Imagine you have never heard of the Bible, and you are given the 27 books of the New Testament and asked to put them in order.
You would probably come close to the order they appear in today: the four Gospels that tell the story of Jesus, then the Book of Acts that tells how the early church developed, then various letters by Paul and others, then the Book of Revelation that tells how the world will end.
If you did this, you would have created a continuous narrative, each book being a chapter, each building on the previous one, to create one grand story. You would also have created a false impression of how and why these books were written. And you would have obscured the sequence in which different writers gradually introduced the various elements of the Jesus legend.
Written in a Different Sequence
Firstly, these books were written in a very different sequence. Paul wrote his letters first, about 48-62 CE, and he wrote almost nothing about the earthly life of Jesus. Starting maybe in the 50s CE, someone compiled sayings attributed to Jesus into a text called Q, which probably became one source of two of the later Gospels. The book of Revelation, with its violent avenging Jesus, was written in stages between about 60-95 CE.
The Gospel called Mark was written about 65-70 CE, and it has no virgin birth and no detail of the resurrection. These stories first appear in the Gospels called Matthew and Luke, which were written about 80-85 CE, as was the Book of Acts, some of which contradicts what Paul earlier wrote about himself.
The Gospel called John was written about 90-95 CE, and it is the first book that suggests that Jesus was actually God, as distinct from a human being who had a special relationship with God.
Written as Standalone Books
Secondly, these books were not written as part of a grand meta-story. They were never intended to be read as continuous chapters of the same book. Their writers wrote them as standalone books, at different places and times, to convey different political and theological beliefs, for different audiences and reasons. This is one reason for the many contradictions in the New Testament.
And so, over a period of fifty or more years, these different individual writers separately created the apocalyptic apparitions of Paul, the eloquent quotations of Q, the raging ruler of Revelation, the marginalized messiah of Mark, the Moses-like messiah of Matthew, the all-inclusive leader of Luke, and the Jehovah-like Jesus of John.
The writers of those contradictory stories did not foresee that their texts would become part of a book centuries later. Indeed, many of them believed that the earthly world would have ended within their own lifetimes.
Written Alongside Rival Books
Thirdly, these books were only some among many rival Gospels that early Christians wrote and read. As well as political and practical differences, there were many theological arguments among early Christians about the nature of Jesus.
The Ebionites believed Jesus was totally human and not divine, and that the Jewish God had adopted him at his baptism. The Marcionites believed Jesus was totally divine and not human, and had come to save people from the Jewish God. The Gnostics believed that one of many Gods had used Jesus to convey special knowledge to save human souls from the material world. And the faction that eventually won out argued that Jesus was both totally human and totally divine.
This policy of Jesus being “both totally human and totally divine” enabled this faction (which evolved into today’s Christianity) to include contradictory versions of Jesus into what has become the New Testament.
How Jesus Gradually Became God
To help understand the New Testament stories better, read them in the sequence in which they were written, instead of the sequence in which they appear in the Bible. Doing this may change your beliefs about not only the Jesus of history, but also the Jesus of theology.
You will see how a human Jewish preacher gradually evolved into being part of a newly-invented Christian God, and how his relationship with this God gradually started earlier and earlier as time went on: from his resurrection in the letters of Paul, to his baptism in the Gospel called Mark, to his conception in the Gospels called Matthew and Luke, to the start of time in the Gospel called John.
For a comprehensive analysis of these and similar themes, read the work of Bart Ehrman and other academic textual critics of the New Testament.