Can the New Testament documents be trusted? Do the Gospels accurately report what Jesus said and did? In this presentation, I investigate the historical data bearing on the dating of the New Testament documents, and ask whether there is good reason to think the four canonical gospels are written by the individuals with whom they are traditionally associated, and whether they are based on the testimony of credible eyewitnesses. This talk was originally presented at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) in September of 2014.
[This post is a work in progress as part of the CAA Catechism.]
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Summary in 400 words or less:
The argument from undesigned coincidences (UC) counters the skeptic’s notion that “the Bible is only the claim” and offers no evidence within Itself for Its own truthfulness. Far from the fallacious argument of ad populum (which would claim that because every source states a detail, that detail must be true), the UC argument uses probability to show that significant evidence favors the reality that multiple sources commented on a historical fact. Unlike mere multiple attestation, the details given by the different human sources are not equivalent as it concerns the event or fact that is questioned, but rather, interlocking.
The Form of the Argument:
- At least two independent human sources give coherent, interlocking accounts of a possible event or a set of facts.
- If the possible event were an actual event, such interlocking accounts would be much more probable than if that possible event were not an actual event.
- The interlocking of the accounts in those sources is significant evidence that the event actually occurred. (Mutatis mutandis for the set of facts.)
Incidentally an argument from testimony can work even in cases where we *know* that the sources are more likely to tell a falsehood than to tell the truth — provided that they are sufficiently unlikely to tell the *same* falsehood. Here is an example — mathematical, I’m afraid, but that is the only way to make the point beyond dispute. I’ll put it in the form of a problem that you can work on if you like:
Ten unreliable knaves, each of whom is ten times as likely to tell a falsehood as to tell the truth, all spontaneously tell the same tale. The prior odds against this tale’s being true are 10 to 1. But if it is false, it is one of 100 false tales that each knave might have told, and each of these tales is as likely to be told as any of the others, if the knave who tells it is not speaking the truth. Assuming that the truth or falsehood of the tale screens off their statements from each other – assuming, that is, that their statements are independent given what really happened – what is the probability that the tale is true, given their combined testimony?
Scripture for YouVersion:
2 Timothy 2:15
McGrew, Timothy. Internal Evidence for the Truth of the Gospels. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wUcrwYocgM>
Three questions (1 fill-in-the-blank, 1 multiple choice, and one discussion question):
For which events in the Gospels do New Testament Undesigned Coincidences give particularly strong evidence for historicity?
A. Jesus betrayal by Judas and the Sermon on the Mount
B. The Feeding of the 5,000 and the Trial of Jesus before Pilate
C. Massacre of the Innocents and Jesus at the Temple at 12
D. The Feeding of the 4,000 and the Trial of Jesus before Herod
References for further reading:
Blunt, John J. Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings Both of the Old and New Testaments: An Argument of Their Veracity. New York City: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851. http://ia700307.us.archive.org/28/items/undesignedcoinci1851blun/undesignedcoinci1851blun.pdf. Accessed 9 Sept. 2013. (See https://archive.org/details/undesignedcoinci1851blun)
McGrew, Timothy. “Are There Internal Marks of Truth in Scripture?” Jan. 2011. http://www.fbckenner.org/audio/jan2011/010911A%20.mp3. Accessed 2015. Web.
McGrew, Timothy. “Undesigned Coincidences: Part 1.” Sept. 2013. http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com/2013/09/01/undesigned-coincidences/. Accessed 2014. Web.
Paley, William. Horae Paulinae: The Truth of the Scripture History of St. Paul Evidenced. https://archive.org/details/horaepaulinae00pale. Accessed 2015. Web.
Handout: Undesigned Coincidences Among the Gospels (Tim McGrew)
Information has been taken from Dr. McGrew’s comments this year in the CAA forum, and adapted for use here. Sorry, the video selected is actually a long one.
Collaborators: Tim McGrew, Z.E. Kendall
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Because Paul’s travels brought him into contact with many people, and some of them repeatedly, it is particularly instructive to compare the notices of some of those people in the book of Acts with the references and allusions to them in Paul’s own letters. Of those people, few are more interesting than Timothy.
In 1 Corinthians 4:17, Paul explains that he has sent Timothy, “my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ …” From that passage alone, however, we cannot tell whether he has sent him before the letter or with it, in which case the language of “sending” would be anticipation of the act. The language of 1 Corinthians 16:10-11 makes it plain that Paul had sent Timothy before writing the letter, as he speaks of Timothy’s arrival as something independent from their receipt of the letter itself – “If [or when] Timothy comes, …”
But the comparison of these two passages raises an interesting question. If Timothy had been sent first, why should he not arrive first? And if he arrived first, what use would it be to send, after the fact, instructions on how they were to receive him? [Read more…]
A life as rich in travel and relationships as Paul’s was, documented both by his letters and by the history of the book of Acts, affords many opportunities for undesigned coincidences to emerge—so many, in fact, that it is worth pausing to see some of the evidence that Acts was not written by someone who had Paul’s letters before him.
Leafing through 2 Corinthians, we notice how conspicuous a part is played by Titus. He is named multiple times (see chapters 7 and 8 in particular), and Paul describes him in 2 Corinthians 8:23 as “my partner and fellow worker for your benefit.” Yet in the book of Acts, his name does not appear even once. It would be a poor fabricator who could not make more of his material than this. Yet in real historical documents, the omission of some person or event that we could hardly imagine ourselves omitting is quite common. [Read more…]
There are certain parts of Paul’s letters that we typically pass over in silence. The long lists of greetings, in particular, are flyover territory for expository preachers. “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, …” The congregation is probably snoring already.
And yet such passages can, on occasion, furnish us with beautiful examples of coincidence without design. Consider this passing reference in Romans 16:3-4:
Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.
A nice compliment—but stay a while and examine what this means.
First, the fact that this greeting appears in the epistle to the Romans suggests that Prisca and Aquila are inhabitants of that city. Now flip to Acts 18:2, where Paul encounters “Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.” So Prisca (a diminutive form of “Priscilla”) and Aquila were originally inhabitants of Rome, perhaps recently returned once the expulsion under Claudius ceased to be enforced. This is one point of coincidence.
Second, notice that Paul calls them “fellow workers in Christ Jesus.” What did they do to deserve that commendation? Again, from Acts 18, we find that Paul stayed with them (18:3), and when he left, they departed with him (18:18). From this, it would be a fair inference that they were fellow workers with him, though only Paul’s greeting in Romans makes this fact explicit.
Third, Paul says that they “risked their necks” for his sake. How so? See Acts 18:12-17, where Paul is dragged before the Roman tribunal and Sosthenes is beaten by the mob. If Aquila and Prisca were Paul’s fellow workers Christ Jesus in Corinth, it is clear that they, too, were exposed to dangers. [Read more…]