Are you familiar with the argument from undesigned coincidences?
An undesigned coincidence is a phenomenon in which two or more seemingly unrelated events or statements in the text are shown to be connected in a way that cannot be explained by chance. William Paley was a British philosopher and theologian who is best known for his book “Natural Theology,” published in 1802, in which he proposed the concept of undesigned coincidences as evidence for the authenticity and reliability of the New Testament.
Dr. Jonathan McLatchie highlights some of these undesigned coincidences at his website.. For instance:
Question: Why, in the Gospel of John, chapter 6, does Jesus rely on Philip and Andrew for help with the feeding of the 5,000?
Answer: In John, chapters 1 and 12, we learn they are from Bethsaida. And in Luke 9, we learn that this miracle took place in Bethsaida. However, Luke doesn’t mention Philip or Andrew’s involvement in the miracle.
Question: Why did Barnabas want to take Mark on a missionary journey even though Paul disagreed with him?
Answer: In Colossians 4:10, Paul tells us that Mark is the cousin of Barnabas.
One argument against the concept of undesigned coincidences is that they are not truly coincidences at all, but rather the result of the authors of the New Testament having access to the same information and using it to create their accounts. In other words, the apparent connections between seemingly unrelated events or statements in the text may not be the result of chance, but rather the result of the authors drawing on the same sources or traditions. That is, the accounts are not truly independent but rather depend upon a shared source.
Another argument against undesigned coincidences is that they do not provide conclusive evidence for the authenticity and reliability of the New Testament. While the connections between seemingly unrelated events or statements in the text may be interesting and noteworthy, they do not necessarily prove that the accounts are accurate or that the events actually occurred. That is, these convergences are insufficient to establish that these documents are accurate.
Additionally, some critics have argued that the concept of undesigned coincidences is based on the assumption that the authors of the New Testament were not aware of the connections between the events or statements that they were describing. This assumption may not be true, and it is possible that the authors intentionally included these connections in order to create a more compelling narrative. However, it is unclear what would motivate such a conspiracy.
Overall, while the concept of undesigned coincidences may provide some support for the authenticity and reliability of the New Testament, it is not without its flaws and limitations. It’s important we don’t overstate the case.
Still, I find McLatchie’s summary of the case to be helpful:
The examples surveyed above represent only the very tip of the ice berg. For the book of Acts alone, if we were to limit our analysis to the first four Pauline epistles found in the New Testament (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Galatians), already more than forty examples of undesigned coincidences could be documented. Furthermore, over one hundred points of corroboration involving Acts and external secular sources could be marshalled. There are also numerous examples of internal and external coincidences that corroborate the gospel accounts. Cumulatively, the evidence indicates that the authors of the gospels and Acts are indeed close up to the facts, and that they have reliable access to information concerning the events of which they write.