Does the Bible Contain “Undesigned Coincidences”?

“For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree.”
Mark 14:56, NRSV


A few weeks ago, Dean Meadows of the apologetics organization Apologia Institute wrote a short blog post entitled “Undesigned Coincidences and the Reliability of Scripture.” He writes,

What is an undesigned coincidence? An undesigned coincidence occurs when an account of one event omits a piece or pieces of information which is filled in, usually incidentally, by a different recording, which helps to answer inquiries raised by the first.

The example he gives pertains to details we see in John 2:18-20 and Mark 14:55-59. In the Gospel of John Jesus tells the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In the Gospel of Mark we read that one of the false charges against Jesus as he stood before the high priest was he had said, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” Meadows writes on this,

Notice, what we find when we compare the passages; the false witnesses, described by Mark, distort what Jesus said. But how would we know what Jesus stated about the temple? Only when we read the Gospel of John, do we find that Jesus never states that he would destroy the man-made temple but was using the terminology as a metaphor regarding his body. Without John’s details, it is possible that we’d be left wondering what Jesus stated!

The conclusion that Meadows draws, that if we didn’t have the details from the Gospel of John “it is possible that we’d be left wondering what Jesus stated,” is bizarre and unwarranted. After all, the text of Mark tells us that the statement that Jesus said he would destroy the temple and rebuild another was “false testimony” (Mark 14:57). In other words, they made it up. What John records Jesus as saying has absolutely no bearing on the situation, especially since Mark’s original audience would not have the Gospel of John to look upon and cross-reference. They would have remembered all Mark had stated Jesus taught and would have thought, Jesus never said that! [1] 

Undesigned coincidences as an apologetic for the reliability of the Bible is not one I come across very often. It is featured in the latest edition of Josh and Sean McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict. [2] The few examples I’ve seen aren’t all that impressive and I think generally have better answers that require fewer assumptions.

ENDNOTES

[1] Matthew also has this story though with some modifications. The heart of it is that false witnesses come forward and claim that Jesus said he could destroy and rebuild the temple (Matthew 26:60-61). And though it is missing in the Passion narrative of Luke, in the book of Acts we read that false witnesses are brought against Stephen and claim that Stephen had been preaching that “Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us” (Acts 6:13-14). These are all false claims to which the original readers would have said, “That’s a lie!”

[2] See Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life Changing Truth for a Skeptical World (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017), 71-74.


Featured Image: By Rama – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7259898

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