Why do the gospels have different accounts of Jesus’ life?

Some skeptical about the truth of the Bible claim the four gospels are filled with contradictions. These apparent contradictions are offered as proof the Bible is unreliable. The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, each present an account of the life of Jesus. If all four gospels are true accounts why do they offer differing versions of the same events in Jesus life. Examples of these differences can be found in the number of demoniacs healed in Gederah- Mark and Luke say there was 1 but Matthew says there were 2; the order of events at the crucifixion; the people Jesus stood before in His trial- John says Annas and Caiaphas, the other gospels just say Caiaphas. The gospels offer a wide selection of these kinds of differences. Why do the gospels at times present events in different ways?

To answer this question several things need to be remembered. The gospels are not biographies. This does not mean the gospels are fictional accounts, but the purpose of the writing of the gospels was not tell the life story of Jesus. The gospels are presentations of doctrinal truths about Jesus. The events contained in the gospels are not given for biographical but theological purposes. The gospel are not laid out in a precise chronological fashion. Though all four gospels move from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to His death, none of them attempt to present an exact timeline of the events in Jesus’ ministry. This is why the gospels present the events in different orders. The miracles, teachings and significant events are arranged in thematic fashion which seeks to drive home a particular doctrinal point without entirely disregarding the broad chronology of Jesus’ life.

The gospels are not histories. The authors are not interested in detailing a precise historical formulation of Jesus. Generally a historian would seek to arrange things in a very orderly and sequential fashion and to include as many details as possible. The gospel writers are presenting the message of salvation to their readers. Historical details are the means of communicating rich gospel truths. The records of Jesus’ travels from place to place are not a description of the way of life of first century Palestinians, but the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God who came to bring salvation. Critiquing the gospels for their failure to be biographies or histories is to misunderstand the goals of the authors.

All other considerations aside, the reality is none of the supposed contradictions are actually contradictory. Some portions of the gospel may require more effort to correlate together, but in all cases no account excludes the information contained in another account. They offer additional details to the record. When Mark says there was a demon possessed man living in the tombs, he does not exclude the existence of another. The purposes of the narrower account is served with the discussion of the deliverance of the one man. The details of the gospels simply do not contradict one another. The gospels are complementary accounts that present the wonderful truth that Jesus God made flesh, the promised Messiah, who died and was raised to life for the salvation of men.