The Logic of Faith

(4) Undesigned Scriptural Coincidences

Introduction

Many of the events in the Bible are described in two or more different accounts. There are four gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus. The books of Kings and Chronicles give parallel accounts of much of the history of Israel, augmented by the books of various prophets. The Acts of the Apostles covers a period also described in the epistles. The reason for this is possibly to allow their witnesses to support one another:

Deuteronomy 1915 By the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
(also Matthew 1816, 2 Corinthians 131).

This gives one an opportunity to compare the accounts of the different witnesses to discover whether they are accurate.


Comparing Witnesses

If one were considering the evidence which forms a case in a court of law, one would compare all the pieces of evidence together and see whether it was consistent. The important comparisons here would not be the main points of the evidence, but the insignificant details. If these details are sufficiently insignificant there will be a large number of them and it would be impossible for anyone making the story up to keep track of all the tiny details. There would thus be a discrepancy in the details or the detail would be completely absent. If, on the other hand, the testimony of the witnesses is authentic then there would be any amount of corroborative detail present within it.

This is true of the Bible accounts. Where there are several different witnesses to the same events one can see a tremendous harmony in the insignificant details of the stories. These harmonies of detail are called Undesigned Coincidences as it would be impossible to insert them into the text if the accounts were fabricated. Even if the accounts were all fabricated by the same person, it would still be difficult to ensure that the correct undesigned coincidences were present within the text.


Examples

Ahithophel, Absalom and Uriah

King David was, for most of his life, a man of great faith. However, he fell from his high standard when he committed adultery with Bathsheba the wife of Uriah, and then had Uriah killed. God's judgement on David was that he was not to be allowed peace, and that his wives would be taken from him. The fulfilment of the sentence came in a great degree when Absalom the son of David rebelled against him and tried to take the kingdom from him.

Absalom proclaimed his rulership of Israel from Hebron and David was forced to flee for his life. The people of Israel tended to follow Absalom, but David's warriors and companions went with David into hiding. The exception was Ahithophel.

2 Samuel 1512 And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom.

The question here is why Ahithophel should turn away from David when all David's other companions remained loyal. The answer is found in the lists of the names of David's mighty men in 2 Samuel 23. Among these we find "Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite" (2 Samuel 2334) and "Uriah the Hittite" (2 Samuel 2339). It seems that this group of thirty-seven fighting men was one of the elite units of David's army. There would be close comradeship between them and they would be expected to stand up for one another. Thus when David had Uriah killed it is likely that the members of this unit were shaken in their loyalty to him, and Ahithophel had such strong connections to the unit that it is likely that he also was affected by this.

But there was a closer connection still between Eliam and Uriah the Hittite; it seems that Uriah married Eliam's daughter:

2 Samuel 113 And David... enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?

When David seduced Bathsheba he was seducing the daughter of Eliam and the granddaughter of Ahitophel. It seems that the episode had turned Ahithophel against David so that he was willing to support Absalom's revolt.

When one sees the connection between Ahithophel, Uriah and David one can appreciate why events happened the way they did. However, it seems very unlikely that the writer of 2 Kings would have made up these details; they are separated by a considerable number of pages and it would take a cunning writer to insert the details so that they could be found under only a close inspection. Had they been devised to create a false impression one would have expected their presence to have been more clearly pointed out.


Philistines in Gibbethon

According to 1 Kings the city of Gibbethon belonged to the Philistines in the reign of King Baasha of Israel:

1 Kings 1527 And Baasha the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar, conspired against him; and Baasha smote him at Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines; for Nadab and all Israel laid siege to Gibbethon.

However, Gibbethon was not always a Philistine city. In the account of the division of the land of Canaan Gibbethon was in the portion awarded to the tribe of Dan, although it was itself given to the Kohathites, one of the divisions of the Levites:

Joshua 2120,23 And the families of the children of Kohath, the Levites who remained of the children of Kohath, even they had the cities of their lot out of the tribe of Ephraim.... And out of the tribe of Dan, Eltekeh with its common lands, Gibbethon with its common lands...

One is left to wonder why it is described in 1 Kings as belonging to the Philistines.

The answer is given in an obscure passage in 2 Chronicles.

2 Chronicles 1113-14 And the priests and the Levites that were in all Israel resorted to him from all their territories. For the Levites left their common lands and their possession, and came to Judah and Jerusalem: for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them off from executing the priest's office to the LORD:

During the reign of Jeroboam of Israel the Levites found themselves without employment, as Jeroboam had set up an alternative form of worship for the people. They therefore left their cities and travelled to Judah, bringing with them the more faithful of Jeroboam's subjects. As a result the Levitical cities were left empty. Among these would be Gibbethon, which would thus become an easy conquest for the Philistines.

The history of Gibbethon is fairly complex and requires three different books to explain it. In each of these books the account of Gibbethon is a trivial detail of no importance to the main story. In spite of this there is a clear account which is wholly consistent. The only reasonable explanation for this is that the account is an accurate record of real events.


Hezekiah's Wealth

This coincidence has been chosen from among the many available because the period in which it occurred has already been discussed in the Archaeology section.

In the book of Isaiah we read of a visit of Merodach-Baladan, the rebel king of Babylon, to Jerusalem:

Isaiah 391-2 At that time Merodach-Baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he had been sick, and had recovered. And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasuries: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah did not show them.

The description of Hezekiah's treasure is emphatic; at this time Hezekiah was very wealthy indeed. This event can be dated fairly easily. Isaiah 391 tells us that it happened shortly after Hezekiah had recovered from sickness. We know from Isaiah 385 that Hezekiah recovered from his sickness 15 years before his eventual death, and as he reigned for 29 years (2 Kings 182) this is the 14th year of his reign.

We now come to the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib.

Isaiah 361 Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah, and took them.

This happened in the 14th year of Hezekiah's reign, the same year in which he recovered from his illness. This is consistent with the picture we have in the account of the illness:

Isaiah 386 I will deliver thee and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria

When Sennacherib invaded, Hezekiah tried to buy him off (2 Kings 1813-14). The tribute required from him by Sennacherib was large and left Hezekiah quite without resources. He was even reduced to stripping the gold leaf off the temple doors to pay it:

2 Kings 1815-16 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasuries of the king's house. At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.

The sequence of events is that Hezekiah was forced to give his entire wealth to the king of Assyria (who attacked anyway) and was therefore impoverished. Shortly after in the same year he was showing off his great wealth to the king of Babylon.

On the face of it this appears to be a contradiction, and there would be great problems with it were it not for another account of the same times. However, 2 Chronicles gives the explanation:

2 Chronicles 3222-24 Thus the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all others, and guided them on every side. And many brought gifts to the LORD to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah: so that from then on he was magnified in the sight of all nations. In those days Hezekiah was sick and near to death...

This explains the problem. After the defeat of the Assyrian armies many of the other nations (who would presumably have been victims of the Assyrians next) brought gifts to Jerusalem, for God and for Hezekiah. These must have replenished the royal treasury (and presumably replaced the gold leaf on the temple). This is why there was an abundance of wealth to show to Merodach-Baladan.

This coincidence appears in an account that covers three different books. It is an incidental detail, which means that it is unlikely that the authors could invent it. Thus it is excellent evidence for the authenticity and accuracy of the books concerned.


The Death of Joseph

The last mention of Joseph the husband of Mary and step-father of Jesus is in Luke 243 where Jesus goes with his family to Jerusalem for the Passover. After this there are several passages which enumerate the members of Jesus' family and all of them omit Joseph completely.

For example, consider the following:

Mark 63 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.

This verse lists Mary the mother of Jesus, all four of Jesus' half brothers and even his sisters (although not by name). There are other similar passages:

  • Matthew 1246 refers to Jesus' mother and brethren who come to speak to Jesus
  • Luke 819 also refers to the mother and brethren of Jesus.
  • John 212 tells of Jesus' mother, brethren and disciples.
  • None of the accounts where Jesus' family are present mentions Joseph, not even the wedding at Cana in Galilee or the crucifixion.
  • John 1926-27 is where Jesus tells John to care for Mary and she goes to live in John's house. Why does she not go home to Joseph?
  • Acts 113-14 tells us that Jesus' mother and brethren continued to live in Jerusalem, which would have been odd if Joseph had still been plying his trade in Galilee.

There is a simple explanation for these points, which is that Joseph died sometime between the time when Jesus was 12 and when he began his ministry at the age of 30 years. There is no statement of this in the gospels but it is consistent across all four Gospels and the Acts. If there had been errors in the accounts or if they had been invented then this consistency would have been lost.


Conclusion

These four examples illustrate the harmony of the biblical record. The fact that authors who were so widely separated (in both time and space) could consistently agree in the incidental facts which they relate is powerful corroborative evidence for the truth of what they wrote, and thus for the inspiration of the scriptures.
 

For more information or questions e-mail  secretary@word-of-truth.co.uk