Not all differences from one gospel to another are problematic for me even though I formerly believed in the inerrancy of scripture. I can even accept outright contradictions, for one can certainly believe that God is revealed through the bible without believing that every word is 'God-breathed'.
Following are three lists of what I see as omissions, discrepancies and contradictions within the four crucifixion narratives. Keep in mind that this is all from one layman's reading and not from a biblical scholar's perspective; therefore, there may be errors. I leave it up to the reader to determine whether there is any merit to this analysis.
The first of my three lists contains seemingly significant omissions from at least one gospel.
- When the gang came to take Jesus from the garden, only in John do they fall backwards when he says. "I am he." This seems like a glaring omission from the three gospels that were written earlier.
- Only in Luke does an angel appear when Jesus is praying, and only in Luke does Jesus sweat blood. These are astounding occurrences to omit.
- Only Luke has Jesus seeing Annas before seeing Caiaphas, and he also has Jesus going to Herod between two trips to Pilate.
- Matthew is the only gospel writer to report an earthquake occurring when Jesus died and graves being opened with ghosts (my word) walking about. If such an astounding event had actually occurred, one would be entitled to think that everyone would have known and that it most certainly would have been reported by all four writers as well as in external, non-biblical sources.
- His side was only pierced in one gospel – John.
- Jesus only [apparently] re-attaches the severed ear in Luke. It seems like an extraordinary fact for the other writers to omit.
This next list contains discrepancies, some of which seem very difficult to reconcile although I know that some people manage it.
- The cock crowed twice as in Mark and only once in the other gospels.
- The inscriptions on the cross were all different: The King of the Jews (Mark); This is Jesus the King of the Jews (Matthew); This is the King of the Jews (Luke); and, Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews (John). The first three could probably be fit together by asserting that Matthew recorded the whole message and the Mark and Luke just mentioned a part of it. That seems odd for such an important fact, but it's possible. I don't see how, one could easily fit John's "Jesus of Nazareth" into that, but I do find it slightly plausible.
- Did the soldiers throw lots for the garments (plural) as in Matthew and Mark, or did they part them into 4 and only throw lots for the cloak (singular) as in John? Just how many garments did Jesus have that they could be divided into four plus a separate cloak? Wouldn't his cloak have been a bloody mess and not the prize that it seemed to be?
- Jesus was offered vinegar near his expiration in Mark, and seemingly just before being crucified in Matthew. He did not seem to drink the concoction in either case. However, in John, he did appear to drink just before the end. I suppose He could have been offered three times — early on in Matthew and twice later, once in Mark when he refused and a second time in John when he drank — but it seems improbable.
- The Centurion, could have said, "Truly, this was the son of God," (Mark, Matthew) and also say, in Luke, that Jesus was righteous, but it doesn't strike me as likely.
- It seems odd that there was no discussion with the thieves in Mark but that they [both] mocked Him in Matthew, and that one was pro and the other was con in Luke. Luke also has Jesus telling the 'good' thief that he would meet with Him in paradise that very day. These accounts seem almost contradictory, and it doesn't seem like something that Mark and Matthew would leave out had they known of the exchange. And why wouldn't they have known?
- Was Jesus rather taciturn before Pilate as in the synoptic gospels, or did he get into more of a conversation as reported in John?
Finally, I seem to spot three seemingly irreconcilable contradictions although I am sure that apologists have managed the feat somehow. I begin with the most innocuous of the three points and end with what I consider to be the most profound contradiction.
- The robe was purple in Mark and John but scarlet in Matthew. I don't feel that it is as crucial as the timing issue of the next point, but it certainly doesn't support the belief that many have in the inerrancy of scripture.
- In Matthew and Mark, Jesus predicts Peter's denials in Olives, but in Luke He does it before, at the supper. It doesn't seem likely that both can be true.
- Jesus was with Pilate at the sixth hour in Luke but on the cross at that time in both Mark and Matthew. In fact in both of those accounts, Jesus was on the cross in the third hour. This seems significant to me.
As I have already stated, I don't feel that scripture must be seen to be inerrant for people to be Christians and to believe in God and Jesus. However, I do find it highly improbable that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy can be satisfactorily supported.
Edit: After readying the above for posting, I came across this graphic. I find it humorous. I hope you take it in that spirit, for I am not intending to be sacrilegious.