Before we look at a few of the parallel verses in the Gospel accounts let’s see where there are no parallel accounts. John Chapters 1 through 4 have many of Jesus’ words that are not reported anywhere else. I don’t know if part of that is because John’s Gospel was written several years after the others so John could read Matthew, Mark, and Luke, before he wrote his. Of course the theologians over the years have noted that difference and have not included John as a synoptic gospel.
Enough of that; let’s look at some typical parallel verses.
When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once,44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.“45
While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
It seems pretty obvious that like many of the other parallel verses these reported the same incident. The words are pretty close to each other both in letters and intent but they are not exact. So, which words if any of them did Jesus actually speak? If the Bible is totally inerrant in all it’s words then the only explanation would be that he said the same thing three times; slightly different for each of the three witnesses. Since this seems pretty far fetched I am more inclined to believe that the writers simply wrote the words they best remembered. This seems to be the case for many similar instances of parallel verses. Let’s move on to the next one.
Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
I suppose it is possible that these three verses were from different times but I don’t think that is the case. Except for the beginning phrase and the surrounding text they are the same.
From my study of parallel verses it seems to me that the vast majority the variations are simply as the example above indicates a lack of being able to remember the exact words between the years they were said and then written down. Many antagonists of Scripture like to point out all the inconsistencies in the Bible. After studying this topic I, for the most part, simply did not find the difference to be that significant. Since I take the Bible to be inspired text written by men for men these minor inconsistencies just don’t bother me that much. Yes, there are some parallel texts that seem to say different things if that is what you are looking for. But for the most part the underlying messageremain the same.