The different accounts of the gospels concerning the words of Jesus is not limited to the King James Bible but is certainly a characteristic of every Greek manuscript and every translation of the New Testament in every language and time. Perhaps someone could find one example where this is not the case in some Bibles, but that would not erase the multitude of other examples throughout the gospels. This is not a problem exclusive to the King James Bible and it is not a problem limited to the last words of Jesus. The possible examples are myriad.
My reason for the above paragraph is to help you understand that, if slight differences in the wording of Jesus in the various gospels negates the value of a Bible, then all Bibles are worthless. In fact, this is one of the arguments of skeptics against the Bible. However, there is no need for us to trash our Bibles for this reason.
Every time any historical record is given, the information given is selected by the author according to the purpose of the writing. Even in a courtroom setting where every word is recorded, there are times that the recorder is told to leave some statement or comment out of the record. Yet, we do not accuse the recorder of dishonesty because of this act.
The biblical records of conversations are true and they are completely what God wanted them to report. But they are not a complete record of everything that was said at the time. This is not required or desired (people think the Bible is long now). The Holy Spirit chose the words to be recorded according to their importance to the purpose of the text at that point. Each gospel is telling the story of the life and work of Christ, but each is approaching His life from different perspectives. If two of the gospels record the same event, they are not required to tell all the same details of that event. John stated concerning the works of Christ that "if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written" (John 21:25). The Holy Spirit chose the most appropriate details of each scene according to the purpose of that gospel at that point.
However, this does not mean that the record is in any way false. At almost any event, the words spoken would have been many times the words actually recorded in the text of the gospels. The longest recorded sermon of Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Yet, it would take only about 15-20 minutes to speak. But we see Jesus speaking to the multitudes for entire days (this is why He fed the 5,000). What he said greatly exceeded what was recorded of His sayings. What is recorded in the gospels is carefully selected for its God-given purpose.
This can explain why comparisons of the sayings of Christ do not always perfectly match. One gospel may have 25 words of His speech, while another may have 39 words of the same speech. However, He may have spoken 800 or more words at the time. The authors, by the direction of the Spirit, have simply chosen the words that best tell the story from their perspective. What may seem like a contradiction is not. The authors have just chosen different words from the same speech.
One example of these so-called contradictions is found in the sign that Pilate put over the head of Jesus at His crucifixion. Consider the following accounts:
- Matthew 27:37 THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS
- Mark 15:26 THE KING OF THE JEWS
- Luke 23:38 THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS
- John 19:19 JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS
Many have pointed to this as a certain contradiction in the Bible. But I believe the sign probably said: "THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS." Check it out. This includes all the elements found in all four gospels. Every account is true, but none had the complete wording. This is not error. If you were the companion of a blind man and he asked you what you saw at any given point, would you be dishonest if you did not tell him everything you could see at that point in time? Of course not. In fact, so many things come into the range of our eyes, that this would be practically impossible. Before you could get to everything in the range of your eyes, the scene would have changed.
Now consider if the blind man asked four different people at the same time and in the same place to tell him what they saw. Would they tell him the same things? No, of course not. They would all see according to their own perspective. However, what if this blind man were able to record each of the four accounts and study them over a period of time? Would he understand more or less because of four accounts of the same scene. I think we would agree that his understanding would be increased. Not only that, he would know more than the sum of adding the four accounts together, for by comparing the records, he would learn things that were not specifically stated by any of the reporters. This is the effect that the study of the four gospels can have on our understanding of the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.