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The Game of Telephone and the Bible

Remember the game of telephone? A group of young people ‘circle up’ on the floor awaiting the beginning message. The leader of the group begins by whispering a message into the ear of the closest person. When the message gets around the whole circle, it has usually changed, even dramatically. The point of the game is often to show that rumors and gossip need to be avoided for they are likely untrue.

One of the most common questions I have been asked over the years from both Christians and non-Christians, is “how could we possibly trust the Bible?” The game of telephone often comes up as a backdrop for mistrust.  At a basic level, one can see the point. How could a book which has been copied so many times actually be trusted in our own day?  Haven’t there crept in numerous errors over the centuries? Haven’t evil kings and religious leaders controlled the text?

A little research however and one can easily see the answers. The game of telephone may apply to the local gossip, but not the Bible. Why? There are literally thousands of ancient biblical manuscripts near to the originals whereby we can compare our modern texts to.  If this is a game of telephone, you can find every addition or subtraction through the centuries.

To be sure, over the hundreds of years that Scribes were making copies of the Bible, there were many errors made. However, these are minor errors. The examples usually consist of misspelled words, flipping a title and a name, a gloss here and there, and the like. In other words, no ancient text convolutes the truths that the Christians have always maintained. In other words, there are no big surprises or secret stories about Jesus!  The study of biblical and textual criticism offers researchers the ability to compare ancient manuscripts to find errors in later texts and come to a pure text.

What is the accuracy level of the originals to our own modern text? Many researchers have taken up the task of collating the variants through the centuries and tracing all the manuscript evidence. Norman Geisler points out that we can come between 99 and 99.6% accuracy between the originals and our own being faithfully transmitted through the centuries. For an ancient piece of literature, this is a staggeringly positive assessment.

In closing, I want to point out the irony in this ‘telephone talk’ as it relates to the Bible. The moral of the game of telephone is often to teach young people that gossip and rumors need to be avoided for they are often untrue. Yet, the gossip and the rumors about the Bible being the product of a long game of telephone is untrue, and yet listening ears keep passing it along to others.  I guess we know that people still like playing telephone.

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