Debunking the Telephone Game Analogy

:tiphat:

“the concern was that the right books were included, not which particular copy or translation.” What does that mean? “Though of course we still want accurate translations and reject poor or slanted ones.” How can we know what is accurate?

Yep.

Textual Criticism Explained

Each author of a NT book wrote an original manuscript which I’ll call “M”. Using M, copies were made and sent to various Churches in the NT era. I’ll call these second-generation copies, C1, C2 & C3. The number of copies is not important for this illustration. Now, imagine that copies of the copies were made as the Christian Church expanded since every local congregation wanted to have a copy of these important texts. I’ll call the copies of C1, C1a, C1b & C1c. There would also be C2a, C2b, and so forth. With me so far? In the following diagram, each column represents a generation. For example, M is the original, C1 a copy of M, C1a is a copy of C1, and C1a1 is a copy of C1a. Like this:

M > C1 > C1a > C1a1

Over the course of history, some copies are lost or destroyed. The copies which have not been lost are portrayed in red.

M—C1—C1a—C1a1
-------------C1b—C1b1
----------------------C1b2
-------------C1c—C1c1
----------------------C1c2
------C2—C2a—C2a1
-------------C2b—C2b1
------C3—C3a—C3a1
----------------------C3a2
-------------C3b—C3b1
-------------C3c—C3c1
----------------------C3c2
----------------------C3c3

Now, imagine further that M, C1, C2 & C3 along with C1a, C2a, C3a & C3b have all been lost, but that C1b, C1c, C2b & C3c are all in museums scattered around the world - Moscow, London, the Vatican, etc. Additionally, all of the copies of those copies still exist (I’m simplifying, of course).

We know that M must have existed, and logic dictates that C1, C2 & C3 must have existed (though we may be unsure of the number of first-generation copies). We can learn that both C1 & C2 must have existed by comparing the extant copies C1b & C2b and discovering subtle variations in the texts - copyists glosses or “typos”, if you will. If C1 was slightly different from C2, then those differences will be reflected in C1a and C2a along with all of the subsequent copies of those copies. Variations were passed on from generation to generation. Make sense?

So, how can we know with certainty what the Bible actually said if we don’t have the original autograph (M) or if errors (variations) crept into the text? By comparing the existing texts, scholars can work backwards to determine what M actually said. This process, called Textual Criticism, can never be perfect since humans are involved (along with the Holy Spirit!), but we can have a high degree of confidence that the Bible we have to day contains the message that the original authors intended to convey.

Someone can argue that beginning with the Modernist infiltration at the end of the 18 hundreds many modernist bishops did not ordain anyone on the days scheduled for ordination, and that this continued with communist infiltration. I would argue that on our faith there has never been a false ordination, and that all we have to worry about is someone dressing up as a priest. But if he has a church and everything seems fine, than we can on faith have 100 percent certainty that there are sacraments there.

How far does certainly in the Bible go?

The message of the Bible is supported by the Holy Tradition of the Church together with the Magisterium. We can trust it when we read it in the light of the teachings of the Church, and understand it in terms of our Covenant relationship with God.

Thank you for this. :slight_smile:

Why is there this trouble with translating the bible but not with Church documents some of which are almost as old as the New Testament? :eek: :confused:

There is the same trouble with all of them, but the documents of the Bible are held in higher esteem, and also held to a much higher standard.

We don’t have any word-for-word translations of the Didache, but nobody cares because the general sense of it is there, and nobody is establishing doctrine from it.

That the Church did not, in fact, identify any particular copy or translation of the Bible as the Bible.

Protestants (other than KJV-Onlyists who do insist on inspired translation) would say that the “original autographs” were the inspired texts, and of course we don’t have those. I’m not sure the Church uses that same terminology, but the conclusion seems to be the same.

“Though of course we still want accurate translations and reject poor or slanted ones.” How can we know what is accurate?

By comparing texts to each other, same way we can know that any text for which we don’t have an undisputed original is accurate. For translation this is easier, because we certainly do have copies in the original languages to compare against. For choosing which of those copies is most accurate where there are differences, we usually go by antiquity or just make a note of both versions.

In one sense, you are right that the text the Church actually had is more important than the originals. There are good arguments that passages like the post-Resurrection ending of Mark and the story of the adulteress in John were not in the original manuscripts – but they are still accepted as inspired Scripture. But still, the Church has not declared, and does not seem eager to declare, a particular manuscript tradition or translation as the correct Word of God. Instead she trusts scholars and translators to work on ironing out issues over time.

What does the timing or scheduling of the ordination have to do with the validity of the sacrament?

Usagi

I meant they may have not ordained on the day they were supposed to in rebellion to the idea that it was supernatural, and that most priests nowadays come from them. As I say above, I’ll trust my translation of Trent came from Trent

“There are good arguments that passages like the post-Resurrection ending of Mark and the story of the adulteress in John were not in the original manuscripts – but they are still accepted as inspired Scripture.”

Well I guess I’ll just have to trust books like *The Church Teaches *and The Decrees of Trent as certainly protected I guess

:tiphat:

Here is an updated version that corrects a typo or two:

Debunking the Telephone Game Analogy

What do you suppose happened to the stories [about Jesus] over the years, as they were told and retold, not as disinterested news stories reported by eyewitnesses but as propaganda meant to convert people to faith, told by people who had themselves heard them fifth- or sixth- or nineteenth-hand? Did you or your kids ever play the telephone game at a birthday party? (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted, pp. 146-147)

Many non-Christians object to the reliability of the New Testament, and they often reference the children’s party activity known as the “Telephone Game” as an example of how oral transmission of a message can become distorted. But is this really the principle at work in the writing of the gospels? Let’s examine the rules of the game to see how closely the game may compare with the composing of the scriptures.
**
Rules of the Telephone Game:**

[LIST=1]
*]To play Telephone, you’ll need a group of players. More is better.

*]Choose a phrase for the team to use or let them select one themselves. Phrases should be complicated, with plenty of detail and unfamiliar words – for instance, try using a phrase such as “Mahogany tables don’t look good painted fuchsia.” The phrase should never be a familiar expression; these are too easy to remember.

*]Only one player should know what the phrase is.

*]The player who created or received the phrase starts the game by whispering it into the ear of another player.

*]She cannot repeat the phrase, so the second player needs to listen carefully. The second player then whispers the phrase to the third player, who whispers it to the fourth, and so on until the last player.

*]Once all players have spoken, the last player repeats the phrase. Unless everyone on the team is a very clear speaker and a very attentive listener, the phrase will have changed.

*]What began as “Mahogany tables don’t look good painted fuchsia” might end up as “Behold, any stables look good waiting on blue sand.” If you have time, go back through the players, asking each one what the original phrase was and pinpointing where the various changes occurred.
[/LIST]
Why the Telephone Game Analogy Fails:

[LIST=1]
*]The rules of the game recommend that a group of players is needed. The reason for this is that in order for the game to be entertaining, deviation from the original phrase is desirable. In contrast, the gospel writers were not playing a game nor were they the last in a long chain of children; they were either eyewitnesses or they relied on the testimony of eyewitnesses who were still alive.

*]The rules of the game suggest that the phrases should be complicated and contain unfamiliar words. In contrast, the gospel writers conveyed Jesus’ words in plain, simple language using names, places, prophetic writings and history that were familiar to their readers.

*]The rules suggest that only one player should know the original phrase. In contrast, the gospel writers had access to many eyewitnesses who could corroborate the written accounts.

*]The game begins with a single whisper. In contrast, the proclamation of the gospel began with Peter preaching openly to thousands on the day of Pentecost.

*]The game limits each player to hearing and repeating the phrase once and from one source only. In contrast, the gospel of Luke states that “many have undertaken to draw up an account” of the events he also recorded in his gospel. Additionally, many eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus were still alive and both Luke and Paul make reference to this fact in their writings. Thus, the gospel writers were recording history that both they and their audiences knew well.

*]The rules assume that not all players will speak clearly or listen attentively. In contrast, the gospel writers took great pains to reproduce what they had seen and heard faithfully and with great clarity.

*]The rules of the game suggest that it would be fun to go back to see exactly where all the changes took place. In contrast, if the gospel writers had changed or added to the accounts of Jesus’ life or to His parables that were known by oral tradition, the living witnesses would have objected strenuously to such novelties as mere fabrications.
[/LIST]

In conclusion, the gospel writers were not children being entertained by a party game. They saw themselves as passing on the very words of God just as they had received them, and the presence of many living witnesses would ensure that each author was held accountable for reproducing the facts accurately.

What, then, do you attribute the thousands of errors, mispellings, and clearly intentional changes to? If not innocent transmission error then purposeful skewing of the story?

QUOTE=Randy Carson;12824945]Many non-Christians object to the reliability of the New Testament, and they often reference the children’s party activity known as the “Telephone Game” as an example of how oral transmission of a message can become distorted. But is this really the principle at work in the writing of the gospels? Let’s examine the rules of the game to see how closely the game may compare with the composing of the scriptures.

Rules of the Telephone Game:

[LIST=1]
*]To play Telephone, you’ll need a group of players. More is better.

*]Choose a phrase for the team to use or let them select one themselves. Phrases should be complicated, with plenty of detail and unfamiliar words – for instance, try using a phrase such as “Mahogany tables don’t look good painted fuchsia.” The phrase should never be a familiar expression; these are too easy to remember.

*]Only one player should know what the phrase is.

*]The player who created or received the phrase starts the game by whispering it into the ear of another player.

*]She cannot repeat the phrase, so the second player needs to listen carefully. The second player then whispers the phrase to the third player, who whispers it to the fourth, and so on until the last player.

*]Once all players have spoken, the last player repeats the phrase. Unless everyone on the team is a very clear speaker and a very attentive listener, the phrase will have changed.

*]What began as “Mahogany tables don’t look good painted fuchsia” might end up as “Behold, any stables look good waiting on blue sand.” If you have time, go back through the players, asking each one what the original phrase was and pinpointing where the various changes occurred.
[/LIST]

Why the Telephone Game Analogy Fails:

[LIST=1]
*]The rules of the game recommend that a group of players is needed. The reason for this is that in order for the game to be entertaining, deviation from the original phrase is desirable. In contrast, the gospel writers were not playing a game nor were they the last in a long chain of children; they were either eyewitnesses or they relied on the testimony of eyewitnesses who were still alive.

*]The rules of the game suggest that the phrases should be complicated and contain unfamiliar words. In contrast, the gospel writers conveyed Jesus’ words in plain, simple language using names, places, prophetic writings and history that were familiar to their readers.

*]The rules suggest that only one player should know the original phrase. In contrast, the gospel writers had access to many eyewitnesses who could corroborate the written accounts.

*]The game begins with a single whisper. In contrast, the proclamation of the gospel began with Peter preaching openly to thousands on the day of Pentecost.

*]The game limits each player to hearing and repeating the phrase once and from one source only. In contrast, the gospel of Luke states that “many have undertaken to draw up an account” of the events he also recorded in his gospel. Additionally, many eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus were still alive and both Luke and Paul make reference to this fact in their writings. Thus, the gospel writers were recording history that both they and their audiences knew well.

*]The rules assume that not all players will speak clearly or listen attentively. In contrast, the gospel writers took great pains to reproduce what they had seen and heard faithfully and with great clarity.

*]The rules of the game suggest that it would be fun to go back through the change to see exactly where all the changes took place. In contrast, if the gospel writers had made changes to the events of Jesus’ life or to His parables, the living witnesses would have objected strenuously to such objections as mere fabrications.
[/LIST]

In conclusion, the gospel writers were not children being entertained by a party game. They saw themselves as passing on the very words of God just as they had received them, and the presence of many living witnesses would ensure that each author was held accountable for reproducing the facts accurately.

There are variations in the text of the various copies, but these are inconsequential in terms of creating confusion about doctrine.

Norman Geisler notes in his book A General Introduction to the Bible that the late Bruce Metzer (who taught Bart Ehrman) said that the NT is copied with 99.5 percent accuracy. Geisler goes on to say,

NT textual authorities Westcott and Hort estimated that only about one-sixtieth rise above “trivialities” and can be called “substantial variations.” In short, the NT is 98.33 percent pure. Second, Greek expert Ezra Abbott said about 19/20 (95 percent) of the readings are “various” rather than “rival” readings, and about 19/20 (95 percent) of the rest make no appreciable difference in the sense of the passage. Thus the text is 99.75 percent accurate. Third, noted NT Greek scholar A. T. Robertson said the real concern is with about a “thousandth part of the entire text.” So, the reconstructed text of the New Testament is 99.9% free from real concern.

**Philip Schaff **estimated that of the thousands of variations in all the manuscripts known in his day, only 50 were of real significance and of these not one affected “an article of faith.” Even agnostic NT critic Bart Ehrman admits that [INDENT]“In fact, most of the changes found in early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes pure and simple-slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort of another” (Misquoting Jesus, 55).

Famous British manuscript expert Sir Frederick Kenyon summed up the matter well when he declared that: “The interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established” (Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology, 288).

Consider the following message: Y#U HAVE WON TEN MILLION. DOLLARS. Notice that even with the error in the text, 100% of the message comes through.

Consider also this message with two lines and two errors.

• Y#U HAVE WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS
• YO# HAVE WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS

Here we are even more sure of the message with two errors in it. In fact, the more errors like this, the more sure one is of the message since every new line brings a confirmation of every letter except one. The NT has about 5700 manuscripts. which provides hundreds, in some cases even thousands of confirmations, of every line in the NT.

As a matter of fact, there can be a high percent of divergence in letters and yet a 100% identity of message. Consider the following lines:

  1. YOU HAVE WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS
  2. THOU HAST WON 10 MILLION DOLLARS
  3. Y’ALL HAVE WON $10,000,000

Notice that of the 27 letters and numbers in line two only 7 in line three are the same. That is little more than 25% identity of letters and numbers, yet the message is 100% the same. They differ in form, but they are identical in content. The same is true of all the basic teachings of the NT. ”[/INDENT]

Taken from:

A Look at Bart Ehrman: Agreements and Disagreements
By Eric Chabot
M.A. Southern Evangelical Seminary, Religious Studies.
chab123.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/what-bart-ehrman-gets-right-and-wrong/

Good post - thanks. Interesting how, with slight alteration,You have won ten million dollars can become You have won the lion doll. The only thing needed is a helpful scribe wanting to clarify the message.

Most agree that most of the thousands of differences in biblical texts are minor and/or editorial. But the telephone game criticism doesn’t account for purposeful revisions the clean the story up. When one of these is introduced it messes up the whole works and makes everything suspect. What does it mean that this particular codex is accurate to 99%. 99% of what? To a document written sixty years after the event from the shared story telling and exaggerations of a thousand people? Shaky!

We aren’t limited only to what is in writing, though. We also have communities passing on the same information in a variety of oral methods including songs, liturgy, credal statements, storytelling and simple lists. When the written record becomes obscured, you can turn to the oral history to assist in discerning which of the two conflicting written records is correct, so when you hear the songs extolling the ten million dollars, but can’t find anything about any lion doll, you realize then that “lion doll” was a mistranslation.

How would the dishonest scribe manage to manipulate ALL of the extant copies?

As I point out in the post above on Textual Criticism, once the original is copied and sent to multiple cities, anyone wishing to make a deliberate alteration to the text would have to track down EVERY SINGLE COPY in order to cover his addition. How would that be possible?

Additionally, the Early Church Fathers quoted ALL BUT ELEVEN VERSES of the NT in their writings. How would a forger manage to alter all these manuscripts?

Finally, the members of the Early Church were not only eyewitnesses of the events of Jesus’ life but they were also part of an oral culture with exceptional memorization skills. They KNEW what happened and what had been previously written. Thus, anyone attempting to alter the texts would have had to face those who would have caught onto the ruse quickly. How would he handle that?

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