Coincidences and Connections:
Last week, one of my cousins from Massachusetts randomly messaged in one of our family group chats about a family I’ll refer to as the Johnsons. According to my cousin, this family lived in Dallas, homeschooled their children, and participated in speech and debate competitions. All these details were strangely true about my family as well and so my cousin was curious if there was some possibility we had met each other. After confirming the names of the kids and the parents, we realized we had a crazy connection that spanned across the United States. The fact that there were so many matching details between my family and the Johnsons gave my cousin good reason to believe that there may be some hidden connection. This idea of inferring connections from what appear to be coincidences lies at the heart of Undesigned Coincidences.
In this post, I will explain the argument and then provide two examples. At the end of the post, I will also post some links to websites and books on the subject.
What are Undesigned Coincidences?
Undesigned Coincidences occur when details in one section of the Bible seem to unintentionally validate or explain details in another section. Imagine you are Sherlock Holmes at the scene of a crime trying to solve a mystery. When you ask different witnesses what happened, you hear different details and you quickly you begin to piece things together. One witness might tell you, “My wallet was stolen!” The next might simply say, “All I saw was some shuffling and pushing and then some random guy started running away.” While these details are different, they do appear to refer to the same thing and together they provide a better picture of what happened.
Now imagine the crime scene fading away and encountering a new set of witness named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These witness have written down all sort of claims about this man named Jesus Christ. By comparing passages about similar events, we can piece together the bigger story about the life of Jesus and determine whether the testimonies confirm and complement each other or whether they appear to be made up.
This argument was first developed by J.J. Blunt in his work Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings of the Old and New Testament, an Argument of Their Veracity. In the last few years, Dr. Lydia McGrew revived this argument through blog posts and her work Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts. All of my information comes from these two authors.
Case Study 1: The Last Supper
This is one of the first examples I learned when exploring undesigned coincidences and it completely shocked me! The passages in question are Luke 22 and John 13 which both describe Jesus eating with his disciples during the Passover. While the meal was still in progress, John records Jesus almost randomly getting up and washing his disciples feet while teaching them to serve each other.
“The evening meal was in progress… so [Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
John 13:2-5 (NIV)
While Luke includes the lesson about serving each other, Luke does not mention Jesus washing his disciples feet. Rather, Luke includes a brief account about how during the meal the disciples began to debate each other about who was the greatest. Notably, John does not include this detail.
“A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.”
Luke 22:24 (NIV)
Combining these two accounts, we can infer that after the disciples bickered about who was the greatest, Jesus proceeds to teach them to serve one another and demonstrates this lesson by washing the disciples feet. Wow! The story makes complete sense but only can be understood by combining the testimonies. Furthermore, this connection appears to be unplanned as both passages provide a fairly complete account of the Last Supper on their own. Does this 100% prove that Luke and John were telling the truth? Not at all! Like with any investigation, there are still alot of other angles to explore. However, this connection does boost the credibility of both Luke and John.
Case Study 2: Fishing Nets
I enjoy this example because it pieces together two accounts of the same event that I tend to think of as two separate stories instead of one complete picture. Early in the life of Jesus, Matthew and Luke describe the event of Jesus calling the brothers James and John to become his disciples. Matthew’s account records Jesus calling James and John while also mentioning that they were repairing their nets.
“And 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 [Jesus] called them.” Matthew 4:21 (ESV)
Luke’s account goes into much further detail about this event by including a miracle.
“And when [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.”
Luke 5:4-6 (ESV)
Observe that last line closely…. “their nets were breaking”! Notably, Luke does not describe James and reparing their nets. Putting the pieces together, we can infer that Jesus caused a miraculous catch of fish and then calls James and John to be his disciples as they are reparing their nets that were strained and broken from all the fish. Again, does this prove the accounts are 100% true? Not at all. It does however increase the credibility to Matthew and Luke.
I hope you enjoyed this introduction to Undesigned Coincidences. Keep in mind this is part of a cumulative case for Christianity and can be a powerful line of reasoning for the reliability of the Bible. I find this argument to be extremely easy to demonstrate because all you need to have is a Bible and a willingness to flip some pages back and forth a few times. Just as my cousin looked for a connection in the midst of a coincidence, I’d encourage you to take the time to read the texts carefully and maybe you’ll discover an Undesigned Coincidence!