Oral Tradition and the Telephone Game

Today, I heard what was most likely the most laughable argument against the historicity of the gospels that I have ever heard. It was a comparison of the oral tradition which passed down the accounts of Jesus of Nazareth until they were written down against the game of “Telephone.”

Basically, the idea here was based on the idea that most scholars put the first written gospels at between 20 and 25  years after Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. (Yes, I know that most scholars only agree on the first two.) Therefore, for the first 20 to 25 years, the events later recorded in the gospels were passed down via oral tradition, or the telling of stories from one generation to the next.

The argument went on to say that the story would have been corrupted in much the same way as you see happens in the game of “telephone.” If you’re not familiar with this name, it’s the game where someone at one end of the room whispers something to the person next them. Then, that person whispers it to the next person and so on until it reaches the other end of the room.

Typically, the more people you have in this “telephone” game, the more corrupted the original story becomes. If you have a dozen or more people, it often reaches the end in a form that is completely different from the original and has very few, if any, similarities between the two.

This is the claim made of the oral passing down of the gospels and the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Except that there is one important detail that seems to be missing from the equation. This is an apples to oranges comparison.

The reason the telephone game works is because each time the story is passed on to the next person, it is said one time by someone who only heard it one time and may not have heard it correctly because it was whispered. Oral tradition is a far different matter.

With oral tradition, one speaker relates the story to many people at the same time. The story is repeated many times in order to pass along essential details. Then, since multiple people have heard the same story numerous times from the same source, they can then keep one another accountable to pass along the story accurately.

If, in the game of telephone, each person were told the story every day for a month before passing it to someone else, I think we would find that the story’s integrity would hold together for quite a bit longer than in the traditional method for playing the game.

So, if you ever hear someone argue against the validity and historicity of the gospels (or any scriptures, for that matter) by comparing it to the telephone game, please keep this in mind and be sure to correct the naysayer in order that they don’t continue to misrepresent the truth.

This comparison is a sign of either intellectual dishonesty or just plain ignorance. Please feel free to point that out if you hear it used.

What other arguments against the Bible or Christianity have you heard that are ridiculous and completely absurd?

Grace, love and peace.

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