Caravaggio, Doubting Thomas
Wishing a glorious and blessed Feast of the Resurrection to our readers at What's Wrong With the World.
Feel free to respond to this simply as a "happy Easter" post. Those interested in a little bit more of a content tidbit may look below the fold. (And thanks to Steve Burton who drew my attention last Easter to the Caravaggio painting.)
I've previously linked my husband Tim's talk at a New Orleans-area Baptist church in January on undesigned coincidences in the Gospels. (See here, too, for two more talks with additional material.)
The undesigned coincidences in the Gospels (and in Acts and the Epistles) serve to confirm the general historicity of these books--that they are in genre historical rather than fictional. This, in turn, strengthens our confidence that when, for example, Luke reports details of Christ's appearance to the disciples after His resurrection, these are not simply "legendary accretions" but are, at a minimum, what the disciples said happened. By not abandoning the authenticity of the texts--that is to say, the idea that the texts really do represent what people claimed who were in a position to know--we place additional pressure on the skeptic to account for such claims.
But undesigned coincidences can do more than that: They also confirm the proposition that the events recounted actually happened. This is particularly striking, even startling, to think of when an undesigned coincidence involves a post-resurrection account, for in that case, this piece of data confirms the resurrection itself directly, not simply that this was what the disciples claimed.
Viz.: In the famous passage (John 21) in which Jesus tells Peter to feed His sheep, Jesus repeatedly asks Peter, "Lovest thou me more than these?" Contrary to the interpretation we find in a well-beloved Gospel music number, Jesus is not asking Peter whether Peter loves Him more than the good things of this world. Rather, Jesus is asking Peter whether he loves Him more than the other disciples love Him.
Those of us who know the Gospels extremely well know that of course this is an allusion to Peter's having boasted that even if all the other disciples abandoned Jesus, he would stand firm. Jesus is gently (or painfully) reminding Peter of his boast and of his subsequent betrayal.
But knowing the Gospels well can have one unintended negative consequence: It can make us amalgamate all the accounts so that we miss undesigned coincidences. You see, Peter's boast, and his contrasting himself to the other disciples, appears nowhere in the Gospel of John! Nowhere at all. It is in Matthew 26:33 and in Mark 14:29.
Suppose that John were simply making up the post-resurrection incident and, in it, alluding to Peter's boast. Jesus' testing words make no sense without the boast. It would be cruel and pointless for Jesus to ask Peter if he loves Him more than all the others had Peter never made such a comparison for himself. Would not a fictionalizing author have inserted into his text an account of Peter's boast, so that the post-resurrection allusion would make sense within his own book?
But if John were telling an event that actually happened rather than trying to be "literary," he could very well have told what he remembered, what Jesus had actually said, without bothering to go back and insert Peter's boast into his text at some earlier point. In that case, the idea would not be to "make an allusion" in a "narrative" but rather to tell what he had heard and seen (which John himself repeatedly implies is exactly what he was doing) in a post-resurrection meeting not recounted in the other Gospels.
Thus the actual occurrence and John's telling it is at least a somewhat better explanation for the combined presence of Jesus' allusion and the absence of Peter's boast in John than is the creation of the post-resurrection event as a fictional account. But in that case, this small thing is some confirmation, all on its own, of the resurrection.
Again, happy Easter to all my readers!