Words for thought: Verbatim

Words for thought: The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day for July 27th was verbatim. This was their definition: “in the exact words; word for word”.

An interesting anecdote came to mind when I saw this word. Some friends went to Israel on a mission trip to visit the Holy Land and to evangelize there. While they were there they attempted to teach a group of a dozen Hebrew youths the game of "telephone."

Telephone is a game where a line of children whisper a phrase from one person to the next. Each person must repeat the phrase exactly as they heard it spoken by the previous person. Obviously, mistakes and distortions are introduced along the chain as the phrase is heard and then repeated. By the time the phrase reaches the last person on the chain, it will have changed substantially from the original. The object of the game is to show how gossip results in distortions and inaccuracies.

As the telephone game was explained to the Hebrew children, they were confused at first: the children couldn't understand the point of the exercise.

As they finished playing a round of the game, an amazing thing happened. The child at the end of the line repeated exactly the same phrase that had started the game with the first child. For obvious reasons, my missionary friends were startled by the perfect result, so they decided to make the children play another round of the game. Yet again, the phrase was repeated perfectly through the entire line of children.

What these Western missionaries experienced was a distinction between Hebraic eastern culture and American western culture. In Hebraic culture it is considered honorable to quote someone exactly. As a result, children are usually trained to quote others with a degree of precision unimaginable to most Americans.

This is part of the cultural heritage of the Hebrew people. So, when unbelievers claim that Scripture was transmitted by word of mouth for centuries before it was written down and therefore must be corrupted over time, I share two things with them:

1. Exodus 24:3-4 and Deuteronomy 31:9 which make the point that Moshe wrote down the words of Scripture.
2. This anecdote that illustrates that for millennia exact repetition has been a hallmark of Hebrew culture and society, not only in speaking but in writing as well.