Accuracy of the Scriptures Concerning Miracles and the Game of Telephone


#1

Salvete, omnes!

How do we defend against the argument that some make that the accounts of the miracles in Sacred Scripture come from a kind of “game of telephone” where something gets reported and then altered and then altered and then altered some more until it has been exaggerated to an incredible degree?

I’m thinking in particular about Jesus’ miracles. How can we be sure, apart from faith, that these were reported accurately? How do we convince someone outside the Faith that there is strong evidence to support this?

I mean, perhaps Christ was such a charismatic figure, a skeptic might say, that stories of “miracles” sprung up around him and even got exaggerated very quickly.

I mean, you look at other texts of the period and even those before and after that report various supernatural events such as omens and men/gods doing/experiencing extraordinary/supernatural things. Many of these we consider as inaccurate and many invoke the “game of telephone” argument to support these statements.

Gratias maximas.


#2

First and foremost, the witness of the Apostles themselves going to their death without recanting their stories. That’s a strong testament to their belief in Christ and in the story they were proclaiming. Why would someone martyr themselves if all the ‘miracles’ were just make believe?

Secondly, the documents were written within the lifetime of the Apostles, or at the very least during the lifetime of the disciples of the Apostles themselves. It takes longer than 40 years for a legend to begin to develop (especially in a primitive culture without the means to spread the information on a mass scale.) Today things are spread in a moments time and stories begin to culminate faster. In the first century, in an oral culture that is used to passing on details exactly and memorizing vast amounts of information, it would take even longer to form a legend.

One could say that the details may have been embellished, sure. Made up? False? No. The Apostles or their disciples would have combatted that, if they were willing to die for it, why would they not have stopped the story and said “wait, that’s not how it went.” It seemed important enough to them.


#3

The stories could still have been greatly embellished. Are you sure the documents were written within the life of the Apostles. I also have to disagree that oral culture is used to passing on details exactly. The human mind is fully capable of forgetting things or changing them even within a day of being told. It is quite easy to get things lost in repeated telling of a story. Also some of the events that happened were never recorded by other authorities. I think the two best examples are Lazerius and the ending of Matthew where the dead walked. Seriously if that happened anyone else would have recorded it but it is no where to be seen.


#4

Jesus only walked on water in front of the apostles.

Most people could not read and write.

The printing press did not exist for another 1,400 years.

The early Christians were persecuted and had to leave Jerusalem.

Other historians did record the existence of Jesus and the apostles.

Many willingly died as martyrs for a faith that radically changed what the Jews believed for thousands of years.

Ignatius of Antioch was fed to the lions in Rome around 100 AD. He was a student of John the Apostle and likely ordained bishop by Peter. His letters show the peace of a man who had good reason to believe.


#5

This is a very common objection I hear, that these are just embellishments added oover teh course of time, like the game telephone.

This argument is really very childish, no offense intended. The game of telephone is a person hearing something one time and then passing it on in a secretive whisper to the next person. The changes occur as the result of two things;

#1: There is no chance for clarification, and
#2: The sentence is passed on in a whispered, quiet voice.

Neither of these apply to the passing on of scripture.

Quite the contrary, the passing on of scripture was something people devoted their lives to. In OT time, prior to the physical recording, there were people who’s entire purpose in life was to “record” the history of their culture. They spent their lives learning the history and passing it on to the next generation. This was a repetitive, continual process with ample opportunity for clarification. That’s actually part of why you see so much repetition in the first few books of the Bible (such as when Moses numbers the tribes of Israel), it was a tool to help with memorization. The memorization of scripture prior to written record is much closer to, say, how people can quote entire movies (I can do most of Ghostbusters :p), or how many people can do math in their minds. It so deeply ingrained that it can be recalled without any effort.

There’s actually quite a bit of research being done now which points to our memories being far stronger than we are aware. Technology, and access to easy methods of recording things, have severely harmed our memory capacity by causing it to atrophy.


#6

Nicely put. I know my own memory is much weaker now than when I was younger. I don’t even extend the effort to memorize phone numbers anymore (it took me years to be able to finally recall my wife’s cell phone number without asking her when I used to have the numbers memorized for all of my friends).


#7

Amen.


#8

The Jewish scribes of Jesus’ time were not interested in recording what Jesus did. In fact the opposite was true: Jn 12:46-48

46
But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.
47
So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs.p
48
If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come* and take away both our land and our nation.”


#9

I would ask the challenger to point out the embellishment.

The simplicity and specificity of the descriptions can’t be ignored.

Obviously, all of this doesn’t consider Pentecost, which would have been God providing what the Apostles needed to ‘build the Church’ which probably included a refresher of the last 3 years.

There is no in-between where Jesus is God, but His miracles are not what has been described.

I would also strengthen your argument with the knowledge that God’s work didn’t start and end with Jesus.

Non-believers have witnessed or studied miracles for all of time. Some even come to believe, but a miracle does not make a believer.

A person surrendering their life and witnessing their own experience upon accepting God into their life, makes a believer.

Take care,

Mike


#10

It’s FAITH, all the way back to the beginning. That’s why religions are beliefs. No argument will be good enough, save arriving at heaven’s gate, gulping and sayin “uh oh…”


#11

This is actually a negative stance to take, because it essentially reject reason. As Catholics, we do not reject reason, we embrace it. Everything we believe is reasonable and can be logically supported.


#12

It seems to me that there is only one miracle that is absolutely crucial to Christianity and that is the Resurrection of Jesus. The others are all embellishments in the sense that they depict deep symbolic meaning through those miraculous events to draw attention to that meaning. However, the truth of Christianity does not hang on any of them like it does on the Resurrection.

Paul declared, “If Christ did not rise, then our preaching is in vain,” and he was correct. Thing is, though, that Paul’s letters proclaiming the Resurrection are very early, so this miracle could NOT have been a later embellishment. It was the crux of the Christian message in a way that other, lesser, miracles were not.

The point here, is that if someone is going to deny the possibility of miracles, there is really only one miracle, the denial of which will have any real impact on the truth of Christianity. If you don’t deny that one, there really is no point in denying the others.

Why would anyone claim they accept that a man could be raised from the dead after three days and ascend to heaven in a glorified body but then insist they just couldn’t accept the possibility of water turning into wine or a man walking on water? It wouldn’t make any sense to accept the least plausible major miracle but deny the others.

It would seem pretty implausible to suggest that the initial preaching about Jesus being “just another good guy” could have had the impact it did on hearers without the Resurrection being central to it from the very beginning. It certainly was evident that Paul was convinced virtually from the get-go since he was present at Stephen’s stoning less than a handful of years after Jesus died.

Also, it seems pretty implausible that large numbers of followers would have been convinced by stories about the good man Jesus purely on the merit of his goodness and then a few decades later have someone attempt to revise the story by adding, “You know this guy Jesus we’ve been telling you about all these years, well he ALSO rose from the dead.” I would think reasonable people at that stage would have more of a reason to leave the faith than continue in it, since believing or not believing in Jesus, specifically, would have had no real significance and now people were beginning to just make up stuff about him.

A parallel would be people beginning to toss miracles into the biographies of Gandhi, for example. How would that motivate anyone to take the teachings of Gandhi more seriously? It wouldn’t. In particular, if the real reason Jesus gained any attention to begin with was simply because of the wisdom of his teachings AND if that wasn’t the reason, what is left? That is, besides the fact that God vindicated the life and death of Jesus by raising him from the dead?

No, the most plausible explanation is that actual eye witnesses to the Resurrection were alive for forty or fifty years after the event and it was the consistency and integrity of their stories that convinced many from the beginning.

It is also pretty clear that the Gospels were all written within the lifetimes of the Apostles and, therefore, within the lifetimes of those in Galilee who would have been around to have witnessed the other miracles. There would have been lots of opportunity for individuals living at the time to debunk miracle accounts since the push was to evangelize others in the region from the very beginning. The Romans and Jewish leaders had plenty of motivation to refute the Gospel accounts since Christianity remained socially unacceptable for another three hundred years with many attempts to discredit it, but none using credible facts or verifiable alternative witness accounts.


#13

Agree to disagree. Faith means we belive what is reported by the Apostles, etc…


#14

MysticMissMisty #1
How do we defend against the argument that some make that the accounts of the miracles in Sacred Scripture come from a kind of “game of telephone” where something gets reported and then altered and then altered and then altered some more until it has been exaggerated to an incredible degree?

I’m thinking in particular about Jesus’ miracles. How can we be sure, apart from faith, that these were reported accurately? How do we convince someone outside the Faith that there is strong evidence to support this?

The historian Eusebius in his Church history, 4.3, 1.2, tells us that writing about 123 A.D., apologist Quadratus cited those in his day who had been cured or raised from the dead by Jesus of Nazareth – prime witnesses – long after the miracles, crucifixion and death of the Son of God. No other religious founder claimed to be God and proved it – not Mohammed of Islam, not in Hinduism, not in Buddhism, not in Taoism, not in Confucianism.

His miracles “were so frequent, the eyewitnesses so numerous, and the evidence so stark, that not even Christ’s enemies disputed the fact of their occurrence. Instead they ascribed them to the power of the devil, or defied Him to perform another one in His own favour.” (See Mt 12:24; 27:39-42;Jn11:47).Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, Sheehan/Joseph, Saint Austin Press, 2001, p 104].

The evidence of history which attests Christ as the Son of God, sent to redeem humanity, also attests, to this day, to His reality and His truths through the facts of the miracle of the Sun at Fatima, the medically attested miracles that take place at Lourdes, and the Eucharistic miracles.

No one can refute these facts of history.

Are you convinced?


#15

In the game of telephone;

  • you are NOT allowed to ask the person to repeat what they said.
  • you are NOT allowed to compare what they said with what others have said.
  • nobody is tortured to death for getting details wrong.
  • you ARE allowed to make stuff up if you can’t remember. (You’re not bound by God’s 9th Commandment)

Hmmm. Seems like only the most ignorant, stupid and intellectually dishonest bible skeptic would think the telephone game was a good argument.


#16

Okay two things. First an event as big as the dead walking around, as told in Matthew, would have been noticed by ANYONE else and written down. That is kind of a big thing. Second is that the Gospels are written with a bias. Also is there another, non biblical, historical example you can give of the Jewish scribes not interested in what Yeshua did?


#17

The High Priests organized the execution of James and other Christian leaders in A.D. 62, then a few years later were behind the execution of Paul, Peter, and hundreds of other Christians in Rome in A.D. 64.

This is from Josephus’ Antiquities.


#18

Where did you find this information?


#19

This argument only works if you can identify who “everyone else” is that might have provided detailed accounts of the life and times of people from the area. However, if there are NO such accounts that have survived, it would be a non-starter to ask why these accounts weren’t present within a completely empty field of evidence.

Can you, at the very least, locate some writers who should have done this kind of reporting but didn’t? Then you might have something approaching a case to be made, but absent that, you have nada.

In the meantime, the case for the reliability of the Gospels is quite compelling.

youtube.com/watch?v=kbhGAWXhdM0

youtube.com/watch?v=CJfr3ja5WmI

In addition, the Resurrection as the sine qua non miracle of Christianity has a great deal going for it.

youtube.com/watch?v=CbBVBUeHXZ4


#20

Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent.
ccel.org/ccel/josephus/complete.ii.xxi.ix.html?highlight=james#highlight


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