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August 04, 2011


This is an amazing apologetic. One thing I always thought lent credibility to the narratives in the Gospels, as well as in the OT, is the sometimes lack of explanation. If someone invented the story to teach a lesson then why not tell the lesson? If they introduce a character for a purpose why leave that purpose unknown? The answer is that they were not inventing the stories. Instead, they were relaying them. They didn't always know the purposes and the meanings, just the facts. And in the case of many of these undesigned coincidences, they were likely writing to an audience who was so near the events that many of the little incidental facts were already assumed and needed be shared or elaborated upon.

I shared this Pete Williams apologetic argument on the other thread, but maybe some here would be interested.

"and needed not be shared or elaborated on."

Amy and Daron,

I've reposted your thoughtful posts on the Reasonable Faith (William Lane Craig's website) forum. I gave you credit of course... hope you don't mind. Probably should have asked permission first, but I will delete if you are not OK with it.

A good counterpoint brought up by someone at RF:

In the example mentioned, Phillip being from Bethsaida doesn't solve the hierarchal problem because Peter was also from Bethsaida. The question can still be asked: why did Jesus turn to Phillip (a minor character) to ask the question instead of asking Peter (a major character)?

Hi Austin,
I don't see any counterpoint there or an answer to the dovetailing. The charge really seems to miss the point. Remember, the point is that these Gospel are not mere copies of one another and that they have independent sources.
So one tells us that Philip, Andrew and Peter are from Bethsaida. It also tells us that Jesus asked Philip where to get food.
This writer of course knows that the event is taking place in (or near ) Bethsaida, and probably so does his audience, and takes for granted that they will know why He asked Philip. The point is, if this were an invented story why introduce Philip for no reason and not tell the audience why he was the one being asked? A novelist wouldn't have done this; he would have given us the detail about the event taking place in Bethsaida. There is no hierarchy problem per se; it is merely an attention getting curiosity that the name of Philip seems to be coming up out of the blue.

And then Luke tells us that the event was in Bethsaida. But he does not tell us this because he wants us to know why Jesus expected Philip to know where to get food - for Luke does not even introduce that query to us. He has no interest in that question and is merely passing on a fact. So we see that Luke and John are writing from different sources and are not trying to fill in information the other left out - those questions did not concern them. Neither would have considered it an important, left-out detail.


Thanks for the response. I would like to point out first of all that I am merely playing devil's advocate.

First question: you asked why they would introduce Philip without explaining why. Is this the first and/or only time he is mentioned in John?

Isn't the connection described also fairly weak? Couldn't it actually be a coincidence that Jesus asked someone from Bethsaida? He had a 1/4 chance, seeing as 3 disciples were from that area.

Hi Austin,
I realize you were only bringing another's question. I always try to dig out answers by thinking of what others would ask or how they would respond.

re Philip: no, it is not his first mention. When I say "introduce" I mean "introduce into this narrative".
What is interesting is that the other Gospels only mention Philip in the lists of the Twelve. But John talks about him as a person. Perhaps John just remembers the details a little differently, or had a personal relationship with Philip and wanted to tell about his involvement, or maybe was even teaching in a community where they would want to know specifically about Philip.
Another mention is very telling of a real event and not a fiction: the Greeks came and asked Philip (who was from Bethsaida) about meeting Jesus. Philip went and asked Andrew and the two of them went to Jesus. What a waste of narrative and useless details in a fiction. But an eye-witness, telling about his personal friends would give this kind of chain of events.

I'm not sure what you mean about the odds of asking a Bethsaida native. Jesus is intimately familiar with His Disciples and knows where they are from. The interesting thing here is that the writer of John also knows. Sure, it could be lucky that he pulled a name out of the list, a person that he had already assigned to Bethsaida, and that no tradition existed to contradict him, and that Luke would come along, or had come along, and told us that the event occurred in Bethsaida.
But it seems far more likely that the event really happened and is being told from different perspectives by different witnesses.

Speaking of John as a witness rather than a repeater of tales that he got from Mark, for instance, look at the other chapter where Philip is given a role, john 14.
Thomas asks Jesus about the way to where He is going.
Philip says "show us the Father".
Then Judas (not Iscariot) asks another question.
Each leads to a teaching of Jesus, but none features any of the most famous Apostles. Now either John is making this up, and adding risky details (why introduce Judas when you have to stop and remind people this is not Judas Iscariot - why not pick another random name off the list?) or he is telling about real people, with whom he had a relationship, and who stood out to him as questioners.
As McGrew said in his presentation, none of these looks like a knock-down case to him. It is a matter of a cumulative body of evidence of the authenticity.
It is when I delve into these stories time and again, and when I think about the presuppositions of each different audience, that I start to see their obvious authenticity.

Another one for me is in the naming of the women at the Empty Tomb. Why are the lists different?
I think it is because each preacher is in a different community where the audience actually has different levels of familiarity with the people involved. They all mention Mary Magdalene, of course, so she is the key tot he narrative. But among the other women other names are offered. I can just see the preacher telling the story and saying that Mary Magdalen and our beloved Salome, whom you all know and love, went to the Tomb that first Lord's Day.

...Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" 6.6 This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 6.7 Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."

Why, according to the writer of John, does Jesus ask Philip?


Ron, why that test to Philip at that time rather than to one of the other disciples? Because it made sense to ask him in the situation. Would Philip turn to his own resources, or to Jesus? Nobody is saying Jesus really needed to find somewhere to buy something to eat.

Austin, that's perfectly fine. Whenever you do that, just post a link back here. (But if you didn't this time, no big deal.)


Maybe the writer of John recognized that giving a group dialog to speak as the writers of Mark and Matthew do ("And they discussed it among themselves, saying, "We brought no bread.") is not very good story telling.

'John' says to himself: Who in particular, then, shall I give the line to? Picture the group. Jesus near front. Who is close by? The locals - They would be pointing out the sites. Tour guides. Pick one of them. Amazing!

This interchange now does double duty: it counts not only against the faith of the followers as a group but against the faith one in particular. A clear warning to whoever hears the story.

Remember as well that, as you point out, John does say that Philip is a local.


* I'm just assuming 'John' did this and not someone he heard the story from.

As for the discussion of the importance of Markan priority in this respect there is a continuation of it in the following thread:

And, of course, there are other ways the situation could arise.

As you point out, 'John' does say at an earlier point where Phil is from. Maybe he liked it better at that point.


I can think of hundreds of other possible explanations. Perhaps "John" and Phil were drinking buddies and "John" lost a bet and had to put Phil into the story.

The fact that an alternate possibility exists doesn't say anything about the likelihood of the blog posts explanation being true.

Daron's link to the Pete Williams video is a must-see. I was going to do it myself. Thanks Daron!

Williams wants to know if I could get the names right if I were making up a story about France 100 years ago.

Well I'd guess Jacques, François, and Georges. I might do OK.

But is that task what what I think the writer of Mark did? Not at all. I think he got his material from other people.


He did; Peter.


Peter would be able to get the names right. So would many others.

If I were in the audience, I'd want to ask (at 6:15) who is it that says Mark was written by someone

making up a story about a country they'd never visited and they'd never met anyone who'd visited there know to write the right things?

I'd want to ask (at 9:50) what he means by 'statistically significant'.

I'd have a lot of questions for him.


Hi RonH,
Peter would? Now why is that?

"Who is it that says......?"
The RonHs with their lots of questions and their "maybe this" and "maybe thats". Once their "making up a story about a country...." objection was answered they pretended it never mattered and just moved to their next bare possibility.
Denial of the truth is always the same - it just keeps finding new excuses.

I hope he sees your comment so he is prepared if that toughy ever comes up at one of his talks.


You are not hearing me.

If you are willing to listen I'll explain more clearly.

It looks like there are two threads here. Call them 'Peter vs my many others' and 'statistical significance'. Let's clarify one first.

Would you like to choose?


Maybe I'm not hearing you RonH. Not hearing must be an epidemic.

Why would Peter know?

When I say Peter would be able to get the names right, I'm granting - only for the sake of the discussion of Williams' argument - that Peter was familiar with the area.

A person such as Peter - as described in the NT - like 'many others' could get names right.

Getting the names right doesn't make you an eyewitness to real events.

No it does not make you a witness to the life and death and Resurrection of Christ. But it does exactly what you just said - whether it is Peter, Mark or mysterious 'others' - it puts the account in the right time and place. It is no longer rational (if it ever was) to pretend that the Gospels were legends written down somewhere far removed from Jerusalem, a hundred or more years after the fact. This is exactly what Williams is demonstrating. He is not proving God created the universe, sent His Son to die for our sins and commands us to obey Him. He is removing the obstacle and taking away a superficial reason for dismissing the accounts.

It will never cause a skeptic to stop multiplying excuses in the vain conviction that the more implausible explanations you accumulate the more rational it is to dismiss the real explanation.

I'm seeing that scholars give dates for Mark of say 65 or 70 and say it was written in Syria maybe or Palestine.

It seems someone like that could get the names right.


On statistical significance.

Since you give the link:

You think Williams has a p-value?

A null hypothesis?


I'm seeing that scholars give dates for Mark of say 65 or 70 and say it was written in Syria maybe or Palestine.

It seems someone like that could get the names right.

I think so, too. And you said you were never impressed with apologetics arguments.

On statistical significance.

Since you give the link:

You think Williams has a p-value?

A null hypothesis?

I don't know anything about statistics but I bet the university professor with research assistants doesn't pull such terms out of midair. Yeah, I bet he knows what he is talking about. No, I don't think he trembles in his boots that some guy in his audience might Google the term and challenge him on it.

Maybe we'll find out. I sent this...

Hello Dr. Williams,

I hope you have time to answer a question from a member of the public.

I've been watching your talk here:

And debating it it here - as the skeptic, RonH.

The question is this:

What do you mean when you use the term 'statistically significant' at 9:50.

Thanks for any light you can shed.



I think that claiming that these are undesigned takes away from th eBible being the inspired Word of God. Nothing in the Bible is without design


The term "undesigned" in this context applies to the immediate human authors, not God.

Don, yes, as Austin said, "undesigned" just means the authors didn't get together to corroborate and fit in little details left open in the other accounts. They weren't purposely creating a puzzle for us. They were telling the truth of what they knew about the same event, and just included different details.

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