Prior to beginning the New Testament, I have a few explanatory notes and warnings. First, a reminder that I am NOT a bible scholar and do not claim any expertise. These notes are based on my observations and impressions as I read the bible thoroughly for the first time. Almost all of it is new to me, even although I attended church regularly as a child and young adult. In my liberal church, we only read cherry-picked bible stories – the happy stuff, like Jesus healing the ten lepers. And no one my family ever opened a bible at home. So I had no idea about most of what’s in the NT, and I found a lot of it quite disturbing and shocking.
I will share reference material to help with understanding the text, the same as I did in the OT. But if you come from a conservative Christian background, you are probably far better informed already. I cannot possibly expect to note every fascinating bit of information, or understand every passage, or find every contradiction between gospels, or catch every historical reference. If you find something that’s incorrect or incomplete, please message HAAM and I will try to correct or update my notes. (Again, as with the OT, this does NOT apply to apologetic arguments.)
I thought that the NT would be easier and quicker to read than the OT – after all, it’s more familiar, right? But no, it’s full of contradictions and confusing passages. It took me ages to read through each story, compare versions of it, try to put it into context, and make some sense out of it. And I wasn’t impressed. Believers aren’t going to like what I have to say about Jesus – fair warning!
In order to appreciate the similarities and differences between the stories of Jesus as told in each gospel, I propose a little homework exercise. Set up a chart/spreadsheet (on a computer if you can; otherwise, get a big poster paper and a jumbo pad of Post-It notes). Make 5 columns, one for each gospel and one for the Book of Acts. Then, as you read, note significant events in Jesus’ life on the chart. Mark will be easy, because he’s first. But as you progress, you will have to move events around to try to fit everything in. This way, you can compare accounts side-by-side. By the end, you will either be ready for the looney bin, or you will have a handy chart of the basic events. Can they be reconciled, or are there too many contradictions? Spoiler: Dan Barker issued a $1000 challenge several years ago for someone who could do this successfully – not even for the entire gospels, just the Easter Story – and no one has collected the prize money yet.
If you want to cheat, you can refer to the chart that I made as I read along instead of creating your own. Note that there was no way to possibly reconcile all the stories or put them in chronological order. The timelines are simply incompatible with each other, so if you make your own chart, it will not agree with mine.