I have been reviewing a recent article by Dr. Richard Carrier where he provided a critique of the argument from undesigned coincidences in the gospel accounts put forward in Dr. Lydia McGrew’s book Hidden in Plain View (please see part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4). In this fifth installment, I discuss Carrier’s dismissal of coincidences involving the gospels and external secular sources, and his dismissal of undesigned coincidences in the book of Acts.
Carrier begins this section by stating,
I won’t bother, however, with what the McGrews call “external” coincidences, which are merely authors knowing things about their own history (like who ruled where and when, what titles they held, and what they were like). Authors knew those things about their history the same way we know those things about ours: they read books and inscriptions, listened to lectures and speeches, and absorbed longstanding cultural knowledge from their parents and peers. The only “coincidences” that have any chance of being “undesigned” are what the McGrews call “internal” coincidences, meaning from Gospel to Gospel, not from Gospel to pop history.That is not a very accurate definition of what the McGrews mean when they talk about external coincidences. Rather, external coincidences function in a similar way to internal coincidences except they involve external secular sources rather than other New Testament accounts. In a similar way, the accounts interlock in a way that points to truth. For example, consider John 2:18-20, which recounts a dialogue between Jesus and some Jews following the cleansing of the temple:
18 So the Jews said to [Jesus], “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”Take note of the date given by the Jews — “it has taken forty-six years to build this temple…” We can thus discern the approximate date at which this dialogue must have taken place, since Flavius Josephus helpfully tells us when Herod the Great began to rebuild the temple. It was in the 18th year of his reign, which landed in approximately 19 B.C (Antiquities of the Jews 15.380). Forty-six years on from 19 B.C. (bearing in mind there was no 0 A.D.) lands us in 28 A.D. Now, according to Luke 3:1, when did Jesus commence His public ministry? It was in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Augustus Caesar died in 14 A.D., but two years prior to that (the fall of 12 A.D.), according to the historian Suetonius, Augustus appointed Tiberius as co-emperor, in order to ensure a smooth transition of power. The 15th year of Tiberius, then, lands us in 27 A.D., corresponding to Jesus’ baptism and ministry commencement. The cleansing of the temple would have taken place the following Passover (John 2:13), placing it in the spring of 28 A.D. Thus, by two independent methods, and using information drawn from John, Luke, Josephus, and Suetonius, we have been able to confirm the date on which Jesus cleansed the temple. This sort of coincidence is best explained by the sources being rooted in truth.
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