FILM REVIEW: Fragments of Truth
In April of 2018, Faithlife, producers of Logos Bible Software, released a film titled, “Fragments of Truth.” You can purchase the film for $14.99. The description of the film, provided on Faithlife’s website reads, Can we trust the Bible? Our faith is based on the New Testament—but can we really trust the Bible? Skeptics say no, arguing that the Gospel manuscripts have been doctored to push a theological agenda. Join Dr. Craig Evans [as he] takes this claim head-on, traveling the globe to track down the most ancient New Testament manuscripts. Along the way, he highlights groundbreaking new evidence, demonstrating that the case for the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts is stronger than ever.
The film is 1hr 17m long. It presents an incredible amount of information in that short amount of time and does so clearly and accurately.
The strength of this film is in the variety—and quality—of scholars who are interviewed to make it. Scholars such as J. K. Elliott, Larry Hurtado, Daniel Wallace, David Trobisch, David Parker, and Peter Williams.
The issue at hand is whether or not the New Testament (as we currently have it) is reliable. The film addresses the following matters:
(1) The Manuscript Evidence. What manuscripts are available to us? What can they tell us? What is their message?
(2) The Bookroll vs. the Codex. Over 95% of all Christian literature from the first three centuries are written in codices (i.e., books), while only 14% of non-Christian literature from the same time period are written on codices. This raises a host of questions, many of which cannot be answered, but it cannot be denied that Christian communities preferred the codex over the bookroll for their sacred and devotional writings, nearly two centuries before everyone else. This information contributes to the question of the New Testament canon, particularly with reference to the Gospel of Thomas..
(3) Dating. There is a brief discussion about how documents are dated and how accurate those dating methods are. This film shows its bias by dating all these manuscripts within the earliest portion of its suggested range by various scholars.
(4) Textual Variants. What exactly constitutes a “textual variant?” Are all textual variants created equal?
(5) How long was literature in use after it as written?
For those who study or are well-versed in the scholarship surrounding the New Testament, its production, and formation, this is the only information that is “new” to the discussion. This is undoubtedly the subject matter of the “groundbreaking new evidence” that is referenced in the description of this film. Simply put, the question is this, “Once literature was produced, how long was it used before it was ‘retired’ (so-to-speak)? Qumran and other archaeological sites and recent research suggest that scrolls were often in use for over 200 years before they were “phased out” and replaced. Dr. Craig Evans makes the case that if this holds true for the New Testament autographs (i.e. the original manuscript written by the original author), then we have manuscripts in existence today that were created before the autographs were phased out of usage. Evans suggests that if this is true, then copies could have been compared against the original, thus giving us a very reliable text. Even if the autographs were in use for two centuries, it’s doesn’t follow that copies were corrected against them. Dr. Evans overstates his case and gives this new information more significance than I would. With that said, the question of how long the autographs were in use is a new conversation to these studies of the material witness of the earliest Christian Church.
“Fragments of Truth” is a high quality film. Nobody can say everything that needs to be said about the New Testament’s production and formation in 80 minutes. “Fragments of Truth” does say a lot, though, and says it well. To the uninitiated, I cannot recommend a better resource out there to introduce the subject matter than this one. To those who have immersed themselves in this area of study, this film is a boilerplate presentation of the data, with the exception of the new research surrounding the longevity of manuscript use after his production.
My biggest objection to the film is from an interview with Daniel Wallace who says, “The average sized Greek NT manuscript is more than 450 pages long, and with over 5800 Greek NT, that’s over 2.5 million pages of text.” That is not only unhelpful, it’s intellectually dishonest. We do not have 2.5 million pages of Greek NT manuscripts to sift through. Papyrus fragment P52 is considered a “Greek NT Manuscript” even though it contains less than four verses of the Gospel of John.” While it is true that manuscripts containing the whole of the NT average 450 pages in length, we have very manuscripts that actually contain the entirety of the New Testament. Furthermore, this statement by Daniel Wallace distracts the viewer from the fact that the New Testament was often circulated as either (1) Gospels (2) Pauline Epistles (3) Catholic Epistles + Acts. In his zeal to defend what is a reliable text, Daniel Wallace has misconstrued the data, and don’t be surprised if he is attacked by skeptics for this dishonest construal for years to come.
In conclusion, this is a video that you can share to your Bible Study class without fear. It does not cast aspersions on the text of the New Testament or otherwise create doubt about it. Other than the objection noted in the previous paragraph, it is an academically and intellectual faithful portrayal of the material evidence. For $14.99, it’s a good investment for congregations who wish to introduce and inform their people on this topic which is a favorite battleground of skeptics, even though the evidence favors the community of faith.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor at Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches of Cresbard and Wecota, SD.