The Four Gospels: Are Different Accounts of Jesus a Problem?

Sometimes Christians hear a skeptic point to the fact that there are four different accounts of the life of Jesus as some sort of embarrassing evidence that the early Christians couldn’t get their story straight, or worse, that these are the stuff of legend. I’ve known some believers to get very flustered when the issue is brought up.

The oldest surviving panel icon of "Christ Pantocrator", c. 6th Century AD.

Whenever someone raises a question about the truthfulness of the Bible, ask yourself first whether or not the same question would bother any other scholar about any other figure in history. How many biographies are there of George Washington, for example? Is this in itself a concern about the historicity of the life of a pivotal figure during the American Revolution or actual evidence of his greatness and importance?
Second, flip the question around and consider the results. Wouldn’t you be MORE bothered if there was just ONE, tidy historical sketch of Jesus’ life and sayings, like a puff, polished church-propaganda piece put out by the “state run” news agency?  Doesn’t the fact that the four gospels have differences in order, selection of events, and some ragged edges when laid side by side point to the fact that they sound a lot more like the truth? The Jesus of history was such a unique person, mighty in word and miracles, that no one clean summary could do justice to this powerful, dangerous, and inspirational God man.
Thirdly, the truth is that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written to different audiences. Mark’s audience was skeptical Romans who believed only in state power, so his gospel is lean, compact, and designed to show that Jesus was the Son of God — mighty in power who came to build a new kingdom. Matthew’s version helped the Hebrew people see that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah. Variously, Luke’s version functioned more like a travelogue, with emphasis on the Lord’s teachings and parables, and John’s gospel was a more elaborate theological and literary masterpiece.
The point is that the historical Jesus was more than big enough to warrant these various approaches (John 21:25), because he was, in fact, Christ the Lord. And if you’re interest is in the historical reliability of the Gospels, there’s been so much scholarly work done to verify their authenticity, that the information on other figures in history (e.g. Plato, Homer, Julius Caesar) pales in comparison.
 
BibleMesh aims to help people understand the big picture as well as important facts of the Bible. The first BibleMesh resource is “The Biblical Story,” a course that presents Scripture as a cohesive narrative of God’s work in the world from Genesis to Revelation. It utilizes an interactive quizzing tool that helps people remember what they have learned. And finally, it includes a social networking platform which will allow pastors and church leaders to host their own online Bible studies and contribute their own resources. Forthcoming content will include courses in Biblical Greek and Hebrew.