Undesigned Coincidences – Evidence for the historicity of the Gospels Tim McGrew (via Logos Apologia)

Arial view of BETHSAIDA, Israel via http://jewishmag.com/

Video by Chris Putnam of LogosApologia

Do the Gospels contain internal and external evidence

that they are eyewitness accounts? 

One compelling line of evidence comes in the form of what is called „undesigned coincidences”. When one is telling a story, especially a story one has witnessed, one often hits the highlights and does not explain every detail. The focus is on what is important to the action. This is why two eyewitnesses will testify in different ways about the same event. Each person brings his own unique point of view in his description, due to his individual preferences and his predisposition. When telling a story, one gets caught up in what one actually remembers, and drops incidental references to significant facts. The sort of facts which are seemingly selected randomly by the memory of the individual. This is typical of the real memoirs, but not of legendary embellishments. When accounts from different eyewitnesses fill in the unknown details for each other, this is called an undesigned coincidence.

Here are 3 undesigned coincidences we are taking a look at, which show how the Gospels are pieces of an interlocking historic narration:

1. The miracles Jesus performed in Bethsaida

Such coincidences, especially when they are considered in their cumulative force, provide strong evidence for the integrity of the individual accounts. In Matthew 11:21 Jesus pronounces a curse on some cities in Galilee, saying, „Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”  So, the question naturally arises: What is Jesus talking about? What were the mighty works done in Chorazin and Bethsaida? For Chorazin, we really cannot say. It’s one of those cases, where we realize that Jesus did things that we do not have recorded in Scripture, and Bethsaida is never mentioned elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew. In Mark and John, who do name Bethsaida a couple of times, tell us nothing that would make sense of Jesus’s words, as quoted in Matthew.

But, in Luke’s Gospel, we find the answer. Luke 9:10 reads „When the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all they had done. And taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida.” Immediately after this verse, and set in the same geographic location, we have Luke’s account of the feeding of 5,000. Now, here we have an answer to our question, about the mighty work done in Bethsaida. It was there that Jesus fed the 5,000.

Now, a critic, trying to get around the force of this coincidence, might point out that Luke gives out both the location of the miracle, and in Luke 10:13, Jesus’s pronouncement was on Chorazin and Bethsaida. Might Matthew have simply copied form Luke, forgetting to include the reference to Bethsaida? Most scholars, traditional and liberal, think Matthew did not use Luke’s Gospel at all in writing his own. No one, not even an honest and observant eyewitness, can report every event in complete detail. So, the alternative hypothesis of chance and legendary elaboration does not really explain the coincidence at all. And modern scholarship makes the copying hypothesis very unlikely. The best explanation is Matthew was simply reporting facts, as he knew they had occurred.

2. Why does Jesus address Philip in the feeding of the 5,000?

In John 6:5 , Jesus is preparing to feed the 5,000. He turns to Philip and asks: Therefore, Jesus lifting up His eyes and seeing that a great multitude was coming to Him said to Philip, „Where are we to buy bread that these may eat?” Philip is a minor figure in the Gospels. After the calling of the disciples, Jesus addresses Philip directly only once, that we hear of. Why then, does Jesus ask this question of Philip? Why not Peter, James, or John, who are much more prominent figures? Why not Judas, who kept the money? Presumably, when John told the story, he wasn’t concerned with the reason Jesus chose Philip. But, if someone were forging the story as fiction, crafting a legend, he would have a literary reason for selecting a particular disciple as a character in his fictional narrative. Accordingly, a fabricator of fiction would not select a character without making the reason clear to the audience.

So, why did Jesus choose Philip? John’s Gospel does not really say why. Keep in mind that we just learned in the previous undesigned coincidence that the miracle took place in Bethsaida- Luke 9:10. Then turn to John 12:20-21. Here is Jesus teaching and some Greeks approach and want to speak with him, asking permission from Jesus’s disciples. Now, casually, in the course of reporting the request, John remarks, „Now, there were certain Greeks among those that were going up to worship at the feast; these therefore came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.'”  

Now, here is a remarkable, interlocking  of the 2 passages in John and Luke-  BECAUSE PHILIP WAS FROM BETHSAIDA! (John 6:1-13; Luke 9:12-17: Matthew 11:21)There’s no other way that this could be explained, as having one of the authors copying from the other. John does not tell us where the miracle took place, and Luke never mentions Philip. And the coincidence is too tight and clear for a chance of a legendary elaboration to be a plausible explanation. (6:06) But, putting the 3 passages together, we find that they interlock, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. This is what real history looks like. It has a ring of truth.


Two passages in Mark give us the setup for our third undesigned coincidence. In Mark 6:31, we find a reference to large crowds of people, so large and pressing, that they force Jesus and the disciples to withdraw. „And He said to them, ” Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) This passage sets the stage for the feeding of the 5,000. A little time later, Mark gives us another vivid description of the scene: Mark 6:39 „And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass.” Two questions arise form these passages.

  1. Why should there have been particularly large crowds, just then? We are entitled to demand an answer with the evidence of the historic faithfulness of the narrative, if we could find one. 
  2. It is a bit odd that the grass should be described as green. In Palestine, there’s only a short growing season. After that, dry heat turns the grass brown, and it remains brown throughout the summer.

But, in John’s description of this setting, for this same miracle, we find the detail that explains both of these facts. John 6:4 reads: „Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near.” At Passover each year, thousands of Jews travelled each year to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. That would definitely explain why a Galilean town would be unusually crowded at the time. As it happens, Passover falls every year, in the middle of the year’s growing season, when the grass would be lush and green. John doesn’t mention the crowds or the green grass. Though he does note that there was much grass in that place, John 6:10. Mark doesn’t mention the season was Passover, but, putting the two accounts together, makes for an explanation that fits everything together. And, no other explanation does the job so well. This has a ring of true history.

Even skeptics believe that Gospels were written at different times and places. Where the accounts are obviously independent, the odds against some kind of subtle collusion are astronomical. The best explanation is that they were writing about something that actually occurred. This undesigned coincidence supports the historicity of all the different accounts. When we overlap the Gospels in this way, these undesigned coincidence provide evidence the Gospel accounts are eyewitness testimony of actual historical events.

Comments are closed.

Blogosfera Evanghelică

Vizite unicate din Martie 6,2011

free counters

Va multumim ca ne-ati vizitat azi!

România – LIVE webcams de la orase mari

%d blogeri au apreciat: