Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, he was anointed by Mary, Lazarus’s sister, at Bethany. Mary pours a costly jar of perfume over Jesus’ feet. After anointing Jesus with the perfume, Matthew gives us this insight into the disciple’s response:

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.

Matthew 26:8 (NIV)

However, in the Gospel of Mark, we’re told something slightly different.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?”

Mark 14:4 (NIV)

Finally, in John, we’re told something drastically different from Matthew and Mark.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected.

John 12:4 (NIV)

Why is there a discrepancy between these three accounts? They cannot all be right, can they?

All three accounts are correct. However, they present what happened because they are from different perspectives. John reveals that Judas was the first to complain about the “waste,” while Mark tells us that some joined in. Matthew doesn’t say all the disciples said something, so it’s likely that after Judas complained, some joined him. This is logical since there is usually one instigator who is joined by others whenever there’s dissent. 

We see something similar between Luke and John after Jesus first appeared to the disciples following his resurrection. 

And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?”

Luke 24:41 (NIV)

Luke tells us that the disciples didn’t believe Jesus had risen. They thought they saw a ghost (Luke 24:37). However, in John, we’re told that only Thomas didn’t believe.

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

John 20:25 (NIV)

While everyone expressed some disbelief, as we see in Luke, “because of joy and amazement,” Thomas was likely the most obstinate one, so John focused on him. 

When we read the Gospel accounts, we should see some differences because the minor differences in the accounts reveal their authenticity. Just as when we study the epistles, we should see similarities. Since Paul wrote most of the epistles and taught the same Gospel, we should see the same teaching reflected in his letters. By identifying the similarities in Paul’s letters, we can identify the author and confirm the truth of his teaching.