This is a continuation of my previous blog post, which come from notes that I took while listening to Tim McGrew give his lecture How the Gospels Authenticate One Another: The Ring of Truth, which was on the undesigned coincidences in the Gospels. I heard this lecture the weekend before Thanksgiving at the Evangelical Philosophical Society Apologetics Conference in San Antonio, which was hosted by Biola University with the theme of Reasonable Faith in an Uncertain World. The notes I took were long enough that I broke them up into 2 posts, rather than have one really long blog post. You can read the first part here.
To repeat from my first blog:
– 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
– 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.
My notes continue:
– Inventing a gospel story:
– The challenge: you want to invent or forge a miracle story about Jesus and pass it off as an authentic account.
– At the beginning, you are going to set it with Jesus asking his disciples a question
– The setup for the miracle story is going to have to do with money and food.
– Which disciple do you pick?
– Peter because he’s the leader. Judas because he has the money. Matthew was the tax collector.
In John 6:1-14, there is the feeding of the 5000. In verse 5, John records this:
Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?”
Luke 9:10-17 records the same miracle. In verse 10, Luke tells us where the miracle was located.
And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.
So the miracle happened at Bethsaida.
John 12:21 records another interesting piece of information.
Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
So Philip was from Bethsaida. Luke and John fit together like pieces of a puzzle. When Luke records the miracle, he doesn’t mention Philip in the context at all. When John records the miracle, he doesn’t mention Bethsaida as the setting of the miracle. Only by putting them together can we understand why Jesus speaks to Philip in John 6:5
All of the synoptic gospel authors have independent information.
Example #4: Another detail of the feeding of the 5000.
Mark 6: 31,39
31 And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.
39 Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass.
If it’s a deserted place, why are there many people coming and going?
On the green grass. Why is the grass green? Israel doesn’t usually have green grass.
4 Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.
Passover is in the middle of the brief growing season in Palestine. That’s why the grass is green.
Passover is also a great feast to which hundreds of thousands of Jews traveled every year. John gives us, in passing, a detail that interlocks in two ways with Mark’s account of the same event.
Example #5: Luke 23:2-4
2 And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”3 Then Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?”
He answered him and said, “It is as you say.”
4 So Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no fault in this Man.”
The sequence of events is completely baffling.
1. The Jews make a grave accusation that Jesus is claiming to be a King, something punishable by death in Roman times.
2. Pilate questions Jesus on this very point
3. Jesus admits to the charge, or at the very least, doesn’t deny it.
4. Pilate promptly declares him to be innocent!
The explanation: John 18:33-38
33 Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”34 Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?”
35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?”
Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.
John doesn’t record the charge that Luke records, but does record the reason why Pilate found no fault in him.
Example #6: same scriptures.
John has Pilate randomly asking Jesus “Are you the king of the Jews?” Luke gives the explanation of why Pilate asked that question.
Example #7: john 21:15
15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
Why does Jesus say “more than these”?
The explanation: Mark 14:29
29 Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.”
When Mark records Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial, he also records that Peter said that even if all the others stumble, “I will not be”.
The ring of truth
– The separate narratives are independently grounded in the same actual facts.
This argument was first explored for the gospels by the veracity of the Gospels and
Acts in 1829, and later republished with large additions under the title Undesigned Coincidences. You can find more at Historicalapologetics.org
The Gettysburg Address even has conflicting stories of when and how it was written by eyewitnesses. Therefore, it probably didn’t even exist.