The Telephone Game

Have you ever played? It’s a simple game, get a lot of people together, line up, whisper the phrase you think you heard to the person next to you – and the last person speaks it aloud. Is it exactly the same? Similar? or Completely different?

Wikipedia says: “As well as providing amusement, the game can have educational value. It shows how easily information can become corrupted by indirect communication.”

It also notes: “In 2012, Philip Minchin, a volunteer working on International Games Day @ your library, ran a global game of Gossip that was played within multiple libraries around the world, with the current version of the phrase being passed from library to library across timezones as each venue completed its round of the game. Over 26 hours, the inaugural game travelled through seven languages and all six inhabited continents, starting in St Kilda Library, Melbourne, Australia as “Life must be lived as play” (a common paraphrase of a quote from Plato), and ending in Homer, Alaska, USA as “He bites snails.”[13] The second annual Global Gossip Game, on Saturday November 16, 2013, travelled to all seven continents, as the library of Casey Station in Antarctica participated. This game started as “Play is training for the unexpected”, and split into three different forks on the day and one of the libraries spread the game into local schools over the following week, for a total of five endings from that single start: “I love the world”, “Zombie”, “Clouds travel around the world”, Glow, glow, peanut butter jelly”, and “Ian needs help”.”

Which brings me back to today’s point – Tradition tells us that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. He received the inspiration to write what he heard. Over time, God inspired other individuals to write letters, The Law and the Prophets, and King David – the Psalms. It’s often called the Old Testament, and was certainly existed in Jesus’ time. In fact – it’s written that he opened up a scroll and read out of Isaiah. Not long after Jesus’ death and Resurrection, the first of the Gospels were written and the letters that became the majority of the New Testament were passed around. There was already a need for translations, as Jewish and Aramaic weren’t the languages of the rest of the world – Greek was understood by many, but not all. 

You see, much of the New Testament was put together about the year 350-ish (give or take a dozen years or so.) Before that there had been some attempts to get a list together, but nobody could agree on what should be included or excluded. Here’s where the problem begins. Much of our early texts are gone, lost to history. Some ancient translations survived – but were only found recently (in the context of history.) Some of the people that made sure these texts survived had a vested interest to be true to the spirit of the text, if not the letter of it. Some powerful people authorized translations, but insisted that they get to approve the final results. Others tried to write the scripture in their own languages, and were met with persecution. 

So when I look at my Bible, I see that I have a paraphrase of a copy of a translation of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a translation of a copy of a copy of a translation of a series of letters and other texts that was passed around from person to person, church to church, village to village or city to city, written by a person who prayed that his words were from God, roughly just under 2,000 years ago in another country on the other side of the world. Now people tell me that scripture is inerrant, but I can’t believe that the people that were involved were not flawed. They could try their best, but the rule of the Telephone Game shows that when people are involved, one cannot count on them to get it right. Which makes me wonder, just what have we gotten wrong, and when did it go wrong? And if we are all wrong somewhere, how do we set it right here on out?