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



In part I of this post, I introduced the idea of Undesigned Coincidences from the book, Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts by Linda McGrew. For those previously unacquainted with the idea of Undesigned Coincidences, I wrote about how the inclusion of minor details in the Gospels and Acts not only provided evidence that the books were written by eyewitnesses, but can also add depth to Biblical understanding when reading the details in conjunction with information found in the other Gospels, Acts and the Epistles.

Just to review, an undesigned coincidence is defined by Ms. McGrew as:
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.

Destroying and Rebuilding the Temple

One example of an undesigned coincidence discussed by Ms. McGrew notes that both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark speak of an accusation that was made against Jesus before the Sanhedrin on the night of his arrest, and the two Gospels use similar language:
57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree. (Mark 14: 57-59)
59. Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. 60. They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, 61. and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’”(Matthew 26: 59-61)
There are a few things of interest in these passages. The first is the nature of the accusation. The accusers noted that Jesus either said he would or was able to build the Temple. This was a particularly egregious crime to propose. It would be like claiming in the 21st Century that a person was claiming that they would destroy the Vatican or the Mosque in Mecca. On a more American note, it would be like saying that he would destroy some major point of American Pride which remains the seat of the government like the Capital, the White House or the Supreme Court. What a terrible crime to accuse someone of contemplating.

But Ms. McGrew notes that it is rather odd that the accusation isn’t just limited to the claim that Jesus would or was able to destroy the temple. Instead, the accusation includes the claim that Jesus also said he either would or was able to rebuild it again in three days. She notes:
But if this were merely a story that the witnesses made up out of whole cloth as an attack against Jesus, it could easily have been made even more inflammatory. For example, why did the witnesses say that Jesus said that he would rebuild the temple? Why not just accuse him of destroying it? And why the detail about three days?

What this testimony sounds like to the unbiased ear is no a pure fabrication, but rather a twisted or garbled version of something the accused person actually said.
I personally find this very insightful. Why in the world would Mark and Matthew report that the witnesses included the claim to be able to rebuild it in three days if it wasn’t really said? Wouldn’t the accusation have been more damning just to claim that Jesus threatened to destroy the temple? But no, both Gospels record that the witnesses claimed Jesus also said he would or could raise it again in three days. Why did they claim that?

The Claim to Destroy and Rebuild

Now you are probably thinking that they added this bit of information because we know the Bible passage that says that Jesus said exactly such a thing. What the Bible records Jesus as saying is:
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?”
So, the logic would naturally follow, the reason that Matthew and Mark added this accusation was because they had reported that Jesus had actually said those words.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. The reason it doesn’t work is because neither Matthew nor Mark (nor Luke, for that matter) report the words I just quoted above. In fact, neither Matthew or Mark ever claim in their Gospels that Jesus said anything about destroying the temple, he said nothing about building it back up, and he certainly didn’t say anything about it taking three days. The words quoted above come from the Gospel of John – John 2: 18-21.

The Standard Evolutionary Chronology Problem

To understand the significance of this, it is important to recognize that those who claim the Gospels were fiction usually have an evolutionary chronology wherein Mark was written first, then Matthew wrote his work based largely on Mark, then Luke wrote largely based on Mark and Matthew, and finally John wrote his Gospel much later. If that is the case, how is it that Mark and Matthew included in their versions of the trial at the Sanhedrin a claim that was not recorded anywhere in their own Gospels, but only recorded in the Gospel of John which allegedly had not been written at the time?

Obviously, if this standard evolutionary chronology is correct, they couldn’t have included it because of what John had written at the time that they wrote their Gospels because John hadn’t been written at that time. Instead, the most reasonable basis for Matthew and Mark reporting these accusations against Jesus at the trial before the Sanhedrin is because that accusation was really made before the Sanhedrin, and the Gospel writers are accurately reporting what they heard or what the witnesses they are basing their Gospel on told them was said.

Perhaps the skeptic is now saying, “Well, obviously, it was said in Mark and Matthew first, but the mention in John is only to clear up what Mark and Matthew were referencing.” In other words, the author of John saw this mention to a claim that Jesus would tear down and rebuild the temple, and so he made up a story to put into his own Gospel that would build on the reference. But that doesn’t seem to work either. Why not? Because the author of John does not include the accusations of the witnesses that Jesus would destroy and rebuild the Temple in his own account of Jesus’ trials.

Think about it for a moment: If the author of John made up the story about Jesus claiming to tear down and rebuild the Temple to explain the reference in Matthew and Mark, why in the world wouldn’t he have included Jesus’ statement being used as an accusation against Jesus at the Trial of the Sanhedrin in his own Gospel – especially when the Gospel of John has the longest, most detailed account of the trials? Was the author expecting that his readers would necessarily have heard the Gospels of Matthew and Mark and so he didn’t need to include it in his own Gospel? That seems highly unlikely.

Ms. McGrew ties it together this way:
It is only by putting the two together that one gets the whole story: Jesus makes the cryptic statement about his own ability to raise up the Temple in three days if it is destroyed. He intends it as a prophecy of his resurrection, though he doubtless knows that it will be confusing and annoying to his interlocutors. It is remembered against him, garbled somewhere in the retelling, and brought back up at his trial later as an accusation that he was making the equivalent of terrorist threats against the Temple.
One more note that Ms. McGrew does not mention is: What about Luke? If he is merely copying the accounts of Mark and Matthew, why didn’t he include the accusation in his account? Perhaps it is because he was relying upon what his eyewitnesses were telling him when he was writing his Gospel, and his eyewitnesses didn’t remember that detail. We cannot know that for certain, but we can know pretty well from this and other places that Luke was not wholesale copying Mark and Matthew, but had his own information sources from which he wrote.

The Bottom Line

The accusation against Jesus at the Trial of the Sanhedrin in Matthew and Mark is an example of an undersigned coincidence. Matthew and Mark didn’t use include the story that Jesus made the claim in their own Gospels, but did include the accusation. John includes the explanation of why Jesus was claimed to have made the threat that was twisted into the basis of the accusation in Matthew and Mark, but does not include the accusation in his own account. Luke includes neither the original account nor the accusation in his Gospel. The best explanation for how each of the authors presents (or doesn’t present) this material is that the authors are each simply relating either their own eyewitness testimony (as with Matthew and John) or they are faithfully relating what others who were eyewitnesses passed along to them (as with Mark and Luke).

Is this absolute, undeniable proof that the Bible books are either eyewitness testimony or a faithful recounting of eyewitness testimony? No, but it is another piece to the puzzle that, when fitted together, seems to form a really beautiful mosaic. I really recommend reading the book Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts. It won’t convince the skeptic by itself, but it will give whoever reads it some tasty intellectual food to chew on for a while.

Comments

Joe Hinman said…
Interesting argument BK. I have posted on McGrew's blog I have "met" her online/
Edward Palamar said…
We have entered the "age to come" foretold by Jesus in Mark 10:30.

http://risen-from-the-dead.forumotion.com/
Edward Palamar said…
I'm not sure if your question (Hinman) is to me, but I can add that the Harmonious Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are similar with respect to 'undesigned coincidences'. Multiple testimonies of witnesses can add depth to investigation. The marvel of it all is that through it all, God has a plan.
im-skeptical said…
The common elements among the stories indicate some kind of original source that the authors were all exposed to. Personal witness is one possibility. Reading the same written account is another possibility, and hearing the same oral tradition is yet another possibility. The other significant factor to consider is the fact that there are so many discrepant elements between the different gospels. That would tend to favor the third of these possibilities, since we know that oral transmission of stories is subject to embellishment and distortion over time. Furthermore, the gospels cover not just certain events that might have been witnessed by each of the different authors, but spans of history that almost certainly could not have been witnessed by any one of them. And how could an eyewitness account (or any other true account of the events) explain Mark 16:8? "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid."
Joe Hinman said…
Skep I don;t know enough about this issue to defend BK's argument,
Joe Hinman said…
Edward Palamar I was asking how you know this is that end times period? i recoil at end tines claims Because I;m a historian I know how many claims have been made over the centuries.
Joe Hinman said…
Skep not taking the bait on the CA? i Putt up for you
Edward Palamar said…
Joe Hinman, the Holy Spirit led me to unseal the Book of Daniel. That led me to count down to the 2,300th day of Daniel 8:14, which concluded only 60 days ago. I had never thought that one day I would be doing such counting nor was I as much aware of those claims to which you allude as I am now. There are details at the link, inclusive to the further implications of the Three Days of Darkness. At 59 days into the countdown / countup I was in bonds like Daniel had been; at 59 days after, I was enjoying a Jackie Evancho concert at the Judgment. It's really sweet.
BK said…
Okay, I'll bite. im-skeptical wrote: "The common elements among the stories indicate some kind of original source that the authors were all exposed to."

Yes, the actual life and times of Jesus Christ. We are agreed.

"Personal witness is one possibility. Reading the same written account is another possibility, and hearing the same oral tradition is yet another possibility."

All true. Those are the possibilities. The question is which one best accounts for the evidence.

"The other significant factor to consider is the fact that there are so many discrepant elements between the different gospels. That would tend to favor the third of these possibilities, since we know that oral transmission of stories is subject to embellishment and distortion over time."

Not in agreement at all. As J. Warner Wallace points out in Cold Case Christianity, the differences in testimony is best explained by the differing viewpoints. If they were all identical, that would suggest copying.

"Furthermore, the gospels cover not just certain events that might have been witnessed by each of the different authors, but spans of history that almost certainly could not have been witnessed by any one of them."

If you are referring to the fact that two of the Gospels refer to Jesus' birth or childhood, no one is arguing that Matthew, Mark, Luke or John witnessed those events. However, as you are almost certainly aware, there is good cause to believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was one of the sources for Luke's Gospel, so even that has an eyewitness element.

"And how could an eyewitness account (or any other true account of the events) explain Mark 16:8? "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.""

That's simple: everyone acknowledges that the Gospel of Mark ends suddenly. Many think it is because the original ending was lost. The book stops with the language you quoted only because the part that follows where the women changed their mind and spoke up was probably next.
BK said…
Hey Edward, seriously?
im-skeptical said…
Not in agreement at all. As J. Warner Wallace points out in Cold Case Christianity, the differences in testimony is best explained by the differing viewpoints. If they were all identical, that would suggest copying.
- There clearly is a certain amount of copying involved in the gospels. Some of the passages are identical. But there are also differing accounts of the very same events. That suggests strongly that the authors were NOT eye-witnesses.

If you are referring to the fact that two of the Gospels refer to Jesus' birth or childhood, no one is arguing that Matthew, Mark, Luke or John witnessed those events. However, as you are almost certainly aware, there is good cause to believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was one of the sources for Luke's Gospel, so even that has an eyewitness element.
- That's not eye-witness, unless Mary is the author of the gospel. It would be considered a second-hand account, or hearsay.

That's simple: everyone acknowledges that the Gospel of Mark ends suddenly. Many think it is because the original ending was lost. The book stops with the language you quoted only because the part that follows where the women changed their mind and spoke up was probably next.
- Let's assume that the original Mark included the long ending. If so, then why would the author first say that they never told anyone, and then go on to give the account based on what they told someone? That doesn't pass the smell test. But more to the point, that story does nor constitute eye-witness testimony. At best, it is hearsay.

I often wonder how Christians can claim so much eye-witness evidence. There is NOT ONE SINGLE WORD in the New testament that is actual eye-witness testimony. It is entirely second- (or third-) hand accounts, written in third-person style. It contains stories about people who were supposedly eye-witnesses, but not one of those stories is an actual first-person account given in their own words.
Anonymous said…
BK: If that is the case, how is it that Mark and Matthew included in their versions of the trial at the Sanhedrin a claim that was not recorded anywhere in their own Gospels, but only recorded in the Gospel of John which allegedly had not been written at the time?

The verse in Mark is presumably referencing the destruction of the temple following the Jew revolt in 70 AD, suggesting it was made up some time after that (probably within a few years), while the three days refers to the day and a half Jesus was in the tomb.

This means Jesus never actually said those words, which is why Mark and Matthew do not include the story of Jesus actually saying them.

The author of John had access to one of the gospels, and was aware of these verses. He choose to insert a story earlier in the narrative that has Jesus saying those words.

He completely believed the earlier gospel, so from his perspective, he had good reason to believe Jesus actually said it, he just put it into the narrative to give a more complete view of Jesus' life.

It is really not that difficult to explain.

Pix
Joe Hinman said…
Anonymous said...
BK: If that is the case, how is it that Mark and Matthew included in their versions of the trial at the Sanhedrin a claim that was not recorded anywhere in their own Gospels, but only recorded in the Gospel of John which allegedly had not been written at the time?

The verse in Mark is presumably referencing the destruction of the temple following the Jew revolt in 70 AD, suggesting it was made up some time after that (probably within a few years), while the three days refers to the day and a half Jesus was in the tomb.

This means Jesus never actually said those words, which is why Mark and Matthew do not include the story of Jesus actually saying them.

that does not beat the undersigned coincidences argument,

The author of John had access to one of the gospels, and was aware of these verses. He choose to insert a story earlier in the narrative that has Jesus saying those words.

He completely believed the earlier gospel, so from his perspective, he had good reason to believe Jesus actually said it, he just put it into the narrative to give a more complete view of Jesus' life.

It is really not that difficult to explain.


not even close
Anonymous said…
Hello.
Anonymous said…
Anyways, I was just testing the comment function to see if my comments were going through.

"The verse in Mark is presumably referencing the destruction of the temple following the Jew revolt in 70 AD, suggesting it was made up sometime after that (probably within a few years), while the three days refers to the day and a half Jesus was in the tomb."

This is a totally illogical leap in logic. Jesus' prophecy about the Temple fulfills the criteria multiple attestation, and there's nothing prima facie wrong with such a prediction. As Josephus recorded another Jesus who predicted the destruction of the Temple - with another pre 70 reference to the destruction of the Temple coming from the Qumram community.

There's also the OT reference to the destruction of a future temple in Daniel, which MUST mean Daniel was written only after AD 70...



Anonymous said…
Here's what BK said:
"Perhaps the skeptic is now saying, “Well, obviously, it was said in Mark and Matthew first, but the mention in John is only to clear up what Mark and Matthew were referencing.” In other words, the author of John saw this mention to a claim that Jesus would tear down and rebuild the temple, and so he made up a story to put into his own Gospel that would build on the reference. But that doesn’t seem to work either. Why not? Because the author of John does not include the accusations of the witnesses that Jesus would destroy and rebuild the Temple in his own account of Jesus’ trials.

Think about it for a moment: If the author of John made up the story about Jesus claiming to tear down and rebuild the Temple to explain the reference in Matthew and Mark, why in the world wouldn’t he have included Jesus’ statement being used as an accusation against Jesus at the Trial of the Sanhedrin in his own Gospel – especially when the Gospel of John has the longest, most detailed account of the trials? Was the author expecting that his readers would necessarily have heard the Gospels of Matthew and Mark and so he didn’t need to include it in his own Gospel? That seems highly unlikely"

Here's what the residential knee jerk reactionary atheist had to say in response:
The author of John had access to one of the gospels, and was aware of these verses. He choose to insert a story earlier in the narrative that has Jesus saying those words.

He completely believed the earlier gospel, so from his perspective, he had good reason to believe Jesus actually said it, he just put it into the narrative to give a more complete view of Jesus' life.

It is really not that difficult to explain

Does anybody else see? This is a total nonresponse that only repeats the point that was refuted.
Anonymous said…
Reading the same written account is another possibility, and hearing the same oral tradition is yet another possibility. The other significant factor to consider is the fact that there are so many discrepant elements between the different gospels. That would tend to favor the third of these possibilities, since we know that oral transmission of stories is subject to embellishment and distortion over time. Furthermore, the gospels cover not just certain events that might have been witnessed by each of the different authors, but spans of history that almost certainly could not have been witnessed by any one of them. And how could an eyewitness account (or any other true account of the events) explain Mark 16:8? "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid."

1. gJohn is completely independent of the Synoptics. And the author was a personal associate of Jesus.

2. It's quite unlikely that this undesigned coincidence is the result of John and Matt/Mark reading some original written source that included both of these details. If this was the case, why wasn't the entire "story" laid out in all three Gospels?

3. The same can be said about a written source.

4. You gave an unproven assertion as fact. And that's that oral stories are inevitably embellished. Even if this were true, this wouldn't explain away the undesigned coincidence. Truly, atheists are nothing but bluster and hot air.

5. If the stories were perfectly in alignment, you would accuse them of being just carbon copies of each other. The fact that they include unique material that doesn't always perfectly align is indicative of eyewitness testimony.

6. You complain later that the Gospels are not really eyewitness testimony, but this comes across as extremely contrived and as the words of a desperate man.

Mary's testimony is eyewitness testimony. Peter's testimony is eyewitness testimony.

Any reasonable person can see this. But you dismiss it as "hearsay" and "secondhanded."

-ChristSeeker
Joe Hinman said…
O think you are missing the point of the undersigned nature of the coincidences, They are not indicative of having read the same material am they are supposed to be indicative of eye witness accounts

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