When it comes to studying the New Testament and the traditions of Jesus, the biggest problem that we, as historians, have is the discrepancy in dates. The first four books of the New Testament are the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which are taken from the point of view as biographies, which, inherently, bring up the question as to the historical accuracy of these Gospels. The problem with these Gospels and dates is that they are believed to have been written at least thirty years after Jesus died, which was sometime around 30 AD.
The first Gospel believed to be written, mark, was believed to be written at least 35 years after the death of Christ, in 65 AD, with the other three gospels following within the next twenty to thirty years. This means that the four accounts of the New Testament of Jesus Christ were written 35 to almost 70 years after his death with no written sources at the time. Throughout these years, word of Christianity was spreading and with it spread these stories of accounts of Jesus, because “Christianity” as we know it today started just after Christ’s death with very few followers, who spread his beliefs and accounts of his life. These very few followers, however, were very successful in spreading their religion merely by word of mouth, bringing up a danger to alterations to the accounts of Jesus, whether it is hyperbole or myth.
The span of thirty-five years is a very long time for stories to be spread by word of mouth, so it can almost be assumed without much doubt that these stories were bound to change, as they were not written down or taken from any sort of written historical account. Though the Gospels were given names, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, respectively, this came much later, and the Gospels were actually written anonymously. The scriptures were also written in Greek, and Jesus and his followers spoke Aramaic, and the followers of Christianity were, for the most part, lower class and would not have had a great amount of access to the education it would take to learn Greek. Because the Gospels were written in Greek, this demonstrates that the authors of these scriptures were, most likely, higher class Christians who were able to speak and write in Greek.
Through each of the four Gospels, there are some consistencies, but there are also some inconsistencies. All of the Gospels tell the a story about the death of Christ, which, according to the Gospels, occurred during Passover, though, in the last Gospel, John, it does not specifically refer to the last meal as being the Feast of Passover. When Jesus is ordered to be executed, according to John, it was on the Day of Preparation for Passover that this occurs, but this is confusing historically.
According to the time slot of John’s Gospel, Jesus was executed before the Feast of Passover began, whereas in Mark, Jesus was put on the cross the morning following the Passover Feast, the morning after he spent a night in jail after being betrayed by Judas Iscariot. There is, however, a reason that John could have changed the dates and times to make a more figurative theological point. According to John, Jesus died on the day of Passover when lambs were being slaughtered, and having Jesus die on the same day, at the same time, that the lambs were being slaughtered likens him to one, and makes a theological argument for Jesus being the Lamb of God. Whether this was his true intention is not known.
These are the types of changes that occur throughout the New Testament in reference to Jesus in the historical as well as biblical sense. There are changes, for instance, in Jesus’ birth from Gospel to Gospel, but this could be the result of having oral stories passed down for nearly forty years before being written down, or purposefully altered for one or more reasons. This shows that some stories in the New Testament, including those about the history of the life and death of Jesus, are altered slightly, but this does not mean that the New Testament and its Gospels do not contain true stories. There are some stories that are certainly historically accurate, whereas others may be inaccurate for one reason or another in the portrayal of the death of Jesus Christ.
“The New Testament: A Historical Introduction” by Bart Ehrman