Could the Gospels be True accounts?

Could the Gospels be True accounts?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Above Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

Have you ever lied to make yourself look good, or maybe not told the whole truth? Of course, we all have. Have you ever lied to make yourself look bad? No, unless there are circumstances that go beyond our self-interest, most people don’t go around telling stories to make themselves look bad. Who wants to embarrass themselves? None of us want to look foolish, and the times we have can be uncomfortable even to recall.

History is packed with embarrassing accounts, usually on the losing side. In 1905 the Russian Navy experienced a crushing defeat by the Japanese Navy in the battle of Tsushima. In 1940 the battle of France was over a month and a half, almost 2 million French troops taken prisoner by the quickly advancing German military. Our own Vietnam war, politics aside was a tragic loss of American lives with the U.S. finally withdrawing and nothing to show for it. All of these events have personal stories within them which caused embarrassment to individuals.

The criterion of embarrassment says that if a historical record has embarrassing testimony, then it adds to the credibility to the account. Why is that? Because few would invent an account that was embarrassing to them personally.

Norman Geisler and Frank Turek list seven criteria historians use to determine if a historical document is giving an accurate account of a past event.

  1. Early Testimony. (Generally, the earlier the sources the more accurate the testimony.)
  2. Eyewitness testimony. (Eyewitness testimony is considered the best way of establishing what took place)
  3. Testimony from multiple, independent, eyewitness sources. (True independent sources typically tell the same story, but with differing details.)
  4. Are the eyewitnesses trustworthy? (Should we believe them? What is their character?)
  5. Do we have corroborating evidence from archaeology or other writers?
  6. Do we have any enemy attestation? (If we have accounts from those hostile to what is being claimed, but support many or all of the facts then it is probably true.)
  7. Does the testimony contain events or details that are embarrassing to the authors? (Most people don’t like to record negative information about themselves.)1

I want to take a moment and look at just number 7 in the above list. An excellent example of this is found in Mark 8:22-26. Most historians agree that this is a real historical account of Jesus healing a blind man. Why is that? If you read the account, it seems as if Jesus’ first attempt to heal the blind man failed. In contrast to other healings, Jesus simply pronounced it, and it was done. Also, in other healings, Jesus did not use saliva, suggesting to some it has some ‘magic’ properties.

Both of those details would be a cause for embarrassment for early Christians. Also, most scholars believe that both Matthew and Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a source along with the lost source called “Q”. If that is true, then both Matthew and Luke may have left out that story because of the embarrassment it would cause.

Embarrassing testimony is found throughout the New Testament. The Gospel writers often depicted themselves as ignorant, simpleminded, and dimwitted. They often didn’t understand what Jesus is trying to tell them. Mark 9:32, Luke 18:34, John 12:16

Peter, was called Satan by Jesus. Ouch! Peter also said he would never leave Jesus; even if everyone else does, he will remain faithful and true. Everyone then quickly agreed so not to be left behind in the chest-thumping. Jesus then prophesied that Peter would deny Him three times. Matthew 26:33-35 Then guess what happened? Matthew 26:69-75, Matthew 26:55-56

In Galatians chapter 2 Paul rebukes Peter. Don’t you think that it would be embarrassing to add an account where one apostle is publicly calling out one of the other apostles? Galatians 2:11-14 And this is Peter no less, the Rock Christ would build His church on. Matthew 16:18

The Gospel accounts also wrote that women were the first to discover the empty tomb. Today, of course, that is not a big deal, but in first-century Palestine, a woman’s testimony was not even admissible in court. Women could not be trusted to give an accurate account. They could not provide the facts without mixing it up or adding in emotional and sentimental feelings that would cloud the truth. Yet, the Gospels share this embarrassing detail that women discovered the empty tomb. Timothy Keller wrote, “Women’s low social status meant that their testimony was not admissible evidence in court. There was no possible advantage to the church to recount that all the first witnesses were women. It could only have undermined the credibility of the testimony.”2 In fact, all four Gospel accounts confirm this embarrassing detail. The Gospel accounts also state that Jesus first appeared to the women after His resurrection. If they wanted to start a new religion based on the resurrection of a savior, it would have been absolutely foolish to base the first testimonies on that of women. No one in the first-century Palestine would have done that.

The New Testament also portrays the apostles as uncaring. Mark 14:32-41 They fall asleep more than once when Jesus is asking them to pray, oblivious to what is about to happen to Him.

In other accounts, Jesus is thought to be out of His mind by His own family. (Mark 3:21,31) If you are trying to promote a following, would you want to include accounts that state the leader is out of His mind? Some say the New Testament authors invented Jesus. If that is true, why would you include an account that says His own family wants to take Him away because He has lost His mind?

Jesus was called a drunkard and demon-possessed. Luke 7:33-34, Luke 7:33-34 Jesus also associated with prostitutes. Luke 7:36-39 How is that for character reference? It should also be pointed out that Jesus has two prostitutes in His blood line, Rahab Joshua 6:25 and Tamar Genesis 38:24 Although technically Tamar was not a prostitute, but simply acted like one to lay with her father-in-law. Arguably that could that be worse, for whatever her reasons.

Some people put the burden of proof on Christians without providing an alternate answer for Christianity. Skeptics come up with explanations for the empty tomb and the claims of a resurrection. Some claims the disciples were hallucinating, they returned to the wrong tomb, Christ didn’t actually die, but just passed out on the cross, the disciples stole the body, or they just copied pagan resurrections myths. Timothy Keller put it this way, “It is not enough to simply believe Jesus did not rise from the dead. You must then come up with a historically feasible alternate explanation for the birth of the church. You have to provide some other plausible account for how things began.”3

If parents, pastors, youth leaders continue to deal in the realm of the heart and not the head, our culture will continue to sway more and more young believers away from the Christian faith. Nancy Pearcy, in her book Total Truth, wrote, “Not only have we ‘lost the culture,’ but we continue losing even our own children. It’s a familiar but tragic story that devout young people, raised in Christian homes, head off to college and abandon thier faith. Why is the pattern so common? …Christianity has been restricted to a specialized area of religious belief and personal devotion.”4

Christians, whether they want to admit it or not, have a responsibility to give thoughtful answers to questions many unbelievers or skeptics have about their Christian world view. 1Peter 3:15 Our faith goes beyond ‘feelings’, beyond emotional highs. Unlike all other religions, ours has a documented historical element that we can research with confidence. Written accounts from eyewitnesses who not only experienced the risen Christ, but saw, heard, and felt Him. 1John 1:1-3

According to the Barna, (a cultural research group), 2/3 of all Christians and former Christians have experienced doubt and more than 1/4 of those continue to struggle with doubt about their faith. The common response for those who have experienced doubt was to quit attending church because they could not find answers to their questions.5

Sadly most of those cases could have been avoided. Do you attend a church where the pastor publicly answers questions, tough questions by his congregation regularly? If he does not want to be put on the spot, then have a panel of men and women who could assist him in responding to issues that plague some in the congregation. Mark Clark and Timothy Keller are two pastors who have done this in the past and experienced significant church growth. Both have attributed (in part) the growth to their openness to answering questions from the congregation and guests. Many of the congregation would bring their non-Christian friends to hear what was said during the Q & A. Does your youth group allow teens to ask tough questions? Do they provide a once a month Q & A for them to invite their friends? The questions are there; they just might not be asking them. Christianity is so much more than an emotional high; it is an intellectual proposition that can be substantiated and defended.

I read a story of a well-meaning young Christian high school teacher who strode to the front of the classroom and drew on the whiteboard a heart on one side and a brain on the other. He then told the class that the heart is what we use religion for, and the brain is what we use for science. Sad but true, and this line of misguided thinking is not only being taught in private Christian schools but at home and in the church.

Do you attend a church that is losing its youth? I am not talking about while they are under the covering of the congregation (though many may lose their faith while still attending from home), but after they leave, move away or attend college. If this concerns you, and it should, then encourage the youth you are involved with to seek more than feelings for their faith, but also the truth of their faith.

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Are the Gospels True Accounts? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

  1. Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Crossway, 2004. Print. []
  2. Keller, Timothy. “The Reality of the Resurrection.” The Reason for God, Riverhead Books, 2008, p. 213 []
  3. Keller, Timothy. “The Reality of the Resurrection.” The Reason for God, Riverhead Books, 2008, p. 210 []
  4. Pearcy, Nancy. Total Truth. Crossway, Wheaton: Crossway, 2005, Print []
  5. Stone, Roxanne, and Alyce Youngblood. “Trending in Faith.” Barna Trends 2018: What’s New and What’s next at the Intersection of Faith and Culture, Baker Books, 2017, pp. 132–133. []
Was Jesus a Real Person in History?

Was Jesus a Real Person in History?

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Above image by floyd99 from Pixabay

My daughter-in-law Annie posted on Facebook about the historicity of Jesus. Addressing the question if Jesus was a ‘real’ historical figure or simply a myth or legend that developed over time so the early church could gain power and influence.

One of the comments on her Facebook page was they had never heard of such a thing. That is, questioning if Christ was a real historical character. I smiled when I read that because it is a common claim online in the atheist and skeptic circles I visit occasionally.

I decided to take a look online to see what I could find. After a quick search, I found a Washington Post article by Raphael Lataster who lectures at the University of Sydney. Below is a clip of his article I wanted to address.

“The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith. These early sources compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism of their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify. Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.”1

Wow, what do you say to something like that? So many claims and assertions that undermine what we believe to be true. Of course many think the only sources we have about Jesus are in the scriptures and those can’t be trusted. The best way to tackle a series of claims like this is to break it down into smaller pieces. Let’s parse this out.

Lataster says, “The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith.”2

Lataster is making a claim but does not back it up with any evidence and is dismissive of what evidence there is. In fact, the early sources are significant. Let’s look at the Gospel of Mark which most scholars agree it is the earliest written of all the Gospels.

Documents outside the Bible state that Mark was an eyewitness account of the apostle Peter. An early church bishop, Papias, born around 70 A.D., wrote that Mark was an interpreter of Peter and accurately put down what was remembered. Irenaeus, who was a student of Polycarp, who in turn was a student of the apostle John, said, “Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.”1 Clement of Alexandria, another early church father, said those who heard Peter’s teachings asked Mark to write them down so they could study, share, and pass the instruction from Peter on orally.3

If Mark and the other gospels were written hundreds of years later, then some elements particular to Mark would not be present. Let me explain.

Mark, by all accounts, was close to Peter. He not only acted as a scribe and interpreter at times for Peter; he was a close friend and confidant. Because of their close relationship, the Gospel of Mark has some peculiarities that indicate this close relationship. Had the gospels been written hundreds of years later, those peculiarities would not be present.

For example, Mark often paid Peter respect and significant prominence compared to the other gospel writers. For example, Mark referred to Peter 26 times, and Matthew, in his much longer account, 29 times. Keep in mind that Matthew has 28 chapters while Mark had 16, and the total number of verses for Mark is 678, while Matthew had 1,071.4

Mark also avoided some of Peter’s more embarrassing moments. Do you remember Peter’s failed attempt to walk on water like Jesus was doing? Matthew 14:22-33 It is interesting that Mark does not even mention Peter’s attempt. Mark 6:45-52 Another example is when Luke describes the miraculous catch of fish on the sea of Galilee. Luke 5:1-11 Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (NKJV) In Mark’s version, Mark 1:16-20 this is omitted.5

There are other examples of this where Mark omits Peter’s name and instead uses ‘the disciples’ for various accounts. This aspect of favoring Peter and attempts to save him some embarrassment would not be present had the Gospel of Mark been written by someone other than a close and personal friend of the Apostle Peter.

Lataster also writes, “These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them.”

Lataster claims the New Testament events were compiled long after the life of Christ, and they were written by Christians which gives us reason to doubt their validity before we even get out of the gate. Do we dismiss research and accounts of astronauts concerning NASA because they are astronauts? That kind of thinking is silly and points to the obvious bias held by Lataster. To dismiss the historical validity of scripture because it was written by Christians would mean we should dismiss the accounts of every religion written by its adherents.

But I will not defend that, rather let’s look at the non-Christian sources concerning the life of Christ.

Anyone who is familiar with biblical history has heard of Flavius Josephus, (ca. 37- ca. 100). He was a historian for the Roman Emperor Domitian. Josephus wrote, “At this time [the time of Pilate] there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive, according he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”6 This is coming from a Jew who became a Roman and had nothing to gain from promoting Jesus and His life.

Pliny the Younger was a Roman senator and lawyer in Rome. He was a prolific letter writer and we have copies of most of his writings. In one of his letters, he was asking for advice on how to deal with Christians who refused to deny Christ. He wrote, “They had met regularly before dawn on a determined day, and sung antiphonally a hymn to Christ as if to a god. They also took an oath not to commit any crime, but to keep from theft, robbery, and adultery, not to break any promise, and not to withhold a deposit when reclaimed.”7

I mention the Pliny example, (one of many outside the New Testament) to point out the durability of eyewitness testimony decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Romans considered Christianity nothing more than a cult, yet despite frightful persecution, it was growing and spreading all over the Mediterranean and into Rome. Pliny the Younger would give Christians three chances to deny Christ, yet time and time again they would refuse and he would have them taken away to be executed.

Finally in the first 150 years after the birth of Christ, if we include Josephus, we have ten non-Christian writers who mention Jesus in their works. Looking at and then piecing together what the non-Christian sources say about Jesus we have the following list:

  • Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
  • He lived a virtuous life.
  • He was a wonder-worker.
  • He had a brother named James.
  • He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
  • He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
  • He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
  • Darkness and an earthquake occurred when he died.
  • His disciples believed he rose from the dead.
  • His disciples were willing to die for their belief.
  • Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.
  • His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God.8

Lataster continues, “The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify.”

He is right, none of the authors of the Gospels name themselves. It is only in the book of John that there is any suggestion to the author. The author says it is someone whom Jesus loved. John 21:24

Nevertheless, there are context clues throughout scripture that suggest who they may be and we have church traditions which should not be outrightly dismissed.

Starting with the book of Matthew some of the arguments in favor of his authorship are:

  • Papias mentioned that Matthew had composed an account.
  • It is organized in a way that a tax collector would likely write.
  • Matthew’s account talks about gold and silver 28 times. The author also has parables about money that the other Gospels don’t.
  • The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew says, “And forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.” In Luke it says, “Forgive us our sins…”
  • The early church ascribed the book to Matthew. 9

The early church almost unanimously agreed that Mark is the author of the Gospel of Mark and other church authors claimed the same, including Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Jerome. 10

Who wrote Luke? Again the early church fathers name Luke as the author of Luke and Acts. It is in Pauls letters we find out that Luke was a doctor. Most scholars believe that Luke and Acts were written by the same person. Both Luke and Acts had very similar writing styles, both were addressed to Theophilus, and both expressed the same theology. 11

Who wrote John? This gospel claims to be written by an eyewitness, he was likely Jewish because many of the events he described were attached to dates significant in Jewish culture. He also describes events that would only be accessible to an eyewitness. For example the number of Jars in John 2:6; how long the man in Bethesda had been a cripple, John 5:5; the name of the man that had his ear chopped off by Peter, John 18:10; and the number of fish caught in Galilee, John 21:11. 12

Finally, Lataster writes, “Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.”

He assumes the Gospels are mythical and I have addressed that in another post. Horus vs. Jesus so I will not touch on that any further. http://www.dev.christianapologetics.blog/2015/05/16/horus-vs-jesus/

Virtually all scholars consider Luke’s account historical. Even a 5th grader could see that.

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Luke 1:1-4

Eyewitnesses, account, investigated, orderly, draw, carefully, certainly, are just a few of the words he uses to make clear he is giving us history, and to suggest they are non-historical is foolishness. Not only that he addresses it to a specific person for the specific reason of giving him assurance and confidence in what he has been taught concerning Christ.

If you were to read the whole article by Lataster he is dismissive of Bart Ehrman who thinks it is foolishness to claim that Jesus was not a real person in history. Bart Ehrman is one of the most respected New Testament textual critics alive today and is no friend to Christians.

In his book Misquoting Jesus Bart Ehrman wrote about his mentor Bruce Metzger and the reliability of the New Testament, “Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions – he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not – we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement – maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands. The position I argue for in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” 13

Jesus was a real figure in history. Persecution, torture, and death awaited those who were “eager to promote Christianity” as Lataster put it. To suggest it was done for wealth, power, and influence is absurd. Not only can Jesus be found outside the scriptures, but the claims about Him within the scriptures can also be trusted. Those that wrote about Him had nothing to gain and everything to lose. All but John lost their lives for sharing the gospel and that is not much of a vocational perk.

Sources:
1. Lataster, Rapohael. “Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up.” Washington Post, washingtonpost.com, 18 December. 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/18/did-historical-jesus-exist-the-traditional-evidence-doesnt-hold-up/
2. Ibid.
3. Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writing of the Fathers down to A.D.325. Eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1885. Print.
4. Just, Felix. “New Testament Statistics” Catholic Resources. Catholic-resources.org, 2 Sept. 2005. Web. 17 June 2015.
5. Wallace, James Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2013. Print.
6. Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. William Whiston. Blacksburg: Unabridged Books, 2011. Print.
7. Van Voorst, Robert, Jesus Outside the New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000. Print.
8. Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Crossway, 2004. Print.
9. “Who Wrote the Gospels, and How Do We Know for Sure?” Zondervan Academic, zondervanacademic.com, 20 September 2017. https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/who-wrote-gospels/
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ehrman, Bart. “Appendix” Misquoting Jesus, HarperSanFrancisco, 2007, p.252.

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Was Jesus a Real Person in History? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Who was Rufus?

Who was Rufus?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

 There are some coincidences in history that may raise your eyebrow but have no significance beyond an interesting fact to share over coffee. Other coincidences may go unnoticed by most but are meaningful in the search for authenticity in the archives of history.

You have all heard of John Wilkes Booth who shot Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre on April 14th in 1865. But few of you would know the name of Lincoln’s oldest son Robert Todd. And how many of you knew that Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert Todd was traveling by train a few months before his father’s assassination when he fell onto the train tracks but was rescued by Booth? That is, Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth.

As I said this is an interesting fact of history, but beyond that, it holds nothing vital or hidden meanings to understand the stories of the Booth brothers, the Lincoln family, or any hidden application to Lincoln’s assassination.

Now there are other coincidences in history that do hold significance and weight in their placement within historical documents. The New Testament is full of them, and I would like to share three of them with you.

In her 2017 book, Hidden In Plain View, Lydia McGrew defines undesigned coincidences as “… a notable connection between two or more accounts or tests that don’t seem to have been planned by the person or people giving the accounts. Despite their apparent independence, the items fit together like pieces of a puzzle.”1

In Matthew 14 we read the account of Herod and how he took the head of John the Baptist. John had been calling out Herod stating it was unlawful for Herod to be sleeping with his own brother’s wife Herodias. Herod put John in prison and wanted to kill him, but did not because John was so loved by the people.

On Herod’s birthday, Herodias’s daughter danced before Herod and he was so pleased with her dance he offered to give her whatever she asked for. After conferring with her mother Herodias asked Herod for the head of John the Baptist.

Sometime later we read in Matthew 14:1-2 that Herod said to his servants he thought Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead. “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, 2 and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (NASB) How on earth would Matthew know what Herod said to his servants?

This information is similar to Mark 6:16, but Mark makes no mention of Herod talking to his servants. “But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has risen!'” (NASB)

So the question raised after reading the Matthew account is how could Matthew, or any of the disciples know what Herod said to his servants? It’s not any of the disciples were related or even on speaking terms with Herod. He was a king. Herod was granted the title of ‘King of Judea’ by the Roman Senate. Herod built Masada, the harbor at Caesarea and the Temple Mount, (which he hoped would soften the Jews toward his reign). Herod would not bother himself with nomadic itinerant preachers from some kind of new religious cult.

The answer to this question can be found in Luke’s account. In Luke 7, Jesus travels to Capernaum and heals the Centurion’s servant, encounters the woman who was a sinner that kissed his feet then anointed them with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair. In Luke 7 you will also find the account of John the Baptist sending his disciples to Jesus asking if He was the One, or should they be looking for someone else. It is interesting how Jesus responded. He provided John’s disciples with evidence of healings and then told them to go back to John and report what you have seen and heard. Luke 7 is rich with familiar stories we have heard of over the years. Then Luke 8:1-3 starts with, “Soon afterward, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.” (NASB)

There you have it. Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward was with Jesus and His disciples traveling with them and supporting their new ministry. Luke provided the answer to how Matthew or any of the disciples would know what Herod was saying about Jesus. Luke was just listing who was traveling with them and was not in anyway trying to support the detail of Matthew’s account.

A second undesigned coincidence can be found in the Gospel of John when He washed the disciple’s feet. Jesus took on the role of a servant and wanted to demonstrate to His followers what leadership in love, humility, and service should look like. Was this a planned demonstration or rather did Jesus see the need for it?

As a teacher, I often take advantages of circumstances to create a ‘teachable moment’. Students may have acted in an inappropriate way toward one another or toward another adult and I’ve needed to correct them. Maybe some teachers presenting a difficult algebra concept (you remember when they started mixing letters in with numbers) and see a real-world application to add relevance to the idea. Wise parents also see these moments and take advantage of them whenever possible. I think most who have spent any time as a believer can look back and see teachable moments or events that God used in our lives.

If you read the account of the last supper in Luke 22:24-27 you will see Luke does not even mention the foot washing, but he does touch on a lesson that tells us why He washed their feet. They began to argue among themselves who would be the greatest, the most respected, maybe at His right hand. “And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called Benefactors. But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.'” (NASB)

One could say that the foot washing we find in the Gospel of John was an independent action, but the fact that Luke records their quarreling suggests otherwise. John mentions the foot washing, but Luke omits it. Luke mentions the lesson, but not the foot washing. As so often we find the Gospel accounts complement each other. Authors emphasizing different events in various ways, yet unknowingly support their independent accounts.

This is not the first time Jesus taught an object lesson. Both Mark and Matthew give an example that McGrew points out, “In Mark 9:33-37 the disciples have been debating which of them is the greatest. There, Jesus takes a child and places him in the midst of them after telling them that whoever wants to be the first among them must be the servant of all. (Compare Matt 18:1-4)”2

It should be clear that the Gospel of John and Luke share the same event but feature their own details of that night and though both accounts differ in aspects, they support each other’s narrative.

The last example has to do with Rufus. Do you ask, who is Rufus? If you were to read the crucifixion account in the three Synoptic Gospels you will find a detail mentioned in only one of the three.

Matthew 27:31-32 “After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.” (NASB)

Luke 23:26 “When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus. (NASB)

Then in Mark 15:20-21 you will find the following. “And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” (NASB)

Why mention Alexander and Rufus? Are they mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament? Were they followers of Jesus? Friends of one of the disciples? All three of Synoptic Gospels mention Simon of Cyrene, but only Mark shares that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus. Why is that?

In Romans 16:13 Paul writes, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.” (NASB)

Do we have reason to believe that Mark’s Rufus is the same Rufus that Paul mentions in Romans? Paul’s connections with Rufus’ mother suggests that Rufus and his mother had gone from Rome to where Paul was since at the time Paul wrote Romans, he had never been in Rome. According to Walter Wessel, “When Paul wrote this letter, he was probably at Corinth on his third missionary journey. His work in the eastern Mediterranean was almost finished and he greatly desired to visit the Roman church. At this time, however, he could not go to Rome because he felt he must personally deliver the collection taken among the Gentile churches for the poverty-stricken Christians of Jerusalem.”3

McGrew explains, “With that fact in mind, we have three points of evidence coming together-the ‘out of nowhere’ reference to Rufus and Alexander in Mark, as though perhaps they are known to the audience of the Gospel, the references in Romans to a Rufus who was a Christian in Rome, and the tradition that Mark’s Gospel was written in Rome.”4

An argument could be made that the name Rufus was not uncommon at that time and it could be a different person, but considering the small but growing family of Christians in Rome, Mark knew who would be reading his letter first. He also understood they would know who Alexander and Rufus were.

Undesigned coincidences in the New Testament inadvertently authenticate the separate letters and perspectives we would come to expect when hearing from various eyewitness accounts. By themselves they present a cumulative case that tips the scale in favor of accurate, truthful, and historical accounts written by the New Testament authors.

In mathematics, two angles that are said to coincide fit together perfectly. The word ‘coincidence’ does not describe luck or mistakes. It describes that which fits together perfectly. – Wayne Dyer

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Who was Rufus? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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