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Tim McGrew on Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels

The argument from undesigned concidences is a little known argument for the historicity of the New Testament. Once popular in the nineteenth century, the argument has more recently been brought to light by Professor Tim McGrew of Western Michigan University. Very simply, the argument shows how incidental details that are left out by one gospel writer are often filled in by another writer to answer questions raised by the first. This provides good evidence to conclude that at numerous points the authors of the gospels were accurately and independently reporting actual events rather than merely copying one another or engaging in creative myth-making.

Here is Professor McGrew’s talk on the subject at First Baptist Church of Kenner:

And here are more recent interviews on the topic that he has given:

The CrossExamined blog also has a good post on the two categories of undesigned coincidences relevant to the historicity of the New Testament. For Professor McGrew’s response to Ed Babinski’s critique of his argument, visit this post on Victor Reppert’s blog.

 

3 replies
  1. Ed Babinski
    Ed Babinski says:

    Hi, A google alert said you had mentioned my reply to McGrew on Undesigned Coincidences. It is an old defunct argument that led biblical scholarship nowhere. Scholars do not study the Bible in such a manner because it leads more to seeing faces in clouds than actual biblical scholarship. I recently read about 20 biblical commentaries on Tim’s first example, concerning the lack of mention of a blindfold in Matthew, and I’ve read over 5 books on the feeding of the multitude story in the Gospels to familiarize myself more with another example Tim cites, that of “Philip” being the one to whom Jesus addresses a question about where to buy fish. I suggest Tim also go through major biblical commentaries as I have done to see what they each have to say about each so-called example of an undesigned coincidence. In the case of the missing blindfold in Matthew’s story there’s at least four reasons that make rational sense mentioned in the commentaries I read, and none of the commentators concluded that such a verse constituted evidence of eyewitness reportage. Concerning the feeding of the multitude stories, even many Evangelicals who specialize in studying stories of Jesus’ miracles admit that the feeding of the 5,000 raises more questions than other stories about Jesus’ miracles. But I will have to elaborate later on what I’ve found. Tim also raised other points with which I disagree, and which even Evangleical scholars disagree such as his claim that the ends of Mark’s Gospel is in the “middle of a sentence,” as Tim wrote at Vic’s blog.

  2. Tim
    Tim says:

    Contrary to Ed’s insinuation, I also read commentaries, both classic and modern. Since I think that modern Biblical Studies is a discipline suffering from some serious methodological problems, I am not impressed by appeals to contemporary consensus; the question must always be one of evidence and argument, and for that, the present consensus is only a surrogate. Once we have the arguments before us, the consensus no longer matters. This observation also holds, I’m sorry to have to say, for the work of some Evangelical scholars. Ed surely knows enough about the history of Biblical scholarship to realize that it, too, is subject to the winds of fad and fashion.

    As I stated expressly in my original talk, the undesigned coincidence involving the blindfold is not, by itself, of any great weight. The argument is cumulative. If Ed does not understand this, I would suggest that he read Bacon’s Advancement of Learning.

    Meanwhile, for the benefit of those who can’t wait, Ed and I have crossed swords on these matters a couple of times. Anyone who is interested in seeing our exchanges can check them out at the following links:

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/09/tim-and-lydia-mcgrew-on-archaeological.html

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/09/mcgrew-versus-babinski-on-reliability.html

    http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/01/tim-mcgrew-and-ring-of-truth-undesigned.html

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2011/01/tim-mcgrew-replies-to-ed-babinskis.html

  3. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Based solely on what Ed Babinski has said here, if this is representative of his other critiques, I’d say the arguments from Undesigned Coincidences are standing up pretty well.
    If Babinski is arguing that there are no undesigned coincidences in Scripture, then the reasons given here aren’t very good. None of them directly address the point. If Babinski is arguing that the undesigned coincidence in Scripture do not give any good reason to think that the Scriptures are based on genuinely historical eye-witness reports, then ditto.

    …led biblical scholarship nowhere.

    If true, then big deal. I don’t see how that supports either of the above contentions. Its rhetorical information that is superfluous to your argument. And anyway, the leading or direction of biblical scholarship is irrelevant.

    …none of the commentators concluded that such a verse constituted evidence of eyewitness reportage.

    If true, then big deal. The argument is independent of biblical commentators opinions.

    …even many Evangelicals who specialize in studying stories of Jesus’ miracles admit that the feeding of the 5,000 raises more questions than other stories about Jesus’ miracles.

    If true, then big deal. The argument is independent of evangelical’s questions. Just because something raises a question, doesn’t make a proposition false.

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