Doctrine On Tap » easter God...I thirst for you ~ Ps 63 Wed, 26 Aug 2015 22:51:50 +0000 en hourly 1 » easter Who assembled the Gospels? Thu, 17 Apr 2014 15:57:13 +0000 ]]> Last week we talked about the guys who wrote gospels about Jesus, and why we don’t have to be discouraged when “experts” cast doubt upon the validity, authenticity, and reliability of the New Testament. Today, we focus more on the trustworthiness of the Bible. While there is much to discuss, the canon of Scripture gets brought up often. The canon refers to the collection of books that make up the Christian Bible, and is an area of study that is interested in uncovering why certain books made it in, and why some did not. Are you curious?

I like to start by breaking this question down to the basics. What would cause me to trust that the Bible was assembled the right way? Well, let’s think about this…

If we needed information about a person like Jesus from a time without video technology or internet, a biographical sketch is the natural medium to choose. And who would be most reliable in doing that? Probably the twelve disciples, those men who were close to Him in proximity, ministry, and relationship.

The twelve disciples had the most relational currency with Jesus.

So what they said carries a lot of weight when it comes to replicating not only Jesus’ life and times, but also His teachings, transmitted by oral tradition as they were, since He never wrote anything down.

But by what sort of criteria can we use to decide if a set of writings are from his disciples? Well, think of it in more contemporary terms. If you wanted to know a few things about John F. Kennedy’s life, you could ask your friend (perhaps they know a few accurate things about that time period, or JFK himself). But what if your dad was alive during Kennedy’s life, and experienced his presidency? Well, now you have a slightly greater account, if for no other reason than your dad has an eyewitness account of Kennedy, and your friend has only second or third-hand knowledge. In fact, your friend may not have even been alive at the time anyway. But let’s take it up a notch. Let’s suppose you were able to speak to Kirk LeMoyne Billings, Kennedy’s best friend. That would be a drastic difference to which none of the first two options could compare. Not only was Billings an eyewitness, but he was also privy to knowledge about Kennedy being as close as he was to him. Now add to this hypothetical situation: Billings is commissioned by Kennedy to write his authorized biography about. Now you are beginning to grasp the nature of the New Testament gospels. These have all the characteristics you would expect from an authentic account of Jesus’ life.

Here are three things about the gospels that cannot be ignored.

1. An early date.

The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were all written in the first century. Mark, the earliest gospel, was written somewhere in the mid- to late-50’s. If Jesus died in the early 30’s, as history tells us, then Mark’s gospel was penned within twenty years of Jesus’ life. At first mention, that may sound like a long time to you. But there are still throngs of people alive today who remember Kennedy’s life, presidency, and passing with vivid clarity, though it was over fifty years ago. A memorable event or person has the ability to burn itself into the memory as if it was yesterday. Twenty years is actually very early.

2. Eyewitnesses.

This one is easy. The gospel writers were there! Well, half of them were. John (the fourth gospel) was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, and Matthew was the former tax collector who became Jesus’ disciple. Eyewitnesses. The other two were not around to witness Jesus life. So how did they make the cut? Well, history tells us that Mark and Luke were directly connected to some important eyewitnesses, namely, Peter and Paul, the apostles. As early as AD 120, Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis, reported that Peter transmitted the words and deeds of Jesus to an assistant, named John Mark. Some traditions hold that the physician, Luke, was an associate of Paul’s (Col. 4:14).  So in other words, “Did the Gospel writers know Jesus personally? With confidence, we can say ‘no’ in the cases of the second [Mark] and third [Luke] Gospels. But these evangelists had access to reliable traditions about Jesus” (Mark D. Roberts, Can We Trust the Gospels. 49).

3. Commission.

Jesus didn’t just have a cluster of eyewitnesses around him observing his life. He commissioned certain people to document his life, death, resurrection, and teachings (Luke 24:48; Matt 28:19-20). Consider the gravity of that. These men were the only people we know of who were authorized and capable of speaking on behalf of Jesus. It makes sense that their writings take precedence over any other writings, whether ancient or modern. Other writings came much later, were not based on known eyewitnesses accounts, and were certainly without the authorization of Jesus Himself. In fact, that’s why the original Twelve disciples (as well as Paul, and some others) are also called, apostles, which means “to commission.”

Why is all of this important?

Many people like the idea of Jesus, but not everyone accepts everything He said or affirmed. You can tell by the amount of playtime our culture has given to some so-called alternative gospels. The Gnostic gospels, as their often called, are a group of ancient writings from the Nag Hammadi library which was discovered in Egypt in 1945. They have their roots in Gnosticism, an ancient heresy centered around “secret knowledge” that sprung up around the birth of the Christian church. These writings have been offered as a viable alternative to the gospels found in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Making their case more alluring are each of their titles–The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Truth, The Gospel of Philip, and The Gospel of Judas–which seem to presuppose an apostolic authorship. This is a big deal, because the message in these writings are quite different from the gospels found in the New Testament (NT), and even flat-out contradictory. If the Gnostic gospels were written by Jesus’ apostles, we would have a serious problem on our hands. But they’re not.

Using the criteria we gave for the NT gospels, you can see that the Gnostic gospels fall short. Here are three immediate problems with attaching any kind of credence or authority to them.

  1. The Gnostic gospels have later dates than the NT gospels. Take the Gospel of Thomas, for example. This is the document that is famous for having multiple “authentic” sayings of Jesus. But Bart Ehrman, a more theologically liberal NT scholar, suggests that even though these sayings are indeed old, “the document as a whole probably came to be written sometime after the New Testament Gospels (although perhaps independently of them), possibly in the early second century” (Lost Scriptures, 20. Italics added). In other words, the book with all Jesus’ sayings? It was written around a century after the NT gospels were written. Remember, the closer to the source the better! It also means, the titles are wrong because the apostles all died within the first century. That makes the Gnostic gospels Pseudepigrapha (falsely attributed works).
  2. The Gnostic gospels were not by eyewitnesses (see last paragraph). To say that they represent Jesus is unconvincing. We have little idea who wrote the Gnostic gospels, and we cannot confirm any real connection from them to Jesus Himself.
  3. The Gnostic gospels were not commissioned by Jesus. I can say that with some degree of confidence, by doing a bit of logical reasoning: the Gnostic gospels are very different in message from the Gospels which Jesus did commission. Ergo, we cannot say that Jesus authorized them. Meanwhile, he did present us with authorized, apostolic accounts of his life, death, and resurrection. It would be silly, in light of all three of these reasons, to place the Gnostic gospels on the same tier as the NT gospels for representing Jesus Christ.

One of the reasons there was no “official canon” until the fourth century, is because there was not yet a need to differentiate between true and false gospels, until the Gnostic heresies because more of a problem. Then certain criteria was offered for followers of Christ to discern between the apostles of Jesus and false apostles. As you can see, that criteria really helped throughout the centuries, and continues to do so. Now, when you add to this the Christian’s belief that Jesus is God in the flesh, and rose from the dead, there is also an authority in the NT gospels that’s unparalleled by any other so-called “gospels.” As my mom used to say, “Laying down in the garage doesn’t make you a car.” In the same way, calling something a gospel doesn’t make it a gospel without evidence connecting it to Jesus Christ Himself.

Our New Testament carries the only authorized, connected, and commissioned accounts of Jesus’ life. And because they were commissioned by Jesus, who is our Lord and God, they are our authority in life along with the rest of the Biblical canon. Thank you God–you speak to your people!


Recommended Reading:

  • Can We Trust the Gospels, Mark D. Roberts. (for an easy, but comprehensive view of the Bible’s assembly, as well as it’s transmission, and textual reliability. I highly recommend!)
  • The Canon of Scripture, F.F. Bruce. (for a more in-depth and specific look at how the Bible was assembled, more detailed criterion, and the history of the whole Bible’s canonization, not just the gospels)

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When experts attack (how to navigate conversations about the Bible) Sat, 12 Apr 2014 18:00:00 +0000 ]]> Conversations always converge around the topic of Jesus as Easter approaches. 

But surprisingly, any push back about Easter is rarely about Jesus, and more with the guys who wrote about Jesus. A common question is how the Scriptures were finally assembled, and how the books that are in the Bible made it there to begin with (The finished version is usually called the canon of Scripture). Maybe you’ve heard questions like this before: “How do we know the gospels are the right ones?” or “Were there any other gospels we should be considering?” These are valid questions that we should think deeply about, considering how we place the bulk of our faith on these writings! How did they get chosen? Are there other valid writings about Jesus? How will we ever know? These were some of the questions that surfaced in conversations while I was in college, especially around the release of The Da Vinci Code, and ended up being questions I asked myself. Almost counterintuitively, these questions strengthened my faith in Christ and in the Bible, because I was forced to examine the claims against it for myself.

If I’ve learned anything since then, it’s that questions and doubts are not a faux pais in the world of the historic Christian faith.

Think about this. Doubt is like temptation–it’s not wrong to have them. Jesus was tempted (Matt 4), yet He withstood them by the power of the Holy Spirit. So it’s not wrong to have doubts, but it does matter how you handle them. And the only way to start is by asking them. Underlying some of our strongest doubts is the desire to wrestle with and come to terms with the truth, and it’s only possible to desire the truth when some glimmer of faith is present. Doubt is not the absence of faith; doubt is the evidence of faith. If we’re going to believe some of the other outlandish claims that Jesus often made, we might as well get used to asking good questions, and wrestling with the answers. So I set out to do this with the canon, or assembling, of the Christian Bible.

I learned pretty quickly that there’s a lot of material on subjects like Scripture’s canonization (did the “right” books make it in?), historicity (does it accurately convey history?), and reliability (do we have the original message intended by the authors?). This was a relief. It’s sooo easy to read one-liners out of some bestselling book attempting to derail our trust in the reliability of the Christian faith, thinking they are the last word on the subject.

If I may offer you a note of comfort, many of the people you have conversations with are probably also unaware of the evidence that affirms the reliability of the Bible.

For example, when a movie gets released days before Easter with some “new secret” undermining the historical accounts so dear to the Christian faith, both Christians and skeptics begin analyzing the film. Actually, I love these types of conversation. They’re engaging. They make both parties think deeply. Christians should converse intelligently and be winsome with skeptics about their faith. In fact, some of my most thoughtful and enjoyable conversations about my faith have been with skeptics, who, like me, sincerely want to know the reasons behind what their friends believe, even if they don’t end up subscribing to the same beliefs. It’s what friends do. So those conversations shouldn’t stop.

But I am hoping to bring awareness to the content of those conversations, and the fact that some “new findings” are often not new or original.

Whenever a Da Vinci Code, a Zeitgeist, or a new Bart Ehrman book gets released, it’s often the same old stuff being recycled from past scholarly conversations, and repackaged for the mainstream. But scholars have been talking about these issues for decades–-centuries even-–with reasonable answers to some of the critical jabs that are leveled against the trustworthiness of the Bible;  and every time a new movie or book comes out “undermining” the Christian faith, I want so badly to give believing scholars similar airtime when objections to the reliability of the Bible are raised.

But that stuff never makes the headlines. Why? Partially because the truth isn’t always sensational enough to sell, and is often couched in the language of academia anyway. Scholars write for other scholars. Let’s face it: scholars can sound a bit boring for the rest of us. The unfortunate result? The reasonable claims for the reliability of the Bible get hidden under a brightly colored carpet of New York Times bestsellers. See, a scholarly work that’s been repackaged for the mainstream and pasted with a headline blasting the origins or reliability of the Bible in short, sensational snippets is not boring. When one of these controversial books hits the shelf, a feeding frenzy ensues, and you will quickly get familiarized with an appeal to authority (argumentum ab auctoritate). This is a subtle logical fallacy that bases a belief in the credentials of the one writing, instead of on the soundness of the argument being made.

For example…

“Don’t drink the water in Santa Barbara because research has shown it to contain microscopic particles that could cause ADHD in children.” – Duke E. Sarmonstrus, M.D.

Now, if I were to post this on Facebook, there is a good chance some would believe it, and it would spread. We see this all the time, right? Posts about some crazy story that gets shared millions of times, without ever being checked against These stories get traction when they’re believable, supported by an authority figure, and feed into our secret fears or desires. But there’s one problem with the statement I made: it’s not true. I just made it up as I was writing, and gave it an air of authority by attaching a name that looks important. Of course, in the real world, there are authority figures, experts, and Ph.D’s who are smart, and at the forefront of their fields of study. This is to our benefit. They are a blessing to society, and have devoted years of their lives to understanding things we want to know more about, not the least of which is the God of Bible.

But do not make the same mistake that is rampant among the mainstream: it is not the credentials of the expert that one must scrutinize, but the soundness of the arguments being made by them.

And the argument I made above is not sound, even though it sounds good; neither the premises nor the conclusion are true. But all you need is to attach some level of credibility to the quote itself, and if there is someone somewhere who wants the quote to be true, then it will sell like guacamole at the Carpinteria Avocado Festival. It’s easier to accept the headlines than it is to research them. Sometimes deferring to a “credible source” is a cop-out. I know I’ve done this. But don’t we want more than spoon-fed factlets of shock-value and sound-bites? All of us are capable of engaging important issues with critical thinking and conversation. After all, if the Bible is true, it will prove itself. The thought of testing our beliefs shouldn’t scare us; and we should take the skeptic’s questions seriously. We’re not talking about menial beliefs here! If what the Bible says about Jesus rising from the dead is true, that changes everything. But if the Bible is wrong about the resurrection, then “we are above all people, most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19, NIV).

I have and continue to make that journey. You should too. An easy way to start is by listening to the other side. If an expert in the New Testament says that Paul didn’t really write some of the epistles in the Bible, try checking out the opposing viewpoints of other authoritative sources. If your friend at school tells you that “Emperor Constantine assembled the Bible to reinforce his own power structures,” ask them where they learned that information, and explore it yourself. If your professor tells you that the gnostic gospels are a more reliable version of Jesus’ life, ask a professor (who believes in the sufficiency of the Bible) why he believe’s the gnostics didn’t make it into the canon. In other words, don’t assume something is true because an expert said it was true. Examine it! If you explore some of the accusations that culture, society, and even critical scholarship level against the Bible for yourself, you may find yourself migrating towards the Bible’s view of itself.

As I mentioned before, I’ll share a bit about canonization (how we know the right books made it in the Bible) in my next blog post this week. And you can trust that everything I say is correct and true. ~ Dr. Chris Lazo, Ph.D, M.D., CPA, MBA, BAM.

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Anticipating Easter Tue, 26 Mar 2013 13:00:58 +0000 ]]> To whet the appetites of our anticipation for Easter Sunday, I gave three sermons to our church over the course of this last month on the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for the past, present and future.

The past historical event of the resurrection tells us what to believe about Jesus…

The present implications of the resurrection tells us of the justification wrought by Jesus…

The future implications of the resurrection tells us of the hope that we have in Jesus…

Enjoy Jesus, my friends. See you next Sunday at Del Playa Stadium!

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Easter with Reality | Montage Wed, 11 Apr 2012 20:18:30 +0000 ]]>

Easter with Reality. A short montage of what took place at La Playa Stadium in Santa Barbara, Ca.

A special thank you to our volunteers who helped make this day possible.

Music by: The Brilliance // The Sun Will Rise

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Four reasons you can believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ Sat, 17 Mar 2012 13:00:11 +0000 ]]>
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Easter Video Montage Sat, 30 Apr 2011 06:46:56 +0000 ]]>

Montage by Tony Cruz and team.

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Reality’s Easter Sermon 2011 Wed, 27 Apr 2011 18:30:06 +0000 ]]>
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People fill the bleachers at Santa Barbara City College on Easter Morning Mon, 25 Apr 2011 00:43:38 +0000 ]]> We planned for 4,000 people. Given that our church is roughly 3,000, we figured that this would cover things logistically.

But we had been praying for more! We prayed that 5,000 would come to hear the gospel. We pushed a campaign under the moniker of “each-one-reach-one” with the purpose that every church member would bring a friend who was an outsider to the Christian faith. We wanted Christ to save the whole city.

We over-prayed and under-planned.

Below is a photo I took from the stage…

It only captures *half* of the entire stadium (which was nearly filled).

We estimate that roughly 8,000 people showed up to the service, packing out the bleachers, and causing traffic standstills all down Bath Street.

Here is another close up photo from Jessica, a choir member…

But that’s not all…

Over 200 people gave their lives to Jesus Christ.

I wanted to say to any of you from my church that are listening…

Thank you for being obedient to the Gospel.

It’s as if everyone in the church ACTUALLY did reach one! And because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, His sent Holy Spirit, and your obedience… The body of Christ welcomed enough new brothers and sisters to fill a small building!

Imagine if we included God’s wonderful display of salvation today in all the other churches in the area that were doing the same thing: preaching the wonderful gospel, the great news of Jesus Christ who died, and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins to bring us to God!

The combined effects may have us all down on our knees praying for our city!

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Unlike Energizer, the Easter Bunny doesn’t keep going Sat, 23 Apr 2011 13:00:55 +0000 ]]>

Eventually the raw energy wears off.

My car died once when I was a teenager, and when my various attempts to jump-start it proved futile, my seasoned father gave me shrewd advice that would linger with me in ways he probably didn’t even intend. He said something like this,

Chris, the car battery isn’t your problem. Your alternator is dead. You see, people think that the car battery is what powers the whole car, but that tiny thing doesn’t have nearly enough juice to make a car run! It’s there solely to start the ignition. Once the car starts, your car kicks the burden of power from the battery to the alternator, which is the real life-sustaining power behind your car. When your alternator died, the car defaulted to the battery, and, well…it was only a matter of time before the battery gave out. It’s just too weak to sustain the whole car.

A revival is kind of like a car battery.

You need it to kick in periodically to engage the ignition of your heart so that the rest of the “car” can start. But it cannot support the weight of your soul, much less the souls of the entire church for the long haul without the “alternator” of consistent, faithful teaching and discipleship” (God-Sized Vision, p93).

My local church and I are about to embark on the biggest Easter service of our lives.

I have no doubt that many souls will be saved by the grace of God,

but what will become of those saved souls?

We must understand that this Easter gathering is simply the igniting of a flame which must be continually fanned by consistent growth in the Word of God, and in fellowship with the saints. For others who are not a part of my particular church, you are a part of another. Or perhaps you have long abandoned the messiness of corporate gatherings to stimulate an addiction to the spiritual highs of revival that come in the form of conferences, worship nights, and road trips to anointed special speakers. Brother and sister, the Scriptures declare that we have need of committing to each other and “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25, ESV). A side note to my fellow Realitians who are bringing unsaved friends to Easter…

Do you have a long-range, relational game plan for how you will follow through?

Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!!

How will we follow through with them in the next week? How will we cultivate relationships with them over the next month? How can we make sure they don’t end up falling through the cracks? Are we planning on connecting them with other Christians who will love them? Are we planning on visiting them, getting to know them and their families, and keeping the gospel-conversation going? Or are we planning on taking them to an Easter altar-call, letting the preacher do all the work, and hope they can fend for themselves for the rest of their lives?

We cannot live or function solely on weekend revivals.

An evangelistic event may provide the ignition, but the sustaining of that event will come through the long-term missional Christians who get and stay engaged in the lives of new believers. Don’t let revived souls burn out due to neglect. Instead, let the igniting of the Holy Spirit be fanned into flame by the consistent, planned discipleship of thousands of men and women.

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