An undesigned coincidence occurs where there are tiny details in an account. These
details are irrelevant to the main story, but they match other insignificant details
elsewhere to provide a picture which is unconnected to the main account or accounts
in which the details are found. Because the details are insignificant they are usually
not even noticed, and it would be extremely difficult for corresponding details to
be produced in a fictional account, or even an inaccurate one. This method of testing
the accuracy and reliability of accounts has been used in courts of law; the name
was invented by J. J. Blunt in the 19th century; Blunt’s “Undesigned Scriptural Coincidences”
is a classic book on the matter.
The requirements for an undesigned coincidence are:-
Insignificance: The details that form the basis of the undesigned coincidence must
be of no importance to the narrative in which they appear. If they are omitted the
main narrative must not alter in any significant way.
Independence: The details must be independent of one another. A different aspect
of the coincidence should be shown by each of the details in the coincidence; a simple
repetition of the same detail is not enough.
Consistency: The details should fit together to show some narrative which is not
part of the main flow of events.
Quietness: The narrative must not draw attention to the coincidence.
It would be extremely difficult for a single writer to insert an undesigned coincidence
into a narrative which was either fictional or contained a significant amount of
fictional matter.As such a coincidence is unlikely ever to be discovered it would
not be worthwhile for the writer to put in the large amount of effort that would
be necessary. It would be even more difficult for several separate writers to invent
an undesigned coincidence between them, especially if they were separated by distance
or time. If the accounts are independent of one another it would be completely impossible.
Blunt gives 65 examples of coincidences from the Old Testament and 34 examples from
the Gospels in his book “Undesigned Scriptural Coincidences”. In an earlier book
William Paley gives 75 examples of coincidences between the letters of Paul and the
book of the Acts of the Apostles. There are many more to be discovered and some that
were never found by Paley or Blunt are listed in the pages linked from this page.
This, and other coincidences found since the time of Blunt and Paley are excellent
evidence that the Bible is a reliable account of the events it describes.
In 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul gives a list of witnesses who saw Jesus alive
after his resurrection. His list contains a reference to a group of more than five
Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are
still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:6)
The only reason that Paul could have for telling his readers in Corinth that the
majority of these witnesses were still alive is that the Corinthians could ask questions
of them, which in turn means that some of them might reach Corinth. This number of
witnesses must correspond to the witnesses on the hill in Galilee of Matthew 28:-
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven
and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name
of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matthew 28:18,19)
This pair of references is a witness to a group of people who are hardly mentioned
in the New Testament or in the later Apostolic Fathers. They may correspond to the
Evangelists or Prophets described in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. However
they are sufficiently rarely described to be an insignificant detail in the text
and in any case neither of the passages is about the people who travelled to proclaim
the Gospel. The accounts are clearly independent of one another and there is a clear
correspondence. This is a valid undesigned coincidence, although it appears in neither
Blunt nor Paley.
When a single undesigned coincidence is seen for the first time it often produces
a feeling of anticlimax. This is because the details are always insignificant and
the matter of the coincidence is often minor. However, the evidence of large numbers
of these coincidences is a powerful witness to the reliability of the Bible.
Half-title of 1851 edition containing Blunt’s “Undesigned Scriptural Coincidences”
and Paley’s “Horae Paulinae”