In this post, I'll examine a particular situation that -- if one found the accounts in different books -- might easily mistaken for a single situation that has been reported inconsistently. However, since all the accounts are in the same book, we can be sure that it is not simply a difference of opinion amongst competing evangelists.
The situation I have in mind is the account of Saul trying to skewer David with a javelin.
Account 1 - Shortly After the Defeat of Goliath
1 Samuel 18:6-11
And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick. And the women answered one another as they played, and said, "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands." And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, "They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom?"As an aside, I think it is very interesting that the evil spirit from the Lord gave Saul the gift of prophecy. Nevertheless, in this case, David played for Saul on the harp to drive away the evil spirit. However, Saul threw a javelin at David, twice!
And Saul eyed David from that day and forward. And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as at other times: and there was a javelin in Saul's hand. And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall with it. And David avoided out of his presence twice.
Account 2 - After Reconciliation with Saul
1 Samuel 19:8-10
And there was war again: and David went out, and fought with the Philistines, and slew them with a great slaughter; and they fled from him. And the evil spirit from the LORD was upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his javelin in his hand: and David played with his hand. And Saul sought to smite David even to the wall with the javelin; but he slipped away out of Saul's presence, and he smote the javelin into the wall: and David fled, and escaped that night.Notice the similarities. The context is fairly similar (David comes back from fighting the Philistines), and even many of the details are similar (there is an evil spirit from the Lord on Saul, and David is playing to relieve him). And again, Saul tries to spear him with the javelin.
There are also differences. There is only one javelin thrown this time, and there is a detail that the javelin stuck into the wall. If these were in two different books, and the two books didn't give both accounts, we might be tempted by the skeptics argument that there is an inconsistency over when Saul attempted to skewer David.
Account 3 - Jonathan as the Target
1 Samuel 20:27-34
And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second day of the month, that David's place was empty: and Saul said unto Jonathan his son, "Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day?"In this third account, we have Saul yet again hurling his javelin - this time at his own son! This is not very similar to the first two accounts, but it involves Saul engaged in a domestic dispute in which he throws a javelin at someone. We would probably be confident in telling the skeptic that this account is separate from the first two, but surely a radical skeptic would say that the three accounts should be seen as progression of anti-Saul or pro-David prejudice (placing them in the order of Account 2, Account 1, and finally Account 3).
And Jonathan answered Saul, "David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem: and he said, 'Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a sacrifice in the city; and my brother, he hath commanded me to be there: and now, if I have found favour in thine eyes, let me get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren.' Therefore he cometh not unto the king's table."
Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, "Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die."
And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said unto him, "Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done?"
And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David. So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month: for he was grieved for David, because his father had done him shame.
In fact, however, these are just three different, yet similar (in some details), situations. Saul had a propensity to hurl a javelin. Even so, Jesus had a propensity to cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead. We should be careful when reading the synoptic gospels not to assume that two accounts are the same, simply because there is some similarities in the details.