History, of course, is written by those in charge, those who have won the orthodoxy battle, but not often by the most accurate, neutral and truthful. This is true in all areas of what has gone before. The voices of opposition fade over the centuries, or are distorted and/or dismissed as a bit crazy or ill informed and to be brushed aside.
For me, part of my quest has been to uncover what really did go on in the first century. There are no original documents. There are no eye-witness accounts of the birth of the Jesus Movement. Thinking scholars have attempted many ways to put mismatched puzzle pieces together, all with varying results.
So Paul wrote first, but there are no documents from his hand, no first century documents. He wrote probably in the 50's which was 20ish years after the crucifixion. He didn't know Jesus and was reported to have been unpopular with the apostles. Mark wrote, maybe just before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem which was 70 c.e. That was 40 years after the subject of the story. We don't have any old documents anywhere near that time of Mark either. They leave out some things that later writers put in their writings, and that is a bit confusing. If the magical birth was an important factor in the understanding of the day, for example, one wonders why Mark and Paul left out all references to it? Were they unaware of it? Was it a later addition to the growing narrative? What???
In trying to clarify what went on back at the time, I think we do need to consider what the first writers included and what they left out.
Bishop Spong suggests the various audiences are important to put into the mix. Mark wrote for a Jewish audience, then Matthew wrote for a Jewish and some Gentile audience, then Luke wrote for a heavily Gentile audience and John for an almost totally Gentile audience. The first 88 years the new Christian stories were read in the synagogues, and after that for awhile. Eventually, the Christian groups were primarily Gentile and no longer understood what the first writers and hearers understood. Greeks and Romans did not have the Jewish understanding. Spong shows how Mark, Matthew and Luke organize their stories to fit into the Jewish liturgical year, and how the Jews understood them to be examples of the Jewish stories - Moses, Isaiah, Joshua, etc. He writes a compelling and startling hypothesis.
I think that Jesus' teachings have in them a sort of fail safe, so that no matter how much later people fiddled with the stories and changed the meanings, there was a core that stands out in bright lights blinking at us.
Love. Love. Love. Unconditional Love. Love for self. Love for others. Love for God. To stay in this Love, sometimes forgiveness and a generous heart are needed.
I think if we could all come together around the flashing lights of the Love/Forgiveness message, Christianity would bound forward with new gusto. Stop arguing over theological details made up decades and centuries after by not fully realized men.
The direction this would take us all is a beautiful scene, unlike the ugliness of the infighting and out fighting going on now.
Which world do we choose?