A few weeks ago I received an email from Dan Pritchett, Executive VP at Faithlife informing me of a new limited showing film ready to be released by his company. Titled “Fragments of Truth,” the documentary provides an efficient, graphic explanation of the manuscript history of the New Testament. Along the way, it engages the primary questions raised by serious NT critics. This is reportedly Faithlife’s first effort at such a film and it was released in select theaters around the country, for one night only on April, 24th at 7:00 PM. Dan’s team sent me a couple of tickets, and so my wife and I attended courtesy of Faithlife. Here is a quick synopsis.
The film has a great many strengths. The below are what we viewed as the top three highlights.
1. Cinematography. The most immediate observation that we made was in connection to the cinematography. It was simply excellent. It was engaging, and purposeful, and complimented the story line and various arguments well. It seemed obvious to me that the film was produced by experts in digital media. Indeed, Faithlife is the parent company of Logos Bible Software. They are well known for excelling in the area of electronic media. Their work here may have set a new standard in terms of clear, strategic, effective use of digital and traditional media in service to a well-conceived story line on this kind of subject.
2. Personalities and Locations. The contributors to the film were almost all well-known scholars in the field of NT and related studies. The locations were also familiar, and were the most important, interesting, and attractive historical and academic environments for the subject matter. I felt like I was back on the streets of Oxford and visiting the Weston library. The structures and images were beautiful. I found myself pointing out familiar places to my wife, such as the Radcliffe Camera and oft featured Hertford College Bridge (though these two were mere architectural eye candy as far as the story line was concerned).
Of particular interest to me were the personalities selected for the interviews. Not all scholars are interesting and efficient communicators. Getting experts who can say exactly what needs to be said in a way that is engaging and accessible to a 21st century non-specialist is, in my opinion, akin to capturing lightning in a bottle. This speaks to a combination of careful selection of experts, skillful/artistic story line development, and editing out non-pertinent data. It would not at all be surprising to me if I heard that each 7 hours of interview time yielded 30 seconds to a few minutes’ worth of quality material. I say this because I recently gave 7 hours of interview in two separate locations for the production of a similar, forthcoming movie related to the Old Testament. This process awakened me to how much is involved with this sort of thing. I have no idea how much will make the final cut, but probably not a lot if edited as carefully as has been done for this movie. This leads to the below observation.
3. Efficiency & Effectiveness of Argumentation. One of the most difficult things in getting a script and story line right, especially when complex or technical arguments are involved, is in knowing what to leave out. In my view, the careful selection and storyline development for this film has exceeded what I have observed in many secular efforts. I have no doubt that a team of experts worked tirelessly to make sure the argumentation was crystal clear. The development of the film toward a defined conclusion was interesting, efficient, and compelling.
No effort can be completely free of limiters. The below seeks to mention a couple of points where some viewers might struggle a bit.
1. Mid-level argumentation. For the uninitiated, the film and its story line will probably feel like jumping into the middle of a conversation that has been going on for a long time. My assessment is that the film will be ideal for college students curious about the subject matter, those disturbed by critical arguments and in need of serious answers, Bible institute level classes, and generally any lay people who have already had an introduction to the concepts discussed. The film will also be helpful to more advanced students or scholars who can benefit from efficient presentation of facts.
2. Data Overload. A second area where some viewers will struggle is in relation to the rapidity of some of the information. Occasionally, the presentation of details such as dates, specialized terminology, personal names, and other technical material came just a little too fast. I predict that the majority of viewers will need to watch the film multiple times to get it, but then again, I suppose that’s what the study guide anticipates. I suspect that the makers of the film are so accustomed to the content that some of them may disagree with me claiming that they accounted for this concern and worked hard to address it in advance. I would agree with them that they have excelled, but some of the viewers will still struggle.
3. Extra-biblical Literature. In the Q & A section in the end, Dr. Evans compared the manuscript evidence of the NT to that of other ancient literature. This is a common approach used by NT scholars to show the uniqueness of the New Testament. My wife remarked that the issue is so important that it should have been featured in the body of the film, since most may not stick around to watch the Q & A. I agree with her. So, our view is that the extra-biblical literary comparisons would have best served the motif of the film by being moved from the Q & A to the main portion of the film. One might aver, though, claiming that nothing of interest would then be left for the Q & A.
In conclusion, I would award the movie Fragments of Truth 4.8 out of 5 stars. It was a success and will be useful far beyond the initial theatre showing. Even more, my firm belief is that this film is one that needed to be produced. The questions that it addressed and successfully answered are very important and pressing questions that needed precisely this kind of response. It may be that only Faithlife could have done it this well. I can see MIKRA working the film or portions of the film into some of our future exhibits, especially when we feature New Testament manuscripts. I look forward to seeing how this develops going forward.
- R. Brian Rickett, Principal Researcher, The MIKRA Research Laboratory
- Founder and CEO, The MIKRA Corporation, LLC
- Director, The Artifact Foundation
- Professor of Biblical Studies, The BMA Theological Seminary
- Old Testament Faculty Associate, The Master’s Seminary
In addition to working with original language biblical scrolls and manuscripts, Prof. Rickett has taught biblical and theological research languages, as well New Testament, Old Testament, and other courses for 19 years.