Question: Why does the person of Jesus lend itself to so many different interpretations, which are often contradictory? It seems like someone can just get Jesus à la carte, depending on what one wants to believe. Is that right?
AP: The answer is because the Gospels are also contradictory and only a sketch of the person of Jesus is found therein . . . sometimes anyway. The Gospels themselves are already reinterpretations of Jesus through reading the Bible that they had at that time, namely the Septuagint (i.e., LXX, the Hebrew Bible translated into Greek). The authors of those Gospels made every possible connection that they could find between the LXX and the life of Jesus. In fact, later Christians did the exact same thing.
I have published a book containing the various views of Christians about Jesus from the first century to the seventh century A.D. They are extremely diverse and contradictory: Jesús de Nazaret. El hombre de las cien caras de Jesús (Madrid: Edaf, 2012) 349 pp. ISBN 978-84-414-3096-9.
TWH: I do not think the four canonical Gospels are contradictory at all. Do their authors present Jesus in thematic ways at times that are distinct? Of course. One example is how Jesus is brought to the wilderness after his baptism. Matthew says that he is led, like you would expect a king to move from one place to another. Mark, on the hand, says that Jesus was cast out to the wilderness, using the same word that is found in exorcism passages. Is that problematic? Not in the least for me. Maybe that one is an easy one, though. What about passages that present Jesus as being so gentle that he could walk past a dimly burning wick and it would not go out? Doesn't that contradict passages that show Jesus angry and making a whip? Of course, the examples that I've given above show the literary presentation can change depending on an author's intent and that Gospels can show Jesus experiencing a full-range of human-divine emotions. But what about who Jesus actually is, theologically-speaking? In each of the four Gospels Jesus is presented as human and in possession of divine attributes. Is there a full-blown treatise on the essence of God and relationship of the members of the Trinity? No, but the Gospels are clear that Jesus is God. They are clear that he took on human flesh. I'll just leave you with those examples.
Now, it is true that there are a plethora of different interpretations when it comes to the person of Jesus. This is attributed not to the variance found in the Gospels. Rather, we can attribute these to different approaches to the biblical text. That's what we call hermeneutics. The grid by which we interpret the Word of God has to be right. We have to have the right principles for interpreting the Word of God. If you ask me, we can attribute the different interpretations primarily to the variance in principles for interpreting the Bible.