We’ve now come to the kind of internal evidence that are my personal favorites to read about and talk about. This evidence is actually pretty old, being defended by pre-20th century apologists like William Paley and J.J Blunt. None of these arguments have been truly refuted, but rather, they have fallen out of fashion. But the written and video works of Dr. Lydia McGrew and Erik Manning of Testify are causing these old internal evidences for the gospels to make a comeback. This blog post, though it will be long, will only scratch the surface. I recommend readers pick up copies of Lydia McGrew’s “Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences In The Gospels and Acts”, “The Mirror or The Mask: Liberating The Gospels From Literary Devices”, “The Eye Of The Beholder: The Gospel Of John As Historical Reportage”, and “Testimonies To The Truth: Why You Can Trust The Gospels”. These are fantastic works and without them, I wouldn’t have even known of these arguments in order to write this article.
So, let’s dive into the so-old-they’re-new categories of evidence. They are; Undesigned Coincidences, Unnecessary Details, and Unexplained Allusions.
What is an undesigned coincidence? An undesigned coincidence is an extremely subtle, unexpected corroboration between two or more stories. One account of a story raises a question and leaves it unanswered, and another story provides the answer without intending to. For example, let’s suppose that my sister Kendall and I were recounting one of the vacations we took with our mom at Myrtle Beach when we were kids. Kendall says “In 2004, Mom took my brother and I to Myrtle Beach. We swam in the ocean, made sand castles, and had lots of fun. I’ll never forget seeing a flying porta potty though! That was hilarious!” In this account, you get some decent information, but that last sentence is extremely odd. Flying porta potty? What’s that about? Kendall doesn’t say. Now, on a totally separate occasion, I tell you my version of the story. Keep in mind that I have no idea that Kendall already told you about our vacation. “When I was 12 years old, I went to the beach with my mom and sister. It was kind of bad timing. We didn’t know it, but a tropical storm was about to hit. The wind was so strong that I could lean completely forward without falling over! But eventually, it subsided and we were able to resume our normal vacation activities, such as playing in the sand and the ocean.”
Kendall’s account brings up an unexplained detail; the flying porta-potty. My account brings up the fact that this particular vacation was during a tropical storm. Kendall omits the tropical storm, but includes the flying porta-potty. My account excludes the flying porta potty, but includes the tropical storm. In my account, I am not trying to explain to you why there was a flying porta-potty. Not only do I myself not bring it up, but I’m not even aware of the fact that Kendall told her version of the story to you. We’re both telling the truth. We’re both recounting real things that happened to us and because our stories reflect reality, our stories just so happen to coincide with each other. This is an undesigned coincidence.
There are a plethora of undesigned coincidences in the gospel accounts, and the ways in which the gospel testimonies fit together are so subtle and casual that it’s unlikely the authors were writing with the purpose of trying to leave undesigned coincidences in the text. I won’t be able to cover all of them, so I have just chosen my favorite examples. These are the ones I consider to be the most striking.. I recommend getting Lydia McGrew’s book “Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences In The Gospels and Acts” for a much more detailed treatment.
- Example 1: Herod and His Servants.
In Matthew 14:1-2, we read “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.‘”
Have you ever stopped to wonder how Matthew might have gotten this information? How in the world did he know what Herod and his servants were talking about behind closed doors? If we were just left with Matthew’s testimony, all we could do was speculate. However, the answer is to be found in the gospel of Luke.
“Soon afterward he [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” – Luke 8:1–3
Here, in a totally different context, Luke tells us that one of Jesus’ followers was a woman named Joanna and that Joanna was the wife of a man named Chuza. Chuza was Herod’s household manager. In other words, Chuza was one of Herod’s servants. If one of Jesus’ followers was the wife of one of Herod’s servants, this is an obvious answer as to where Matthew could have gotten his information. Chuza most likely told Joanna who then passed it on to the disciples. Now, Luke 8 is not telling us about Herod the Tetrarch hearing about all the miraculous things Jesus said and did, speculating that he was John The Baptist risen from the dead, and then telling us that Chuza was there and told Joanna. No. Rather, this information about Joanna and Chuza comes in the context of a narrative that has nothing to do with Herod’s speculations. Luke does not appear to be trying to answer the question of where Matthew got his information. He just tells his story of Jesus going around preaching and the identities of the people who traveled with him.
As Lydia McGrew says;
“The indirectness of this coincidence is particularly lovely. Only one part of the puzzle is found in each Gospel, and the connection cannot possibly be the result of design. It is beyond belief that Luke would have inserted this casual reference to Chuza in a list unconnected in any other way with Herod or with the beheading of John, in order to provide a convenient explanation for the detail about Herod’s servants mentioned only in Matthew. This coincidence provides clear evidence of the independence of Matthew and Luke and confirms them both.” Lydia McGrew. “Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts.” DeWard, pages 88-89.
- Example 2: The Green Grass
Lydia McGrew writes about this undesigned coincidence as follows;
“Three different Gospels mention the fact that there was grass in the place where the feeding of the five thousand took place (Mark 6.39, Matt 14.19, John 6.10), but only Mark emphasizes its color: ‘Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass.” (Mark 6.39) Why does Mark specifically mention that the grass was green? …. John 6.4—'(T)he Passover … was at hand.’ Passover, of course, falls in the spring. The grass is not generally green in that region, but it is green in the spring after the winter rains, around the time of Passover. There would have needed to be quite a lot of green grass to make Mark’s statement true, since he implies that more than 5,000 people sat down on it. At that time of year, but not at others, such a quantity of green grass would be possible. So here we have a perfect fit between John’s casual reference to the time of year and Mark’s specification of the detail of the green grass.” Lydia McGrew, “Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences In The Gospels and Acts”, Deward, pages 66-67
Dr. McGrew goes on to quote J. J. Blunt talking about the differences in the accounts of the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand. In the quote that Dr. McGrew provides in her book, Blunt notes that the accounts of the former emphasize the grass whereas the accounts of the latter say instead that the people sat down on the ground. McGrew says that his comment is applicable both to that point and to Mark’s reference specifically to the green grass:
Blunt says “It should seem … that the abundance of the grass was a feature of the scene of the miracle of the five thousand, which had impressed itself on the eye of the relator, as peculiar to it. It was a graphic trifle which had rendered the spectacle more vivid.” ibid, page 67
- Example 3: Why Ask Phillip?
Here’s another undesigned coincidence that comes in the context of the feeding of the five thousand. In John 6, we read “Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” (John 6:1-6)
Why did Jesus ask Phillip of all people where they ought to buy bread? Phillip wasn’t one of the more prominent disciples like Peter or John, and he doesn’t do much talking in the gospel narratives. He’s just kind of….there. Now, maybe the answer is that Phillip just happened to be the one standing closest to Jesus at the time Jesus asked the question. Maybe Jesus just turned to a disciple at random to ask the question, not really giving much thought to the choice. These are certainly possible. However, I think another explanation is more likely.
John 1:44 says “Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.” John provides us with two facts; Phillip was from Bethsaida and Phillip was the one to whom Jesus asked the question. Yet, this doesn’t really explain anything. All the facts to answer the question cannot be gotten from John alone, for John does not explain where the feeding of the 5000 took place (just vaguely saying it was on “the far shore of the Sea of Galilee”), though he does tell us where Phillip is from and he does tell us that Jesus asked Phillip where to get the bread. But let’s turn to Luke’s version of the account now.
“When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.’ He replied, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They answered, ‘We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.’ (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” – Luke 9:10-17
Whereas John gives us a vague idea of where the feeding took place, Luke tells us that the location was in Bethsaida. If Phillip is from Bethsaida, it makes sense why Jesus would pose the question to him. Jesus would, in essence, be saying “Hey Phillip. You’re a local around here, right? You must know all the best shops in town. Where can we buy bread for these people?” Luke does not tell us that Phillip is from Bethsaida, John doesn’t say that the feeding took place in Bethsaida, but John does tell us Phillip is from there. This is a very interesting (and very subtle) interlocking of details in the accounts. It’s so subtle – and this goes for almost all of the undesigned coincidences in this article – that most Bible readers today don’t pick up on them, and it’s doubtful the original readers picked up on them either. They need someone like Lydia McGrew or Evan Minton or William Paley to point it out to them. And, I should stress, it is the severe subtlety of the ways these accounts interlock with each other that suggest their authenticity. It is absurd to think that the gospel authors colluded with each other to make these indications appear in the text. Just imagine John saying “Ok, guys. I’m going to say in the first chapter of my gospel that Phillip is from Bethsaida, and then several chapters later I’m going to have Jesus ask Phillip where to buy bread before Jesus miraculously feeds 5,000 people. Now, Luke, you’ve got to tell your readers the feeding took place in Bethsaida while I don’t. This way, centuries from now, smart people will pick up on these clues and think we’re accurate eyewitness accounts.” Not only is this an absurd scenario, but even if it had occurred to the gospel authors, they probably wouldn’t have gone through the trouble. After all, if your evidence of authentic testimony is so subtle that only the most observant and astute readers will pick up on them, it’s not going to serve much of an apologetic purpose. The gospel authors were not fabricating details only for people with Sherlock Holmes level detection skills to detect and then falsely infer that they were recalling true events.
- Example 4: The Men Sat Down
We’re not done with the feeding of the 5,000 yet!
The name of this miracle gets its name from the number of people who were fed (No duh, right). However, have you ever wondered how the gospel authors got that number? Matthew’s version of the story tells us that the number 5,000 referred to adult males. “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children” (Matthew 14:21).
Mark 6:44, Luke 9:14, and John 6:10 also indicate that it was five thousand men who were fed (though the phrase “besides women and children” is unique to Matthew). But again, how did they come up with this number? Was it just a guess? Was it one of those big numbers one throws out when you see a crowd of people? “There must have been 2,000 people at the ball game!” The gospel of Mark gives us one piece of the puzzle. Mark writes “Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.” (6:39-40). Likewise, Luke 9:14-15 implies that “he said to his disciples, ‘Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ And they did so, and had them all sit-down.’” Organizing the dudes and dudettes in this way would have made it much easier both to count the number of people in the crowd as well as making it easier to feed them.
But that still leaves the question of how the number of men was counted to the exclusion of the women and children. John’s gospel does not tell us that Jesus organized the people into neat groups of hundreds and fifties. In John 6:10-11, we read, “Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” Ergo, John informs us that Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups just as Mark and Luke tell us. However, it is John alone who tells us that it was the men who were doing the sitting. This, then, illuminates, in a casual and incidental way, how the number of men could be reliably estimated.
*Example 5: Denouncing the Unrepentant Cities
In Matthew 11:21, Jesus gets ticked off at cities that refused to repent of their sins despite all the signs he did for them. We read “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Matthew does not tell us what miracles were performed in the denounced cities to whom woes would come. Readers are just left scratching their heads thinking “What’s that about? I didn’t read about Jesus doing any miracles in Chorazin and Bethsaida?” However, as we just read, the gospel of Luke is the gospel that informs us that The Feeding Of The 5,000 occurred in Bethsaida. Luke tells us this in chapter 9 of his gospel. In light of this data, Jesus’ condemnation makes sense. “Oh, so THAT’S when Jesus performed miracles in Bethsaida. Or at least this one miracle.” However, the thing is that while Matthew does narrate the feeding miracle (see Matthew 14:13-21), Matthew doesn’t tell us that it took place in Bethsaida. Moreover, Matthew gives his account of the feeding 3 chapters AFTER the pronouncement of woe upon Bethsaida. This is due to the fact that Matthew was prone to narrate events achronologically As opposed to chronologically, which is telling a story in strict chronological order. And Achronological narration is different from dischronological narration. Dischronological narration occurs … Continue reading Only by comparing the account in Luke do we find out that the feeding miracle in fact happened before the woes were pronounced by Jesus upon Bethsaida.
What is astonishing is that not only is Luke’s mention of Bethsaida as the location of the feeding found in a different context from the woes; the context of Bethsaida’s mention is in a completely unrelated context. That is, the pericope in which it occurs has absolutely nothing to do with the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus just casually refers to the mighty deeds performed in these cities. Nothing in the context suggests that Jesus is referring to giving 5,000 people bread and loaves. And lest the skeptic wants to argue that Luke mentions Bethsaida as the setting of the feeding of the five thousand miracles in order to fill in the missing information in relation to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 11:21, keep in mind that miracles in Chorazin are not narrated ANYWHERE.
The feeding of the 5,000 has so many different kinds of casual, interlocking details in their testimony that it seems absurd to think that this account is made up. The different authors raise questions and leave them unanswered, other authors provide the answers, but do so either in entirely different contexts, or in the same context but in a way that suggests that they weren’t trying to answer the unanswered questions the previous authors raised. The best explanation is that this is eyewitness testimony, and the gospel authors are just recollecting factual details. This is not the kind of thing you see in fictional accounts. Again, I want to you to imagine these 4 men getting together and trying to collaborate on leaving hyper-subtle details in their accounts in such a way that this puzzle piece fit would occur. They would have to make sure their details are so subtle, that only the most astute of readers would piece the clues together, and they’d have to do this in spite of the fact that it would serve no purpose because 99% of people who read the gospels just wouldn’t pick up on them. You would have to be obtuse or have a strong desire for the authors to not be telling the truth to deny the conclusion that this event is a historical, factually true account.
- Example 6: Jesus said “Follow Me” The Disciples said “Ok”.
In Matthew 4:18-22, we read “Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.”
Wow! Ok, so this random dude that the two sets of brothers never met before come up to them and say “Follow me.” and they’re just like “Ok.” and then they drop everything and follow him? Who would do that? You never even met this man before. This is puzzling to the point of being silly. If Matthew were the only gospel we had, we might never get an answer to this puzzling behavior on the part of the disciples. Indeed, I can imagine skeptics pointing to this account in an attempt to undermine the reliability of The Bible. “Are we really to believe that these fishermen would just abandon their livelihood to follow someone they had never even met before?” Fortunately, this question raised by Matthew is answered by Luke.
Luke 5:1-11 says “One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”
Oh! Now it makes sense! Peter, Andrew, John, and James didn’t just randomly drop everything when Jesus called them. There were a lot of things that happened in between. They had just seen Jesus perform a miracle.
- Example 7: A Temple Not Made With Hands
John 2:18-22 says “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.”
The people upset with Jesus in John’s account attack a straw man. Jesus never said he would destroy the temple that Herod built and that the Jews worshipped in. When he said “Destroy this temple”, he was referring to his body in the crucifixion. “I will raise it again” referred to his resurrection. 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. Matthew nor Mark give us the original context with regards what Jesus had originally said. All Matthew and Mark do is record the straw men at his trial. But notice that John, while reporting Jesus’ words, he says nothing about the straw men accusations. John does not report the accusation, but he does report that Jesus said “Destroy this temple and in 3 days I will raise it up.” If the only gospel you had to read was Mark, or if the only gospel you had in your possession was Matthew, you would scratch your head and wonder where this accusation of destroying the temple came from. It is only by reading John’s gospel that you get an idea of where Jesus’ opponents could have gotten this from. Moreover, this provides one argument for accepting the idea of two temple cleansings. Craig Blomberg argues that it makes sense to think that the accusation at Jesus’ trial is a garbled recollection of something Jesus said years earlier. Craig Blomberg, “The Historical Reliability Of John’s Gospel: Issues and Commentary, Pages 87-91, IVP Academic It would be unlikely that if Jesus made this claim only a week before his trial that his accusers would recall it so badly.
- Example 8: Malchus’ Ear
In this section, I want to bring up an undesigned coincidence between John and Luke. The account pertains to when Jesus was arrested and Peter took out his sword and hacked off Malchus’ ear. Malchus was a servant of the high priest.
Here’s the account in John 8:10-12 : “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear (the servant’s name was Malchus). Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’ Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.”
Later, when the Jewish authorities brought Jesus before Pilate, and Pilate interrogated Jesus, Jesus told Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36
Jesus’ statement doesn’t seem to comport well with what actually happened. Jesus said if his kingdom were of this world, his servants would fight his arrest, implying that they are not, in fact, fighting his arrest. Yet the night before Peter DID try to stop Jesus’ arrest by going after Malchus’ with a sword! John tells us as much! If John were the only gospel we had, we would not know the answer to this. However, Luke’s version unintentionally provides the answer to the question that John raises.
Consider Luke 22:49-51:
Luke 22:49-51 says “Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘“’Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”
Luke tells us that Jesus healed Malchus’ ear. John doesn’t mention the healing of his ear, but Luke does. Therefore, Jesus could make this statement knowing that if the Jewish authorities wanted to prove him otherwise, they’d have no evidence. They couldn’t produce the maimed Malchus because he had both of his ears. As Tim McGrew states, “Peter could not be arrested for the assault, nor Jesus contradicted in his claim, because there was no remaining physical evidence of the struggle.” McGrew, Timothy (Ph.D., Professor and Philosophy Department Chair, Western Michigan University), Internal Evidence for the Truth of the Gospels and Acts, presentation to St. Michael Lutheran … Continue reading Jesus condemned advancing the Kingdom Of God through violent political means as evidenced by both his rebuke and the undoing of Peter’s attack.
- Example 9: Who Hit You?
Right after his “I am the Son Of Man and you’ll see me seated at the right hand of God and coming on the clouds of heaven” confession (the Christological implications of which were talked about in part 4 of this series), Matthew’s version of the account says that Caiaphas tore his robes and asked for the verdict of the Sanhedrin, and the Sanhedrin all condemned him worthy of death. Matthew 26:67-68 then says “Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, ‘Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?'” Now, this is a rather odd thing for someone to say. “Prophesy! You have special revelation from God because you’re the messiah right? Then tell me who hit you?” Jesus would probably point to the one and say “He’s standing right there.” What’s so special about that? You don’t need special prophetic revelation to identify someone standing right before you as the one member of the group who hit you. You just need your eyesight.
Well, Mark’s account reads “Then some of them began to spit on Him. They blindfolded Him, struck Him with their fists, and said to Him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the officers received Him with slaps in His face.” (Mark 14:65, emphasis in bold mine)
And there you have it. Jesus didn’t have the use of his eyesight. So, the taunt now makes sense. Jesus would either need to make a really lucky guess or have special supernatural insight to correctly identify the one who struck him. If the one who struck him was silent at the time, it would be more difficult since he wouldn’t even have the attacker’s voice to go on.
Matthew raises a question and Mark answers it. Again, are we to imagine collaborators saying “Ok, Matthew you just mention that someone struck Jesus and asked him to prophesy and identify the one who struck him. But don’t mention the blindfold! I’ll include this account and mention the blindfold.”
- Example 10: Are You The King Of The Jews?
Let’s dive in with Luke 23:2-4, as Pilate is hearing accusations against Jesus:
“And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.’ So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied. Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man.'”
Wait, what? So, the Jewish leaders brings the charge of claiming to be a king before Pilate, a claim that would have been seen as sedition, so Pilate asks “Yo, is that true?” and Jesus said “You said it, bub.” And then Pilate acquits him! What in the world is going on here?
John 18:33-38 gives us the answer.
“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’…Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’ You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ What is truth?’ retorted Pilate. With this, he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him.'”
Ah, here’s the answer. Luke speedruns through the narrative in a way that if all we had was his account, we’d be baffled. However, John slows down and expands on this a bit more. In reality, Pilate didn’t ask “Are you a king?” with Jesus going “Yep.” and Pilate going “I see no problem here.” Rather, Pilate asked “Are you a king?” and Jesus somewhat cryptically answered “You said it. But my kingdom is not of this world.” Pilate may not have understood what Jesus meant, but he probably inferred that whatever he meant, he didn’t intend on seizing Ceasar’s throne.
Luke and John support each other in two ways. In John, Pilate appears to just ask Jesus “Hey, are you a king?” out of the clear blue. But Luke tells us that the Jewish leaders brought charges of sedition to Pilate. Ergo, this is why Pilate asked the question. But in Luke, Jesus answers saying basically “Yes, I’m a king” and then records Pilate’s acquittal. Only John tells us that Jesus’ response was more elaborate and that Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world.
Craig Dunkley of Logic and Light said it well; “Luke and John are independent accounts of the same events. As such, they often interlock in unplanned ways that mutually support one another’s accuracy. The many ‘undesigned coincidences’ in the gospels provide clear evidences that contradict critics’ claims that the gospels are inaccurate legends that just copied one another.” Craig Dunkley, “Undesigned Coincidences 7: Are You The King Of The Jews?” November 25th, 2015 — http://www.logicandlight.org/undesigned-coincidences-7-are-you-the-king-of-the-jews/.
- Example 11: The Courage Of Joseph Of Arimathea
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell us that post-cross, a guy called Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and was like “Can I have the body to bury” and Pilate was like “Ok.”
“And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph.” – Mark 15:42–45
Mark goes out of his way to emphasize Joseph’s courage. Why? Well, it could be that given Joseph’s status as a Sanhedrin member, he didn’t want to risk being associated with this man who claimed to be the cloud-riding God-Man who would sit at God’s right hand. If you’re a respected member of the Sanhedrin, you certainly don’t want your peers to find out you did something nice for the man who claimed to be God the night before. However, John gives us an explanation that’s more interesting than this.
“After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.” -John 19.38–39
Lydia McGrew explains that:
“John does not emphasize Joseph’s courage, but what he does say explains why someone else writing about him might be moved to note it. According to John, Joseph had previously been a secret disciple for fear of the Jews; John implies that this was the first time that he had openly shown himself to be sympathetic to Jesus. As if to emphasize the point still further, John states that Joseph was joined in the work of burial by Nicodemus, who had previously come to Jesus by night (John 3), presumably out of a similar fear. What we have in the two accounts is an interesting case of two reporters with the same facts giving those facts a different spin. Mark accentuates the positive. He speaks of Joseph as ‘looking for the kingdom of God’ (always considered a good thing in the New Testament) and calls him courageous for asking for Jesus’ body. Yet this very praise of Joseph raises the question I have already noted—why Mark’s emphasis upon ‘taking courage’? Does this imply that it was unlikely that Joseph would take courage to ask for the body? John’s report tells of Joseph’s previous lack of boldness (not mentioned in any of the Synoptic Gospels), which the twelve disciples may well have known about and had different opinions about. John respects Joseph and Nicodemus only insofar as they finally step forward and make their discipleship known, which John may consider to be the least they could do. Mark, on the other hand, is more sympathetic and inclined to praise Joseph for ‘taking courage.'” Lydia McGrew. “Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts.” DeWard, pages 77-78
- Example 12: The Net Did Not Break
This is the final example of an undesigned coincidence I will showcase in this blog post. This one concerns Jesus’ appearance to his disciples after his resurrection. In John 21:1-12, we read this; “Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish? ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.”
This miracle bears a striking resemblance to another that we read about in the synoptic gospels. Remember when Shahar Isaac was trying to meet his tax deadline? Luke 5:4-11. Peter and Andrew were out all night fishing, and caught nothing, Jesus came and said “Cast your net into the ocean.” Peter was like “Nah bruh. We’ve been doing this all night.” and then said, “I’ll do it if you say so.” And then, bam! Long John Silver went out of business! Luke 5:6-7 says that there were so many fish in the net that the net began to break. In both stories, Peter is a central character. In Luke, it is Peter’s boat that goes out to the shore again after Peter obeys Jesus albeit his words betray a bit of skepticism (as in “I don’t think this is going to work, but I’ll do it if you say so.”). In John, Peter invites the other disciples to go fishing with him. In both stories, we have an impulsive response from Peter after the fish fill the net. In John, Peter jumps into the water and swims to shore, trying to get to Jesus as fast as possible. In Luke, Peter falls at Jesus’ feet and tells him to depart because he is a sinful man. In Luke, Jesus tells Peter that he will be a fisher of men. In John, Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep.
Do these similarities suggest that the account is made up? Not at all. As Lydia McGrew notes in her book, there are many differences in the account. She argues that the most probable reason that John makes note of the little detail that the net did not break was that he was recalling the time when a similar miracle occurred and the net did break. However, in John’s own account, he doesn’t provide that narrative.
Concluding Thoughts On Undesigned Coincidences
It is important to realize the evidential force that undesigned coincidences have. These types of subtle, casual, interlockings between different testimonies is very common among true eyewitness testimonies. The idea that the gospel authors colluded to include details in their stories in which Gospel A narrates a detail that raises a question, but Gospel B narrates a detail that explains Gospel A, but Gospel B also includes a detail that raises a question which Gospel A narrates, and both narrate a tiny detail that isn’t answered by either of them, but is answered by Gospel C, and this happens over and over and over and over again in a plethora of places, just isn’t the kind of thing you find in lies trying to be passed off as truth. For one thing, it would be insanely difficult to pull this off. You would have to imagine multiple authors purposefully including some details and not others in order for this puzzle piece like fit between their testimonies to work. Moreover, they would have to do it so that it’s extremely subtle. Moreover, they’d have to do this over and over. And moreover, they’d be doing this knowing that 99% of people who read their books wouldn’t pick up on any of these. I mean, I’ve studied The Bible for over 13 years and I only learned about these things when I read Lydia McGrew’s “Hidden In Plain View”. Technically, I was first exposed to the idea in J. Warner Wallace’s book “Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates The Claims Of The Gospels”, but McGrew includes … Continue reading And if most people wouldn’t even pick up on these undesigned coincidences (which would be designed coincidences under the hypothesis that they were doing this on purpose), then it really wouldn’t serve much of a purpose. If we were to suppose that the gospel authors created designed coincidences for the purpose of convincing people that they really were truthful eyewitness testimonies, the only people they’d ever convince are a tiny number of scholars centuries after the fact.
No, it is far too absurd to postulate that this repeated pattern of interlocking testimony was purposefully done to dupe readers into thinking they were telling the truth when they really weren’t. The best explanation is that the gospels really are eyewitness testimonies reporting the facts.
J. Warner Wallace, a homicide detective and Christian Apologist, writes “As a cold-case detective, I’ve experienced something similar to this a number of times. Often, questions an eyewitness raises at the time of the crime are left unanswered until we locate an additional witness years later. This is a common characteristic of true, reliable eyewitness accounts.” J. Warner Wallace. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Kindle Locations 3023-3025). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition. If anyone knows what true eyewitness testimony looks like, it’s a professionally trained homicide detective!
Mythology does not do this! Fiction does not do this! Truthful Eyewitness Reports do this!
Another category of internal evidences is unnecessary details. Everyone who has told a true story includes at least some unnecessary details, details that no one really cares about, but that are included in the story just because it comes to the storyteller’s recollection while he’s talking or writing. My cousin often complains about how much unnecessary detail I get into when telling a story or explaining a situation. In fact, on this very website, I have some prime examples! Whenever I go to a conference, I write about the experience in a blog post. The most recent one was “My 2018 ETS Conference Experience”. In that article, it starts off with…
“So, when I was discussing flight plans with David Parrish over Messenger, I chose a flight out of Atlanta to Denver at around 9:00am. My plan was to be driven down to Atlanta from South Carolina and board the flight in Atlanta. We have an airport in Greenville of course, but they almost always take you to switch flights in either Charlotte NC’s airport or Atlanta GA’s airport. So, whenever my family has flown in the past (which was only once when I was 4 years old), we just took a 2-hour drive to one of these airports. After all, we’re going to end up there and have to take a plane from there anyway. However, my mother informed me that I did not take enough into account when deciding which flight to register. I only took into account the amount of time it would take to get to the airport, and not the amount of time it would take to get through the TSA security, finding my gate, and for any hiccups that might or might not occur along the way, such as getting lost due to GPS satellite signal loss or heavy traffic. So, by my mother’s estimate, we would be best to leave at 1:00 in the morning, which neither of us were happy about.
I know my own body, and I know that my sleep cycle is like the fine-tuning of the universe. If I sleep too little, I feel bad. If I sleep too much, I feel bad. If I go to bed and get up at wonky times, regardless of how much sleep I get during that period, I will most likely feel bad. My Acadian Rhythm is extremely sensitive.” Evan Minton, “My 2018 ETS Conference Experience”, November 17th 2018, — https://cerebralfaith.net/my-2018-ets-conference-experience/
Ok, I get it. I get it. That’s too many details. I love going over the details. Who among you really cares about all of that? That’s actually an overabundance of unnecessary details. I could have just simply said “So, when I was discussing flight plans with David Parrish over Messenger, I chose a flight out of Atlanta to Denver at around 9:00 am. Due to some planning errors, I ended up having to leave at 1:00 in the morning.” This short revision is really all that’s crucial to the story.
But even if you’re not like me, you probably do include at least a small number of unnecessary detail. Unnecessary details are a hallmark of truthful storytelling. Scholar Lydia McGrew calls these “unnecessary details.” She writes: “An unnecessary detail appears to be there for no special reason; it is just there because the author believed it was true. It lends verisimilitude to the account precisely by being so pointless, and in some cases (though not always) vivid. Such details are thus plausible marks of eyewitness testimony — either from the author himself or from one or more of his sources.” As quoted in Erik Manning’s article “Why Do The Gospels Contain Unnecessary Details?”, April 14th, 2021 — … Continue reading As Erik Manning says, “If the Gospels are based on eyewitness testimony, this is exactly what we’d expect to find. And this is the sort of stuff you won’t find in apocryphal gospels, such as the Gospel of Peter or Thomas.” ibid.
- Unnecessary Details In Mark
Mark 4:35-41 records the event of Jesus calming the storm with just his words. However, in verse 38, Mark says that “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?'” The reference to Jesus sleeping on a cushion serves no literary or theological purpose. It’s just there. Who really cares whether Jesus was sleeping on a cushion, a balled-up cloak, a rock, or was even sitting up sleeping like some old geezer? Moreover, who cares that Jesus was in the stern? What theological symbolism or literary purpose could these details possibly add? These make the scene more vivid, but other than that, they don’t really do anything.
Another example is Jesus’ triumphal entry. Jesus told his disciples to go get a donkey to ride on (because, you know, Zechariah 9:9 had to be fulfilled). Mark 11:4 says “They went away and found a colt tied at the door, outside in the street.” Mark mentions that the colt was outside, in the street, and was tied at the door. What is the point of these details? I mean, couldn’t the reader infer these things? After all, it’s not like donkeys were known to be indoor pets. Mark could have just said “They went away and found a colt tied up.” or “They went away and found a colt.” Now, if there’s something I’ve learned from following Lydia McGrew’s work it’s that New Testament scholars can be really creative. I suppose one could always invent some theological meaning to these details. Perhaps some Bob Bobertson PHD could write in his commentary “The colt being tied up outside represents sinners who are are tied to their sins. Like the donkey, they can’t get away on their own. It is only until Jesus comes and frees us can we be free from the binding nature that sin has on us. And, like today, Jesus often uses servants, preachers of his word, to come and bring his life-changing truth. From then on out, we become servants of Jesus like the donkey became a servant of Jesus by carrying Him into Jerusalem.” However, this would obviously be over-theologizing the text. Now, no one to my knowledge has postulated this particular interpretation of the colt story, but this isn’t too far off from what NT scholars do. You’ll find if you read McGrew’s The Mirror Or The Mask and The Eye Of The Beholder, this is a bad habit of New Testament scholars. We often balk at preachers who over-theologize historical narratives, those who try to make Goliath into a symbol of whatever troubles you’re facing, and you are David. “You are not David!” we say. Yet so often NT scholars do this! The thing is; it’s very easy to just make up some kind of symbolic meaning to any given biblical text. Sometimes symbolism is in the text, but sometimes something is narrated a certain way just because that’s what happened. Not everything recorded in The Bible carries some special theological meaning. An example of this is when Craig Evans makes Jesus’ cry “I Thirst” in John to be a “paraphrase” of “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!” in Matthew. He … Continue reading
Moreover, Mark contains accounts of miraculous feedings. One to 5,000 people and one to 4,000 people. In these accounts, there a tiny details. According to JJ Blunt, the number and type of leftover baskets collected in each event differ consistently:
“There was, no doubt, a marked difference between these two vessels, whatever that difference might be, for κοτινος is invariably used when the miracle of the five thousand is spoken of; and σπυρίς is invariably used when the miracle of the four thousand is spoken of. Moreover, such distinction is clearly suggested to us in Matt. xvi. 9, 10, where our Savior cautions his disciples against the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” and in so doing, alludes to each of these miracles thus: “Do ye not understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets (κοφίνους) ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many baskets (σπυρίδας) ye took up?” though here, again, the distinction is entirely lost in our translation, both [words] being still rendered “basket” alike.” J.J Blunt as quoted in Erik Manning’s article “Why Do The Gospels Contain Unnecessary Details?”, April 14th, 2021 — … Continue reading
Mark 8:19-20 also maintains the distinction between the words used for “basket”. (κοτινος vs. σπυρίς) According to Blunt,
“Such uniformity marks very clearly the two miracles to be distinctly impressed on the minds of the Evangelists, as real events; the circumstantial peculiarities of each present to them, even to the shape of the baskets, as though they were themselves actual eyewitnesses; or at least had received their report from those who were so. It is next to impossible that such coincidence in both cases, between the fragments and the receptacles, respectively, should have been preserved by chance; or by a teller of a tale at third or fourth hand; and accordingly we see that the coincidence is in fact entirely lost by our translators, who were not witnesses of the miracles; and whose attention did not happen to be drawn to the point.” J.J Blunt as quoted in ibid.
Acts 9:25 uses this word for the basket to describe the basket that the Apostle Paul sat in when he was lowered over the Damasuc Wall (σπυρίς). What this tells us is that the baskets had to be pretty sizable. I mean, this type of basket held an entire adult man! Ergo, why there were 7 baskets vs. 12 baskets collected after feeding the 5000.
- Unnecessary Details In John
In John 1:39, we read that the disciples of John the Baptist went to where Jesus was staying at the tenth hour. Why the tenth hour? Why not the eleventh or the twelfth? There doesn’t appear to be any symbolic meaning to the number 10 here. Perhaps a case could be made if John said it was the seventh hour, but ten? It’s a precise detail about the time and it doesn’t seem to serve any theological purpose.
In John 2, we read about the Wedding At Cana. This is where Jesus performed his first public miracle; i.e turning water into wine. In verse 6 we read “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.” The number of gallons that the jars could hold doesn’t appear to serve any theological or literary purpose. Indeed, John doesn’t even appear to remember precisely how many gallons these jars could hold. He says “twenty or thirty”. So did they hold twenty gallons or thirty gallons? These appear to be the words of a man who is doing his best to recall something from memory, knows he’s in the ballpark range, but doesn’t want to get his report wrong, so he says “It was either this or that.” We all know examples in which we’ve spoken like this. Someone comes into Dollar General and asks where the pet food is. I respond “It’s back there either on aisle 16 or aisle 17.” Indeed, on Good Friday of 2023, I told my ride home “It was unusually busy at closing time. Usually the store is dead with only one person left, but at 10:00 pm, there were about 10 or 15 people in the store.” I’m making an estimated guess on the number of people. This is just how people talk when recalling some event.
In John 6:19, we read “So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.” There are two unnecessary details here. First, the number of miles. Again, we see that approximation that’s so reminiscent of how eyewitnesses who are recalling what happened from memory talk. “About three or four miles.” In other words, John is saying “It might have been three miles, or maybe four. It was somewhere in that ballpark.” If John were making up these numbers for a theological or literary purpose, he would have told us a definite number. “So when they had rowed 6 miles.” Then we could say “The number 7 is the number of completion, and the disciples were currently without Jesus. So John is saying we are incomplete when Jesus Christ is not with us.” or something like that. Or “They rowed 6 miles, straining at the oars in intervals of 40.” Then we could make the same point about incompleteness and then talk about how the number 40 is so often used in The Bible as a symbolic number of testing. Although it should be stated that even if a symbolic, theological interpretation is correct, that doesn’t necessarily negate it being literally historically true as well. Matthew 4:2 says that … Continue reading But no, John doesn’t do either of these things. He says “They rowed about three or four miles.” There’s no theological symbolism here. John is just telling his readers the approximate distance in which they had rowed the boat.
John 21:11 says that the number of fish the disciples caught after seeing the risen Jesus was 153. This number doesn’t appear to serve any theological significance. It is most likely just reported because, when they were separating the good fish from the bad as first-century fishermen did, they counted them. That was the literal number of fish.
Speaking of the catch of fish, in this very same narrative, we get another unnecessary detail. In John 21:2-9, we read “Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.”
Dr. Lydia McGrew comments that “Peter put on his outer garment before jumping in. Why? Surely it would make more sense to take OFF any clothes that one happened to be wearing that might impede swimming, rather than pausing to put something on. Upon reflection, we might think that Peter did not want to appear before Jesus naked, since (as John notes) he was stripped for work, but that is only a guess. That John would interrupt his narrative with this odd little detail about Peter’s movements is a mark of truth in the story. With his usual slightly ponderous attention to detail, John explains in verse 8 that the other disciples used a boat to drag the net to land, since they were nearby (he gives a specific distance). The word here for little boat is slightly different in the Greek from the word in verse 3; commentators aren’t sure if John is just varying his wording for the same boat (which would not have been very big) or if he means to indicate a yet-smaller boat, normally attached to the side of the fishing boat, into which some of them shifted for purposes of dragging the net. In verse 9, we find another charcoal fire; John remembers this fire clearly, just as he remembered the fire on the night of the betrayal.” Dr. Lydia McGrew, “Testimonies To The Truth: Why You Can Trust The Gospels”, page 105, DeWard.
- Unnecessary Details In Luke
Luke 19:4 tells us that a tax collector named Zacheus climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. Because “Zacheus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he” and Jesus was obscured by a crowd. What purpose is there in naming the type of tree that Zacheus climbed? Why not just say that Zacheus climbed “a tree”? This is another unnecessary detail that just appears to be someone reporting what happened. In this case, since it’s Luke, he’s recalling the testimony he got from one of the eyewitnesses he interviewed. However, this one is a little more interesting than that, as this unnecessary detail overlaps with external confirmation of the gospels’ reliability (you know, the kind of evidence we looked at in part 4 of this series). New Testament scholar Peter J Williams specifies that “The relevant species, Ficus syco-morus, did not grow in northern Mediterranean countries (Italy, Greece, Turkey), and in fact lacks natural pollinators in those countries. But this tree was characteristic of Jericho, according to the second-century rabbi Abba Shaul. How did the author know there were sycamores in Jericho? The simple explanation is that he had either been there or spoken to someone who had.” Peter J Williams, “Can We Trust The Gospels?”, page 82, Crossway..
Luke 4:20 says “Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.” The context of him having just read a passage from Isaiah in the synagogue of his hometown. This seems to be an unnecessary detail. Of course, everyone would have been looking at Jesus! He was public speaking in the synagogue! The reader could have just been left to infer this, but Luke includes this detail.
- Unnecessary Details In Matthew
Before I end this section on unnecessary details, I want to include two examples from the gospel of Matthew. Matthew 21:2, there’s no reason the mother donkey should have been mentioned alongside the baby when the disciples got a donkey for Jesus to ride on for the first Palm Sunday. After Jesus’ death, all four gospels tell us that Jesus was wrapped in linen cloths. Matthew 27:59 “And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth.” (KJV) Ok, we can understand that Jesus might be wrapped up in a cloth given cultural customs, but why mention that it was clean and made of linen?
Concluding Thoughts About Unnecessary Details
These unnecessary details make the gospel testimonies feel authentic. They look exactly like what you’d expect from people recalling the facts. One major objection to this piece of internal evidence is that liars and fiction authors include a lot of details too. How can I say that the unecessary details in the gospels are evidence of their truthfulness if liars and novelists do this as well? First, this objection actually concedes that vivid and unnecessary details make a story look authentic. It is precisely the details that give the impression that someone is telling about something they actually witnessed. That’s why liars try to add as many details to their narratives as possible. The lying suspect who gives vivid details to a detective does so precisely because he knows this will make his story look true. Moreover, unnecessary details aren’t standalone pieces of evidence. They are part of a cumulative case for the trustworthiness of the gospels. Alone, they might not be that compelling. Even a plethora of examples might not be compelling; but when you combine these with all of the undesigned coincidences in the previous section, the external confirmation from non-Christian authors and archeological finds (see Part 4), and the repeated verification of events from the criteria of authenticity (see Part 5), unnecessary details become just another brick in a mounting case for reliability. Thirdly, some of these unnecessary details intertwine with external confirmation, such as Luke’s mention of the sycamore tree. One example I forgot to mention until now is John’s mention of 5 porticoes at the Pool Of Bethesda in John 5. Scholars once thought that the 5 porticoes was an allusion to the 5 books of Moses until archeological evidence proved the existence of not only the Pool Of Bethesda (which was previously in doubt), but the number of porticoes surrounding it as well.
In her book “Testimonies To The Truth: Why You Can Trust The Gospels”, Dr. Lydia McGrew says that the amount of unnecessary details in the gospels falls into a kind of “Goldilocks Zone”. There are neither so many unnecessary details that it reads like a 21st century novel, nor are there so few that we have bland narratives. “We find that they fall into that ‘just right’ zone – enough detail to look like a memoir, but not enough to look like fiction.” Lydia McGrew, “Testimonies To The Truth: Why You Can Trust The Gospels”, page 107, DeWard.
Unexplained Allusions are similar to Unnecessary Details, but they’re not identical. I suppose I could put it this way; all unexplained allusions are unnecessary details, but not all unnecessary details are unexplained allusions. An unexplained allusion is a small detail in the text that is puzzling and doesn’t appear to serve a theological or literary purpose. Now, I want to be very clear here; an unexplained allusion is not a bible verse that we modern western English people don’t know how to interpret. Rather, these are puzzling verses in the gospels that would have been puzzling even to the original readers, so digging into the original language and cultural context and applying the various rules of hermeneutics isn’t really going to help you.
This is evidence of truthful eyewitness testimony because we all talk like this. We all diverge a little bit when telling a true story we were a part of. We all sometimes include details that our hearers might not understand. For example, suppose I told you about my weekend. “I woke up early in the morning and had a cup of coffee. Then I pet Jellybean, and then went out to the park to hang out with a few friends.” If you’re a complete stranger to me (and the odds are, at least some readers of this article will be), you might have no idea what I’m talking about when I said I “Pet Jellybean”. You might have bizarre mental images of me stroking a piece of candy. Afterward, I tell you “My friends and I talked for a little while, then we went to the movie theater to see the Super Mario Brother Movie.” and I just continue talking without ever stopping to explain what I meant when I said I “pet Jellybean”. You might infer (correctly) that this is the name of my pet, but my own testimony wouldn’t provide the answer.
People who tell you stories about things that actually happened that they were a part of talk like this. They may even write like this. But fiction authors certainly don’t.
- Examples Of Unexplained Allusions
Mark 3:17 says “James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder)”
Only Mark’s Gospel gives these two brothers this nickname. However, Mark never explains why Jesus came up with this nickname. We can speculate, sure. We can come up with possible explanations, sure. Perhaps they were a boisterous duo. Maybe Jesus did this in response to John and James wanting to call down fire on the Samaritans. This seems to be the explanation Dallas Jenkins prefers as this is exactly what happened in the first episode of the second season of The Chosen.
The fact of the matter is, we’re not told. And it should be noted that this small detail serves no theological or literary purpose. It’s just left hanging there.
Luke 13:1-5 says “There was some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'”
In this passage, Jesus 18 people died in the collapse of a building. He also mentions that Pilate unalived a group of Galileans. Luke gives no explanation to the events he’s alluding to here. I want to bring attention to the number 18 here. The number 18 is a very specific number. It doesn’t seem to serve to a theological or literary purpose. Moreover, Luke specifically says the people killed in the tower were Galileans. Although we can’t prove this with absolute certainty, it’s probable that Theophilus, the guy to whom Luke was writing, was a Gentile. For a discussion on the identity of Theophilus, see J. Warner Wallace’s book “Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates The Claims Of The Gospels” David C. Cook, … Continue reading And scholars believe that Luke put pen to papyrus in either Antioch or Asia Minor. Given these facts, the odds that Luke included these details for the sake of whom he was writing too is improbable. Rather, he seems to provide a realistic report of what Jesus said as his sources conveyed to him.
John 12:20-23 says “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.'”
We’re not told whether Jesus ever went to talk to these Greeks. We’re not told what they wanted to ask Jesus about. And the speech about the hour for the Son Of Man to be glorified having come just comes out of left field. “Hey, Jesus, some Greeks want to see you.” “The time for the Son Of Man to be glorified has come!” “Jesus, are you listening?” This is a very puzzling passage, and it’s unlikely the original audience would have known what to make of it anymore than we do.
John 2:12 says “After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.”
Erik Manning comments that “This was after the wedding in Cana. And the next verse is about Jesus cleansing the temple. The reader is left thinking…OK…and then what? There isn’t even a single event or doctrine associated with this bit of Jesus’ itinerary. But we can imagine John remembering and mentioning it the same way a witness sometimes mentions something unrelated to the story. “ Erik Manning, “Unexplained Allusions – A Sneaky Good Reason Why The Gospels Aren’t Myths”, June 27th 2021 … Continue reading
This is probably one of my favorite unexplained allusions.
To quote Manning again; “This argument springs from our knowledge of how witnesses actually talk. It’s common for people to digress parenthetically when they remember past events. People mention small details of interest; or things that just pop into their head. That’s the quality of oral history. Because we see this in the gospels, it makes more sense to say they’re artless reporters who knew what they were talking about.” See ibid.
In a YouTube comment, Lydia McGrew puts it well; “This is a type of evidence that is very easily overlooked and actually makes for poor fiction (because the details in question raise questions that the text does not answer). It’s a far too subtle kind of indication of truthfulness for it to be a likely thing for someone making up a story to include. And in fact we don’t find liars doing so. A liar may include unnecessarily complicated details, but a) he does so because it does increase the verisimilitude of his report and b) he doesn’t tend to do so where these are merely puzzling, as in unexplained allusions. They are supposed to make sense in the story even if included falsely. We don’t have any evidence that this is the kind of thing that fiction-makers do.” in the comment section of Erik Manning, “Unexplained Allusions – A Sneaky Good Reason Why The Gospels Aren’t Myths”, June 27th 2021 — … Continue reading
There are other kinds of evidences that I have learned from Dr. Lydia McGrew which I’ve chosen not to cover here. These are “Unified Personalities” and “Unexpected Harmonies”. However, the evidences surveyed in this blog post is more than enough to verify that the gospels are eyewitness reportage dedicated to telling the truth.
I’ll end with a quote from C.S Lewis; “I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text, there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors – pretty close up to the facts…Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors, or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be a narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read.” C.S. Lewis on reading the gospels, as quoted by Tim Keller, “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Reason”, copyright 2008, page 106
|↑1||These are the ones I consider to be the most striking.|
|↑2||Lydia McGrew. “Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts.” DeWard, pages 88-89|
|↑3||Lydia McGrew, “Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences In The Gospels and Acts”, Deward, pages 66-67|
|↑4||ibid, page 67|
|↑5||As opposed to chronologically, which is telling a story in strict chronological order. And Achronological narration is different from dischronological narration. Dischronological narration occurs when an author tells the story in such a way that you have every reason to think that event A preceded event B, thus deceptively making readers or listeners think event A came after event B. An example of achronological narration would be if I said “On Saturday, my friends and I went to the movies, and we played video games, and we ate pizza at Little Italy”. The real chronology is that we played video games first, THEN we went to the movies, then we went to Little Italy. The word “and” is the only word that connects the events and leaves them ambiguous. My story is not in error because I am not attempting to give a chronology of the day’s events. However, if I said “On Saturday, my friends and I had a fun time. First, we went to the movies. After that, we played video games. And finally, we ate pizza at Little Italy”. In this case, given the chronological indicators “First”, “and then”, and “finally”, unless the events truly occurred in that order, I am narrating dischronologically.|
|↑6||Craig Blomberg, “The Historical Reliability Of John’s Gospel: Issues and Commentary, Pages 87-91, IVP Academic|
|↑7||McGrew, Timothy (Ph.D., Professor and Philosophy Department Chair, Western Michigan University), Internal Evidence for the Truth of the Gospels and Acts, presentation to St. Michael Lutheran Church, delivered 27 February 2012, slide 48|
|↑8||Craig Dunkley, “Undesigned Coincidences 7: Are You The King Of The Jews?” November 25th, 2015 — http://www.logicandlight.org/undesigned-coincidences-7-are-you-the-king-of-the-jews/|
|↑9||Lydia McGrew. “Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts.” DeWard, pages 77-78|
|↑10||Technically, I was first exposed to the idea in J. Warner Wallace’s book “Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates The Claims Of The Gospels”, but McGrew includes way more examples in her book than Wallace does.|
|↑11||J. Warner Wallace. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Kindle Locations 3023-3025). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.|
|↑12||Evan Minton, “My 2018 ETS Conference Experience”, November 17th 2018, — https://cerebralfaith.net/my-2018-ets-conference-experience/|
|↑13||As quoted in Erik Manning’s article “Why Do The Gospels Contain Unnecessary Details?”, April 14th, 2021 — https://isjesusalive.com/why-do-the-gospels-contain-unnecessary-details/|
|↑15||An example of this is when Craig Evans makes Jesus’ cry “I Thirst” in John to be a “paraphrase” of “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!” in Matthew. He links this to Psalm 42:2 where the Psalmist speaks of thirsting for the living God. So, Jesus wasn’t expressing literal thirst, he was just expressing his desire for union with the Father after The Father turned his face away. I think connecting dots like this is perfectly legitimate IF the evidence for such dot-connecting is good. So, for example, those who read my treatment on Genesis 1 such as in my long essay “Genesis 1: Functional Creation, Temple Inauguration, and Anti-Pagan Polemics” will know that I think the reason God is said to have created the world in 7 days is that the number 7 repeatedly occurs in The Bible as a sacred number. It’s a number that is used often times to represent completion or holiness. Moreover, the Baal Cycle says that Baal created the universe in 7 days and made the cosmos his temple, and given that the Old Testament authors were often making polemics against Baal on account that Baal was the number 1 idol Yahweh had to contend with, it makes sense that Genesis would appropriate this universe-creation-is-temple-building theme and apply it to the text. Did God literally assign functions to everything over 7 days some thousands of years ago? Maybe. Maybe not. The sea in Genesis 1:2 and The Holy Spirit hovering just above it is, I’ve argued, an allusion to chaoscompf motifs common to creation myths. Rather than slay Leviathan the sea dragon of chaos as most ANE deities had to do before they could get to the work of creating, Yahweh just simply needs to show up. He’s so powerful, he doesn’t even need to crush Leviathan. Though other passages like Psalm 74 say that He did. Genesis 1-11 is a different genre than the gospels. So you’ll find that I’m more adamant about strict literal historical reportage in the gospels than I am in Genesis 1-11. I would agree with William Lane Craig that Genesis 1-11 is “mytho-history”. That is to say, it’s based on real events, but those events are told in highly mythological ways typical of the era. The gospels are ancient biographies. The cultural context is different, the genre is different, and so, there’s different expectations of what we should find when we come to the text.|
|↑16||J.J Blunt as quoted in Erik Manning’s article “Why Do The Gospels Contain Unnecessary Details?”, April 14th, 2021 — https://isjesusalive.com/why-do-the-gospels-contain-unnecessary-details/|
|↑17||J.J Blunt as quoted in ibid.|
|↑18||Although it should be stated that even if a symbolic, theological interpretation is correct, that doesn’t necessarily negate it being literally historically true as well. Matthew 4:2 says that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. Many commentators have noticed similarities here with the wilderness wanderings of Israel for 40 years in the Old Testament. Jesus is succeeding where Israel failed. Jesus was faithful to God the Father in the wilderness whereas Israel constantly doubted God and grumbled. Nevertheless, this doesn’t negate the historicity of either the wilderness wanderings of Israel nor the temptations of Jesus. Indeed, the historical Jesus could have purposefully chosen to have stayed in the desert for that period of time knowing in advance that Matthew would write it down and that students of scripture would make that connection. Theologically, especially if one holds to a view of divine providence called Molinism, there is no trouble in saying that God could have orchestrated biblical history to unfold in such a way that, when eventually written down, readers would make these connections. Nevertheless, sometimes a number is just a number.|
|↑19||Dr. Lydia McGrew, “Testimonies To The Truth: Why You Can Trust The Gospels”, page 105, DeWard.|
|↑20||Peter J Williams, “Can We Trust The Gospels?”, page 82, Crossway.|
|↑21||Lydia McGrew, “Testimonies To The Truth: Why You Can Trust The Gospels”, page 107, DeWard.|
|↑22||For a discussion on the identity of Theophilus, see J. Warner Wallace’s book “Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates The Claims Of The Gospels” David C. Cook, pages 176-178.|
|↑23||Erik Manning, “Unexplained Allusions – A Sneaky Good Reason Why The Gospels Aren’t Myths”, June 27th 2021 —https://isjesusalive.com/video-unexplained-allusions-a-sneaky-good-why-reason-the-gospels-arent-myths/|
|↑25||in the comment section of Erik Manning, “Unexplained Allusions – A Sneaky Good Reason Why The Gospels Aren’t Myths”, June 27th 2021 — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5mF9LbMs40&t=369s|
|↑26||C.S. Lewis on reading the gospels, as quoted by Tim Keller, “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Reason”, copyright 2008, page 106|