Who Wrote the Gospels?

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This question of who wrote the Bible has often peaked my interested. The Gospels specifically interested me due to the theological implications of their content. A majority of the Bible can simply be consumed as a collection of fascinating, amazing and sometimes grotesque stories about various people groups in ancient times. The first four books of the Bible’s New Testament, referred to as The Gospels, demand belief that Jesus is the Son of God as a prerequisite for eternal existence after death. The weight of this topic is heavy, but luckily for my readers I will offer no opinions, only fact. 

The Gospel of John is what did it for me. Throughout the first three books of the Gospels similar ideas about Jesus’ life and activities are presented and, albeit in different view points or syntax, common themes emerge. Then comes John. This fourth Gospel contains a load of new information, different stories, unique sentence structure, and tantalizing ideas of who Jesus was in terms of being God’s son. This vast difference was my inspiration to find out who actually wrote the Gospels and when. 

Getting the data for this project was painstaking. After searching around endlessly for someone who had already done the hard work, I decided to get the data on my own. Kaggle has a great collection of Bible data sets that offer the Bible (as well as other sacred texts) in all sorts of versions. I decided to use the King James version as it is the most commonly known and used. I then used the analysis available on gospelparallels.com to match each verse from the four books with an approximate story. I then used a simple vlookup to find if this story was present in the other books as well. I then created a field to count how many times this story appeared across the four Gospels (referred to as the Tradition), and then went about visualizing the data. 

At first I wanted to create a chord diagram because, well why not, and chord diagrams are all the rage right now, but I ended up using the Sankey template in Ken Flerlage’s blog. After some quick research on different theories on who wrote the Bible, two main theories emerged: Mark was written first and the others copied from him and enhanced, or Matthew was the written first and was used as a source for the others. Both of these theories are detailed on the right of my viz. 

As I had guessed before starting this project, 78.6% of the Gospel of John is unique content, Luke 44%, Matthew 26%, and Mark 11%. This viz is not meant to provide you with every answer, but instead to inspire you to investigate, question, and explore these texts for your own answers. Please feel free to shoot me an email or direct message on Twitter if you’d like to discuss more! 

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