Fragments of Truthby Reuben Evans
Length: Length: 1 hour 45 minutes.
Fragments of Truth, produced by Faithlife (the company behind Logos Bible software) and directed by Reuben Evans, is a documentary simple in it’s premise: present evidences for the reliability of the New Testament through the lens of early manuscripts. Hosted by Dr. Craig Evans, and narrated by John Rhys-Davies (Gimli!) audiences are taken through a firehose of information about textual criticism and also get to enjoy a visual feast of ancient biblical manuscripts.
Who should watch this?
Anyone who has ever asked the question, “Can I trust the New Testament?”
The documentary examines various popular and scholarly claims against the New Testament. You’ve heard them before: the New Testament cannot be trusted because it was corrupted or lost over time, it was changed to fabricate points about Jesus, or the church selectively chose what books they wanted to consolidate power.
Or most damaging of all, we just can’t know what the biblical authors wrote. Essentially, the documentary is using evidence for the reliability of the New Testament that is not new (manuscript evidence, patristic quotations, ancient translations, etc.). Watch this for more.
One argument however, was new to me. Dr. Craig Evans argues that the lifespan of ancient papyri lasted for at least 150 years, sometimes even as long as 300 to 400 years, overturning the assumption that manuscripts only lasted a few decades. This means the original autographs were likely still in existence when the earliest copies were made.
This is significant because the copies could be checked for errors against the autographs, deflating the argument that transmission of the New Testament was corrupted. Fragments goes through many evidences to show that we have a reliable New Testament.
Fragments also takes us inside libraries and museums all over Europe and examines manuscripts that are centuries old. It was a real treat to see ancient manuscripts up close on a gigantic screen. Sometimes you could make out the texture of the papyrus and the individual brush strokes of ink used to write holy writ. You could almost feel the fragility of manuscripts and you felt excitement when a curator was about to lift one out of a box. These papyri are old! And precious! Faithlife was able to get some impressive access to produce this film.
You also get a sense of history and reverence and the pain-staking work it took to copy the New Testament. I came away with a new profound appreciation for how the Holy Spirit preserved the Biblical text through the work of scribes. Fragments also delves into ancient writing practices and how ancient handwriting experts (paleographers) can use this information to date manuscripts by examining the paper or looking at how words were written. Some of the script work on these documents is gorgeous. And Fragments allows us to see it all.
I also was flabbergasted at the amount of work textual critics have put in over the years to identify textual variants in order to get a New Testament that is as accurate as possible. As Dan Wallace says, only one-fifth of one percent of textual variants are “meaningful and viable.” That means, those variants can change the meaning of a text and could potentially reflect an actual recording of the original text.
But 70 percent of that tiny fraction are spelling errors and those few instances that are in question do not impact essential Christian teaching. Faithlife did a great job of interviewing over a dozen scholars to help us understand how textual criticism works and how the New Testament we have today, is the same New Testament the Biblical authors wrote. We should be thankful and appreciative of these scholars who bring us a reliable text that we can study and read.
A ton of information was presented in this film. There was so much though, that I felt the film could slow down a little bit and let itself breathe, if only to have some time to process all the arguments and evidence. The film also struggled at times to be overtly clear on what it was trying to present and it didn’t always bring out the implications of an argument for the everyday Christian.
Thus, some Christians who may have little knowledge in the field of textual criticism may struggle a to follow the argumentation. However, the scholarship is excellent, the information important, the visuals a treat, and the evidences encouraging. If it could be simplified and clarified a little bit, without dumbing anything down, Faithlife could have a “scholary-esque” film that plays widely.
If we can trust the New Testament, we can trust the claims of Jesus to forgive our sins. So the purpose of the film is clear: to demonstrate the reliability of the New Testament. It does this, really through the manuscripts themselves. Near the end of the film, Dan Wallace is commenting on P52, one of the earliest and the tiniest manuscripts (about the size of a credit card).
It contains verses from the Gospel of John. He says scholars assumed the Gospels were a synthesis of Peter and Paul’s writings and therefore the Gospels could not be written before the mid second century or later. Tiny P52 is discovered and dated to the first half of the second century, dismantling the previous widely held assumption.
Wallace sums up, referring to the tiny fragment as “an ounce of evidence that destroys a pound of presupposition.” The manuscripts, even in their tiniest form, speak for themselves. And thus we have our title: Fragments of Truth.