Undesigned Scriptural Coincidences: The Ring Of Truth
by Jonathan McLatchie
Last week, Frank Turek interviewed philosopher Tim McGrew for the CrossExamined radio show. The topic of the discussion was the so-called “undesigned coincidences”. It’s only in recent months that I myself have been introduced to these undesigned coincidences, largely through my own interactions with Tim McGrew. I had been exposed to one or two previously, but had no idea just how wide spread these phenomena actually are.
What is an undesigned coincidence? An undesigned coincidence (so-named by J.J. Blunt and first discovered by William Paley) occurs when one account of an event leaves out a bit of information which is filled in, often quite incidentally, by a different account, which helps to answer some natural questions raised by the first. As an argument for the historical veracity of the gospels, the case is at its strongest when taken as a cumulative whole: In other words, it’s death by a thousand mosquito bites.
There are two categories of undesigned coincidences pertinent to the New Testament: Internal and External. As the labels suggest, the former concerns details which are filled in by other Biblical (i.e. internal) sources, while the latter concerns details filled in by other extra-Biblical (i.e. external) sources. In this article, I want to take a look at a few examples of both.
One of my own personal favourite examples pertains to one of Jesus’ multiple predictions with regards his pending death and subsequent resurrection.
In John 2:18-22, we read the following account:
The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
In Mark 14:55-59, we read this account of Jesus before the Sanhedrin:
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.
Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even then their testimony did not agree.
Notice that the false witnesses, described by Mark, misrepresent what Jesus had said. Jesus had not said that he would destroy any man-made temple. Rather, he had used the temple as a metaphor for his body (as we learn in the John 2 passage above). There is also a parallel for this passage in Matthew 26:59-61.
In Mark 15:27-30, we are told,
They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”
There is also a parallel account in Matthew 27:38-40. Notice that neither Matthew, nor Mark, give us the original context with regards what Jesus had originally said. All we are given by Matthew and Mark is the later misrepresentations by the false witnesses and mockers as Jesus’ trial and execution. But notice that, equally, John (the non-synoptic gospel), while reporting Jesus’ original words, does not report on the later misrepresentations at Jesus’ trial. I have used this argument as an evidence for Jesus having predicted his death and resurrection…
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