You asked: How did Jesus identify Joseph?

I received the following inquiry.

We had a discussion in Sunday School about what Jesus called Joseph. We know that he called Mary Mother, but we don’t think he called Joseph Father. We think he just used Father when he was talking to/about God. What do you think?

My response:

Here are my thoughts regarding your question. Pass it around if you like, but remember my word isn’t the last word. I simply submit to you my thoughts.

If the class doesn’t think Jesus called Joseph father, how did He address him? Were there any suggestions? I can only guess that this question stems from one of two things: Jesus’ statement in Matthew 23:9, or a belief that Joseph was somehow less than a “real” father to Jesus since there wasn’t a genuine biological connection. (I reject both.)

Though we have no record of Jesus ever addressing Joseph at all, I believe it is safe to “assume” that Jesus addressed him in the manner that was appropriate and respectful. For Jesus would certainly follow the 6th Mosaic command to honor father and mother (Ex. 20:12).

We must also remember that while Joseph was not the physical father of Jesus, he certainly was Jesus’ legal father and he functioned as both legal and physical father in all normal aspects of fatherhood apart from conception.

We have no grounds to assume that there was any type of sibling rivalry which is often the case today in “step-parent/step-child” relationships. Neither do I have reason to believe that Jesus ever said, “I don’t have to do that, you’re not my father!” or that Joseph ever said something like, “If you were my child, I’d . . . ” I say this because I believe Jesus treated Joseph exactly like a biological father should be treated according to Mosaic law – with honor. Granted, I’m arguing from silence here, but from the other aspects of Jesus’ life and personal relationships, I think it is safe to draw such conclusions.

So, how did other children respectfully address the man to whom their mother was married? The only thing we see in the New Testament for this relationship is the word father. In the New Testament the only Greek word used for this person is “PATER”. There are NO exceptions regardless of who is speaking, Jesus or “regular” people.

I think there are two important issues to pursue so that we can understand this question: the particular context of the “prohibition” and Jesus’ acceptance or rejection of the use of the word “father” elsewhere in the Scripture.

First, let’s deal with the latter. Immediately, Matthew 8:21 comes to mind. In this passage Jesus is dealing with a certain scribe about the COST of true discipleship, a small part of the cost being “leaving everything behind.” Then another of the disciples interrupted by saying, “First, let me go bury my father.” Jesus’ response was not, “Don’t address anyone on earth as father!” Why? Because the context and issue at hand was different than that in Matthew 23.

Also in Matthew 15:4-6 we see Jesus himself quoting the commands which had been penned by God and brought down from Sinai by Moses: “Honor your father and your mother; and He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.” In this case Jesus is rebuking those who had abused their responsibility toward their parents, thus breaking the command. If, as some assume from His statements in Matthew 23, we should never refer to our male parent as father, why did Jesus not CORRECT rather than PROTECT what Moses delivered? He couldn’t because there isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with addressing the man married to your mother (whether you are his physical descendant or not) as “father.” Family relationships are not at stake in Matthew 23.

If family relationships are not at stake in Matthew 23, then what is going on? Jesus is giving a scathing assessment of the religious leaders of the day. He summarizes their offenses in verse 5, “All their works they do to be seen by men.” In other words, they are hypocrites seeking vain glory and honor from those over whom they have charge. They are seeking titles of power and prominence in this world.

Notice the three titles he forbids: rabbi/teacher, father, leader. All of these could be considered “power positions” in this context which are NOT forbidden elsewhere in Scripture. In fact, the writers of Scripture use them in a positive sense. For example, Paul writes to the Ephesians that “teachers” were given to the body for her edification. As mentioned above, Jesus positively quotes the 6th command which identifies the male parent as “father”.

Jesus is trying to underscore for the multitudes and disciples the distinction between true religious faith and religious “power brokering.” Jesus says: “You are all brethren (vs. 8).” “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant (vs. 11).” “He who humbles himself shall be exalted (vs. 12).” He is highlighting the abusive power system that was in place and exhorting the people to breakout of such by recognizing their teacher, leader and father who comes from heaven. Those whom they were currently following were certainly not from heaven.

If we understand this prohibition in this manner, then we can easily reconcile both Jesus’ and other NT writers’ positive use of these terms with Jesus’ command not to use them in Matthew 23.

The application for us today is very real. Many men and women fill positions of church leadership as religious power brokers. In many cases there is no difference between our day and Jesus’. Therefore we should receive Jesus’ warning not to follow in the footsteps of those who abuse their position for the purpose of being seen by men. Neither should we submit to such phonies.

Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day

In honor of Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am re-posting this article.

Beniko Gihon #137010

Beniko Gihon #137010

Working with tour groups in Israel is [almost] always a blessing. It’s exciting to see visitors’ faces when, as they say in Hebrew, “the coin falls.” In other words, when “the light comes on” or the connection between a certain event and place happens. I love to see the joy of discovery, especially as it relates to the Bible. But my groups generally have modern cultural and historical interests, too. Every group is different, and I’m regularly on the look out for things out of the ordinary and not on the itinerary that will make my group’s visit to Israel more special than it might already be. For this group, I found that special historical gem in the breakfast line.

As I approached the special-order egg line, I noticed the tattoo on his arm, 137010. Immediately, I knew he was a holocaust survivor because I’ve seen these tattoos in the museum, and probably a dozen times in person. However, I never had the nerve to ask the bearer to share his/her story; I just imagined what it might have been.

This time was different. I took a deep breath and asked the elderly gentleman a) if he spoke Hebrew, and b) if I could ask a question. “Yes,” he answered to both questions. I was hesitant, but I proceeded to ask if he would tell me the story of the numeric tattoo that appeared on his left forearm. I was afraid he would be embarrassed, but he wasn’t. In fact, he seemed pleased that I asked.

Beniko Gihon #137010

Beniko Gihon #137010

Interacting with my inquiry about his tattoo, he said, “My name is Beniko Gihon; in Germany my name was changed to 137010. I am a Jew originally from Greece.” He continued with a moving, two-minute version of his story. His family had been rounded up in Thessaloniki, and he was the only survivor. Over the course of five years, he was systematically transferred to/from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Warsaw Ghetto, and Dachau. He had a variety of jobs, but mainly focused on his work in the crematoria.

I was translating his story for a man from my group and noticed that others had started to lean in closer to listen in on our conversation, which indicated that they found this interesting, too. After a couple minutes, his eggs and mine were ready, so, unfortunately, we had to bring this encounter to a close. I thanked him for sharing his story, we shook hands, and parted ways.

I found a table near my group and sat down by myself. To say that his story was gut wrenching would be an exaggerated understatement. But, his story wasn’t the thing that affected me the most. It was the question he posed: “Why were the Christians so quiet?”

I wanted my group to hear Beniko’s story, but I wondered if that would be asking too much. As I ate my breakfast, I kept an eye on him from across the room and wondered whether I should ask him to speak on the bus. Since he didn’t seem to mind my initial inquiry, I decided to go for it, and the outcome was just what I had hoped.

After my group boarded the bus, I brought them up to speed on what was about to happen, then I introduced Mr. Beniko. He climbed the stairs and stood proudly in the front of the bus and began to share his story.

Beniko, which is the Greek version of Benjamin, started with some details of his family and how the Nazis came to Greece and killed so many. The rest were taken to the labor and death camps in Germany and Poland, which is where he learned to speak German, and where his name was changed to 137010.

His story lasted longer than I had given him, which I knew it would. But, seeing him standing in the front of the bus and hearing his biography was worth every minute.

Some specific details that pierced my heart:

“I saw, with my own eyes, the soldiers toss little children in the air and shoot them like birds.”

“As people were herded off the trains near the crematoria, they pleaded with the soldiers to know where their children or parents were. The soldiers would point to the smoke rising out of the crematoria and say, ‘there they are.’”

“The people were packed so tightly into the ‘showers’ that when the Zyklon B gas was released they all died standing, and only fell to the ground when the doors were opened. As we removed the bodies, we could see the scratches on the walls where those on the outer edges were trying to claw their way out.”

As a worker at the crematoria, “I collected the fat that came from the bodies as they were burned. The Nazis used the fat to make soap for us prisoners, and I bathed with soap that may have been made from the remains of my parents and other family members.”

Beniko’s story, made the horrors of the Holocaust real and personal for us, impacting each in a slightly different way. I tried to give some current perspective to his presentation because the easy thing would be to say, “I wasn’t there” because none of us were. I reminded the group of the words of James 1:27 that pure religion is to care for the widows and orphans, which I understand to mean “take care of those who can’t take care of themselves.” I also think that being born again demands that Christians have an active interest in “the least of these” (Mt 25).

Shalom, My Brother and Friend

ברוך דיין האמת

zvi-50 yearsZvi Kalisher, a man I truly admired for all the right reasons, now stands in the presence of the risen Christ. This day was inevitable, but one which, in an earthly way, I hoped would never come.

Countless stories of Zvi’s exploits will be shared among friends over the next week, and there are many great stories that should be told. But here, I want to remember the simple man behind those stories of heroism, whether they be stories of the holocaust or of sharing his faith in Israel. He was not flashy. He didn’t seek to own stuff. Though he was famous in some ways, fame and fortune were not his goals in life. He wasn’t an intellectual; he loved and lived the simplicity of the gospel and knowing Jesus as Saviour! He often said, “I don’t need a train to carry all the books to explain God and faith. I just need this one book.” Then, he would hold up his Bible for all to see which book he referenced. He was a simple man in the best ways.

I met Zvi almost 25 years ago, and I’m thankful that was not a one-off meeting. By God’s grace, I was able to get to know him personally and have him in my home on a regular basis. I learned much from Zvi, but the thing he modeled most for me was consistency. He consistently came to congregational meetings on shabbat. He consistently came to weekly evangelism outings. He consistently came to Wednesday night prayer meeting. He consistently carried his Bible. He consistently shared a testimony for the Lord. He consistently told me (and anyone who would listen!) about his kids and grand kids.

Consistency: such an important lesson for a young man to learn. Thank you, Zvi, for the lesson learned: ברוך דיין האמת.

Here are a few photos I recently inherited from a pastor who loved Israel.

zvi-family1

zvi-family

zvi-shul

In the Presence of Significance

(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger

(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger

Yesterday, I had the rare opportunity to sit with people of significance, Leon and Lorraine Dillinger. Such opportunities are rare in life, because people of true significance are rare treasures. I’m tempted to use the word “greatness” in reference to the Dillingers, but doing so would 1) embarrass them, and 2) risk taking honor away from the Lord whose work in and through them is what tempts me to use the word “greatness.”

In a nutshell: Equipped with an intense love for Jesus paired with an unsurpassed commitment to do the Lord’s will and some medical and Wycliffe translation training,  Leon and Lorraine went to Papua, Indonesia in 1958, and have, for 56 years and counting, given their lives to the Lord’s service among the Dani people. Leon, arrived 9 months before Lorraine, and in addition to preparing an airstrip for future flights in/out of this remote highlands village, he also prepared their “honeymoon cottage,” which was a grass hut. When Lorraine arrived, they married and lived in that grass hut.

The stories they have lived are too numerous to attempt to retell, but a few important ones must be included here: they reduced the Dani language to writing; taught the Dani to read and write (their own language); translated the Bible into Dani; have been part of the establishment of 130+ Dani churches, led by Dani pastors; and established schools and a Bible institute. They also helped improve the Dani people’s health by introducing certain medications and a variety of new vegetables (the sweet potato made up about 85% of the Dani diet when the Dillingers arrived) and protein sources including soy beans, peanuts and a variety of animals for meat.

A fun contextualization story: When they were translating Isaiah 53, they faced a conundrum.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

The Dani had no knowledge of sheep. The only animal of which they were aware were wild pigs. Lorraine said, “We wondered what to do. The Dani had never seen or heard of sheep. We decided that we could use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep’ because the Dani understood how pigs can run off; they see that all the time. However, that didn’t solve the problem. Pigs don’t go to the slaughter quietly, which meant we couldn’t use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep.'”

What did they do? Realizing only “sheep” or “lamb” could work in that passage, they requested and received from the Dutch government a flock of sheep and began teaching the Dani about the character/personality of sheep so that the passage could make sense to them. (The sheep also served as a source of protein and wool, which was helpful in the cold temperatures of the Papua highlands.)

In addition to speaking in chapel, Leon and Lorraine spoke to our student ministries class. I was impressed at how this couple who has spent over 50 years living among a primitive people could so easily communicate with a group of youth-directors-in-training, who are part of a high-tech, modern world. However, the principles of culture that the Dillingers learned in their work among the Dani are the same principles of culture that today’s student ministry leaders must adapt. I hope at least some of our students realized the privilege they had in hearing from these fountains of wisdom and knowledge yesterday.

leon-dillinger-time-coverIn the Dillingers, I met humble unassuming servants of the Lord. They have the work credentials – even making the cover of Time (Dec/1982) – that many in our culture would flash before others in order to get to the front of the line or gain complimentary goodies. But they don’t use their credentials in those ways. I noted in Leon’s chapel presentation that he didn’t communicate “I did” or “we did,” – even though it would have been perfectly normal in our “it’s about me” culture. Instead, always mindful to give the Lord proper priority, he used phrases like, “the Lord worked it out so that . . .”

Lorraine was equally humble (remember, she has worked side by side with Leon reaching the Dani since 1958): In a private conversation about what can be a controversial topic in mission theory, I pressed her for a clarification about their work as it contrasted to something a recognized missiologist said in a seminar I attended recently, and her answer was simply, “What we found was . . .” Even though she obviously disagreed with the other person’s statement and has a lifetime of credentials to support her position, she didn’t throw him under the bus or speak unkindly toward his work. She simply reiterated what she and Leon had experienced among the Dani. I learned much from their demonstration of humility.

Although they no longer live full time among the Dani, their work has not stopped. They continue to visit the Dani regularly, and Leon is working on a set of Bible commentaries in the Dani language. I hope that their complete story (or as much as is possible) can be captured in a book. The historical record of the modern mission movement will have a significant gap if it isn’t.

 

 

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