In several previous posts (here, here, and here) I addressed the problem of differences in the Gospels, pointing out that what are often taken for contradictions are really just examples of 21st century Westerners trying to impose unrealistic and modern standards of historical reporting on ancient Easterners. Here is another one.
Mk 14:47-54 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled. 51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. 53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. (See also Mt 27:55-8)
In verse 50 we are told that “all” the disciples fled the scene, and yet in verse 54 we are told that Peter followed Jesus from a distance. Because both statements appear in the same Gospel no one complains. But what if Mark only said that all fled, and Luke only said that Peter followed Jesus from a distance? People would claim it was a contradiction. How could Peter be following Jesus if he fled the scene? Of course, the Christian would respond by trying to harmonize the two texts. We would propose that all of the disciples did flee the scene when Jesus was arrested, but Peter returned, and followed Jesus at a distance. Our critics would say we are being imaginative, and the only reason to offer such a harmonization is to avoid concluding that the Gospels are, indeed, contradictory. But when both statements appear in the same Gospels within just a few verses from each other, no one claims contradiction. And guess what, most would agree that Peter must have fled with the rest of the disciples, but returned shortly afterward to learn of Jesus’ fate. Indeed, that would explain why he followed from a distance. He did not want to be seen by the guards lest he be arrested too—the very reason he fled in the first place. I think this goes to show both how overblown the charge of “contradiction is,” as well as why harmonization is a perfectly legitimate enterprise when it comes to reading historical reports.