Contradiction or Undesigned Coincidence?

undesigned coincidence
As we move closer to Easter, as with most religious holidays, we will often experience a cultural backlash against our Christian faith. We see billboards, bought by atheist groups, denoting a lack of need for a Savior. At Christmas, we may see mythicism promoted by unbelieving “friends” on our facebook feeds. And claims alleging that the Bible is nothing but a book of fairy tales. It is for this reason I would like to share this bit of Bible teaching, to, both, strengthen our own confidence in scripture and help us further provide an answer to “everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope you have . . . with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

To do this, I will be referring heavily to Lydia McGrew’s marvelous book, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts”. McGrew’s book, itself, is an unearthing of evidence for the historical reliability of the gospels written in the 18th and 19th centuries by apologists William Paley and Jame Blunt, respectively.

From the synopsis of her book, the term “undesigned coincidences” refers to:

“ . . . an apparently casual, yet puzzle-like “fit” between two or more texts, and its best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they describe or allude to. Connections of this kind among passages in the Gospels, as well as between Acts and the Pauline epistles, give us reason to believe that these documents came from honest eyewitness sources, people “in the know” about the events they relate.”

For this article, I want to simply paraphrase one of my favorite instances of this inter-locking of events within the gospels, though there are many more illustrated in McGrew’s book. Please, by all means, check out this book for the rest.

We start in John 18:10 when Jesus and His companions are waiting in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus waited there for Judas to arrive with a detachment of soldiers to arrest Him. Verse 10 explains the reaction of Jesus’ followers to His detainment at the hands of the officials sent by the chief priests and Pharisees.

“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)” (verse 10). So after introducing the name Malchus to us, the Book of John doesn’t mention him again. We can only assume that the high priest’s servant left the scene holding the right side of his head, less an ear.

The story then leads us to the trial of Jesus and this exchange between Pilate and Jesus as He was questioned out of earshot of the Jewish council whose goal is to have Jesus executed. John 18:33-36:

“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Do you see a contradiction here between these two passages in the same chapter of John? When Jesus claims that His kingdom is not of this world, He supports His claim by saying that if it were not so, His followers would fight to save Him. Well, evidenced in John 18:10, Peter did fight. He lopped off Malchus’s ear with his sword.

So when Pilate hears these claims of being peaceful from Jesus, he goes to the Jews and says that he finds “no basis for a charge against him” (v. 38). Now because it was the aim of the Jews to present Jesus as opposition to Caesar, they could have shown a conflict in Jesus’s own words, opposed to the actions of his disciples (Peter), by simply showing Pilate Malchus’s wounded head. They could have attempted to show that Jesus and His disciples have a violent revolution in mind for the kingdom of Rome which would be a capital offense.

Why didn’t they do this? If our only source of information is John’s Gospel, it doesn’t make sense that the Jews wouldn’t use the attack on Malchus to make their case, right?

However, the question is answered in Luke 22:47-53. Describing the scene in the garden, Luke says:

“While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22.47–53)”

In an excerpt from “Hidden in Plain Sight”:

‘Only Luke says that Jesus healed the servant’s ear, though Matthew and Mark also recount that the ear was cut off. Here again, Luke supplies a unique detail within a passage that is in some respects similar to the other Synoptic Gospels. And here, too, this detail is confirmed by an undesigned coincidence. If it is true that Jesus healed the servant’s ear, it explains Jesus’ words to Pilate, though those words are given only in John. Jesus could confidently declare that his kingdom is not of this world and even say that his servants would be fighting if his kingdom were not peaceful. If anyone tried to say that Peter cut off a servant’s ear, the wounded servant himself could not be produced to show this, and an admission that Jesus healed the ear would be further evidence of Jesus’ non-violent intentions, not to mention evidence of his miraculous abilities.”

This is one of my favorite undesigned coincidences because, embedded within, it, in a way, confirms an actual miracle. Because if not for the soldier’s healed ear, the Jews could have produced actual evidence, though circumstantial and dishonest, to build their case against our Good Good Father. Instead, the happening of the crucifixion of Jesus depended entirely on the political manipulation of Pilate and making him worry that he appeared to be “no friend of Caesar” (John 19:12).

In this way and among other ways, detailed in Lydia McGrew’s book, John and Luke fit together like a puzzle, Luke explaining a difficulty in John. The writer of John’s Gospel undoubtedly knew about the soldier’s ear but, for some reason, left out this detail, all the while, continuing the narrative as if it did happen. In a completely unforced way, John’s story only makes sense in light of Luke’s version. Not to mention, that in a separate coincidence, Jesus’s testimony in John 18:36 explains why Pilate cannot find reason to charge Jesus in Luke’s gospel. So the authors of both gospels end up supporting the historical reliability of the other in a subtle, undesigned way.

What should be made of all this? The best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they described.

God bless.


Church, Where Is Your Joy?


Today in church, we were awarded a special treat. We witnessed a profession of faith and two baptisms and a testimony. While professions of faith and baptisms are an absolute blessing to the church, this post will focus exclusively on the testimony. Allow me to paraphrase the joyful message we heard below:

After being challenged to confess her sins to God by her unchurched mother, she feels guilt for avoiding church and putting it off, so, alone with her child, she finally gives in and confesses. When she does this, she did so completely with an open mind and an open heart. To her amazement, she heard words, though not with her ears, that she had not used before this moment. The words were not hers, but they were spoken into her heart. And then, she confessed.

After her confession, since she had missed church, she found a church service streamed online. The sermon mentioned Isaiah 43:18-19.

She quickly looked up this verse in the pages of a used teen study bible someone had given to her. Within the Word of God, she read the verse, noting not only God’s answer to her confession, but that out of every verse in her used study bible, this verse was the only one marked with a highlighter. The only one. Through His Word God told her:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:18-19

While it occurred to me and many others that a wonderful thing had happened to her, later, I thought of something else. Much of what happened to this young lady we can see fits into a portion of our church order of worship.

Some churches have a different order and may have slimmed it down to just a few headings, but in this order, we have Gathering/Praise, Confession, Proclamation, Response to the Word, Lord’s Supper, and Sending. I am, of course, paying close attention to the Confession section of worship here. Within that section we have sub-headings: Call to Confession, Prayer of Confession, Assurance of Pardon, Passing the Peace, and Response to Thanksgiving.

It occurred to me that God had lead her through part of this order of worship without the presence of a pastor, worship leader, choir, or congregation. Our Good Good Father came down to meet her in her own living room and, with Him and her baby son, she had church there. She experienced the Holy Spirit Calling her to confession through her mother. God lead her through her Prayer of Confession. God, then, Assured her of His plans for her in Isaiah 43:18-19. She received Peace from the Lord over the condition of her heart and along with that, a desire to joyfully tell others what He has done for her in Thanksgiving.

My telling of this event in this way is not to say that these things (pastor, worship leader, etc,) are unimportant, but to show that we as believers in Christ and church-goers get to follow this order of worship every week and some of us can still remain unmoved by it.  Why is that?

Unless you were there, it is hard to adequately describe the energy and joyfulness by which she had told us what God had done for her.  The room was electrified.  And why shouldn’t it be?  God performed a miracle on this woman’s heart just as He has for you and me.  I find the joyful manner by which she delivered her message to be almost as important as the Word she shared with us.  My hope, going forward, is that those blessed to be in attendance will not let this detail fade from their memories.  It is for this reason I humbly ask: Church, where is your joy?

Please pray with me: Lord, if we haven’t felt this way in a while, may this be us again.

God Bless.

The Good Good Father vs. The Straw god


A true tragedy within contemporary culture is the great amount of people, some even claiming to be Christians, who do not understand the character of God.  In some cases, their animosity does not seem to be based in mere misunderstanding, but in strategy.  Willingly or unwittingly, they create gods of their own choosing, what I will call Straw gods (small “g”).  Like straw man arguments, these ideas are formed in order to defeat a god who is fallible, limited, not all-powerful, not holy, or all-knowing.  Below, I would like to give a few examples of just such questions or statements that confuse a Straw god with the God of the Bible, explain the inherent problems with them, and even try to answer them in a way that will not support their faulty premises.  To do that, I will humbly borrow the theological gravitas of Arthur W. Pink and his book, “The Attributes of God”, from which I will quote extensively.

Before we begin, I want my readers to know that I sampled these questions from various atheist/ Christian Facebook groups.  These are real questions that should demonstrate to us the magnitude of our culture’s inability to understand who our Good Good Father is.

Let’s proceed.


Question #1.  Shouldn’t a god who commits mass murder be held accountable?

The answer is yes.  But a god who commits mass murder cannot be the God of the bible.  The questioner, here, posits a Straw god who can be convicted of a crime (murder) and then be held accountable for said crime.  The holiness of this god is called into question, as well as his sovereignty.  One is moved to ask if this god that isn’t all good or all powerful or all moral is worthy of our praise?  Truly, the one named in this question is not.

The Bible tells us that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John1:5).  Certainly, a being without darkness would not be a murderer.  Such diabolical claims are most often made in relation to Old Testament commands to utterly destroy enemies of Israel, punishing them for their grave disobedience.  Either way, it is our sinful world that deserves God’s punishment.  Punishment, not murder.  These deaths occurred due to the despicable things done to one another and done to a people who had been warned, but remained in direct rebellion against their creator.  Pink explains:

“Because God is holy he hates all sin. . . It follows, therefore, that he must necessarily punish sin.  Sin can no more exist without demanding his punishment than without requiring his hatred of it.  God has often forgiven sinners but he never forgives sin; and the sinner is only forgiven on the ground of Another having borne his punishment . . .” (page 54)

Other times, questioners may conflate the existence of natural disasters, like hurricanes and tsunamis, with a murderous god.  After all, aren’t God’s decrees the “counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).  The problem here is that these “acts of God” seem to be the only acts attributed to Him.  Isn’t a beautiful warm summer day an act of God?  A cool refreshing breeze?  Rain for the farmer’s crops?  But when we see an event happen that, with our limited knowledge, we deem to be negative, doesn’t it seem that these are the only acts God must be responsible for?  Pink offers:

“O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to children of men” (Ps. 107:8).  Gratitude is the return justly required from the objects of his beneficence; yet it is often withheld from out great Benefactor simply because his goodness is so constant and so abundant.  It is lightly esteemed because it is exercised toward us in the common course of events.  It is not felt because we daily experience it.” (page 77)

A page earlier Pink talks about examples of God’s goodness revealed in our human experiences:

“With comparatively rare exceptions, men and women, experience a far greater number of days of health than they do of sickness and pain.  There is much more creature happiness than creature-misery in the world.  Even our sorrows admit of considerable alleviation, and God has given to the human mind a pliability which adapts itself to circumstances and makes the most of them.”  (page 76)

Truth is, the proof of God’s eternal goodness cannot not be explained by the results of a  temporary existence.  Exiting the material world does not mark the end of the human experience of those who love God.

Still, they will call Him a murderer or genocidal.  If we are to accept this characterization of our Good Good Father, we also must ask ourselves the following questions:

How is it possible for the creator of the morality to be immoral since immorality is a deficiency of perfect morality?  It is not.  God is the maximal Being.  He cannot exhibit traits that are not perfect.  

By what standard can we judge a being who made us?  It is one thing to pass judgement upon someone who resides on our same footing, a coworker, friend, or neighbor, but it is an entirely different story to act as judge over a being of infinite perfection.

The question then asks shouldn’t God be held accountable.  Whom could He possibly be held accountable to?  If there is one, to which, our God could be held accountable, that being would then be God.

We, as believers, rejoice in the fact that our holy God has absolute authority over creation.  Clearly, the Straw god in question #1 is about one that is unholy and not good and without authority.

Question #2.  Why would a loving God send anyone to hell?

So the Straw god put forth is one that cannot reconcile his loving nature with his nature of wrath.  This is not the God of the Bible worshiped by Christians.  According to His word (1 John 4:8, Ps. 7:11), God is all loving and yet the wrath of God is another perfect facet of his Divine character.  To infer otherwise, as this question does, misunderstands both attributes.

In his book, mentioned above, Pink lists several qualities related to His perfect love and makes the point that “it is not simply that God ‘loves’, but that He is love (1John 4:8).  Love is not merely one of his attributes, but His very nature” (page 98).  So because He is love and He is sovereign, infinite, holy, immutable, and gracious, it stands to reason that so is His love.

After having defined God as love itself, the skeptic might propose that His reaction to the rebellion by His creation to His face should also be loving, which is in keeping with his identity.  To this, I would say that God’s response to those violating the law is wholly loving.  His response is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.   Folks that are moved to respond to this supremely loving act are saved, given eternal life. For those who are unmoved by Him, He respects their will to remain separated from His presence.  Moreover, “How could he who is the Sum of all excellency look with equal satisfaction upon virtue and vice, wisdom and folly?” (page 106)  In other words, how should a being whose every nature is perfect respond to what is “impure and vile”?  Wouldn’t not judging evil be, in fact, unloving and violate His divine character?  In effect, wouldn’t it also be a “moral blemish” attributed to a morally perfect God?  Pink says, “Indifference to sin is a moral blemish, and he who hates it not is a moral leper” (page 106).

Clearly, in order for God to be God, He must be able to reconcile all his Divine characteristics.  That is the Good Good Father that deserves our worship.

Question #3.  Can’t god get rid of evil?

It should be noted that often the same skeptic who has asked questions #1 and 2, at another time, may turn around and ask question #3.  Which creates a no-win situation.  One where God can neither punish evil or let evil reside without accusation.  And clearly, if this questioner is one that adheres to materialist belief, it should be asked of them how their concept of evil is grounded, since if material is all that exists, they cannot possibly believe in such a thing as evil in the first place.

But back to the subject.  The question is really the first part of a famous quote of ancient philosopher Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then he is not omnipotent.  Is he able but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.  Is he both able and willing?  Then whence cometh evil?  Is he neither able nor willing?  Then why call him God?”

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?”  Of course, He is able.  Pink opens his chapter entitled “The Power of God” with this:

“We cannot have a right conception of God unless we think of him as all-powerful, as well as all-wise.  He who cannot do what he will and perform all his pleasure cannot be God.  As God hath a will to resolve what he deems good, so has he the power to execute his will.”  (page 58)

It’s really this simple.  Any god who is limited in any way cannot be the God of the Bible.  The question most people get hung up on, and I suppose rightly so, is why He would allow evil.  Please remember though that with His power, as Pink comments, comes wisdom.  God is not like a bully on the playground who does not know his own strength.  He has reasons, perfect reasons, even though we do not know what they are at every moment.  But, ask yourself, why would we know the absolute motivations of a perfect being when we are as we are?  We are woefully dependent upon Him and His providence.

Admittedly, the information above does not prove or serve as evidence for the existence of God.  It is to serve as somewhat of a guide for your conversations with seekers or non-believers about our Good Good Father.  With this culture war, we cannot allow skeptics to reintroduce the Him as a less than perfect being.  We must defend the true God of the Bible, instead of the Straw god promoted by a secularist culture whom is simply set up to fail.

God Bless.