Luke 1:1-4 states, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out in consecutive order, most excellent, Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” When one reads through the New Testament books, one quickly realizes that there are discrepancies between the written accounts. Skeptics often point to these discrepancies as proof of their falsehood. Yet, as Lydia McGrew and J. Warner Wallace show in their works, “Hidden In Plain View” and “Cold Case Christianity“, those same discrepancies actually help prove their veracity.
Knowing What To Look For
Admittedly, when I was first introduced to the concept of “undesigned coincidences” or, as J. Warner Wallace calls them, “eyewitness support statements”, it was a little difficult to understand. Why would stories that didn’t match up, be “proof” of their veracity? Yet, once you understand the argument, it becomes pretty compelling. It is another strong link in the cumulative case for the truth of Christianity. But you have to know what to look for. As J. Warner Wallace, a cold case homicide detective, points out:
“Unless you’ve worked a lot with eyewitnesses and have become familiar with the nature of apparent contradiction in eyewitness accounts, it’s easy to assume that people are lying (or are mistaken) simply because they don’t agree on every detail or have ignored some facts in favor of others…While we might complain about two accounts that appear to differ in some way, we would be even more suspicious if there were absolutely no peculiarities or differences. If this were the case with the Gospels, I bet we would argue that they were a result of some elaborate collusion.”
Essentially, if the Gospels were identical in all aspects in their telling of the life of Jesus, one could reasonably consider that the disciples did conspire to “make up a story”. But since there are differences, skeptics take the opposite tack: they accuse the Gospels of being faked because of those differences. Yet, as Lydia McGrew states:
“Think what a subtle and almost pointless form of deception it would be for the author of a non-factual book of John to leave out information in his own account, to raise questions by his own somewhat incomplete stories…That would be an extremely strange form of fakery.”
Lydia McGrew dedicates her entire book, “Hidden In Plain View“, to the concept of “undesigned coincidences” and does a thorough job explaining what they are and their significance. First, Mrs. McGrew defines what an “undesigned coincidence” is:
“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 giving the accounts. Despite their apparent independence, the items fit together like pieces of a puzzle.”
As for their significance she goes on to explain:
“Undesigned coincidences provide just one of the many lines of support that help us to answer…questions with confidence, and there are several notable features that make this argument especially useful. First, it’s contained in the text itself…so the appreciation of this argument is not restricted to specialists. Second, the evidence from undesigned coincidences would be difficult to fake…Third, undesigned coincidences create an ‘Aha!’ moment for the person who gets a particular argument…Fourth…This evidence give us reason to trust all four Gospels…”
This by no means is intended to be an exhaustive list. There are a plethora of examples. However, I’ll give three examples of what “undesigned coincidences” or, “eyewitness support statements look like.
The first, and perhaps one of the best examples of this, is one that J. Warner Wallace pointed out in his appearance in the movie, God’s Not Dead 2 where he played himself. In this particular instance, consider the account of Matthew who describes when Jesus was brought before Caiphas:
“…then they spat on His face and struck Him. Others slapped him and said, ‘Prophesy to us, Christ! Who hit you?'” (Matthew 26:67-68)
As J. Warner Wallace points out, simply by reading the Gospel of Matthew, the situation seems off. Why would it be considered a challenge to Jesus? Couldn’t he see who hit him? As the reader, you don’t know why that was considered a challenge until you find the missing piece in the Gospel of Luke:
“The men who were holding Jesus began to mock Him and beat Him. They blindfolded Him and kept demanding, ‘Prophesy! Who hit you?'” (Luke 22:63-64)
Luke’s Gospel fills in the detail that Matthew’s left out.
Second, Lydia McGrew explains that in the Gospel of John, we see the description of the transfer of Jesus to Pilate’s custody. In John’s description, he confronts Jesus by asking him if he was the “King of the Jews”:
“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked Him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?'” (John 18:33)
By only reading John’s account, it seems weird. Why on earth would Pilate even ask that question. As Mrs. McGrew points out, “Why would Pilate even think that Jesus claimed to be the king of the Jews?” Once again, it’s the Gospel of Luke who fills in the missing link:
“Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.’ And Pilate asked Him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ And He answered him, ‘You have said so.'” (Luke 23:1-3)
Lastly, when it comes to the burial of Jesus, Luke and John state that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in an unused tomb:
“Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:41-42)
As Lydia McGrew points out, “John implies that the tomb was selected because it was nearby But surely this cannot be the whole story. Joseph would presumably not be allowed the use of someone else’s tomb merely because it happened to be conveniently located!” It is the Gospel of Matthew that fills in the missing information:
“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph too the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.” (Matthew 27:57-60)
Joseph of Arimathea recently made the tomb for himself. That’s why it was the tomb that was chosen for Jesus. However, if you had solely read the Gospel of John, you would have never got that information.
The Gospels Are Reliable Eyewitness Accounts
Again, when one first comes across this line of argument, it may be a bit difficult to grasp, but I highly recommend delving into this concept and understanding it. Sadly for many Christians, when skeptics (rightly) point out that the Gospel accounts are very different, they begin to question their authenticity. They don’t realize that had the Gospels all been identical, it would have been proof of their forgery.
However, as it stands, there are “undesigned coincidences” between the Gospels. It should also be noted that the Gospels are not alone in these “eyewitness support statements”. The Book of Acts also supports Paul’s epistles. As such, one can reasonably believe that the information contained therein is reliable.
J. Warner Wallace briefly explains “undesigned coincidences”: