“When someone places faith in the Bible, they place it in the direction of evidence, not against the evidence.”

[Karen] Welcome back to the I Believe Podcast. We’re so glad you’re with us. We love hearing from you so please continue to engage with us on Facebook, Google Plus, YouTube, Twitter, or on site, www.ibelievepodcast.com. We are back with part 8 from our series on the authenticity of the Bible. We’re here again with our guest, D.M. Johnson.

In this installment, we will address with you what has sometimes been called “undesigned coincidences” in the Bible. We referred to this briefly in our Overview cast, but for those who just popped onto this episode without having listened previously, that phrase refers to places where the Gospel accounts, and even things outside the Bible, give us independent pieces of data, that when put together with other data, give us a more full and comprehensive understanding of an event—a reason to consider the whole in light of the tapestry of details woven through it. Dave, did you want to say anything before we dive in, other than hello, and welcome!

[D.M.] Yeah, it’s good to be here. I just want people to realize as we go through this, that nothing presented here is, by itself, overwhelming evidence. This is sometimes called the “cumulative force argument,” or “cumulative force evidence.” In other words, one or two times something like this, you may think it could have happened just by chance. But at some point, after you see things over and over again, it becomes a little bit ridiculous to insist that all of these things are just purely happening by luck or some kind of random circumstance. So we have both internal and external coincidences.

The other neat thing about this kind of evidence, these internal examples, is that the sources are just your Bible. So you don’t need to know all these archaeological sources or different things; you can just follow these things along and put the material together yourself just as you study your Bible through the different Gospel narratives to confirm these coincidences.

[Karen] Thanks. Dave, as we go through this, we want to mention that in one of our earlier casts we did look at lots of things external to the Bible that coincidentally matched up with the Bible and which shed light on facts that were congruent with the New Testament.

External Undesigned Coincidences

Can you speak to some additional external evidences that match up with the Bible, to take that even a step further for our audience?

[D.M.] Yeah, there are some things we didn’t go over in that cast, which are little details.  Remember, this kind of evidence is almost like a snowflake in that it can eventually add up to an avalanche at some point. So any one piece of evidence by itself isn’t that big, but when you put them in their totality, they’re big. One example that comes to mind is the value of a denarius. In Matthew, Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard owner who hires unskilled workers at the rate a denarius for a day’s labor [1]. Tacitus recounts a mutinous speech to some Roman soldiers in about 14 C.E. in which he suggested that they deserve a fair wage—namely, a denarius per day [2]. And we have that in the writings of Tacitus.

There are also details of the temple tax and the didrachma. In Matthew 17:24-27, we hear about the “two didrachma temple tax.” And that’s interesting—the stater coin has the value of four didrachma, just enough to pay for both Jesus and Peter. So you look at some of these things and it’s interesting; they just keep adding up to make a full picture.

[Karen]  I love those details. I think about the external coincidences we have from that list of items you mentioned in the earlier cast from the scholar Colin Hemer, who had 84 specific items that were confirmed by various historical and archaeological research [3]. I remember you mentioning that these things included ports, boundaries, landmarks, slang terminology, local languages, local deities, local industries, and proper titles for numerous regional and local officials. A few quick examples of some of these include things like this: The governor of Cyprus is called the proconsul [4]. The magistrates of Philippi were governors [5]. The chief executive magistrate in Ephesus is a town clerk [6]. You just don’t write this accurately and happen to match outside discoveries by chance.

My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me.

[D.M.] Right.

Internal Undesigned Coincidences

I’d like to look at some of the internal evidence. Sometimes we have two works by different authors that interlock in a way that would be pretty unlikely to get right by accident. Sometimes one book may mention a detail in passing that answers some question that’s actually raised by another book. The two records can fit together like pieces to a puzzle.

It’s also important to understand that for fictional works and forgeries you wouldn’t purposely leave loose ends or hanging questions. You would expect to find data that interlocked like this, however, in authentic records, which talked about the same event, if the authors knew about the subjects they were writing about.

Jesus Healing Peter’s Mother-in-Law

Karen, let’s take a passage and have you read it, then we will ask a question and see if another passage can answer it and fill in the details. Would you mind reading Matthew 8:14-16?

[Karen] Sure.

“And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.” [7]

[D.M.] I just want to jump in here. The question we would ask is, if people really believed Jesus could truly heal the sick, why would they wait until the evening to come to Him? You read that He’s done this great thing, but then it’s in the evening when they come? Let’s look in Mark to see if we get an explanation for this. Could you go ahead and read Mark 1:21, and then 29-32?

[Karen] Sure.

“On the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. . . . And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, . . .  That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.” [8]

[D.M.] This is an interesting example. Remember, this is during the second temple period. We have fanatical Jews who were very strict in their observance of the Sabbath. From Matthew’s account, we’re left wondering, why did they wait? Why did they wait until the evening? Why would people do that if they really could get healed? Then in Mark, we understand the detail that it was the Sabbath, which ended at sundown. So it actually makes perfect sense when tied together. So in this case, Mark explains Matthew.

Jesus heals a woman.

Apostles Keeping Silent

Karen, let’s read Luke 9:36 and also Mark 9:9, then contrast them to see how they fit together. One by itself would leave us with a hanging question, like we saw before, and the other one answers that question.

[Karen] OK. “And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything what they had seen” [9].

So, I think the question here is, “Why were they keeping silent about this?” I mean, that seems like a huge deal that they had just seen Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus; it just doesn’t seem in character that they would be quiet. Luke didn’t give any explanation for them being quiet.

But hold on while I read Mark which states: “And as they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the son of man had risen from the dead” [10].

So, when we piece these together, as Dave has been sharing, it makes total sense. Mark gives us the command but doesn’t say whether they obeyed it; Luke records their obedience, but omits the command. And yet it works together synergistically.

It’s also worth pointing out that the most common command from Jesus which is disregarded in the New Testament is when He tells people to not say anything.

[D.M.] Yeah, they usually go and immediately tell people, right.

Feeding the 5,000

I want to go over one that I think is really powerful. This is the setting for the feeding of the 5,000. This is found in Mark 6:31,39:

“And he said to the, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. Then he commanded them to sit down in groups on the green grass” [11].

So it’s interesting here, we have details of many people coming and going, with green grass. Now let’s move to John 6:4: “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand” [12]. The weeks just before Passover are the growing season in Palestine. If you know about the area of Palestine, you know that the grass isn’t always green there. So this gives us a perfect timing where we know that there would have been green grass.

Also, there were lots of people coming and going. At Passover, there would be lots of people coming and going, with big crowds. So this explains why many people were mentioned by Mark.

Mark doesn’t tell us why many people were coming and going. John doesn’t tell us that there were many people coming and going or that there was green grass, but he explains why there would have been many people and why there would have been green grass: because it was Passover. So when you piece these things together, it’s really interesting.

Jesus leading and teaching.

[Karen] Those overlapping details are great.

Herod and his Servants

I remember in the overview we mentioned Herod. I would like to read those verses and look at this one. This is from Matthew 14:1-2:

“At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.’” [13]

Herod would have obviously been worried about this since he had John put to death, right?

[D.M.] Yeah, this begs the question: why is Herod talking to his servants? And how would Matthew of all people know what Herod had said to his servants in the privacy of his own castle? A skeptic would look at this and say that Matthew made it up.

[Karen] Exactly. I am going to read the other account of this and let’s look at the detail it sheds on this This is from Luke: “And Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susana, and many others who provide for them out of their means” [14].

This is really amazing. This passage in Luke has nothing to do with John the Baptist or his death. It just has Luke, in passing, who happens to mention the name of the woman. In doing so, he answers the question of how the Apostles would have heard the very things Herod was saying to his servants. We now have an example of Luke explaining Matthew.

[D.M.] Yeah, isn’t that interesting? So it talks about Herod’s household manager, and then you see that’s how the apostles would have known what was going on with Herod. I like that one.

“Mighty Works” in Bethsaida

Here is another one that is interesting that will tie us back to a previous one. The scripture says, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” That’s from Matthew 11:21. But if you look at that by itself, you might think, what mighty works? Nothing Matthew has reported up to this point give us really any clue about it.

I want you to think about this: Pretend you were going to make up a Gospel story, and it was going to have something to do with money and with food. Who would come into that? Some people would say, maybe Judas, he had the money. Some people might say, well maybe Peter, he’s a prominent person; Jesus is talking to him a lot.

It’s interesting, though; let’s read this from the New Testament:  “Lifting up his eyes, and seeing a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’” [15]. Very fascinating: Why does Jesus ask Philip?

Here’s another passage: “On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him” [16].

Now let’s look at another separate passage from John: “So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee’”[17].

Now, all of a sudden, all of the pieces fit. Jesus is about to feed the five thousand, John doesn’t tell you where it is. Luke tells you its in Bethsaida, but doesn’t mention Philip; then in a totally different passage, John tells you Philip is from Bethsaida.  Only by putting all of this together does it make sense why Jesus asks Philip in John 6:5. If I came to a town I didn’t know anything about, and somebody I knew was from there, I’d ask that person, where can we go to buy bread?

It’s also worth pointing out that Matthew often arranges his material thematically rather than chronologically, and so he tells the story of the feeding of the five thousand in chapter 14. Only by comparing Luke’s account do we discover that the feeding of the five thousand actually took place before Jesus pronounced woes over Bethsaida in Luke 10:13. At that point, if you were just reading that, you’d think, what does He mean? So it’s interesting when you piece these things together it’s really interesting and it paints a full picture that they wouldn’t get right just by accident.

[Karen] That’s great. Maybe we should just go over one more, Dave?

Rebuilding the Temple in Three Days

This one comes from Mark:

“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.’” [18]

Really, in the synoptic Gospels we have nothing that provides any pretext for this accusation. The gospel of John sheds some light on this: “So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’” [19].

John really gives us the original statement of Jesus, but doesn’t use it as an accusation; the synoptics give us the accusation, but not the original statement. When analyzed like this, it gives us the full picture and the story makes sense comprehensively.

Cumulative Force Evidence

[D.M.] So just summing up the concept of undesigned coincidences. And again, some of these we actually went over in another context during a different cast. We have things outside the Bible that corroborate with the Bible; we also have different accounts in the Bible that interlock evidence and we see, really, the coherence between these different things. There are a lot more internal examples we could go over also.

I just want to make the point on this: If we have one undesigned coincidence it might be an [accident]. Every once in a while you could find a couple of jigsaw pieces that didn’t really belong together that just happen to fit. That might happen every once in a great while. But when you start to look through the New Testament, and you see it happening again, and again, and again, from multiple different documents, at some point it becomes a little silly to say that they’re just all accidental. So if you look at this in its totality, it has a lot of cumulative force and it’s hard to deny.

[Karen] I agree. This is a really unique line of evidence. I think it might be new for some of our listeners, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed it.

I recently read the book Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. In that book, he does a good job of talking about what is good evidence. He talks about it from the viewpoint of a detective, which I really like. I think the irony here is that lots of people want to dismiss the Gospels because of divergent detail or perceived differences. This kind of evidence really turns that idea on its head. We clearly see from what Dave has shared and what we’ve discussed here that sometimes individual detail given by a witness interlocks just perfectly with details from another witness. This is done in passages where they were not even talking about the same subject, but in passing give us clues that we can then piece together this amazing tapestry.

I hope that you have enjoyed this installment of I Believe Podcast. The evidence again shows us that we have an incredibly reliable and trustworthy New Testament. Dave, I can’t thank you enough for being with us.

[D.M.] It’s been good; thanks for having me.

[Karen] Please make sure to let us know comments or questions you may have, and get in touch with us. We’d love to hear from you. Have a blessed day!

Additional Episodes:

Changed by Grace: Interview with Brad Wilcox

{Overview} 8 Points to Consider: The Authenticity of the Bible

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1. Matthew 20:1-2.

2. Tacitus Annals 1.17

3. Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Tubingen: Mohr, 1989), 108-158.

4. Acts 13:7

5. Acts 16:20,22

6. Acts 19:35

7. Matthew 8:14-16

8. Mark 1:21,29-32 NIV

9. Luke 9:36

10. Mark 9:9 NIV

11. Mark 6:31,39 NIV

12. John 6:4 NIV

13. Matthew 14:1-2

14. Luke 8:3

15. John 6:5

16. Luke 9:10-11

17. John 12:21

18. Mark 14:58, 15:29

19. John 2:18-19

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