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The weekend before Thanksgiving, I was at the Evangelical Philosophical Society Apologetics Conference in San Antonio. It was hosted by Biola University with the theme of Reasonable Faith in an Uncertain World. There was a lot of great speakers and topics that I really wanted to catch them all, and am looking forward to the videos of the ones that I couldn’t make it to because they were speaking at the same time. I got to meet a number of friends in person that I had only talked to on the phone or online, and got to make a number of new friends.

One of the lecturers that I had the pleasure of catching was Tim McGrew. I’ve friends with and have interacted with him on Facebook but had never caught one of his lectures before, so I was looking forward to hearing him speak. And I was blown away by the topic of his presentation. His topic was How the Gospels Authenticate One Another: The Ring of Truth, and it was on the undesigned coincidences in the Gospels. Below is the notes that I took from his lecture, which I’ve tried to clean up and make more presentable, as well as add some commentary to help clarify.


Tim opened up by quoting Luke 1:3-4

Luke 1:3-4
3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the
very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you  may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
Our goals:
– To explore some of the positive internal evidence for the truth of the gospels: in particular
– To build a cumulative case that the authors of the gospels were well informed and habitually truthful
Two questions:
– Have you ever wondered why there are 4 gospels?
– Can we tell, by comparing two passages of scripture with one another, that both are authentic
We can find passages where two different writers tell the same story, perhaps even in the same words.
“Yes, but…” Skeptic responses:
– One of the documents might have been copied from the other one.
How can this possibility be ruled out on the basis of internal evidence alone?
Undesigned coincidences
– Example: one book may mention in passing a detail that answers some question raised by the other.
– Such interlocking would be very unlikely if
     – One of them were copied from the other, or
     – Both were copied from the same source
Undesigned coincidences:
– Fictions and forgeries don’t interlock like this. Either they don’t interlock at all or the
interlocking are more obvious because they are intended to be noticed.
Nobody picks up Lord of the Rings to answer questions in Moby Dick.
At the battle of Midway, a Japanese general randomly recorded seeing a guy in the middle of an ocean on a boat. No explanation was given. He was just recording something he saw. But it made no sense until you looked at an American pilot who recorded that he got shot down, had to abandon his plane, and inflated his life raft.
– But we would expect to find such undesigned coincidences in authentic records of the same real event told by different people who knew what they were talking about.
Example #1: Matt 14:1-2
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.”
To his servants.
How would Matthew know what Herod said to his servants?
The explanation: Luke 8:3
and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him[a] from their substance.
“and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward”
The answer to a previous question.
– The fact that Jesus’ followers had family in the household of Herod.
A cumulative case
– One undersigned coincidence like this might be an accident
– like having two pieces of a puzzle interlocking.
– But if we discover numerous undersigned coincidences crisscrossing the documents, and in particular if each gospel has some things that explain things in the others, it becomes ridiculous to insist that they are all just accidental.
Example #2: John 2:6-7
Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.
Why are the jars empty?
The explanation: Matt 15:1-2
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
The Jews viewed hand washing as a ritual for everyone before every meal, not just something for the priests. Since the festival was in progress, the pots had been emptied already.
Example #3: The Transfiguration. John 9:31-36

28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. 33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.

34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son.[a] Hear Him!” 36 When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.

And they kept silent, telling no one what they had seen.
They what?!? Why would they do that?
The explanation: Mark 9:9
Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Mark gives us the command but doesn’t say whether they obeyed it; Luke records their obedience but omits the command.
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This is about halfway through my notes. In order to keep this from being too terribly long, I’ll continue the rest of my notes in a follow-up post.
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