Sometimes things on the surface appear so insignificant, yet they turn out to be dramatically important. Let me cite a couple of examples that speak to the issue of the credibility of the New Testament.
The authors of the four Gospel narratives testify in unison that the first people to discover that Joseph of Arimathaea’s tomb was empty (in which the Lord’s body had been interred) was a group of women—disciples of Jesus. Note, for example, Matthew’s record:
Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave (28:1).
The accounts of Mark, Luke, and John bear similar testimony, supplementing Matthew’s record with additional (though not contradictory) details, including the fact that other women, in addition to the two Marys, were present as well. But the combined testimonies are clear—women bore the first witness to the resurrection phenomenon.
Well, what is the significance of this? Simply this: women, in that first-century culture, did not have the same legal credibility as men. Professor R. B. Edwards of Aberdeen University has written that “in Jewish law the witness of women was not admissible” (1988, 1095).
Reflect, now, upon this point: If Jesus Christ was not raised from the dead, and the writers of the Gospel narratives were attempting to perpetrate a fraud upon their contemporaries, they would never have concocted the story that women were the initial witnesses to the resurrection event. Rather, they would have “rigged” the record so as to provide it with no vulnerability from a cultural vantage point.
The fact that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John depict the early resurrection witnesses as women, in spite of societal prejudices, is a subtle evidence of the integrity of these documents. It’s a small point, but it is quite powerful!
Or consider another circumstance. In making preparation for the celebration of the final Passover, Christ instructed two of his disciples: “Go into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him” (Mark 14:13). It is noteworthy that a man should be carrying a “pitcher of water.”
Recently, I ran across this interesting comment from a noted biblical scholar:
The custom of carrying water in the Holy Land is ancient. However, it was and is the woman’s job to go to the well or spring with a pitcher and carry water to [her] home. When the Gibeonites deceived Joshua (9:3-27), he judged them and made them servants to chop wood and carry water. This punishment may seem mild to us, but how humiliating it was to a man—carrying water in public—a woman’s job! This helps us to better understand how easy it was for the disciples to identify the man carrying the water pot when Jesus sought an upper room [in which] to eat the Passover. It was not a question of seeking one man out of many carrying a water pot—this man would stick out above all others, in that he alone would be carrying one . . . A man may carry a water skin, but seldom does one carry a water pot (Boyd 1991, 122).
Again, here is a crucial point: this unusual detail gives the biblical record an aura of credibility. No forger would invent such an unlikely detail—a man carrying a water pot!
There are hundreds and hundreds of these small tell-tale evidences of undesigned authenticity. The Bible really is an amazing volume; indeed, inspired of God!