Paul writing

As student’s read Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, and then read the discussions of some scholars on the subject, they are often confused with respect to how many letters did Paul write to the church at Corinth, as well as the chronology of when he wrote them.  Moreover, as they begin to investigate the history of the epistles found in the New Testament sometimes they get frustrated by the discover that the early church did not preserve everything that the apostles wrote, and this is especially true with Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth.  Some scholars postulate that Paul wrote at least 4 different letters to the Corinthians, and some even assert that 2 Corinthians is really a redaction that merges 2 different letters so that they appear as a single letter.  I will suggest in this blog that this is simply not the case, and I will argue that it is most probable that although Paul did write many personal letters to people at different churches, he only wrote 2 “general epistles” to the church at Corinth, and both of them are contained in the New Testament. By the term “general epistles” I mean letters that Paul wrote for the purpose of instruction to entire congregations, instead of brief letters that he wrote to individuals or church leaders that simply provided his future travel plans, or to commend a fellow evangelist/missionary to a local congregation.[1] It is highly probably that Paul wrote many letters; however, most were not intended to provide universal Christian instruction and doctrine for local congregations.  So with that in mind, let’s focus on Paul’s letters that he spoke of in 1st and 2nd Corinthians.  In 1st Corinthians 5.9 and 11 Paul referred to a letter he wrote in the past tense, thus we learn about one of Paul’s unpreserved letters.  We will simply call this letter “Pre-Corinthians,” my primary reason for this designation is that I don’t want to confuse anyone by using common scholarly nomenclature on this topic, consequently I am purposely avoiding it.

Some may argue that Pre-Corinthians is really 1st Corinthians. They would assert that Paul should be understood as saying “In the letter that I am now writing I am telling you not to associate with immoral people” (1 Cor 5.9). Very few scholars accept this interpretation simply because it does not respect the most natural grammatical construction of the verse. The natural reading of 1 Corinthians 5.9 and 11 is that Paul was referring to a previous letter that he probably wrote to the leadership of the church at Corinth. So what happened to Pre-Corinthians? Simply put, the church at Corinth did not preserve it. Some will ask “Why did they not also preserve it since they preserved both 1st and 2nd Corinthians?” This question cannot be definitively answered by anyone, but I would simply conjecture that it was most likely devoted to business matters, future travel plans, commendations of fellow missionaries, and instructions that were not doctrinal in nature. However, within Pre-Corinthians Paul did give a few exhortations, one of which was to not closely associate with false believers or hypocritical Christians. He did so, however, without providing any in depth theological or ethical discussion. Paul may have even specifically identified some of these people by name. Consequently, Pre-Corinthians was probably brief, was not intended for instruction to the entire church at Corinth, and was primarily directed to the leadership with explicit instructions on mundane business matters. Simply put, it was more of a personal letter; it was not intended for a larger audience. Next we come to 1st Corinthians, which you should know by now is a rather long and complex letter dealing with a great diversity of issues that plagued the church at Corinth. Since 1st and 2nd Corinthians are both complex epistles some suggest that both are “composite” letters, but an explanation of this term will have to be handled by a different blog.

Almost a year later Paul wrote 2nd Corinthians, which continued addressing some of the same issues contained in 1st Corinthians, as well as other new issues. In 2nd Corinthians Paul referenced a previously written “severe letter” (2 Cor 2.4 and 7.8). Some scholars assert that this is another lost letter from Paul, but I think not.  I assert that Paul’s “severe” letter this is none other than 1st Corinthians. This assertion is supported by the fact that, other than Paul’s letter to Galatians, 1st Corinthians contains more rebukes and exercises more apostolic authority then any other Pauline epistle. Paul actually “shames” the entire church at Corinth on 2 separate occasions in 1st Corinthians (see 1 Cor 6.5 and 15.34). Below is a list the rebukes and admonitions contained in Paul’s first general epistle to the church at Corinth:

1 Cor 1.11: a rebuke concerning inter-fellowship quarrels.

1 Cor 3.1-3: a rebuke concerning carnal immaturity.

1 Cor 4.6-7: a rebuke concerning boasting.

1 Cor 4.14: Paul explains that his intent is not shame but admonishment.

1 Cor 4.18-21: Paul rebukes the arrogance of some and explains that he is coming to discipline them.

1 Cor 5.1-8: Paul rebukes the church for tolerance of well-publicized gross sexual immorality.

1 Cor 6.1-8: Paul rebukes the church over lawsuits.

1 Cor 7.5: Paul admonishes some for depriving their marriage partners by not fulfilling their sexual responsibilities to their spouses.

1 Cor 11:17-18: Paul rebukes the church for “divisions” with respect to not sharing during fellowship meals with those in need.

1 Cor 12-14: Paul gently rebukes the church over their immaturity with respect to the proper exercise of spiritual gifts and conduct during corporate worship. On a side note, those who point to the church at Corinth with respect to the use of spiritual gifts have completely missed Paul’s point in this epistle concerning the proper exercise and purposes of spiritual gifts. In Paul’s mind, the church at Corinth was the worst example of how spiritual gifts should be exercised.

1 Cor 15.12: Paul engages those who claim that there is no resurrection from the dead (“some among you”). Clearly in this passage Paul is confronting heretics within the churches at Corinth.

1 Cor 15.33-34: Paul rebukes those who enjoy the company of those who live for their own carnal desires.

It actually pains me to point out these glaring observations that some scholars ignore concerning the very real possibility that Paul’s “severe letter” referred to in 2 Corinthians is in all probability 1st Corinthians. This is but another example of Occam’s razor, which states that when confronted with competing hypothesis, the one that demands the least amount of assumptions, conjectures, and speculations should be preferred.

So what are some of the lessons from this blog? They are: (1) very early in the church’s history, when churches began receiving epistles from the apostles that were to be read to entire congregation for the purposes of instruction with respect to correct doctrines and appropriate Christian conduct, churches were of the habit of preserving those specific authoritative educational letters (this would be an example of what is meant by the criteria of “Rule of Faith,” which simply means literature that was composed for the purpose of educating the church on the true orthodox “Faith” was viewed as authoritative). Other letters, however, that were more personal, private, and predominantly focused upon simple logistical matters were usually not preserved (although there are some exceptions; e.g., Philemon, 2 Timothy). (2) Concerning Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, the leadership of the church at Corinth did not preserved “Pre-Corinthians” since it was not intended for the greater church at large. They did, however, preserve Paul’s severe letter, which I argue is 1 Corinthians, as well as Paul’s follow up letter after his painful visit, which I also argue is 2nd Corinthians. Just food for thought.


[1]At this point I wish to state that Paul’s letters to the “church” at Corinth were probably letters that were intended to be read, copied, and disseminated to multiple congregations located throughout the city of Corinth and the surrounding area instead of letters intended for a single “mega-church” at Corinth.

Copyright, © by Monte Shanks, 2016


Jesus being nailed

Paul and His Use of the Term “In Christ”

The phrase “in Christ” was clearly one of Paul’s favorite terms, one which has multifaceted nuances of theological significance and import.  However, it is necessary for students to understand the foundational aspect of this phrase in order to better understand Paul’s comprehensive theology with respect to it.  Paul used this term in a myriad of ways to speak of how believers relate to Christ and the church; nevertheless, for Paul the basis of what it means to be “in Christ” is found in its forensic/judicial sense (e.g., Rom 3.21-26, 8.1; 2 Cor 5.19).  Being “in Christ” means that Jesus’ sacrificial death has become the payment for our sins.  Consequently, God no longer looks upon our sins with a judicial purpose since we are “in Christ,” meaning that we have been and are continually united with Christ because Jesus has atoned for all of our sins.  Millard Erickson explained our union with Christ in this manner,

“The first characteristic of our union with Christ is that it is judicial in nature.  When the Father evaluates or judges us before the law, he does not look upon us alone.  We are in his sight one with Christ.  God always sees the believer in union with Christ and he measures the two of them together: Thus, he does not say, ‘Jesus is righteous but the human is unrighteous.’ He sees the two as one and says in effect, ‘They are righteous.’ That the believer is righteous is not a fiction or a misrepresentation.  It is the correct evaluation of a new legal entity, a corporation that has been formed as it were.  The believer has been incorporated into Christ and Christ in the believer . . . . All of the assets of each are now mutually possessed.  From a legal perspective, the two are now one.”1 And again:  “Our union with Christ has certain implication for our lives.  First, we are accounted righteous.  Paul wrote, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8:1).  Because of our judicial union with Christ, we have a right standing in the face of the law and in the sight of God.  We are as righteous as is God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.”2

Similarly, concerning Rom 8.1 Tom Schreiner stated that “What verse 1 enunciates is that no ‘condemnation’ exists for those ‘in Christ Jesus.’  ‘In Christ Jesus’ refers to those who died with Christ Jesus and will be raised with him, harking back to 6:1-11.  Believers are not under condemnation, because they have died with Christ, and thus the condemnation that they deserved as children of Adam has been removed by the second Adam, Jesus Christ.  The word condemnation is a forensic term denoting the removal of the curse from those who are descendant of Adam.”3

Consequently, there is no condemnation for any who have completely and solely entrusted themselves upon the sufficient atoning sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on their behalf.  Those who by faith receive Jesus’ sacrificial death as payment for their sins are eternally united with him in the eyes of God.  That is not to say that God ignores our sins, far from it.  But we are no longer in jeopardy of bearing their eternal penalty.  Might we bear the earthly temporal consequences of our sins, of course (e.g., if we steal, we may go to jail; if we are unfaithful, our spouse may leave us or we may contract a disease; if we drive drunk or distracted we may be killed in a car accident).  Might God discipline us for them as any loving father would his children, certainly (Heb 12.7-11). Nevertheless, God will not hold us responsible for the eternal penalty of our sins since Jesus has sufficiently paid for them all by taking their curse upon himself.


1. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 952.

2. Ibid., 953.

3. Tom Schreiner, Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 399.


School shooting Columbine Shooting

If you knew of a place where your kids would:

  1. be bullied on a daily basis;
  2. be constantly exposed to alcohol and/or addictive drugs;
  3. be told that believing in God was ridiculous because it isn’t “scientific”; therefore, doing so is an irrational superstition that is based solely on ancient myths;
  4. be encouraged to explore sexual experimentation, while also being trained for sexual activity;
  5. be told that they were in control of their own bodies and if they wanted to get an abortion then they shouldn’t have to consult you;
  6. be told that even though their DNA and anatomy dictated that they were a specific gender, that they have the right and freedom to act like the opposite gender;
  7. be told that there is no such thing as absolute truth, but that all truths are relative and morally equivalent;
  8. be told that love for our country was wrong because our country is oppressive, founded upon injustice, and run through an inefficient and unequal governmental system;
  9. have your family values regularly undermined while being constantly brainwashed into thinking that only a centralized government can meet their needs and solve their problems;
  10. be protected from the negative impact of their failures and be deceived into feeling that failure is acceptable and of little consequence;
  11. be trained to feel that it is everyone else’s responsibility to help satisfy their needs;
  12. be surrounded by peers that laughed at them for honoring, respecting, and obeying you;

and finally but most importantly,

  1. at any moment and for no apparent reason they could be sexually assaulted, stabbed, or shot!

Would you want to fund such a place with your taxes, and more importantly, would you allow your children to go there?  Well there is such a place, and it’s called the America’s public school system.

Before going any further and in full disclosure, I’m a product of the public school, and I’m married to a public school teacher, and she is an exceptional teacher.  Additionally, my children have attended both public and private schools.  Moreover, several of our extended family members have served in public school systems, and our public schools across this country are filled with quality and gifted educators.  Nevertheless, the problem is not with the individual instructors in the classroom, but with the federal and state governments that have created the danger zone that is now our public school systems.  Part of the reason they have become dangerous instead of productive is that the government has mandated that all children be accepted into our public schools.  They are received in spite of the fact that many have absolutely no interest in being taught; moreover, they enjoy being an impediment to education of others.  Furthermore, the government requires that others be accepted whose parents who have no interest or willingness to control their children’s behavior, while also not tolerating disciplinarian efforts of others.  And lastly, within in our federal, state, and local governments, and even within many classrooms there are teachers that feel it is their mission and responsibility to eradicate your parental influence by indoctrinating your children with their secular cultural and political values.  Values that are inherently incompatible with Christian values and beliefs.  To borrow an old line, “This is not your father’s public school system.”  The fact that we are actually discussing the training and arming of teachers and administrators, or the stationing on-duty police officers within our schools should tell us that America’s public school system has become a “danger zone.”  Public schools are now a place where no sane parent would consider sending their neighbor’s children, much less their own.

Of course, there is the other end of the spectrum, which is private schools that function simply cheap baby sitting centers, of which the end product are also not acceptable.  They are graduating students that are ill prepared for the academic and political-cultural challenges of today’s colleges, as well as being ill equipped to compete for trades in current economy, much less act like as responsible adults.  Some of these schools even employ “teachers” that actually have no professional training on how to effectively educate anyone.  Regrettably, many of today’s schools, whether public or private, have become cheap government subsidized “day care” providers.

Many of you reading this may be thinking “But if my kids don’t go to public schools then they will miss out on so many fun activities.”  If you are thinking this then you are tragically misguided.  The function of a school is to train your children with thinking skills, educating them in the academic fundamentals, and preparing them for adulthood; that is the primary function of a school.  All else is secondary and ancillary.  Furthermore, many private schools do a fine job in providing these same activities that you so dearly value.  “But what about participating in athletics, and the possible scholarships they may provide?”  Again, if you are thinking this then you are not really well informed about the spectrum of organized sports available to you and your children.  The fact is that most athletes that receive collegiate scholarships regularly participate in AAU or other non-public sports clubs and leagues, and many of today’s scholarship athletes are the products of private schools.  For example, if you research the top 5 high school basketball prospects for 2018, 4 of the 5 currently attend private schools.  And the one that is attending a public school actually attends a school in my county.  The fact of the matter is that he also could have attended private school tuition free if his parents wished.  Private prep schools regularly recruit top student athletes knowing that some day those that become professional will inevitably return to financially reward their school’s investment in them.  For example, the top athletes emerging in the public schools in the greater Louisville area are regularly recruited away to private schools that subsidize the cost of their education as they play sports for them.  The bottom line is this, if you value the athletic programs and social activities that are found at public schools, then you should know that those same activities can be found in many private schools.  Of course the one exception is that of Christian clubs, such clubs are systematically being ignored, marginalized, and banned from our public schools.  For example, the school system where I live has historically and proactively found ways of keeping Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Young Life clubs from forming in our county’s schools.  And while I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, I expect this kind of secular bias will increasingly become the norm rather than the exception.  As America’s greater culture becomes militantly secular so will our public schools—it is simply unavoidable.  The current dominant culture in America is fast becoming militantly secular and displays no interest in protecting Christian values and sensitivities. Case in point, if Joy Behar, while on the air, can call our country’s sitting vice president mentally ill because of his Christian faith and still keep her job, then how can anyone possibly prove me wrong?

So what is the solution?  Hard work and sacrifice.  Proverbs 23:23 tells us “Buy truth, and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding”; while Proverbs 9.10 states that the “fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  Consequently, Christians must stop being lazy and make the necessary sacrifices required to create respectable, professionally trained and well equipped Christian schools, schools that will commit to goals such as:

  1. training parents and students alike in the fundamentals of the biblical worldview, as well as providing a basic knowledge of the Bible while instilling a value for it.
  2. training students to think critically, so that they may function as insightful and wise adults.
  3. preparing students for engaging both the Modern and Post-Modern cultures that are becoming increasingly Humanistic in their orientation.
  4. training students so that they will be well equipped in the major academic disciplines that they will be required to engage in if they chose to attend college.
  5. introducing students to different high-demand trades that can provide them with fulfilling and productive careers if they chose to not pursue a college degree.

And lastly, but most importantly;

  1. training our children in such a manner that they will become fully devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If we have learned anything from America’s home-schooling community it is this, anything is possible with hard work and sacrifice.  Some of our country’s most admired and productive people were successfully home-schooled at some point in their life, people such as Francis Collins, Tim Tebow, Bode Miller, and Reid W. Baron.  Many parents, however, either are not adequately trained or do not feel well equipped to home-school their children.  Consequently, only 3 options remain, they are:

  1. enroll your children in a respectable private school;
  2. begin creating a private Christian school that will embrace goals similarly to those listed above.

Or lastly,

  1. continue sending the children you claim to love to the cultural cesspool and potential death traps that America’s public schools have become.

Choices 1 and 2 will certainly require a great effort and financial sacrifice, which if made will produce rewarding benefits both for you and your children.  The last option, however, means that you are willing to run the risk of allowing your children to be intellectually brainwashed against Christianity, emotionally handicapped with respect to interacting with others in the real world, or even physically assaulted.  The choice is only yours to make.  However, if I were starting my family all over again, then I would no longer consider today’s public schools as a viable option.  Moreover, my career choices would have their education as a primary consideration.  Right now, the future of our public school systems looks dim, and it is growing darker by the day.  Consequently, if you love your children and want a brighter future for them, then you will find an alternative to the danger zones that become our nation’s public schools.

secret 1

Concerning the “Phone Game” and the Old and New Testaments

In the past I have had students who think it is at best questionable to believe that material now found in the Old Testament reflects the original instructions that Moses received from God.  Additionally some also have similar doubts with respect to the assertion that the canonical Gospels were composed by their traditionally recognized authors, or accurately reproduced by Christian scribes.  But for this blog I wish to primarily focus on the Old Testament manuscript evidence since it is relevant to what is now referred to as Second Temple Judaism.  First, because of the need for this blog to be brief, I highly recommend that you all take some time and research the copyist practices of Jewish scribes.  You will soon discover that the practices and standards of Jewish scribes were by far the most exacting in the ancient world.  They were in their times professional copyists of the highest degree whose greatest concern was the preservation of the originals, not the creation of new material or the alteration of what they had received.  However, this was not entirely true of the Septuagint—but this is a completely different matter.  The LXX, as you should know by now, is an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  Consequently, the translators of the LXX were faced with a challenge, which was how could they best translated the precise meanings of their ancient texts to those of a different language and culture.  This was quite a challenge for them, and it still is a challenge for today’s missionaries as they attempt to translate the Bible into the native tongue of different people groups.  As Jewish scribes translated the Hebrew texts into Greek their efforts produced the LXX, which at times changed certain aspects of Hebrew vocabulary and imagery (for example the LXX has significantly less anthropomorphism, which is attributing human characteristics to God).  Why they chose to do so one can only guess (some have suggested that the translators wanted to avoid giving their pagan audiences the idea that the one true God, who is Spirit, possessed physical attributes).  Nevertheless, for the LXX translators it seemed like a necessity so that their Greek translation of God’s word would not produce misunderstandings about the nature and essence of the one true spiritual God to their Greek audiences.  This should not alarm us with respect to the doctrine of inerrancy and inspiration because these doctrines affirm these qualities to only the original manuscripts of the Old and New Testament.  They do not apply to later copies or translations of these original manuscripts.  The fact is that copyists do occasional make errors, but we can identify errors contained in one manuscript as we compare it to copies of other ancient biblical manuscripts.  The discipline of comparing multiple manuscripts of ancient works in order to discern what the content of the original autograph is known as “Textual Criticism.”  Consequently, it is the many copies of the scriptures themselves that correct and confirm the original text of a specific passage found in the Bible.

Secondly, some assume that the term “scribes” simply means “copyists” or men who only copied documents.  This is an incorrect assumption.  The fact is that Jewish scribes (also commonly referred to as “lawyers” in the Gospels) were also expert interpreters of the Law, and we know from the Mishnah and Talmud that many of their interpretations became codified and eventually revered by the Pharisees to a status that was equal to that of the Old Testament.  So, for example, Jeremiah 8.8 should not be assumed to mean that the “lying pen of the scribes” refers to their alteration of Old Testament texts, but their written interpretations or commentary of those Old Testament texts.  Nevertheless, even if one were to accept the premise that in Jeremiah’s day there were some scribes that altered some manuscripts as they copied them, it should not be automatically assumed that this was the standard practice for all Jewish scribes throughout the era of the Old Testament or even in Jeremiah’s day.  In fact, the Old Testament manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls verify that intent and exacting practices of Jewish scribes were to faithfully preserve and transmit what they had received, not to redact or change the manuscripts they were copying to fit their own felt needs or theology of their time.  Jewish scribes were not in the business of composing new material or altered what they had received while copying Old Testament manuscripts; instead they faithfully copied what they had received.

We do recognize, however, that while the recording of some of the historical books of the Old Testament (i.e., 1 and 2 Chronicles, etc.) that at times the authors of those books compiled their data into single books, but as they did they mentioned some of their source materials, sources that apparently have been lost to us but existed during the composition of some of the historical books now found in the Old Testament (e.g., “the records of the prophet Nathan and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite” (2 Chron 9.29); and “the records of Shemiah the prophet” (2 Chron 12.15); and “the treatise of the prophet Iddo” 2 Chron. 13.22).  Some may be think that it is sad that these works are not lost.  Well yes and no.  Some of these sources were not completely lost since they were accurately embedded into the larger historical works that have survived and are now integrated into the historical works in our canonical Old Testament.  We know that they were “accurately embedded” and not “redacted” with new meanings since the authors referred to those works as their sources, thus indicating that they existed and were available for inspection and comparison.  In other words, the author(s) of 1 and 2 Chronicles referred to some of their sources (which are lost to us) so that the readers of their day could compare their newer works with these older documents and corroborate that they have been accurately preserved in 1 and 2 Chronicles.  Thus, the inspired Old Testament authors provided “ancient footnotes” to identify what they had relied upon as they composed their larger works.  This means that Jewish scribes (i.e., copyists) did not “lie” by creating new books with different meanings than their sources, but they respected and protected their sources and accurately copied what they had received from them as the Holy Spirit inspired them to do.  If the author(s) of works such as 1 and 2 Chronicles wanted to redact and create new doctrines concerning God and his will for his people, then the absolute last thing they would have done was to refer their readers to sources that were written by God’s prophets that still existed and, thus, would have revealed their lack of faithfulness to the sources that they had cited.

Lastly, some students seem to think that the “phone game” is an accurate analogy of how most material in the Old Testament was predominantly preserved (that is with respect to post-Moses era), and some even think this about to the New Testament.  I recently listened to a lecture by a “scholar” named Bart Ehrman who actually used the phone game to ridicule and mock anyone that believes that the canonical Gospels are reliable historical documents that preserve factual data on the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  It is his conjecture that the sources for the Gospels were only oral rumors that were shared over several decades by multiple people who neither saw nor heard Jesus’ teachings, or witnessed any of the events they were relaying to others. Liberal scholars similar to Ehrman assert a historically inaccurate “3-stage” development of the Gospels that employs stages that are chronologically separated.  These scholars conjecture that there was first an oral stage, and as the first generation of Christians were close to dying out, then the second generation of Christians began to preserve their “traditions” in snippets commonly referred to as “pericopes,” and then lastly these became collated and redacted into what we know as our canonical Gospels.  The problem is that this is not supported by the historical data found within the New Testament, as well as what is also observable in other external historical records.   These records demonstrate that these different stages of development all existed simultaneously, that is within the same common generation.  For example, clearly it was the apostle Peter that preached the first Christian sermon at Pentecost in the mid AD 30s, but it was also the apostle Peter that was the eyewitness source who personally conveyed to Mark the data found in Mark’s Gospel, which Mark composed while Peter was still alive sometime in the mid AD 50s.  Consequently, we don’t reject the concept of a 3-stage development of the canonical Gospels, but only the inaccurate chronology of it proposed by scholars who reject the clear historical data that contradicts their misguided and biased theories.

The reality is that the “phone game” is a very poor analogy with respect to understanding the transmission of teachings found in the Old Testament and their texts, as well as the accounts concerning all that Jesus did and taught.  The Old Testament was not transmitted solely through an oral medium.  As early as the time of Moses important documents and covenants were preserved in writing.  If one will do a simple word search for the term “to write” in the Pentateuch one will discover many references to commandments and teachings that Moses himself personally wrote (remember, he was a member of Pharaoh’s family and court; consequently, he received a superior education and was literate; i.e., he could both read and write).  Moreover, God through Moses ordered the people of Israel to preserve in writing the commandments that Moses received directly from God.  So, yes, oral transmission of the Law was a common educational practice throughout ancient Jewish history, but all oral transmissions could be checked and verified against what had been preserved in writing.  Jesus himself, as well as his opponents, referred to the Law as the writings of Moses (cf., Mark 10.3-9, 12.19-26; Luke 20.28 & 37; John 5.46).   Consequently, the assertion that the phone game is a good analogy of how the original commands and events of the Old Testament were preserved is a terribly inaccurate assertion.  And this is also equally as important with respect to understanding the development and integrity of the New Testament because this same attitude of Jewish scribes toward their original manuscripts of the Old Testament also later influenced Christian scribes as they copied the original manuscripts of the New Testament (remember, the origin of Christianity is thoroughly Jewish).

Lastly, the original manuscripts of the Gospels are not the product of anonymous rumors from people that may or may not heard Jesus’ teachings or saw the miracles he performed, but they are the product of those who either walked with Jesus during his entire public ministry and were his hand picked students (i.e., Matthew and John), or were the close associates of the apostles of Jesus (i.e., Mark and Luke).  Consequently, the canonical Gospels are not the product of anonymous hearsay or constantly evolving communal rumors, but directly from eyewitnesses who were personal disciples of Jesus or those who knew and interviewed known disciples and followers of Jesus.  So next time someone brings up the “phone game” concerning the Bible and especially the Gospels you are well defended in correcting them as to why this does not apply to what we know about the literature that documents the teachings, deeds, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Just some food for thought.


Copyright, © by Monte Shanks, 2013

Moses and the 10 commandments

Occasionally while researching the historicity of the Old Testament you will come across scholars who argue that “Judaism” did not arise until the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile. The opinion of some is that the Jews did not really have their “religion” in literary form during the earliest periods in Hebrew history; instead the Hebrews relied almost exclusively in oral “forms” or stories to preserve their faith. Consequently, Judaism’s appreciation and obedience to its literature is a rather late development in Jewish spirituality and culture, a development that occurred when the Jews returned to the Southern Kingdom (i.e., Judea) from exile after the fall of the Babylonian empire at the hands of the Persians; thus the term “Judaism.”

Extremely radical and secular scholars would additionally assert that it was at this point that Judaism began to become distinctly different from pagan religions. Therefore, I wish to address this issue of orality (also aurality in some technical works) with respect to the pagan religions of the Roman world, as well as the true origin and basis of authentic Judaism, which always found its roots in its historical Hebrew faith and writings. For the remainder of the blog please understand that I am using the terms “the Hebrew faith” and “Judaism” as synonyms; consequently, understand that in this blog these concepts refer to the same belief system.

Judaism was very different compared to pagan religions because it was primarily a text-based faith—even in the very beginning during the time of Moses. Pagan religions, however, were all based on myths that were almost exclusively passed on via oral traditions and dissemination.  This difference is because unlike Judaism pagan religions are not based upon actual historical events.  That is not to say that some pagan religions do not refer to actual historical events (e.g., the flood), but that at their core they are not based in reality, instead they are grounded in myths and legends about reality.  Judaism, however, is based upon the historical reality of God’s personal intervention within human history.  Exclusive orality of tradition, therefore, has never been the basis of the Jewish faith (see Duet 4.1-2, 13-14; 6.4-9; Josh 1.6-9). From as early as the time of Moses, Judaism was founded upon written texts that are contained in the Old Testament, specifically beginning with the Pentateuch. Moreover, Jews were expected to be able to read and understand their religious texts if they wished to correctly obey them. Consequently, the literacy rate among Jews was in all probability higher than that of polytheistic Gentiles whose worldview consisted of a belief in the pantheon and mystery religions, which all were primarily rehearsed and preserved through oral mediums. Some modern scholars have suggested that the literacy rate during the Roman Empire was around 10%, and even lower among Jews.  However, more recent scholarship has observed historical data that contradicts this assertion, as well as the apparent weaknesses and significant gaps in the research techniques of those who promote such a conjecture concerning Jewish literacy rates.

Nevertheless, this is not to say that oral traditions were not important in Judaism, for clearly oral traditions were a part of the practice of Judaism since Jews often depended upon priests, scribes, and Pharisees to explain the correct application of God’s word—and many of these later explanations were originally communicated orally. However, it is to say that unlike the pagan religions that surrounded Israel, Judaism was grounded in a written text that was fixed and not subject to change. This is evident in Jesus’ rebukes of his opponents for either their outright disobedience of God’s written word (Mark 7.1-13) or their misunderstanding of the emphasis of God’s Word (Matt 23.23-28).  Furthermore, Jesus, his opponents, and Paul all referred to the Law of Moses as being originally composed by Moses himself and containing the correct practice and theology of Judaism, as well as prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah (John 5.46, 7.19; Luke 20.28 & 37; Rom 10.5).  Most importantly, Jesus himself believed that Moses was the actual author of the Mosaic Covenant in its original written form; consequently, his writings preserve the origin and correct practice of the Hebrew faith, which is referred to by Second Temple period scholarship as “Judaism.”  Jesus never credited Ezra or any of the scribes and priest from the Babylonian exile with the origins of Judaism (i.e., the original authentic beliefs and practices contained in the Mosaic Covenant). Jesus knew the progenitors of the Jewish nation were Abraham and Sarah, and the authentic Judaism began with the Mosaic Law, which was recorded and preserved by Moses himself (such an assertion does not deny that Moses may have used scribes to assist in recording the Mosaic Covenant; e.g., Joshua or Aaron).

Some liberal scholars argue that there was no such thing as “writing” during the time of Moses, and whatever type of writing existed in that era the average Jew could not read it. This is a poorly defended argument; most scholars recognize that even in Moses time there existed styles of written communication among both the Egyptians (hieroglyphics) and the Hebrews (pre-paleo-Hebrew). To assert that these were not written forms of communication is simply ludicrous. In fact, we now have a similar method of communication on our Smartphones, which are called “emoji” and “memes.” For example, if you text to me a time and a place to have coffee and while doing so you insert an emoji of a cup of coffee (e.g., @ 9am @ McD’s), and I text back to you a “thumbs up,” we both have communicated in written form even though we have not actually used English letters and words.  Another example is a cigarette encircled in red with a red strip across the cigarette. Everyone knows that this symbol means that cigarette smoking is prohibited in that area. Consequently, Evangelical scholars now recognize that Moses communicated in some type of written form to the Hebrews the covenant that he received directly from God, and he expected them to be able to read and obey it for themselves.

This is not to assert, however, that we do not have “progressive revelation” from God contained in the scriptures. By progressive revelation I mean new prophetic writings inspired by God that reveal his will for his people during the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Consequently, the people of God received new prophetic and historic books that also became part of the canonical the Old Testament (e.g., Psalms, minor and major prophetical writings, and historical writings such as the books of Esther or Nehemiah). God continued to reveal himself to the Jews by speaking to them through his prophets who continued to faithfully preserve God’s commands and directives in written form. The preservation of God’s word into written form occurred before the exilic period, during the exilic period, as well as after the exilic period. It is to argue, however, that authentic Judaism was not “invented” during the exilic or post-exilic periods, as many radical liberal scholars assert. Consequently, the paradigm that radical Form Critics use to explain the “development” of the Old and New Testaments (i.e., that the sacred texts of both Jews and Christians “evolved” over time) is severely flawed. The bottom line of this blog is that Jesus believed and taught that Moses was the original author of the Mosaic Covenant (i.e., the Pentateuch). It is this Covenant, which was preserved in written form during the earliest periods of the history of the Jews, that provides the origin and basis of the Hebrew faith. Moreover, the Hebrew faith, commonly referred to in biblical research as “Judaism,” was not originally preserved in written form until the exilic or post-exilic periods; instead it finds its origins from the very hand of Moses himself. Consequently, since Jesus believed and taught that the recording of Judaism originally began with Moses, this should be our conviction as well.  Just food for thought. Blessings.


Monte Shanks Copyright © 2012

Jesus Birth Year


When people begin studying the life of Jesus Christ some are often confused by the assertion that he was born in 4 BC, meaning that he was born in the year 4 “Before Christ.” Intuitively, one would think that Jesus’ birth year should be AD 1, that is during year 1 of the “year of our Lord” (which is what the Latin designation “AD” basically means).  First, the confusion concerning Jesus’ birth year originates from several errors made by a 6th century Scythian monk named Dionysius, who was the originator of the designations BC/AD (you can find more information about him on the web).  Dionysius, being a Christian monk, desired to create a new division of history that started with the year of Jesus’ birth.  Obviously these designations were not used during Jesus’ earthly ministry.  As Dionysius attempted to calculate Jesus’ birth year he made several critical errors; nevertheless, one should not castigated too badly since the historical records available to him were not as accurate as those available to us today.  Moreover, precision with respect to historical records was not as highly valued as it is today. Nevertheless, his mistake has caused one of the greatest confusions in all of human history—literally.  We all have bad days, but his take’s the cake!  Consequently, with respect to the year of Jesus’ birth he was off by at least 4 years (I personally calculate Jesus’ birth as having occurred in early in 4 BC).

Another common mistake some make when calculating how old Jesus was when he began his public ministry concerns the number of years between BC and AD, or BCE and CE.  One must not calculate an additional year by adding a “0” year between the years 1 BC and AD 1; consequently, the transition from 1 BC is immediately to AD 1 with no “0” year in between them.

So with these issues in mind, when was Jesus born, how long was his public ministry, and when was he crucified?  Luke wrote that Jesus was “around” 30 years old when he started his public ministry (Lk 3.23), which means he could have been between 29 to 33 years of age (Luke was not trying to provide Jesus’ exact age).  Consequently, if one assumes that Jesus began his ministry in AD 29 it would mean he was approximately 33 years old at the time (assuming his birth was in 4 BC).  A review of the Gospels reveals that at the very least Jesus’ earthly ministry was 2 full years, but more probably 3 full years (that is if one views John 5.1 as also referring to a Passover).  However, his ministry could have lasted as long as 5 years (assuming that the Gospel writers did not record all of the Passovers that occurred during his earthly ministry).  This possibility assumes that Jesus’ trial occurred during Pilate’s final year in office (which was AD 36).  This is the latest possible year of Jesus’ earthly ministry since Pilate oversaw the Roman portion of Jesus’ trial. However, it is not likely that Jesus’ trial occurred during Pilate’s final year in office. Consequently, assuming that Jesus was crucified in 33 AD (the most likely year of his crucifixion), then that would make him around 36 years old at his death and resurrection (assuming a full 3 years of public ministry; see the chronology below).

  • 4 BC = Jesus was born.
  • AD 29 = Jesus was about 33 years old when he began his public ministry.
  • AD 33 = Jesus was around 36 years old when he was crucified and arose physically from the dead.

If one assumes that his crucifixion was in 30 AD (which is another reasonable possibility), then it means his public ministry began ca. 26 AD (thus Luke’s description that Jesus was around “30” since AD 26 + BC 4 = 30 years).  This alternative calculation means that Jesus was about 33 years old when he died and arose physically from the grave.

  • 4 BC = Jesus was born
  • AD 26 = Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his public ministry.
  • AD 30 = Jesus was around 33 years old when he was crucified and arose from the grave.

Hope this helps clarifies some of the confusion concerning when Jesus was born, as well as when his public ministry began and how long it lasted.


Grape Vine

My parents moved to Connecticut when I was in college, and around the time they were moving in visited them.  Their new home was not a very impressive house; it was a rustic wood-panel structure with a large overgrown yard. I was helping my dad clean up the backyard when we came across a large grapevine lying on the ground.  We would have cut it up and thrown it away if we hadn’t noticed a couple of grapes on it.  So we cleared everything away, and my dad said that he was going to enjoy the grapes that it would produce.  I thought to myself “Yeah right, good luck with that.”  It looked completely wild and literally only had a handful of small grapes.  But he built a makeshift trellis, and then we lifted it off the ground and anchored it upon the trellis. Then to my shock my dad started looping off a lot of its branches, even some of the larger ones.  I thought he had lost his mind; how could any plant survive such trimming.  He went at it like Edward Scissorhands. But sure enough, the next year it had several clusters of nice sweet deep purple grapes.  Understanding how one tends a grapevine is essential for correctly understanding what Jesus meant when he said “I AM the true vine.

Before addressing Jesus’ claim John 15, it is necessary to survey his other “metaphorical” I AM statements found throughout John’s Gospel.  This blog does not address Jesus’ “absolute” I AM statements (e.g., Jn 8.58).  While they are important, they are not helpful for understanding what he meant in John 15.  Furthermore, John 15.1-8 should not be interpreted in isolation from the prologue of John’s Gospel.  But first let’s briefly survey Jesus’ other “I AM” statements. There are seven metaphorical “I AM” statements in the Gospel of John, some of which Jesus asserted more than once.  They are as follows:

  1. “I am the bread of life, I am the living bread.” Jn 6.35, 48, 51.
  2. “I am the light of the world.” Jn 8.12; 9.5
  3. “I am the gate.” Jn 10.7, 9
  4. “I am the good shepherd.” Jn 10.11, 14
  5. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jn 11.25
  6. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jn 14.6
  7. “I am the true vine, I am the vine” Jn 15.1, 5

Most people understand what Jesus meant by his first 6 statements, even though these declarations have slightly different nuances depending upon their particular contexts.  They all, nevertheless, have the same general meaning, which is that Jesus claims to be the universal and exclusive provision of eternal life for all humanity.  Jesus made this assertion more emphatically in some of his statements than he did in others.  Nevertheless, John introduced this very concept in his prologue, in which he clearly asserted that Jesus is the universal savior for all humanity (Jn 1.9-13).  Consequently, we should not understand Jesus’ statements that “I am the good shepherd” or “I am the bread of life” to only refer to his concern for the nation of Israel, but instead that he is the good shepherd and the bread of life (i.e., that he is both Savoir and Lord) for all humanity.  Certainly the disciples would have at least understood Jesus to mean that he was the promised good shepherd of Israel when he first made this claim.  Nevertheless, the more we learn about Jesus’ mission and purpose in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, then the more we come to understand that Jesus was not claiming to be just the good shepherd for Israel alone.  Jesus was speaking about a greater reality, one that his disciples did not fully comprehend until decades after the resurrection.  Nevertheless, we learn that Jesus meant more than was originally understood precisely because his disciples inevitably came to realize that he did in fact mean more than they originally understood him to mean.  And having come to the realization that Jesus is the good shepherd for all humanity, they proclaimed this good news to the church and world, which is preserved in the New Testament.

Nevertheless, a problem arises for some as they seek to understand precisely what Jesus meant in John 15.1-8.  It arises because some approach this passage in complete isolation from Jesus’ other “I AM” statements.  This is understandable given the context in which it is found, which was during Jesus’ last supper with his closest followers.  Regrettably, however, from this passage some concluded that Jesus told his followers that believers can lose their salvation if they fail to “abide” in him.  The results of such an interpretation is a “faith plus works” salvation, or a “faith plus one’s own power to endure” salvation (which is functionally the same thing). More specifically, some believe and teach that you initially receive the gift of salvation by placing your faith in Jesus, but you maintain it by your own endurance and good works.  Such an interpretation is driven more by one’s systematic theology than an actual exposition of the passage, for Jesus made it very clear to those present that they were already “cleaned” because of the word that he had spoken to them (see verse 3, and for further understanding of what being “clean” meant, see John 13.1-11).  Moreover, Jesus had previously taught that all who had believed in him already possessed eternal life, and had passed over from death into life (Jn 5.24).  Furthermore, he emphatically promised that it was impossible for him to lose anyone that had authentically and rightly believed upon him (Jn 10.28-29).   Consequently, such an interpretation ignores both an integral emphasis within the passage, as well as other clear teachings from Jesus concerning the security of the believer found throughout John’s Gospel.

So then, what precisely did Jesus mean when he stated that he is “the true vine”?  Jesus’ assertion should be interpreted in the same manner as Jesus’ other “I AM” statements, which is that he is the only true life-giving source for all of humanity (i.e., eternal life).  Branches that reveal the fruit of salvation (positional sanctification) are regularly pruned by the Father so that they can bear more fruit (progressive sanctification), thus glorifying God and proving their relationship with Jesus.  In the first half of the passage Jesus was teaching his disciples about progressive sanctification (cf., Jn 15.2b-5).  The doctrine of “progressive sanctification” focuses upon the concept of personal holiness, which speaks to how believers can “live out” what God has already accomplished in them through Christ.  Nevertheless, Jesus made a very important transition in verse 6.  In verse 6, he changed from addressing the disciples that were present (i.e., those that he declared were already “cleaned”) to “anyone,” which is an indefinite pronoun.  Respecting the importance of this transition is critical because it makes it clear that Jesus was no longer referring to his disciples but everyone else not in the room. If Jesus were including his disciples present then he would have said “if you do not abide in me.”  However, that is not what he said; consequently, Jesus was referring to the rest of the world and not his redeemed and cleaned followers.  Concerning these unknown people he states that “anyone” who does not abide in him is “thrown away” (i.e., those that have not received eternal life through him), and are inevitably gathered for burning (i.e., eternal damnation).

Many misunderstand this passage because they know little about practices of vine-dressers and pruning.  Jesus knew that vines have only two types of branches, those that produce fruit and those that don’t.  Fruit bearing branches are valued, while those that don’t are rejected.  Today non-fruit bearing branches are referred to as “suckers.”  Suckers completely lack the capacity to bear any fruit, and thus they drain sap from the vine that might otherwise go into fruit bearing branches.  Fruit bearing branches also have suckers, which is precisely why vine-dressers continually prune them.  Vine-dressers prune fruit bearing branches so that the vine’s sap will be directed towards fruit production rather than leaf production.  Branches that never bear fruit are inevitably cut off because they are worthless for fruit production.  Non-fruit bearing branches never produce fruit, no matter how patient you may be with them.  Consequently, they are eventually cut off, and then gathered up and thrown into a burn pile.  This is exactly Jesus’ point, everybody (i.e., all of humanity) must “abide” in him (i.e., trust and believe) in order to receive the fruit of eternal life.  Once someone entrusts themselves to him, then they not only receive the fruit of eternal life, but they also receive the capacity to bear bear additional fruit to the glory of God.  Their capacity to bear more fruit is fostered as God “prunes” their lives of the things that dishonor the Lord or are barriers to their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Consequently, because they are believers the Father prunes them so that they may bear even more fruit.  Anyone that has not first entrusted themselves to Christ are spiritually dead—no matter how healthy and alive they look, and inevitably they will be cut from the vine and eternally separated from God.

Some still struggle with this passage because they observe that the non-fruit bearing branches have some type of a connection to the “true vine.”  This should not be a problem, however, since John’s prologue makes it clear that it was Jesus who created all things (Jn 1.3, 10).  Therefore, since Jesus made all humanity, both believers and unbelievers, we should not be surprised that all humanity and creation is sustained by him, even those who have rejected him.  Jesus is God incarnate, and as God he sustains all things (Col 1.16-17; Heb 1.1-3), and it was for him that all things were created (Col 1.16), and he has authority over all things (Matt 28.18, John 5.22-23, 27, 17.1-2).  Jesus is Lord of everything and everybody, whether they correctly acknowledge him or not.  Consequently, the scriptures plainly indicate that Jesus sustains the mortal lives of all people—both believers and unbelievers.  However, if anyone goes through this life without ever receiving him as their Savior and Lord then they forfeit their only opportunity to the eternal life.  This is exactly what makes rejecting Jesus so offensive, for by it unbelievers have actually rejected both the only true God, as well as the world’s only savior; consequently, there no longer remains any atonement for their sin.  Therefore, John 15.1-8, as well as the rest of Jesus’ “I AM” statements, should motivate us to make sure that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the central focus of all that we do in his name.  Consequently, John 15.1-8 should be understood as having an evangelistic emphasis, as well as an explanation of what progressive sanctification looks like for those who have rightly believed and thus have once and for all received eternal life.  The passage is not just about personal holiness, and it is not just about evangelism, it teaches us about both.  And most importantly, it does not explain how believers can loose their salvation.

Believers should always be thankful for the eternal life they have received through the Lord Jesus Christ, and they should renew themselves afresh to allowing the true Vine-dresser to prune away that which keeps them from producing fruit that glorifies the majestic name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And if you have never trusted Jesus’ sacrifice as the only payment of your sins and received him as your Savior and Lord, then there is no better time than now.

@copyright Monte Shanks 2012