Among the excellent testaments to the reliability of the Gospels are the undesigned coincidences they contain. Lydia McGrew, David Wood, Jonathan McLatchie, and others have identified numerous coincidences, which she has presented in her book, “Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts.” As McLatchie has pointed out, the gospel authors were either lying, telling what they thought was the truth, or telling the truth. If telling the truth, it is likely we would find evidence of corroboration in their stories. Some of the evidence we find are small details that one or another includes that help us to weave together the fabric of the story to give us greater information on what happened. These unintended coincidences are pronounced in the stories all four share of when Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men and additional women and children from five loaves of bread and two fish.
Feeding of the Five Thousand
Matthew 14: 13-21 offers the first account: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘We have only five loaves here and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
In Luke 9:10-20, we learn this event took place in Bethsaida. In Mark 6:30-43, we learn that the crowd sat down on “green” grass and in John, we learn there was “much grass.” In John 6:1-14, we learn the event took place when the Passover was at hand. Also in John, Jesus asked Philip where they could go to buy bread. Why Philip? In John 1:44, we learn that Philip was from Bethsaida. We also learn that a boy had five loaves of barley and two fish. From both Mark and John, we learn that they discussed buying 200 dinarii worth of bread but, as John pointed out, 200 dinarii would not provide enough bread for all of the people. John also told us that Jesus fed 5,000 men, while Matthew added the 5,000 men were in addition to women and children.
Together, we have the timing (Passover) and location (Bethsaida). The green grass corroborates the timing because the event likely took place during Israel’s rainy season, which runs from October through April. During the Passover in April, the grass would be abundant and green as it had been raining for months.
Psalm 23: 1-6
From Mark, we also read that Jesus felt the people were like sheep without a shepherd, which draws our attention to other references to our shepherd, such as one of my favorite Biblical passages: Psalm 23. I’ve italicized the similarities to the gospel passages.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Reliability occurs when we can demonstrate strong consistency in content. When considered together, these seemingly insignificant pieces of information help to establish the reliability of the gospels. Thanks be to God.