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Another coincidence is even more striking. In John 6, Jesus asks Philip where to buy bread just prior to the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 (v. 5). Why Philip? John gives no explanation. Yet elsewhere, in unrelated passages, he does mention something that turns out to be relevant: Philip was from Bethsaida.

There is no obvious connection between these two pieces of information until one turns to the Gospel of Luke. Luke 9 notes that the feeding of the 5,000 occurred near Bethsaida (v. 10). Jesus asked Philip where to buy bread because he was a local.

If the Gospels were fabricated, there would be no particular reason for John to report that Jesus asked Philip where to buy bread. There would be no particular reason for listing Philip as a native of Bethsaida. There would be no particular reason for Luke to situate the feeding of the 5,000 near Bethsaida. Further, the details are so randomly strewn through the accounts that they are obviously not an attempt at subtle harmonization. Once again, the best explanation as to why the puzzle pieces fit so well is that they are all true.

A final example illustrates the beauty of McGrew’s approach. In John 21, Jesus famously asks Peter “Do you love me?” three times, mirroring Peter’s three denials. But a minor detail is easy to overlook. The first time Jesus asks the question, his words are, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (v. 15, emphasis added).

It is not clear from John’s account why Jesus should ask if Peter loves him more than the other disciples do. Only after turning to Matthew and Mark do we learn of Peter’s boast that he would be true to Jesus even if all the others abandoned him.

If John were fabricating his account, either he would have omitted the words in question, or he would have mentioned Peter’s earlier boast as a way of explaining Jesus’ phrasing. Since he doesn’t mention that boast, the best explanation for including the phrase “more than these” is that he simply remembered Jesus asking the question that way. The story, in other words, is a true one.

A Cumulative Case

The undesigned coincidences approach builds a cumulative case for the accuracy of the New Testament histories. Perhaps individual examples could be brushed aside as coincidences. But as example piles upon example, it becomes very difficult to explain them all away. Fabricated stories would not be interrelated in so many under-the-surface ways. But the accounts of several well-informed authors writing about the same true events and people would be.

As mentioned above, McGrew’s primary intention in resurrecting this argument is to revitalize an older apologetic approach that emphasizes the reliability of the New Testament writings as a whole. But it serves other valuable purposes as well.

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Christianity Today
Defending the Accuracy of Scripture, One Coincidence at a Time