3 New Important Apologetic Books (And All By Women) on Science, the Body & New Testament

IMG_3344

I don’t do many book reviews, so think of this more as book recommendations.

Recently, three books were release (two in 2018, one in 2017), which I have found extremely helpful for defending the Christian worldview. One focuses on science, one focuses on the big cultural issues of the day (like sexuality, abortion, etc.), and one focuses on the New Testament.

None of the books are needlessly dense, but filled with useful information without beating the main points to death. They are assessable, easy to follow, and enjoyable to read. In other words, they’re informative and scholarly in a good way; they bring it down to the street-level without sacrificing content, and the authors know how to write to a general audience and write something worth reading.

These three books also all happen to be written by women. I didn’t purposely choose these books so I could blog about books by Christian women, but I picked these three books because I find them helpful apologetic tools. (“Apologetics” = To defend.) It’s a pleasant surprise that my three favorite books of 2017-2018 are all by women authors; it’s good to see women contributing to the field of Christian apologetics.

LOVE THY BODY

Nancy Pearcey

I’m try not to be hyperbolic in recommending books, but Love Thy Body may be the most important book written in, at least, the past fifteen years.

Pearcey, called “America’s preeminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual” by The Economist, is a master at clearly laying out how someone’s personal philosophy  – whether they realize it or not – effects how they think about the big questions of life. What’s so impressive about this book is that she shows how one big idea effects all the hot-button “culture war” issues of our day concerning human life, sexuality, and even family.

The big idea she addresses is this: whether the body is “separate from the authentic self.” In other words, is there is a divorce between the “person” and the body? According to some modern thinking, the “person” is the true self, where the body is an “expendable biological organism.”

Pearcey lays out why this idea that the “person” and body are detached from each other is not a biblically sound idea, nor a logically defensible position, nor beneficial to society or the individual. In fact, this popular “modern” notion has much more in common with the ancient paganism Christianity replaced in the West. Though Christians believe in an immaterial soul that can live on apart from the body, the biblical understanding is that God created us as whole beings – as embodied souls.

Pearcey walks us through how this unbiblical, post-modern (but also ancient) idea that the body is inconsequential effects how we think about all the big issues of our day: homosexuality, gender, the casual sex “hook up” culture, abortion, euthanasia, and even parenthood and the family.

HIDDEN IN PLAIN VIEW

Lydia McGrew

Lydia McGrew (along with her husband, Tim McGrew, who are both published philosophers) have reintroduced a forgotten argument for the reliability of the New Testament in podcast interviews, blog articles, and now a book. Originally used by William Paley in the 1790s and John James Blunt in the mid-1800s, the strategy has been labeled Undesigned Coincidences, a term coined by Blunt. Granted, “Undesigned Coincidences” doesn’t sound all that exciting, but it’s quite fascinating.

The argument is based on the idea that when we have multiple accounts of a true event by eyewitnesses, some accounts may contain details that others do not, yet those additional details will compliment the information in the accounts where the details are missing. To give an example, say, a witness to a murder describes the killer as having a French accent. Another witness may not mention the accent but describe the man wearing a brand of clothing unique to France.

Such a “coincidence” strongly suggests that the accounts are given by eyewitnesses and reliable. After explaining what undesigned coincidences are, McGrew’s book is pretty straight forward: She gives example after example of how we find these complimentary details between the four Gospels and between Paul’s letters and the Book of Acts.

(I wrote three blog articles about Undesigned Coincidences based on podcast interviews with Tim McGrew: Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3. If you find them interesting, reading Lydia’s book is the place to go to learn more.)

SCIENCE AND THE MIND OF THE MAKER

 Melissa Cain Travis

The goal of Travis’ book is quite easy to sum up: Despite the popular mantra of skeptics, science has not disproven God, nor is science and Christianity at odds.

Travis, professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University, takes us for a walk through scientific history to show that the Christian worldview gave birth to modern science. The founders of science were men who believed in God and saw their work not only as a way of growing in knowledge of God but also a way of worshipping God. Moreover, with each new scientific discovery, many viewed these as more – not less – evidence that the universe was created by a rational, thinking mind.

Travis backs up this “Maker Thesis” by looking at the evidence we find in cosmology, DNA, physics, mathematics, and the human mind. She even covers how our world is just right for our logical human minds to study, comprehend, and benefit from it and how this – just like life in the cosmos – doesn’t appear to be just a happy accident (giving whole new insight into God saying in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”)

Visit my other website: Confidence in Christ.

Confidence in Christ v2

Even More Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: Can Apologetics Get Any More Sexy?

*Are there Undesigned Coincidences between the Gospels & ancient writings outside of the Bible? How can minor details in the Gospels show the reliability of the Gospels? Are you sexy enough to handle this?*

4_Gospels_painting

Series intro: What’s an Undesigned Coincidence?

Where key, major details remain the same when two or more authors write about the same historic event, we find minor details may be added or left out. An “undesigned coincidence” is when one account provides details, but another account written about the same incident by a different author gives more insight into those details. We see “undesigned coincidences” when we have two or more independently investigated accounts of the same event, and we find undesigned coincidences throughout the Gospels of the New Testament.

It’s highly unlikely that such complimentary minor details would be deliberately falsified, and the assurance that they’re based on authentic events is extremely high. In other words, when multiple people retell a true story, they may include minor details without an explanation of those details and others telling the same story may unintentionally fill in those missing pieces. Such non-deliberate cohesion smacks of authenticity.

Read PART 1: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: It Don’t Sound Sexy, But Oh Man It Is

Read PART 2: More Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: Bringing Sexy Apologetics Back

Fish_nets

Yes, by now you’ve probably figured out that I’ve been shamelessly placing “sexy” in every title of this series to catch people’s attention (with a healthy dose of irony). Here are more examples of Undesigned Coincidences:

 

Fixin’ to Fix Some Fish Nets

18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

 

OK, one big question immediately comes to mind when reading this passage: Why were these fishermen so quick to follow Jesus? I mean, would you give up your livelihood and abandon your family simply because some dude tells you to follow him?

Well, we find the answer not in Matthew, but in the much longer account in the Gospel of Luke:

 

5 Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat.

4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7 so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink.

8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. (Luke 5:1-11)

 

So, the reason the fishermen are so quick to follow Jesus in Matthew is because this is not the first time they’ve seen him! In fact, they’d witnessed Jesus teach and perform a miracle before he told them to follow him. No wonder they followed him so quickly in Matthew’s Gospel!

Where Matthew gives us more details of the actual moment of the calling of the fishermen, Luke gives a longer account (which includes the miracle before the calling) but then he simply summarizes or condenses – shortens or telescopes – the events after the miracle by simply telling us the fishermen left everything and followed Jesus. Where Matthew chose to emphasize the actual calling, Luke chose to emphasize the miracle. (Learn more about telescoping in another GFTM article.)

 

Furthermore, notice Matthew uses the word “immediately” twice. Both pairs of brothers — Peter and Andrew and James and John — followed Jesus “immediately” when called to follow. But Luke does NOT tell us they followed Jesus “immediately” after returning to the land, meaning some time could’ve passed between the two events.

Only when we look at Matthew and Luke together can we conclude that some time had actually passed between the return to the shore after the miraculous catch and when the fishermen left with Jesus. How long exactly? We can’t say – but not a lot of time, because we’re told in Matthew’s Gospel that James and John were fixing the torn nets.

And, Yes! That is another Undesigned Coincidence between Luke’s and Matthew’s account of the calling of Peter and the other fishermen:

Matthew tells us in 4:21 that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were “mending their nets.” Why? The detail is fleshed out in Luke. Luke 5:6 tells us during the miraculous catch, “… they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break.”

Perhaps the sons of Zebedee would’ve been more annoyed with Jesus for damaging their nets if he hadn’t done so by performing a miracle.

Christmas_Donkey

External Undesigned Coincidences

Up to this point in this series, we’ve been looking at examples of Internal Undesigned Coincidences — “internal” meaning within the Bible.

To end this series (for now), we’ll look at External Undesigned Coincidences — meaning collaborations between details in the Gospels with information outside of the Bible.

 

Runnin’ from Archelaus

In the Gospel of Matthew, in the birth narrative of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, having been warned in a dream, flee with the newborn Jesus to Egypt from the wrath of Herod the Great. Then Matthew tells us this:

 

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:19-23)

 

So, who is Archelaus? And why was Joseph so afraid of him? Matthew doesn’t give us one clue, nor does the rest of the Bible!

But we learn about Archelaus from outside the Bible, in another piece of ancient writing. We learn about Archelaus in the writings of Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian (37-100 AD). Archelaus is Herod Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great, who became ethnarch of Judea for a short period after the death of his father.

Due to growing tension between the Romans, the Jews, and the Jew’s Roman-appointed Herodian rulers (who were seen as half-breeds and traitors by the Jews), Josephus reports that Herod Archelaus slaughtered 3,000 Jews at the Temple during the Passover to quell a possible uprising.

So, why were Joseph and Mary afraid of Archelaus? Ancient historian Jospehus gives us the obvious answer in his work Antiquities of the Jews. Thus, Joseph and his family fled from Archelaus to Nazareth in Galilee, a place outside of the territory of Archelaus’s reign.

Herod the Great?

Herod the Great…?

Likewise, many rulers (including kings, governors, etc.) mentioned in the New Testament are also mentioned by Josephus, including Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa, and Antonius Felix. Josephus also wrote about John the Baptist, Jesus’ brother James, and Jesus himself. (Read this GFTM article to learn more about what Josephus said about Jesus.)

In fact, 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of the Book of Acts alone have been confirmed by historical and archaeological evidence outside of the Bible, and in the Gospel of Luke, 11 historically proven leaders appear in the first 3 chapters alone. New archeological discoveries have continually supported the reliability of the biblical record, including the discovery of Jacob’s Well, a building inscription of the name Pontius Pilate, and an ossuary containing the bones of Caiaphas, the high priest who helped orchestrate the crucifixion of Jesus.

Josephus...?

Josephus…?

Related GFTM articles:

Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: It Don’t Sound Sexy, But Oh Man It Is

More Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: Bringing Sexy Apologetics Back

Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?

Is There Evidence of Jesus’ Existence (Outside the Bible)?

The Joy & Angst of Four Gospels – Part 4 – The Gospels as Ancient Biography & History & “Narrative Creativity”

Books by GFTM:

Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God

 

 

More Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: Bringing Sexy Apologetics Back

**How can minor details in the Gospels show the reliability of the Gospels? Do multiple accounts confuse us or give us deeper insight? How sexy can apologetics be?**

fish&loaves_mosaic

What’s an Undesigned Coincidence?

Where key, major details remain the same when two or more authors write about the same historic event, we find minor details may be added or left out. An “undesigned coincidence” is when one account provides details, but another account written about the same incident by a different author gives more insight into those details. We see “undesigned coincidences” when we have two or more independently investigated accounts of the same event, and we find undesigned coincidences throughout the Gospels.

It’s highly unlikely that such complimentary minor details would be deliberately falsified, and the assurance that they’re based on authentic events is extremely high. In other words, when multiple people retell a true story, they may include details without an explanation of those details and others telling the same story may unintentionally fill in those missing pieces. Such non-deliberate cohesion smacks of authenticity.

You might think the phrase “Undesigned Coincidence” doesn’t sound “sexy,” but oh man, you’re wrong.

Read PART 1: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: It Don’t Sound Sexy, But Oh Man It Is

 peter-denies-christ

Peter & Trash Talkin’

Peter, arguably Jesus’ most famous disciple, is not known for being perfect, but for being impulsive and brash. He’s also remembered for infamously denying three times that he knew Jesus Christ after Jesus’ arrest.

John is the only Gospel writer to give us an account of Peter being “reinstated” into Jesus’ flock of disciples after his resurrection, where Jesus asks Peter three times (mirroring Peter’s three denials) if he loves him, and then following with three commands for Peter.

During this event, Jesus says a little something that sounds a little odd:

 

14 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.

15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:14-17)

 

“…more than these”? What did Jesus mean by this? “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” What or who are “these”?

Reading carefully through all of the Gospel of John, we find no answer! Sure, we can make some guesses about who or what “these” are, but how can we be certain?

But if we turn to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, we find our answer. We find the answer during the Last Supper:

 

27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. (Mark 14:27-31)

 

We find the same statement in Matthew 26:33. Did you catch it?

In Mark: Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.”

In John: Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?

When Peter said if “they” all fall away, the other disciples were all around him at the Last Supper; he was referring to them. When Jesus reinstated Peter in John 21, the two of them were with the other disciples. The “these” are the other disciples.

Peter had arrogantly boasted that even if the other disciples (“they”) fall away, he never would. Then, after Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, Jesus asks him, “Do you love Me more than these [other disciples]?”

Ouch. Praise God that he is a forgiving God.

 Pilate_Jesus

Pilate & Trash Talkin’

In Luke 23, we find Jesus before Pilate.

 

1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 2 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.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” (Luke 23:1-4)

 

This exchange between Pontius Pilate, Jesus, and the Jewish authorities is brief and a bit odd. The hostile Jews accuse Jesus of claiming to be a king, so Pilate straight up asks Jesus if he’s a king. Jesus says, “You have said so,” which sure sounds like Jesus is confirming that fact — or at least not denying it. But then Pilate turns to the Jews and says Jesus is not guilty. Huh? What just happened?

To find the answer, we have to go to John’s longer account of this event:

 

28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.” (John 18:28-38)

 

So, it’s not in Luke, but in John that we see the rest of the puzzle. It’s in John where Jesus says,

“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

Thus, Pontius Pilate concludes Jesus is no threat – not in an armed revolutionary way anyway – or any way that the Romans need to be concerned about. Jesus admits he’s a king, but not one of this world, and his disciples have no intentions of fighting the Roman Empire.

It’s likely Pilate didn’t know what to make of Jesus – perhaps he only thought of him as a harmless religious nut – but he concludes that Jesus is not guilty of any crime against the Roman Empire. Thus, Pilate walks out and announces this to the hostile Jews.

DSC04050

What we have in Luke is what’s called telescoping, which is a compressed version of the telling of an event. In other words, Luke gives us the short version, leaving out many details. (See the GFTM series “The Joy and Angst of Four Gospels” to learned more about telescoping and other literary devices used in the Gospels.)

But, before we move on, go back and reread John’s longer account, because even John leaves out a detail! He does NOT record anything about the hostile Jews specifically telling Pilate that Jesus claimed to be a king! The Jews only accuse Jesus of “doing evil,” but when Pilate brings Jesus inside, the first thing he asks him is, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

What? Why? Where did he come up with that?

We must go back again to Luke’s shorter account to find that detail:

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.” (Luke 23:2)

Ironically, Jesus was indeed a threat to the Roman Empire, just not in the way Pilate thought.

NEXT: More Sexiness & Undesigned Coincidences — including EXTERNAL ones!

Read PART 1: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: It Don’t Sound Sexy, But Oh Man It Is

the-four-gospels_writers

Books By GFTM:

Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God

Other GFTM series:

The Joy & Angst of Four Gospels

Refuting the Mother God Cult

Bible Secrets Re-revealed

Christians & Marijuana

Judge Not?

The Walking Dead & the Christian Worldview

Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: It Don’t Sound Sexy, But Oh Man It Is

*How can minor details in the Gospels show the reliability of the Bible? Can reading all 4 accounts of the feeding of the 5,000 teach us about the reliability of the Gospels?*

Feeding5000

Sexy Apologetics?

When I first learned of Undesigned Coincidences (also called Incidental Allusions), I was pleasantly surprised and fascinated, and I wondered why this type of apologetic (defense of the Christian faith) is not more popular. I think the answer is plain:

“Undesigned Coincidences”

“Incidental Allusions”

“Apologetics”

These aren’t exactly “sexy,” head-turning words and phrases.

Further, one must have an extremely strong familiarity with the contents of the Bible to recognize these undesigned coincidences, and unbelievers, who may have no familiarity with the Bible, are unlikely to see the significance.

Yet, by simply and clearly walking someone through some of these unintended collaborations of Gospel details, perhaps we can raise some eyebrows.

4Gospels_writers

So, What is an Undesigned Coincidence?

In our final post of a past GFTM series “The Joy & Angst of Four Gospels” on positive evidence for the reliability of the Gospels, we touched upon Undesigned Coincidences.

Here is what we wrote:

“In a number of interviews on radio shows and podcasts, Dr. Timothy McGrew has been spreading the word about a forgotten apologetic called Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels (based on the 1851 book of the same name by J.J. Blunt), and he has written a series of articles for the Christian Apologetics Alliance.

As we have discussed, when two or more authors write about a historic event there will be similarities and differences. Where the major events will be the same, minor details may be included or left out.

An “undesigned coincidence” is when one account provides details, but another account written about the same incident gives more insight into those details or gives other details that compliment them. We see “undesigned coincidences” when we have two or more independently investigated accounts of the same event. We find undesigned coincidences throughout the Gospels.

 Looking at an example will help clarify:

In Mark 14:55-59, Jesus is accused in front of the Sanhedrin of saying he will destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.

Also, in Mark 15:27-30, as Jesus is on the cross, people mock him and accuse him of saying a similar statement about destroying the Temple and rebuilding it in three days. This is also reported in Matthew 27:38-40.

But where in Mark or Matthew does Jesus say this? Nowhere — A read through both Mark and Matthew provides no evidence that Jesus ever said such a thing. Yet, when we read the Gospel of John, we find that Jesus did make this claim!

In John 2:18-22, John reports,

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.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

It’s highly unlikely that such complimentary minor details would be deliberately falsified, and the assurance that they’re based on authentic events is extremely high.”

In other words, when a true event is retold by multiple people, they may include minor details without an explanation of those details and others telling the same story may unintentionally fill in those missing details. Such non-deliberate cohesion smacks of authenticity.

What follows are some other examples of Undesigned Coincidences borrowed from a variety of sources.

fish&loaves_mosaic

Feeding the 5,000 & Green Grass in the Desert

The famous account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 is the only miracle of Jesus recorded in every one of the four Gospels. But the Gospel of Mark gives us a seemingly strange detail: green grass. The detail appears in Mark 6:39, but I’ll include more for the sake of context:

38 And He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” And when they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. (Mark 6:38-41)

Wait a minute: Green grass? Isn’t this taking place in the Middle East – in the desert? Isn’t the desert mostly brown?

But, another Gospel, John gives us more insight with different minor details about the same event:

1 After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). 2 A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. (John 6:1-4)

So, John (not Mark) tells us the feeding of the 5,000 took place during the Passover, and this detail explains the green grass! How? The Passover is the growing season around the Sea of Galilee; this is a short time period where the grass would be green!

bread&fish

Feeding the 5,000 & Philip

We find another Undesigned Coincidence in the feeding of the 5,000 accounts concerning Jesus’ little-known disciple Philip. Let’s pick up where we left off in John’s Gospel:

4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. 5 Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” 6 This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. 7 Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” (John 6:4-7)

Anyone who reads through the 4 Gospels comes to know the names of Jesus’ most notable disciples like Peter and John and even less-prominent disciples like James and Thomas (and, of course, the infamous one, Judas). But Philip? Who remembers anything about Philip? So, why did Jesus turn to Philip and not someone else?

We get a clue in another part of John:

44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. (John 1:44)

But it’s not in the Gospel of John, but in the Gospel of Luke in his account of the feeding of the 5,000 where we receive the final piece of the puzzle:

10 When the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done. Taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida. 11 But the crowds were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing.

12 Now the day was ending, and the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the crowd away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place.” 13 But He said to them, “You give them something to eat!” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 (For there were about five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, “Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each.” 15 They did so, and had them all sit down. (Luke 9:10-15)

So, Jesus and his disciples were in Bethsaida for the feeding of the 5,000! Jesus asked Philip about the buying of bread because Philip was from Bethsaida. Philip was a local, so of course Jesus would ask him about finding food in the area.

Take note in the Luke account above: Luke does NOT tell us that Jesus asked Philip specifically about buying bread. Only John gives us that minor detail.

4_Gospels_B&W

Feeding the 5,000 & Needing a Break

When we turn to Mark’s account of the feeding of the 5,000, we get another detail not recorded in the other Gospels:

30 The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. 31 And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) 32 They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.

33 The people saw them going, and many recognized them and ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. 35 When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:30-36)

Here we’re told by Mark that Jesus and the disciples retreated to a secluded place to catch some rest because they were extremely busy because so many people were “coming and going.” So, why were so many people coming and going?

We find the answer not in Mark, but by going back to a detail we looked at earlier in John:

Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. (John 6:4)

During the Passover, the Jews would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate at the Temple. With so many people traveling along the roadways, Jesus and his disciples couldn’t find a break in the opportunities to teach and minister. Their only option was to retreat to a place away from everyone (and the people followed them anyway)!

Maybe Undesigned Coincidences — or apologetics in general — will never be “sexy” enough to turn heads, but hopefully they’ll raise some eyebrows.

NEXT: More Sexy Undesigned Coincidences – Internal & external…

4_Gospels_painting

Other GFTM series:

The Joy & Angst of Four Gospels

Christians & Marijuana

Judge Not?

The Walking Dead & the Christian Worldview

The Joy & Angst of Four Gospels – Part 7 of 7 – Positive Evidence: Going on the Offensive

SERIES INTRO: Often skeptics point to differences in the four Gospels of Jesus Christ and claim they’re contradictions. This series will cover some general principles that you can use when you do come across a Gospel difference. By using these principles, many of these perceived differences can be easily explained. On the other hand, this series is not simply to defend the Gospels, but to positively show that having four Gospels brings our understanding of the life and work of Jesus Christ deeper than any one piece of writing can do.

**Read Part 1 HERE: Differences or Contradictions? **

**Read Part 2 HERE: Basic Principles: Understanding the Gospels as Literature, History & Theology **

**Read Part 3 HEREDealing with Differences in Jesus’ Words**

**Read Part 4 HERE: The Gospels as Ancient Biography & History & “Narrative Creativity”**

**Read Part 5 HERENarrative Creativity: Selective Representation & Chronology**

**Read Part 6 HERENarrative Creativity:Telescoping & Compressing**

4Gospels_OldSchool_Animals

Positive Evidence: Going on the Offensive

When I started this series, I didn’t want it to be just a defense of the Gospels, but also to show positively why having more than one Gospel is a blessing. Where there is certainly angst that happens when we study the Gospels closely and perceive differences, there is also joy found when he examine them closely; pondering these challenges expose us to unique perspectives of Jesus we wouldn’t otherwise perceive — similarly to how four painted portraits of the same person by different artists give us deeper understandings of that person.

My hope is that by wrestling with these challenging passages, you’ve been exposed to unique joys regarding Jesus from the different perspectives of the Spirit-inspired Gospel writers.

But, despite all I’ve said above, admittedly, yes, much of this series is a defense, so I want to offer some final observations that will not just help you defend your faith, but also go on the offensive.

We will conclude this series with 3 brief observations:

  1. Four identical Gospels would be more suspect.

  2. Differences? What about the similarities??

  3. Undesigned Coincidences.

(1) Four identical Gospels would be more suspect

The 2006 Academy Award-winning German movie The Lives of Others takes place in 1984 in East Berlin under the oppressive rule of Communism. In one scene, an instructor for the Secret Police plays for a trainee a recording of a prisoner being gruelingly interrogated. After listening to the prisoner repeat the same alibi over and over again, the instructor fast-forwards the recording to several hours later. They listen to the exhausted prisoner’s alibi one last time. Then, the instructor and trainee have the following conversation:

Instructor: “Did you notice anything about his statement?”

Trainee: “It’s the same as in the beginning.”

Instructor: “Exactly the same. Word for word. People who tell the truth can re-formulate things, and they do. A liar has prepared sentences, which he falls back on when under pressure. [Prisoner number] 227 is lying.”

Interrogators — whether they are police detectives, CIA, or KGB — know that when someone repeats a truthful story again and again, they’re able to improvise variations in the story by adding or removing details.

Think about it: What is a favorite story from your life you like to retell? Do you tell it the same exact way every time? Probably not. Sometimes you remember details; sometimes you forget details; sometimes you add or subtract details for other reasons, such as the amount of time you have to tell the story; but the key aspects of the story never change.

Do the Gospel differences we’ve looked at throughout this series show the truth from differing perspectives or do they show a carefully crafted lie?

Ironically, despite all of the time in this series spent defending Gospel differences due to accusations of fictionalization, we’d have more grounds for being skeptical of the Gospels if all four accounts were exactly the same!

If the Gospels were word-for-word identical, we’d have good reason for believing they were collaborated and simply copied from each other. Instead, the evidence suggests that we have four independently investigated accounts of the ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Former homicide detective and atheist, J. Warner Wallace in his book Cold Case Christianity says we “should expect variations among true eyewitness accounts. These expected variations are not a problem for those of us who are working as detectives, so long as we can understand the perspectives, interests, and locations from with each witness observed the event. It’s our duty, as responsible investigators, to understand how eyewitness statements can be harmonized so we can get the most robust view of the event possible.”[1]

DSC05210_2

(2) Differences? What about the similarities??

Further, by focusing on the few differences in the Gospels, we often ignore the wealth of harmony. Little is needed to be said about this point; the Gospels plainly have vastly more in common than they don’t. Jonathan Pennington writes, the Gospels are “amazingly consistent in terms of Jesus’ character, tone, teaching, emphases, and the general course of his life and death.”[2]

 

(3) Undesigned Coincidences

In a number of interviews on radio shows and podcasts, Dr. Timothy McGrew has been spreading the word about a forgotten apologetic called Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels (based on the 1851 book of the same name by J.J. Blunt), and he has written a series of articles for the Christian Apologetics Alliance.

As we have discussed, when two or more authors write about a historic event there will be similarities and differences. Where the major events will be the same, minor details may be included or left out.

An “undesigned coincidence” is when one account provides details, but another account written about the same incident gives more insight into those details or gives other details that compliment them.[3] We see “undesigned coincidences” when we have two or more independently investigated accounts of the same event. We find undesigned coincidences throughout the Gospels.

 

Looking at an example will help clarify:

In Mark 14:55-59, Jesus is accused in front of the Sanhedrin of saying he will destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.

Also, in Mark 15:27-30, as Jesus is on the cross, people mock him and accuse him of saying a similar statement about destroying the Temple and rebuilding it in three days. This is also reported in Matthew 27:38-40.

But where in Mark or Matthew does Jesus say this? Nowhere — A read through both Mark and Matthew provides no evidence that Jesus ever said such a thing. Yet, when we read the Gospel of John, we find that Jesus did make this statement!

 

In John 2:18-22, John reports,

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.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

It’s highly unlikely that such complimentary details would be deliberately falsified, and the assurance that they’re based on authentic events is extremely high.

Much more can be said about Undesigned Coincidences (also called Incidental Allusions), but it’s not our focus here. I hope to write more about Undesigned Coincidences for GFTM Blog soon, so keep an eye out. [UPDATE: Here is the GFTM article: Click here for more about Undesigned Coincidences.]

 

The Joy of Four Gospels!

In conclusion, what do we gain by having four Gospels?

    • We see the complexity of Jesus, the God-man, which “no one account – or a million – could begin to describe and plumb the depths of his person, teaching, and actions.”[4]
    • They enable us to learn different theological lessons.[5]
    • They force us to look deeper and think harder because of the differences.[6]

What can we add to this list? Please share/comment below.

Overall, I hope this series has helped you gain a better understanding of the Holy Scripture, the Christian faith, and Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Fittingly, we will end this series with the closing words of John’s Gospel:

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)

DSC04167

** Read Part 1 HERE: Differences or Contradictions? **

** Read Part 2 HERE: Basic Principles: Understanding the Gospels as Literature, History & Theology **

**Read Part 3 HEREDealing with Differences in Jesus’ Words**

**Read Part 4 HERE: The Gospels as Ancient Biography & History & “Narrative Creativity”**

**Read Part 5 HERENarrative Creativity: Selective Representation & Chronology**

**Read Part 6 HERENarrative Creativity:Telescoping & Compressing**

 

Good reading...

Good reading…

 *All books below are highly recommended*

[1] J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013), 237.

[2] Jonathan T. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), Loc 1214, Kindle edition.

[3] Timothy McGrew, Undesigned Coincidences: Part 1, Christian Apologetics Alliance, 09/01/13, accessed 07/12/14, http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com/2013/09/01/undesigned-coincidences/.

[4] Pennington, Loc 1431.

[5] Ibid., Loc 1470.

[6] Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 107.

Recommended reading!

Recommended reading!