Critics of Christianity often point to the telephone game as an illustration of why we shouldn't trust the biblical text. Simply put, the books of the Bible have almost certainly gone through innumerable changes over the past 3,000 years. They have been passed around from person to person, copied and re-copied, like the telephone game. So, even if the original texts were written by credible eye witnesses, we don't have the originals, and there is no way to know what they said; therefore, we shouldn't trust the Bible.
Before responding to this objection, I want to concede a few things. First of all, this is a clever objection. The reason I say it is clever is because it sidesteps the question of whether or not what the Bible says is true by asserting that it is impossible to know what the Bible originally said. Secondly, this objection has great rhetorical power. We all remember the telephone game, and we know how quickly and easily things get garbled up. Finally, like any good objection, it possesses a certain amount of truth. Are there variations in biblical manuscripts? Yes. There are A LOT. Have some things been added to the text by copyists over time? Almost certainly. However, we do not have to be afraid of these facts.
As it turns out, there are several reasons why the telephone game is not a good analogy for biblical transmission. First of all, while students have fun whispering silly phrases and awaiting the final result, copies of the biblical text were not made flippantly, but with an unparallelled attention to detail. We see evidence of this when we compare the Dead Sea Scrolls (circa 400 BC) to the Masoretic text (circa 900 AD). Consider the manuscripts of Isaiah that are found in each. More than a thousand years separates the two, but apart from small variations like obvious slips of the pen and spelling errors, they are virtually identical (thanks to technology, you can actually compare the two here). Imagine how the telephone game would be different if the teacher wrote down the original message on a piece of paper and the first student had to copy it on his/her own piece of paper and pass his/hers to the next person to be copied and so forth and so on. Unless someone intentionally altered the message, there is a very strong likelihood that it would come out the same on the other end.
Secondly, imagine if the teacher and first few students were able to move around the room and check what the students down the line were writing. That would change the game dramatically. Consider the Gospel accounts. There are good reasons to maintain that they were all written down within 40-60 or years of the events that they report, and they didn't wait around to start making copies. What if one of the first few (local) copyists decided to tweak the details of story? First of all, they would be quickly out of a job since they would almost certainly get caught. There would be other copies circulating. The author was still alive. Many of the eyewitnesses mentioned in the text were still alive, along with many others who had heard them tell their stories (some of whom may have been young and remembered the details for decades to come). You wouldn't have a very successful career as a copyist if you are in the habit of screwing up copies. Here again, the telephone game is not a very good parallel for biblical transmission. If the teacher and students were able to check the message as it moved around the room, it would probably remain very close to the original. But what if alterations did creep in? Does that mean all hope of knowing the original message is lost? No.
In the telephone game, the last person in the line is the only one whose statement comes out publicly. But suppose the teacher collected all of the copies that every student had made and read them all out loud so that the class could compare them in effort to determine the correct message. Even if a couple of students made mistakes (or more likely, purposefully altered the message) it would be pretty easy to identify the mistakes and rule out the alterations based on the rest of the copies. Let's consider the original example that I gave: "A man named Arthur ate a banana and oatmeal for breakfast." One of the students wrote: "A man-made aardvark ate a panda and old wheels for Texas." As messed up as the latter message is, we have several words in common: "A man...ate a...and...for." Not only that, we can pretty easily determine that some of the words were purposefully altered since it sounds ridiculous. Even if we only had two other copies to work with, one that said "A man named Arthur at a banana and old meal for breakfast" and one that said "A man named Arth or ate bananas and oatmeal for breakest" we could figure out the original message pretty quickly. Imagine how much clearer it would be if we have dozens of copies that said exactly the same thing. Even if the original made by the teacher was lost, we would be able to determine that a man named Arthur ate at least one banana and some oatmeal for breakfast. We wouldn't be thrown off by aardvarks, pandas, or old wheels and say "Alas, there is no way to know!" For these reasons, among others, the telephone game is not a good analogy for biblical transmission.