My contract with DeWard Publishing for a book on undesigned coincidences has just been signed and countersigned, and we move forward to copy editing, typesetting, and production issues. I do not have a projected release date as of yet.
But here as a topical teaser is an undesigned coincidence included therein, one of the few that I discovered on my own. The wording used here is not the same as the wording in the book. I'm writing this post without looking at the book manuscript.
In the great prologue on the Word made flesh in John 1, the evangelist pauses a couple of times to make parenthetical comments about John the Baptist. He's going to start the narrative of his gospel in vs. 19 with the ministry of John the Baptist, and John crops up twice in the prologue --at vss. 6-8 and vs. 15.
Verse 14 is justly famous as a declaration of the great doctrine of the Incarnation: "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth."
Verse 15 says,
John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
After that the evangelist turns back for several more verses to teaching about Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of the Father.
Why is verse 15 there?
A moment's thought shows that it's there at least in part because the evangelist takes it to agree with what he has just been teaching--the pre-existence of Jesus and the fact that Jesus is the eternal Son of God and did not come into existence when he was conceived. The words from John the Baptist, which the evangelist repeats in vs. 30 at their proper place in the narrative, are an aside in vs. 15, meant to call John the Baptist to witness of the doctrine being taught in the prologue.
It's easy to read past those words. If you know the Bible well, you know that John the Baptist had a lot to say about Jesus and seemed to have supernatural knowledge about him. (John the Baptist himself says so in vs. 33.) And we're all familiar with the saying, "He must increase, and I must decrease." So we think, "Yeah, John the Baptist knew that Jesus was greater than he was and existed before he did. Got it."
But if you read John's gospel only, there is nothing in the narrative to preclude a non-miraculous interpretation of John the Baptist's words, "He was before me." That is to say, how do we know from John's gospel alone that John the Baptist was not saying that Jesus was literally older than he was?
The answer is, we don't. The gospel of John says nothing at all about the births of Jesus and John the Baptist. It tells us nothing about who was older. So the interpretation of John the Baptist's words as a reference to Jesus' divine pre-existence is not clearly determined by John's gospel, except in the sense that the author of the gospel clearly interprets them that way.
Only the gospel of Luke explains their biological ages. Luke 1 tells of the conception of John the Baptist followed by the annunciation to Mary and the conception of Jesus. Luke is explicit that Jesus was six months younger than John the Baptist, his cousin. (Luke 1:36)
Luke, however, does not record the words of John the Baptist, "He that cometh after me is preferred before me, for he was before me." He records only the historical fact of their birth order.
Once one reads Luke, one realizes that John the Baptist must have been indirectly referring to the fact that Jesus was, in fact, biologically younger than he was. That is, his words take on theological significance when one realizes that John would have known that Jesus was not really "before" him biologically. And John the evangelist would have given them theological significance only if John the evangelist knew that Jesus was biologically younger than John the Baptist. Indeed, the aside in the prologue to the gospel of John is unexplained otherwise, but it is well-explained once we know that Jesus was actually younger than John the Baptist.
Among other things, this is support for the mundane fact that John the Baptist was older than Jesus. This appears to have been known to the author of John. This supports the accuracy of Luke.
But it also supports the accuracy of John the evangelist in reporting John the Baptist's words. If John the evangelist were making up speeches for John the Baptist, it would be rather surprising for him to leave to chance whether his readers understood the full import of words he was putting into the mouth of John the Baptist. Some in his audience might not have read Luke's gospel or heard it read. Maybe not a lot of people were still alive who actually knew that John was older than Jesus. If John the Baptist really said this and the evangelist was simply reporting it, then the reportage is entirely natural. John the evangelist knows that John the Baptist said this, perhaps even from hearing it himself. It made a big impression on him, especially when he realized that Jesus was actually younger than John. When he is writing his prologue it comes back to him, and he emphasizes it in an aside. Wanting to get on both with his theological prologue and eventually with his narrative, he doesn't pause to explain that John was actually older than Jesus.
This is the way memoirs go. We all have (or all should have) talked to people telling us their memories. This is how real people talk. They interrupt themselves, go backward and forward, sometimes pause to explain, often don't pause to explain. They report what other people have said, use it to make a point, and so forth.
John and Luke support one another at this point, but with no appearance of deliberateness.