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.


Proof, Evidence, and A Good Good Father


In my last article, Atheists Don’t Exist, commentors keyed on the idea that atheists simply lack a belief in a God or gods.  According to them, they do not make knowledge statements regarding the existence of God or gods, as I attributed to them.  While I refuse to believe that most atheists do not hold an opinion on this subject, through our discussion an interesting distinction was made.  It was posited that if either side of the argument had “proof” there would not be a debate.  Well, this site is dedicated to providing evidence for the existence of a Good Good Father.  So I had to ask myself,  “Isn’t evidence proof?”

The short answer is no.  Evidence, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is “something that makes another thing evident”.  With evident defined as “easy to see or perceive; clear”.  While proof is understood to mean “a proving or testing of something” or “evidence that establishes the truth of something”. The definitions do sound kind of similar, right?  I would differentiate the terms by saying that proof is the highest standard of truth.  If you prove something, you do so as a mathematical certainty.  Evidence, on the other hand, needs to be considered and analyzed to substantiate or diminish a belief. Unfortunately, I have observed these words used interchangeably on numerous occasions and, in this case, regarding the reasonableness of the existence of God.

As I searched for a way to describe the difference between proof and evidence succinctly, I found this on-point quote by Oxford mathematician Dr. John Lennox:

“Can you prove that there is a God?  In a mathematical sense no, but proving anything is very difficult.  The word proof has two meanings.  There’s the rigorous meaning in maths that is difficult to do and rare.  But then there’s the other meaning – beyond a reasonable doubt.”

So when I hear the familiar “there is no evidence for the existence of God”, I should really hear “there is no conclusive evidence for the existence of God”.  Of which, I can agree.  But certainly, there is plenty of evidence for the existence of a Good Good Father at our disposal.  None of it, however, can be considered a proof, but, as Professor Lennox supports, real world mathematical proofs are “difficult and rare”.  Consequently, approaching a discussion or debate with these parameters for success, clearly, represents an act of futility since achieving such a high standard of certainty is so tall a task.  This might explain why non-believers never apply these high standards to issues they tout.  Ask yourself, can such a proof be made for macroevolution?

That said, the devout non-believer still might say, “I only believe things that can be conclusively proven.  For example, I can prove gravity.  If I drop this book, I can prove that it will fall to the floor”.

Right.  With respect to Dr. Lennox, it isn’t hard to prove something that is observable.  You might be able to prove that it falls that particular instance and the next and then the next after that.  But can you prove that it will always fall?  Or that it always has fallen?  More so, what you have done is make a prediction based on prior experience of the effects of gravity on other books and similar items.  You may have faith that the book will always fall, but you can’t prove it always will.  In fact, the only reason you know the book fell is because you observed it.  Again, can you prove it fell yesterday?  According to the question above, if you can’t, well, then you shouldn’t believe that it did.  In fact, should someone ask you if the book would have fallen yesterday, your  honest answer should be “I don’t know” if you cannot prove it did.

Sure, this all sounds a tad silly.  Of course, you believe that the book will fall even without mathematical proof.  But you do so because you have seen books and other solid materials fall in the past and in the present.  You have good evidence.  You noticed that you have never observed an instance where a solid object knocked off a table had not fallen to the floor.  So with the evidence of prior experience, you’ve made a reasonable assumption that it will happen again.  You’ve considered evidence from reality to support a belief.

But then you might say, “I get this, but you are comparing a book, an object we can see, with the workings of an invisible God.  Why should I believe something that cannot be proven or that I can’t see?”

To that, I would offer that you already do.  There are plenty of other things, that you use everyday, that you don’t bother questioning even though you cannot prove how or why they work.  Math is one of them.  Math is a concept.  Like all concepts, it is immaterial.  In other words, the number three does not exist in the physical realm.  You have never seen a number three, other than in the sense that it represents a number of items on a page or screen or in real life.  You may see three apples, but what you see are the apples, not the number.  The Scientific Method is another example.  How do you test the Scientific Method to see if it works?  You don’t.  You just have to have faith that it does.  Otherwise, you couldn’t do math or science.  In fact, if someone were to state that “only things that can be proven are true”, how would this person prove that that very statement is true?

See, when you do not have to deal with the burden of conclusive proof, you are free to give answers that, after careful analysis, make the case for the existence of God in the Theism vs. Atheism debate.  Answers that show that non-believers require more faith than believers do in order to live out their beliefs.  No longer will you need to be stymied by demands of mathematical certainty that your opponents require, but do not apply to their own beliefs.  Instances that fail to be a search for truth, but rather, serve to impede the achievement of any resolution or enlightenment.

So when an atheist coyly posts the familiar, “You know that you are an atheist too, right. You deny the existence of Thor, Odin, and all the other pagan gods.  We simply go one god farther than you.”  You can respond to them that we can reject those small “g” gods because we simply have more compelling evidential support for the creator God of the Bible.  Tell of the evidence from history, philosophy, science, logic, etc.  Then ask, by what evidence do you deny mine?  And wait.

Maybe, at this point, you want to know what the evidence from history, philosophy, science and logic is?  Or maybe you just want to be able to better explain to a loved one why you believe what you do.  Well, “Like” this blog and every so often new content will be sent to your email.  My intent is to simply present the evidence, hopefully, in an easy-to-understand, but informative and respectful way .  You can decide what to do with it.  Let me leave you with this quote from the great C.S. Lewis:

“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance.  The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

While the quote speaks of Christianity, the same rings true for theism.  If God exists, this understanding requires action.  How can what we do when faced with the evidence for the existence of God be anything other than infinitely important?
God Bless.