It’s not uncommon for critics of the Jesus story to cite the Telephone Game as an analogy for why we should doubt the information we have about him. In the Telephone Game, a group of children sit in a circle. The first kid whispers a sentence into the ear of the second, the second whispers it to the third and so on. When the last kid compares notes with the first one, the original sentence has often been warped beyond recognition. The analogy is supposed to be to the long series of people that the Jesus story passed through from the alleged eyewitnesses, to those who repeated the story, to the authors of the Gospels, to the scribes to copied the Gospels that we have now. We can’t trust the information coming out of this conduit to be the same as the information that went in.
We can divide the layers of interference into five groups: the alleged eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, the people who heard the story from them and repeated them until the authors of the Gospels wrote them down 30 to 100 years later, the athors of the Gospels, the copiers who copied and recopied the stories over the next two centuries, and the canonizers who made a deliberate effort to cull one particular narrative about the life and death of Jesus out of thousands of early Christian writings that were circulating around until the Christian Bible as we know it was formed. That’s Alleged Eyewitnesses, Repeaters, Authors, Copiers, and Canonizers.