My First Book Review
I have never written a book review before, but I found this book to be really informative and not well known, so I thought I would share it with you. The full name of the book is Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts. If you want to purchase the book, I encourage you to do it through Amazon Smile (smile.amazon.com) and select Worship Arts Conservatory as your charity.
This book is an apologetics book - which means it is written to defend the Christian faith and strengthen your faith in God and His Word. Specifically, this book defends the historical accuracy and truthfulness of the authors of the Gospels, Acts and Pauline Epistles.
Who is Lydia McGrew?
You may not be familiar with Lydia McGrew or her writing, so I thought it would be helpful to give you a quick introduction. The "About the Author" section of the book says, "Lydia McGrew is a widely published analytic philosopher who specializes in classical and formal epistemology, probability theory, and philosophy of religion."
OK ... that sounds pretty heady! With that kind of background you might fear that her book is going to be a dry academic read, but actually, I found Hidden in Plain View to be engaging and enjoyable to read. In fact, one of the benefits of learning about undesigned coincidences is that, as a general rule, they rarely require any specialized knowledge or terminology. All of the examples in her book are easily understood by the average reader.
Also, she lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is only about 30-40 minutes from where I grew up, so she also has that going for her 🙂
What is an undesigned coincidence?
“An undesigned coincidence is a notable connection between two or more accounts or texts that doesn't seem to have been planned by the person or people giving the the accounts. Despite their apparent independence, the items fit together like pieces of a puzzle.” p. 12
In other words, two or more accounts of an event tell the same story in different ways, but the differences actually complement each other and fill in missing details that clarify the accounts. In addition, the complementary pieces don't seem to have been planned.
The truth is, the concept of "undesigned coincidences" is one of those topics where the definition is harder to understand than an actual example. So I will give you a couple examples a little later in this review.
Why are they important?
“The occurrence of multiple undesigned coincidences between and among these documents supports the conclusion that the Gospels and Acts are historically reliable and that they come from people close to the facts who were attempting to tell truthfully what they knew.” p. 14
Undesigned coincidences between two accounts support the belief that the accounts are true and reliable. If we can show that there are multiple undesigned coincidences between parts of the Bible, then we have good reason to believe that they are telling the truth. This is one of the tools we can use to defend against the current belief, in some circles, that the Gospels and Acts are fabricated stories to teach theology, or garbled memories passed down for years before being written down - full of errors.
Undesigned coincidences also have a sort of “aha” feel to them (like you solved a mystery) – while strangely, at the same time, some of them feel to me like a "no duh". I think this "no duh" is because I already knew the undesigned coincidence, having either picked it up without realizing it or having been taught it. Yet, I had no idea that the information was actually a great defense of the Bible. Having accepted the Bible as true I naturally expected the Gospels to fit together and support each other.
For instance, the fact that Jesus is older than John the Baptist was something I have known since I was a child. But, I had no idea that it actually can be used to defend the accuracy of scripture. I will get back to this in a moment.
Hidden in Plain View is divided into two main sections:
Part 1 – the Gospels
This section looks at ways the Gospels support each other. Most of these fall into the category of plot holes that are filled in by another Gospel. One Gospel mentions something that leaves you asking a question, but the answer is actually found in another Gospel.
Part 2 – Acts and the Pauline Epistles
This section looks at how Paul's letters support Acts or vice versa. These are often minute details that dovetail together between Acts and an Epistle.
I can't possibly go through every undesigned coincidence in Hidden in Plain View, but I would like to point out a couple so that you can get a feel for what the book is about. I have listed every coincidence, though, so that you can see the full scope of the book and hopefully make you curious enough to purchase and read the book yourself.
The Synoptic Gospels Explain John
As an example, Here is the first undesigned coincidence in the book: Why does John the Baptist say Jesus was "before me?" (John 1:15, 30)
It appears from scripture that John's ministry started before Jesus' ministry. So what does John mean? The simple answer is that John was about 6 months younger than Jesus. Jesus was born before John.
The author of the Gospel of John is also using this statement to make a prophetic pun pointing to Jesus' pre-existence as the Son of God. Jesus was not only older as a human but also eternally existed before creation.
So why is this important? Because, if you only read the Gospel of John, you never learn that Jesus was older than John the Baptist. It is the Gospel of Luke that tells us this. The Gospel of John quotes John the Baptist but doesn't give us the context to fully understand the quote or to catch the pun. This makes total sense if you are simply writing your memories as one of Jesus' disciples, but it makes little sense if you are making up a story. You have essentially left out all the background to understand the punch line. Yet, if you understand the Gospels simply as faithful historical records, the two accounts fit together so well that it points to the truthfulness of both accounts.
Let me give you one more example: #7 below. In the Gospel of John, Pilate asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews. The problem is, in the Gospel of John, no one has said that Jesus was a king. You have to go to the Gospel of Luke to find out that the Jews brought this up as one of the accusations against Jesus. So, once again, we find a plot hole in the story line that is filled in by another Gospel. They fit together just as you would expect two true accounts of the same event by different people to fit together.
Following is a complete list of the undesigned coincidences covered in this book.
- “He was before me.” (John 1:15, 30) What does John mean?
- How did John the Baptist know that Jesus was the Son of God? (John 1:32-34)
- Why were the water pots empty? (John 2:6-7)
- “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood...” Why did John have Jesus say this? (John 6:53-56)
- Why did Jesus wash the disciples' feet? (John 13:1-15)
- “Shall I not drink the cup?” Why does Jesus use the metaphor of a cup? (John 18:10-11)
- “Are you the king of the Jews?” Why did Pilate think Jesus was a king of the Jews? (John 18:28-33)
- What happened to Malchus's ear? Why did Jesus indicate to Pilate that his servants wouldn't fight for his kingdom if Peter had just cut off someone's ear? ( John 18:36)
- Why is Jesus being so mean? Why only ask Peter if he loves him? (John 21:15-17)
John Explains the Synoptic Gospels
- “Many were coming and going.” Why? (Mark 6:30-31)
- The green grass. Why mention that the grass is green? (Mark 6:39)
- “I am among you as the one who serves.” What is Jesus referring to? (Luke 22:27)
- Why did the false witnesses say Jesus would tear down and rebuild the temple? (Matthew 26:60-61; Mark 14:57-58)
- Why didn't Pilate care that Jesus was a king? (Luke 23:1-4)
- Why does Mark say that Joseph of Arimathea “took courage” in asking for the body of Jesus? (Mark 15:42-45)
The Synoptic Gospels Explain Each Other
- Why are the disciples paired? (Matthew 10:2-4 and Luke 6:14-15)
- How do we know what Herod's servants said? (Matthew 14:1-2)
- What mighty works were done in Bethsaida? (Matthew 11:21)
- How did Joseph of Arimathea find a new tomb to use for Jesus' body? (Luke 23:52, John 19:41-42)
Still More Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels
- Where is Joseph? Why isn't he mentioned after Jesus' childhood?
- Why ask Philip? (John 6:5)
- Why did they know only how many men were fed? (Matthew 14:21, Mark 6:39-40, Luke 9:14-15, John 6:10-11)
- John and Mark agree on the six days before the Passover
- How does John know the name of the servant who's ear was cut off? (John 18:10)
- Who is Rufus? (Mark 15:20-21)
- Why does Jesus commit his mother to John when she has living sons? (John 19:25-26)
- Why does John mention that the net did not break? (John 21:3-11)
Acts and the Pauline Epistles
Most of these examples show how Acts and the Epistles dovetail together in ways that are clearly undesigned.
- “I returned again to Damascus” (Galatians 1:17)
- Paul's escape from Damascus (2 Corinthians 11:32-33)
- Paul of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:4-6)
- “Shamefully treated at Philippi” (1 Thessalonians 2:2)
- How did the Philippians know Timothy? (Philippians 2: 19-22)
- Who caused the trouble in Thessalonica? (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)
- Paul's funding in Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:8-9; Philippians 4:15-16)
- The character and activities of Apollos (1 Corinthians 1-3; 2 Corinthians 3:1-3)
- “If Timothy comes” (1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:5-10) How can it be that Paul has sent Timothy, but the letter gets to the church before Timothy?
- The collection for the church at Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-27 and other epistles)
- “All the way around to Illyricum” (Romans 15:18-19)
- Aquila and Priscilla and the greetings in 1 Corinthians and Romans
- “You Yourselves know” (1 Corinthians 4:11-12; 16:8) How did they know Paul worked with his hands?
- The roster of widows (1 Timothy 5:9-10)
- Mark, the kinsman of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10-11) Why was Barnabas so protective of Mark?
- Timothy's upbringing (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14-15) – Why doesn't Paul talk about Timothy's father?
- How did Timothy know of Paul's persecutions? (2 Timothy 3:10-11)
- Paul's imprisonment for the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1 4:6; Colossians 4:3)
- Aristarchus (Colossians 4:10)
- An ambassador in a chain (Ephesians 6:20) – Why does it say singular “chain” in Greek?
Lydia's main point throughout Hidden in Plain View is that the Gospels and Acts are reliable and true historical documents.
I suggest that we have such ample evidence for the reliability of these documents that we should consider ourselves privileged rather than burdened when called upon to present it. p. 224
This point makes it extremely difficult to argue that there is merely an "historical core" of solid fact to the Gospels and Acts, surrounded by non-factual material. Where is the non-factual material, then? p. 225
They are honest witnesses giving their reports and honest historians relating witness reports ... p. 226
If you are interested in history, apologetics or simply curious to know how the New Testament books fit together, then I highly encourage you to pick up Lydia McGrew's book, Hidden in Plain View.
By Dr. Jerry Wyrick, President, Worship Arts Conservatory