intentioned as they may be, do they peddle error?

In virtually every video I could find, the information was either overstated or misstated. Although there are a few exceptions, rarely could I find a video that got it right–rarely.

This means, if you search YouTube for a sober assessment of what history actually reveals about the missionary journeys and deaths of the apostles of Jesus, you are almost guaranteed to be misled. Let that sink in.

Good Intentions, Bad Research

For instance, this video has nearly 150,000 hits and yet grossly misstates what we know about the apostles. It has decent graphics, simple organization, and is relatively short. And so, it gets a good number of views. Same with this video that has over 560,000 views.

Yet, if you actually want to know what happened to Peter, Paul, James, John and the rest of the apostles of Jesus, these videos will not help you get closer to the truth. In fact, they will lead you away from it

Judging YouTube Videos

There is a temptation to judge the value of a video on YouTube by the number of views. But that would be a mistake. Truth is not determined by numbers. Views are not a good indicator of accuracy.

My recent video on the deaths of the apostles has less views than others, but it is a far more accurate assessment of what we know from history and its implications for the resurrection.

There is a big difference between the skill of producing an enjoyable video for YouTube and being able to carefully assess historical, scientific, or philosophical truth. Sometimes these skills overlap. Many times, they do not. The best YouTubers, in my opinion, are able to do both.

Given how inaccurate many of the leading videos are in an area that I am an expert, I am deeply suspicious about areas in which I am less knowledgeable.

YouTube is a wonderful tool. Use it for what it’s worth. Just be careful using it as a source for truth.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: