History

The Bible Is Not a Game of Telephone

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Author Amy K. Hall Published on 01/09/2015

In his response to the now infamous Newsweek article by Kurt Eichenwald attacking the Bible, Dan Wallace succinctly explained why the transmission of the Bible was not like a game of Telephone (bullet point formatting added by me for ease of reading):

The title of Eichenwald’s section that deals with manuscript transmission is “Playing Telephone with the Word of God.” The implication is that the transmission of the Bible is very much like the telephone game—a parlor game every American knows. It involves a brief narrative that someone whispers to the next person in line who then whispers this to the next person, and so on for several people. Then, the last person recites out loud what he or she heard and everyone has a good laugh for how garbled the story got. But the transmission of scripture is not at all like the telephone game.

  • First, the goal of the telephone game is to see how badly the story can get misrepresented, while the goal of New Testament copying was by and large to produce very careful, accurate copies of the original.
  • Second, in the telephone game there is only one line of transmission, while with the New Testament there are multiple lines of transmission.
  • Third, one is oral, recited once in another’s ear, while the other is written, copied by a faithful scribe who then would check his or her work or have someone else do it.
  • Fourth, in the telephone game only the wording of the last person in the line can be checked, while for the New Testament textual critics have access to many of the earlier texts, some going back very close to the time of the autographs.
  • Fifth, even the ancient scribes had access to earlier texts, and would often check their work against a manuscript that was many generations older than their immediate ancestor. The average papyrus manuscript would last for a century or more. Thus, even a late second-century scribe could have potentially examined the original document he or she was copying.

If telephone were played the way New Testament transmission occurred, it would make for a ridiculously boring parlor game!

Wallace’s piece responds to many other errors in the Newsweek article, as well. You can read the whole thing here.