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Hidden in Plain View: Book update

A brief update on the status of my book, Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts.

Pre-order copies are winging on their way even as we speak. I just received my five free author copies today in the mail, and it looks good. The official release date is March 1, and only through February 28 you can buy the book with free shipping from the publisher. Here's the link to the publisher's page. Choose "free shipping" at checkout; it is not the default, so you have to pick it. Since the book itself is an inexpensive paperback, with the free shipping I think it's quite a good deal. I'm told by the publisher that all pre-orders to date have been shipped, so it would be great if we could squeeze in a few more "pre-orders."

From March 1 (the official release date) on, the only way to get free shipping would be through Amazon or a similar outlet, if one met their free shipping policies.

By the time the book went to press, we had accumulated twenty endorsements (by my count) from scholars including, inter alia, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, Craig Keener (who wrote a foreword to the book), Craig L. Blomberg, Greg Boyd, J. Warner Wallace (who wrote an afterword).

Sean McDowell has been especially supportive, tweeting the pre-order availability of the book and publishing (just today) an e-interview he did with me on the topic. I'm also excited to announce that the new edition of the apologetics classic Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell will contain a new section on my book on the evidence of undesigned coincidences.

Frank Turek of CrossExamined will be interviewing me next week for his radio show. I'll post when I know the date when that will be airing.

If you are in the Michiana area and want to come on over, Esteemed Husband will be giving an apologetics lecture at Heritage Christian Academy in Kalamazoo on the evening of March 28, and I will be doing a book signing afterwards.

It's great to see things moving forward. I'm extremely grateful to everyone who has been so supportive in this project, especially to Tim (without whom I would have known nothing about undesigned coincidences) and my great publishers at DeWard, Nathan Ward and Dan DeGarmo. And, of course, all the endorsers.

Comments (11)

Cool. Having read some of what you've written on undersigned coincidences on this blog and elsewhere, and admittedly only a little of the older literature on the subject, I'm looking forward to reading that.

A question, though, does it also come with the jigsaw puzzle that is pictured on the cover?

Heh, nope. That jigsaw puzzle exists only in cyberspace, where it was created by a collaboration among a graphic designer, me, and the publishers.

Sounds interesting. Is there a Bayesian analysis of the coincidences? Presumably, you are more likely to find undesigned coincidences in material that is based on fact than in material that is completely fictional but is there any way of quantifying this?

There is, in fact, a probabilistic analysis, but there is no probability theory in the book. The book is meant for Christian laymen, New Testament scholars, seminarians, etc. By "a way of quantifying," I wouldn't mean that the precise probabilities involved would drop out of the heavens, or out of the calculation, but that the *reason* for the probabilistic difference can be probabilistically analyzed. I published several papers in professional journals last summer that are related to the probabilistic reasons, though none of them referred either to religious matters or to undesigned coincidences. Broadly speaking, the probabilistic reason has to do with independence of the items of testimony if the basic facts related are *false* and, in some cases, dependence of the items if the basic facts related are *true*. I'm working on writing something right now (which will then enter the long, slow, and often hopeless process of attempted professional publication) on the topic of undesigned coincidences and probability without any religious connections in the article.

Thanks. I'm not looking for anything too formal; I just want a clear sense of why undesigned coincidences are less expected on the assumption that the material is fictional. If I can also get some sense that the number of coincidences in the biblical material is particularly unexpected, so much the better.

I'm afraid it does get a bit formal. Also, since I'm working on writing this right now for possible professional publication, I want to be careful, because professional publications are supposed to be blind reviewed. So I don't want to be putting a bunch of stuff out there that is searchable. If you shoot me an e-mail to my address under my author page (see the sidebar) I can maybe send you some of the relevant material that way.

Also, I would raise a caution about the difficulty of counting undesigned coincidences. I do mention this in the book. Sometimes a given one that receives a section or a number in the book actually contains multiple "items" that could be counted separately. Partial example: In the book I discuss the connections between Paul's greetings to and from Priscilla and Aquila in the epistles and the book of Acts. In passing, in doing so, the points come out that a) Priscilla and Aquila knew the Corinthians especially well, which is confirmed both in Acts and the epistles, b) Priscilla and Aquila were from Rome, which is expressly stated in Acts and fits with the fact (from Romans) that they returned to Rome, c) Paul was a tentmaker with Priscilla and Aquila, and the epistles refer repeatedly to his "working with his hands" so as not to have to ask for much support, though never specify the profession.

I don't break out a single one of these ancillary points as a separate undesigned coincidence, though each one _could_ be spelled out at more length and counted separately. So counting undesigned coincidences is a slippery matter, especially (I've found) when it comes to Acts and the epistles.

Oh boy oh boy oh boy. I can't wait to get my copy.

Right, I think I get it. In the case of Luke and Paul, there are two possibilities: either Luke actually knew Paul, or Luke has used Paul's letters to build up a very sophisticated mental model which enables him to casually drop things into the narrative in such a way as to make it look as if he was really there.

I'm no expert on this but I would suggest that the latter hypothesis is horrendously improbable - especially for an ancient writer. Bring on the book!

Luke has used Paul's letters to build up a very sophisticated mental model which enables him to casually drop things into the narrative in such a way as to make it look as if he was really there.

And I argue that *that* is enormously improbable because of all the ways in which Acts differs from the letters. Sometimes there are alleged "contradictions," which the author of Acts (if he had access to the letters at all) has taken no trouble to smooth over or avoid. Sometimes there are just fairly wide variations in highlighted detail. There are also a great many things that we would expect to find in Acts if it were based on the letters that just simply aren't there--for example, a single mention of Titus (prominent in the letters but never mentioned in Acts at all), a single mention of Paul's writing a letter to somebody (you'd never know from Acts that Paul ever wrote anybody a letter!), a mention of the fact that Paul was aggressively collecting money all the way through Macedonia and Greece on his last journey there in Acts before going to Jerusalem, a mention of Paul's obsessive-compulsive worries about "his" churches, such as the Thessalonians and especially the Corinthians (Paul's obsessive fretting is prominent in the letters, including various people he hoped to meet in order to get news, etc.), and so on and so forth.

What all of this argues for is that Acts shows knowledge of Paul's movements independent of the epistles. I think myself that he probably didn't read the epistles at all. He may sometimes have overheard Paul dictating one to an amanuensis as he was going about his business, but that's about it. But even if he did have access to some of the epistles, he apparently took no trouble to *base* his own history on them, relying instead on his own personal knowledge of Paul's movements, what Paul told him personally about his own earlier life, etc.

If you read any skeptic on the reliability of Acts (Tim just did a great, long discussion of this--link below), you'll see them constantly making out that the author of Acts didn't know beans about the Apostle Paul, gets things wrong, etc., and hence couldn't have been a companion of Paul.

But in that case they can't have it both ways. They can't have an author of Acts who was a bumbler who contradicts the epistles and an author of Acts who carefully cribbed details from the epistles and spliced them in in hyper-subtle ways that ano one would notice until hundreds of years later, if then.

Here's Tim's great discussion, including a takedown of Bart Ehrman and a wonderful list of external confirmations of Acts.


Please send a copy back in time to Auckland Castle, Durham c. 1885. It will aid me greatly in my disputes with those crafty and radical German critics. Joe

Joe, get hold of J. J. Blunt's Undesigned Coincidences and William Paley's Horae Paulinae. They contain *most* of the incidents I discuss, though not quite all, and they already exist in your time.

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