Undesigned Coincidences – How Minor Details in the Gospels Suggest Eyewitness Testimony, Part I



Not long ago, I was listening to the Old Time Radio program Richard Diamond, Private Detective, starring Dick Powell as the wise-cracking, singing detective with a love for understanding criminal psychology. In the episode entitled The Cover-Up Murders, Diamond joins with the police to track down a killer who calls the police office nightly to announce that he will kill a random person that very night somewhere on the streets of New York City, and to chide the police for their failure to be able to stop his random killings. As people are murdered night after night in various parts of the city, Diamond and the police interview the families, friends and co-workers of people killed at random by this wildcat killer. Try as they might, they can find no connection – nothing from the interviews connects the individuals killed together in any way that they police move closer to solving the murder.

The entire endeavor appeared hopeless until they went to the home of a victim named Arthur Reeves. When the detectives first spoke to the members of the household, the maid said, “I warned him not to take his walk tonight; I showed him the papers” [which had headlines about the random killings]. When asked if he usually took walks at night, the maid responded that he had done so for the past 15 years.

The comment didn’t mean much at the time, and after the interviews Diamond and the police felt that they were no closer to identifying the murderer. But to be thorough, they interviewed the house staff a second time. This time, they gained more information about Mr. Reeves’ walks.

Diamond: Mr. Reeves took walks every night after dinner and the dinner was always at 7?
Maid: That’s right.
Diamond: Then he always left sometimes close to 8.
Maid: Yes, 7:30 or a quarter to 8.
Diamond: He was never gone more than half an hour?
Maid: No.

*******
Det. Walt Levenson: What time did he leave tonight?
Butler: About a quarter to 8.
Diamond: Weren’t you worried when he didn’t come back within half an hour.
Butler: Certainly, both the maid and I were very anxious.

*******
Diamond: Was Mr. Reeves ever longer than half an hour with his walks?
Maid: Never more than a few minutes one way or another.
Now these various testimonies, taken in isolation, didn’t mean much; after all, what difference did it make that the murder victim enjoyed an evening constitutional? Well, in the story it mattered quite a bit due to a fact I omitted earlier: the killer murdered each of his victims at exactly 8 pm. Suddenly, the fact that this man was in the habit of being on the streets of New York every night at the same time that the murders were occurring led Diamond to suspect that the murderer could have been killing the other people to cover up the real, intended victim: the wealthy Mr. Reeves.

Now, this wasn’t the only clue that solved the murder and taken in and of itself it wasn’t sufficient to prove the identity of the murderer. The testimony about the nightly walk, by itself, was seemingly a random fact; but this random bit of information when combined with the other information and testimonies available was sufficient to lead Richard Diamond and the police to the real killer.

Undesigned Coincidences

The idea that testimony that in and of itself does not seem to prove much can, when added to other evidence, prove a lot is the basis of a truly interesting apologetics book entitled Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts by Linda McGrew. The book, which grew out of the work of earlier masters like Blaise Pascal and William Paley (but is also mentioned by CADRE favorite, J. Warner Wallace, in the book, Cold Case Christianity), uses what are known as “undersigned coincidences” in the Biblical texts to demonstrate that the Gospels and Acts were likely written by eyewitnesses or by those who were familiar with the testimony of the eyewitnesses to the events described.

An undesigned coincidence is broadly defined by Ms. McGrew as follows:
An undesigned coincidence is a notable connection between two or more accounts or texts that doesn’t seem to have been planned by the person or people giving the accounts. Despite their apparent independence, the items fit together like pieces of a puzzle.
It is apparent why a former detective like J. Warner Wallace would use this idea in his book – it fits nicely with his former job of piecing together evidence based upon testimonies that don’t necessarily and naturally fit together without some deep thought. Ms. McGrew’s book even quotes from Cold Case Christianity to make that point:

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.

It’s my job to assemble the complete picture of what happened at the scene. No single witness is likely to have seen every detail, so I must piece together the accounts, allowing the observations of one eyewitness to fill in the gaps that may exist in the observations of another eyewitness. … True, reliable eyewitness accounts are never completely parallel and identical. Instead, they are different pieces of the same puzzle, unintentionally supporting and complementing each other to provide all the details related to what really happened.
So, how does this work? It is very much like the Richard Diamond episode described above. When giving a testimony about an event, the person testifying throws in a random fact that seems to have no real significance when read alone, i.e., “I warned him not to take his walk tonight….” The maid wasn’t saying that to impart information that he took a walk every night, but rather to let Diamond and the police know she wanted him about walking. The importance of the fact wasn’t even made apparent until it was elaborated upon and combined with other evidence. Taken alone, it didn’t seem to prove anything – perhaps it was nothing more than an isolated fact that the maid happened to recall or it was volunteered information for other purposes. But that is exactly what eyewitness testimony is like, and why the inclusion of the detail can be very important.



First, the mere act of including the detail is enough to give credence to the fact that the person giving the testimony is truthfully recounting what they recall. If the account is really a fiction, why throw in the detail that doesn’t seem to further the story in any significant way? For example, think about Jesus’ writing in the dust in John 8’s account of the woman caught in adultery. What Jesus wrote in the dust is not revealed, and there is no apparent reason for the author of John to have included the detail – other than because that’s what the author observed happening. This gives the account, as C. S. Lewis’ observed, the ring of the record of an eyewitness.

Second, the detail may be trivial or apparently unimportant when reading only one Gospel. However, sometimes other portions of the Bible give depth and meaning to the detail that reading the single book where the detail is found does not give. In other words, the detail may seem unimportant when reading one Gospel, but a second Gospel suddenly makes the detail much more meaningful and/or theologically meaningful.

Ms. McGrew gives a lot of good examples. None of them taken in isolation is sufficient to prove that the Gospels and the Acts are written by eyewitnesses – Ms. McGrew admits as such several times throughout the book. However, when the totality of the examples she assembles in this book are considered together they provide another stream of evidence that can strengthen the Christian position that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses or based on the testimony of such eyewitnesses. They also give evidence that the while the Gospel writers likely used each other’s recollections in certain parts of their individual Gospels, each brings additional material to the table that is unique to that person and, due to the undesigned coincidences, make it likely that they are relaying independent, eyewitness accounts of what is described

Next time, I will give an example of an undersigned coincidence from McGrew’s book.

Comments

Enigma said…
Amen, god bless all
Gary said…
The consensus of NT scholars is that neither eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. This majority consensus includes the majority of Roman Catholic scholars who very much believe in the supernatural, miracles, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The only scholars who believe in the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, with few exceptions, are evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants. That should give believers in the apostolic authorship of the Gospels serious pause.
Gary that argument is taken out by y community as author argument. Also I thin the things to which you refer apply to namesake authors not eye witness authors.

Here is a link to community as author

part 2

Gary said…
Hi Joe!

Most scholars reject the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. Not only that, even many scholars who believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus doubt or reject this claim. So I don't understand how you can believe that the evidence for the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is "good". Believing in the resurrection of Jesus by faith is one thing, but claiming that there is good evidence for it seems to me to be an exaggeration in the extreme.

https://lutherwasnotbornagaincom.wordpress.com/2019/09/02/does-the-catholic-church-believe-that-the-gospels-were-written-by-eyewitnesses/
No that is bull Shit, you are going by atheist propaganda.No most scholars don't believe the name sakes wrote the gospels, but that does not rule out eyewitnesses. Bauckham's Jesus and the Eye witnesses, has infused a new breath of fresh air he air of eye witness realization into the game.
BK said…
When someone says, "The consensus of scholars," it usually means "there are some scholars (maybe only one) who agree with my position, so I'm going to assert that I have the backing of scholars." Sorry. Not buying it.
When someone says, "The consensus of scholars,"

not what it means when I say it
Gary said…
Hi Joe. Are you aware that Richard Bauckham does not believe that the Apostle Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew nor does he believe that the Apostle John, son of Zebedee, wrote the Gospel of John?
Hi Joe. Are you aware that Richard Bauckham does not believe that the Apostle Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew nor does he believe that the Apostle John, son of Zebedee, wrote the Gospel of John?

yes neither do I
Gary said…
Joe: No most scholars don't believe the name sakes wrote the gospels, but that does not rule out eyewitnesses. Bauckham's Jesus and the Eye witnesses, has infused a new breath of fresh air he air of eye witness realization into the game.

Gary: Says who, Joe? The only new evidence that Bauckham gives in his book is the accuracy of the first names used by the Gospel authors and his claim that the named persons in the stories served as guarantors of the accuracy of those stories up until the time that the evangelists wrote them down.

The first piece of evidence certainly suggests that the Gospel authors were either knowledgeable about first century Jewish names in Palestine or that the stories originated in Palestine. That in no way guarantees the historical accuracy of the stories. For the second piece of evidence, Bauckham gives no supporting evidence for these "truth guarantors" other than conjecture and assumptions.
Joe: No most scholars don't believe the name sakes wrote the gospels, but that does not rule out eyewitnesses. Bauckham's Jesus and the Eye witnesses, has infused a new breath of fresh air he air of eye witness realization into the game.

Gary: Says who, Joe?

I have a Masters degree in the field and you don't.

The only new evidence that Bauckham gives in his book is the accuracy of the first names used by the Gospel authors and his claim that the named persons in the stories served as guarantors of the accuracy of those stories up until the time that the evangelists wrote them down.


bull shit. First, that is enough to prove his point. secondly his argument argumemt are complex you apparently don't understand them,

The first piece of evidence certainly suggests that the Gospel authors were either knowledgeable about first century Jewish names in Palestine or that the stories originated in Palestine. That in no way guarantees the historical accuracy of the stories. For the second piece of evidence, Bauckham gives no supporting evidence for these "truth guarantors" other than conjecture and assumptions.

That is such a stupid way to think about things. No historian would be caught dead thinking that way.when you see evidence that it's eye witness you write it off as a conspiracy theory, you will turn to any angle to escape having to admit it's true..no real historian will accept such conspiratorial way of thinking,
The consensus of NT scholars is that neither eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels.

they don't think in terms of one individual wrote a gospel. That';s an antiquated model. Gospels are produced by communities and communities have eye witnesses in them. John was based upon the BD an edited by Elder John, that may or may not have been the same guy Mark and Like were not eye witnesses their authorship was never attributed to eyewitnesses. but Peter supposedly stands behind Mark. Luke is backed by quittance with Jesus family and with Pauline circle people suite as Aquila and Priscilla who were eye witnesses to Jesus.
Gary said…
You are correct, Joe. I am an amateur and you have a master's degree in this subject. However, I never appeal to my personal opinion on this issue. I appeal to majority scholarly opinion. Most scholars, including most Roman Catholic scholars who believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, believe that neither eyewitnesses nor associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. The idea that the author of Mark got his information from Peter is only held by evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant scholars. Not even Roman Catholic scholars accept this view. So, yes, you may know more than I do, but since you do not have a PhD in New Testament studies, you are not a New Testament scholar.

I would suggest that your readers investigate why so many scholars who believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus reject your position. I would suggest that your readers read Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Browns' book, "The Death of the Messiah" for a very in depth discussion regarding the authorship of the Gospels.
Gary said…
If you and your readers are interested in reading the position of the Catholic Church on the authorship of the Gospels, click on this link:

https://lutherwasnotbornagaincom.wordpress.com/2019/09/02/does-the-catholic-church-believe-that-the-gospels-were-written-by-eyewitnesses/

Popular posts from this blog

Where did Jesus say "It is better to give than receive?"

Exodus 22:18 - Are Followers of God to Kill Witches?

Revamping and New Articles at the CADRE Site

The Bogus Gandhi Quote

Discussing Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Why Christian Theism Is Almost Certainly True: A Reply to Cale Nearing

How Many Children in Bethlehem Did Herod Kill?

Scientifically Documented Miracles

The Criteria of Embarrassment and Jesus' Baptism in the Gospel of Mark

The Meaning of the Manger