Western Michigan University's Philosophy Professor Dr. Timothy McGrew spoke to students via Skype this past Thursday at the College Avenue Student Center to speak about how multiple recounts of the same biblical events support the belief that these events happened.
The event, "Undesigned Coincidences," is named after the term McGrew coined to discuss the historical credibility criteria he uses to assess text. These "undesigned coincidences" occur when missing information from one biblical reading is reinforced by others, thus linking together multiple sources and lending credibility to authors of the Bible.
Julie Miller, the director of the Rutgers chapter of Ratio Christi, said McGrew drew from seven different examples. Using the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John he helped credit Gospel writers and dispel disagreements that these texts were created to deceive people. Ratio Christi is a Christian apologetics group on campus that presents the Christian belief while opening the door to further philosophical and religious discussions.
“Undesigned coincidences” highlight the best intentions of these writers, Miller said. Aside from external findings, McGrew pointed to internal evidence within the writings to support two of the group’s main questions when investigating the Bible’s reliability.
“First, are the documents we have what the authors wrote? The discipline of textual criticism is the source for this answer," Miller said. "Any ancient text is submitted to textual criticism, and at Ratio Christi, we had already covered this evidence in our group, so we were interested in the second question, which is, did the authors know the truth about the events they describe and did they honestly present the facts?’"
One reason the group believes the Gospels are a result of eyewitness testimony is the number of “undesigned coincidences” found across them, Miller said. Small details that would otherwise be omitted reoccur throughout multiple readings, highlighting events like the miracle of Jesus.
This event is the third in a series of guest lectures Ratio Christi has held throughout the semester, working students into conversations about artificial intelligence, Mormonism and in the coming spring, a look into how former President Abraham Lincoln’s faith shaped his decisions throughout the American Civil War.
Away from making claims about Christianity, the group is open to answering objections from those who disagree, Miller said. McGrew’s presentation is one-way Ratio Christi responds to beliefs that Gospel stories are fabricated.
Miller said taking an in-depth look at these controversial topics helps to contextualize them.
Ratio Christi encourages others to challenge their own beliefs and build questions around what they think is true, she said.
“We welcome everyone. We want to have open discussions about the big questions of life, but we do present the Christian worldview,” Miller said.
President of Ratio Christi and School of Arts and Sciences senior Noah Anderson said topics typically expand different viewpoints when discussing the big questions of life while smaller topics usually come to an agreement.
“This club is unlike a lot of Christian organizations,” he said. “What we try to do is go deeper into the study of the Bible. I guess you could call it advanced-advanced bible study because it’s important to read the Gospel, but it’s also important to ask the questions and wonder why the Bible says what it says and why we believe what we believe.”
Anderson said he regularly returns to weekly meetings with the knowledge that on any given day he will leave having learned something new.
Temitope Ali, the vice president of Ratio Christi and School of Arts and Sciences senior, said a lot of people have these ideas stirring inside their minds but have yet to express them. In many instances, people ignore their questions and adopt Christianity because their friends have.
“All of these questions don’t get brought up in regular conversation because you have two taboo subjects, politics and religion,” Ali said. “So our events help people to reconcile those questions as like an appropriate space for those questions to be asked and answered.”