“Undesigned coincidences” in the New Testament: strong internal evidence for New Testament veracity. My friend Dr. Tim McGrew has been writing on this topic at the Christian Apologetics Alliance website. I’ve been waiting for it all to be compiled, and now you can access six articles from one location. I don’t know if there are more articles coming; I do know that in this series he has hardly begun to cover his list of examples.
And just what is an undesigned coincidence, you ask? Dr. McGrew explains it in general terms:
The term itself, coined over two centuries ago, is perhaps not the best description for modern readers, since we rarely use the word “undesigned” today. But the meaning is not terribly difficult to grasp. Take two texts (for the sake of the argument one need assume nothing about them except that they both purport to recount some historical events) and compare them. Of course, they might have nothing in common; in that case, there is no material for this sort of argument. But they might touch on some of the same characters and events. If so, we may examine them to see whether the manner in which they discuss these things fits together obliquely, in ways not likely to have been deliberately chosen for that effect—undesignedly.
That may not quite make it clear for you. Here’s an example from the last of Dr. McGrew’s posts (so far at least):
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?
The only plausible resolution is that Timothy, though sent first, must have taken some indirect route to Corinth. The fastest method of travel from Ephesus, where Paul was writing, to Corinth would be to take a ship; with a fair wind, the journey between these two cities on opposite sides of the archipelago can be made in a very short time. But turning to Acts 19:21-22, we discover that Timothy, when he left Ephesus, took the land route, and went up through Macedonia.
Here once again we have the characteristic of undesigned coincidences that neither the historical account nor the letters could plausibly be said to have been written up from the other. The letter does not mention Timothy’s journey through Macedonia at all; the book of Acts does not mention Paul’s letter. But what we find in the book of Acts is the only plausible way of reconciling those stray comments Paul makes in the letter.
Here we see one of many cases where I Corinthians and Acts, written independently, explain each other. It’s a small matter. To think that Luke and Paul colluded on it would be to attribute an unlikely degree of detail to them in their planning. The most natural explanation for the interlocking information here is that both of them were writing about what happened.
By itself this one example is persuasive of almost nothing. The thing is, there are dozens of these in the New Testament, many more than you’ll find in the six articles posted so far. Taken together they comprise a cumulative case, leading reasonably to the conclusion that the most likely reason these different accounts interlock the way they do is because they were written about what actually happened.