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.

You asked: Should we support retired missionaries?

A number of pastors have asked me if their church should continue supporting missionaries once they retire. Recognizing the natural discomfort created by such a question, they usually try quickly to justify their inquiry: “After all, our mission budget is supposed to be spent on those doing mission work on the foreign field, not those living out their golden years in America. Right?”

My answer – yes, no, or maybe – is dependent on some important facts. Getting to these facts requires some effort, which is likely more work than we really want to do. But, if we are going to make good decisions regarding continued support, we must do the work, which, requires 4 important considerations: 1) What does God’s word say about honor?, 2) What was the historical/cultural context under which those missionaries went to the field?, 3) Was the missionary’s service credible?, and 4) What is the retiring missionary’s true financial situation?

Before I explain these considerations, I want to say that I realize church budgets are tight, and often growing tighter, there remains a vast number of people who have yet to hear the gospel, and there is a real dilemma whether to send mission money to missionaries in the field or to those retired in America. If these tensions didn’t exist, this discussion would be unnecessary.

1. What does God’s word say about honor?

Below are 10 verses (in no particular order) that address in some way the concept of honoring those who have given their life to missionary service. Some may argue that honoring the elderly should not be understood only in terms of money. I agree that honor applies more broadly than money, but regarding those in need, it certainly must include monetary consideration.

I Tim 5:17 – Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

Romans 13:7 – Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Romans 12:10 – Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

Leviticus 19:32 – You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

Proverbs 3:27 – Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

I Timothy 5:18 – For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.

I Timothy 5:3 – Honor widows who are truly widows.

Acts 20:35 – In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

I Thessalonians 5:12-13 – We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

Romans 12:13 – Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

2. What was the historical/cultural context under which those missionaries went to the field?

In all of the cases of which I’m aware, none of the missionaries had a contract with a church regarding the longevity of their support. Neither was anything specifically mentioned between the missionary and supporting church regarding the missionary’s retirement. However, discussion of retirement seemed to them unnecessary because of at least two cultural realities of the 1960s and 1970s: 1) An overwhelming urgency to reach the lost whether because of a belief in the soon return of the Lord, the rapture, or simply out of compassion, and 2) the principle of company loyalty that existed in that generation.

I recently had a septuagenarian ask me, “How come I don’t hear people talking about Jesus coming back like I did in the ’60s and ’70s?” My first response was, “People are still talking about it.” He countered, “Some might be talking about Jesus coming back, but not like they did 40 or 50 years ago.” After some consideration, I think, apart from the upswing related to the Left Behind phenomenon (c. 1995-2007), he is probably right. The Lord’s return (or rapture, depending on your view) doesn’t seem to be so prominent these days, which might suggest a topic for another blog series.

Anyway, based on what I know of the generation of missionaries under consideration here, I think many of them were in a hurry to get to the field and went underfunded. Whether that decision was solely because of pure compassion for the lost, or was heightened by a belief in the imminent rapture of the church, or something else, the result is a number of senior citizens who gave their lives to mission work have found themselves in financial difficulty.

Some of them have told me that they were so convinced that Jesus was coming back any day, “we didn’t worry about debt. Many of us just said, ‘we’ll leave the debt to the Devil. He can worry about it!'” We can discuss whether that was foolish thinking or not, even among those of us who still sense an urgency of His return. However, where the rubber meets the road, we are talking about a generation who was consumed with getting to the field to evangelize the lost before Jesus returns or raptures the saints. And at this point in their lives, there isn’t time to correct what might have been foolish decisions made decades ago.

A second major influence on this generation’s decision not to prepare “properly” for retirement is the principle of company loyalty that this particular generation of missionaries knew and believed in when they went to the field. One of the “values” that generational studies often point out in reference to Builders and Boomers is company loyalty. This loyalty was bi-directional; employees commonly spent their entire working life at a single company and that company, in return, offered loyalty to their employees in the form of a retirement package during their post-employment years. In a generations seminar I recently attended, the presenter, who has done extensive generational research, said that company loyalty is definitely not a cultural value of Generations X, Y, Z, and Alpha. In fact, the further from the Builders one goes, the less each succeeding generation relates to the concept of company loyalty. Generations X, Y, Z, and Alpha are or will be mobile generations that move from employer to employer.

3. Was the missionary’s service credible?

For me, this is an easy question. While credible can be a very subjective term (e.g., “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”), I will give you a good rule of thumb via a single question: Did your church continue supporting this missionary throughout their working career? If so, the church has by default already said the missionary’s work was credible.

4. What is the retiring missionary’s true financial situation?

The missionary’s true financial situation might be the most uncomfortable issue to address, but it must be done. Someone – a pastor, finance committee member, or someone else – must ask the missionary seeking continued support to explain and provide documentation of their current financial situation. While asking these kinds of questions may be uncomfortable, making an informed decision requires the effort.

A retiring missionary who has made bad financial decisions – whether chasing bad investments, opting out of Social Security and not investing the money, not planning for retirement, or something else – may be embarrassed by the process, so it should be done gently and with no sense of superiority. Think of them as your grandparents. With that in mind, I will also say that a retiring missionary who has made bad financial decisions should be mature enough to own up to his/her mistakes, especially if he/she is asking for continued financial support – support that could be directed to new missionaries going to the field.

A word of caution should be offered here: The supporter should not expect the missionary to live an unreasonably low lifestyle. Neither should the missionary expect to live an unreasonably high lifestyle. In summary, you don’t want to read in the newspaper that your missionaries are digging through dumpsters to find food. Neither do you want to find out that the missionary’s children/grandchildren inherited a small fortune when the missionary eventually dies.


As a matter of kindness and honor, my default position is yes, continue supporting retiring missionaries who went to the field in the 1960s and 1970s IF they need the support. However, I don’t suggest that be the default position for future generations.

Moving Forward

Clear communication, informing new missionaries of the ground rules up front will alleviate much of the stress and uncertainty of these types of situations.

My recommendation is for churches to do the following:
1. Tell new missionaries up front that (x amount of time) after their retirement, financial support will end. “X amount of time” may range from 1 month to 1 year.
2. Provide financial counseling to new missionaries at no cost to the missionaries.
3. Consider automatically depositing 10% of the new missionary’s support into his/her retirement account. Example: If the missionary receives $100 support, send him/her $90 and deposit $10 in their retirement account.
4. Consider matching the automatic retirement deposit. Example: If the missionary receives $100 support, send him/her $90 and deposit $10 in their retirement account, then add another $10 to the retirement deposit. In this case, the missionary is actually receiving $110 support.
5. Consider providing a $100,000-$200,000 life insurance policy for the new missionary.



You asked: Can I learn another language?

I’ve started my Arabic language studies again. Unfortunately, it is a self-paced, self-study, which gets interrupted far too often. I’m still plugging away, though. Thankfully, there are a number of Arabic speakers in my area, so I get the chance to use what I’m learning.

You, too, CAN learn another language, but . . . it will take effort and commitment. People often ask me whether this or that language program is any good. My standard answer: “More important than the quality of the program is your commitment to learning. Even the best program will not help you if you don’t put effort and time into it. Working a poor program is better than not working a great program.”

Below is an info-graphic that illustrates/explains approximately what it takes for native English speakers to learn another language.

HT: David Joannes


You Asked: Why I Chose the University of Pretoria

A number of people have asked me why I did my PhD at the University of Pretoria (South Africa), so I thought it might be helpful to do a post to answer that question. This is intended, to some degree, as an advertisement for UP, or at least a declaration of my positive experience. I know that my reasons will not be satisfactory for everyone. And, I’m okay with that because I realize doing doctoral work is a very personal decision that must be worked through by each individual according to their own interests, abilities, and goals.

Following are many of the reasons (not necessarily in order of priority) that made UP a good fit for my personal/family situation.

1. I was accepted by the University of Pretoria.

This may seem self-evident, but it is an important part of the process. I’m aware of people who are unrealistic regarding which universities are available to them either because of their academic standing (e.g., gpa or the respectability of their master’s program or school), a lack of specific prerequisites (e.g., a thesis track M.A.), or life situation.

My advice: Realistically evaluate which institutions are actually available to you and narrow your list of options to a few of those programs. It seems better to me to settle for an institution that you can get in to, rather than to sit around “dreaming” about being accepted to the “big name” university. Does this mean the institutional reputation doesn’t matter? No.

2. The University of Pretoria has a good reputation as a research intensive institution.

There are a variety of university ranking systems (e.g., Academic Ranking of World Universities, the QS World University Rankings, and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings) that use a variety of matrices to determine ranking. Similar to the US college football polls, each of these systems, based on their own criteria, may rank the same university higher or lower than the others do. However, similar to the football polls, these systems don’t usually have dramatic variations. Also, it is important to recognize that various departments/faculties at a university may be stronger or weaker, so you may need to consider the overall reputation of a school or the specific department of your interest.

My interests and life situation suggested a research focused PhD (sometimes referenced as “the British model” or “research only”) was what I needed, and UP had a good reputation with this type of PhD model.

3. The University of Pretoria’s PhD is “research only.”

“Research only” seems to be a misleading label for many because I continue to be asked, “all you have to do is write a paper?” Some seem to think this means an enlarged term paper. It does not. At legitimate schools, research only means doing real research, creating knowledge, and being vigilantly critiqued. It also means doing whatever your supervisor/mentor (“Promoter” in South Africa) demands, whether that be learn a language or do additional study on research methodology or show up for a meeting or seminar, etc. So, “research only” is not necessarily an easier path; it is a different path.

This SBL article is helpful in seeing the differences between an “American PhD” and a “British PhD” from the perspective of students in each of those models.

4. The Theology Department at the University of Pretoria does not necessarily look like me.

Given my particular field, Science of Religion and Missiology, it seemed like a good thing to work among people who don’t necessarily see eye to eye with my theological positions. Because of the nature of course work it would have been more important to me to study under those more in line with my theological positions if I were doing an American PhD.

Doing a research PhD meant that, under the guidance of my promoter, I was basically driving the train and letting my work speak for itself, which seemed appropriate since the interest of evangelical missiology is to persuasively present the claims of Christ to those who don’t already believe. Working under a theological umbrella that was broader than my own gave me the opportunity to test my personal positions and output from a variety of angles.

It is also important to note that UP uses blind peer review to examine the thesis. In addition to theology faculty readers, three other readers (international, national, and institutional) examine the thesis. And these readers are not chosen by me nor required to be in line with my theological positions, so the document undergoes a comprehensive review that is not a rubber stamp.

5. The University of Pretoria was easy to work with in terms of enrollment, paperwork, and followup.

Since my research of universities began while I was resident in Israel, it was important to me to be able to communicate with people via telephone and email. The people at UP (the registrar’s office, department secretaries, professors, student services, and library staff) were available and responded quickly to emails and were easily reachable via telephone, too. This concern became more important as my field research began; I was in another country and couldn’t just drop by the student service center or library for this or that issue.

The UP staff also handled all of my paperwork responsibly. Some other schools also appeared capable and responsive to my inquiries, but one particularly large university made my decision to pass them by very easy because of the haphazard way they handled my inquiries and paperwork. First, it was impossible to speak with anyone on the telephone and the wait time for email responses was entirely too long for my tastes. But the coup de grâce came when I received a warning notice of insufficient academic documentation, which I had spent considerable money to secure and send to them via registered courier. After a few email back and forths I was told that consideration of my file was being terminated for failure to provide said document. Ironically, the next day, I received in the mail the document they said they had not received, . . .  returned to me in that university’s envelope. Obviously, they had received it. Obviously, they mishandled it. Obviously, they wasted my time and money. Obviously, they were not for me.

6. The Price was right!

While I was not guaranteed any money, I had received some hints that there was a good chance I would receive a “bursary,” which is South African for “scholarship” or “research grant.” However, whether I did or didn’t receive any money, it was inviting to see that UP was a state university that was clearly getting some good state funding that made the tuition unbelievably cheap, even for an international student who pays more than national students. In fact, their tuition was significantly lower than what I found among the other schools I considered, which were in Israel, England, and the United States.

The bursary or scholarship funding at UP was handled in a way different than I had ever experienced. In other words, I didn’t have to apply for it. In fact, there was no way to apply. Since I had never seen an automatic scholarship pool before, I didn’t believe such existed. However, each time I inquired about how to apply for a “bursary” I was told, “You do not have to apply. If you are in the PhD program, you are automatically considered.” As part of my research proposal, I had prepared and submitted a research budget, so they did have some financial information regarding the project, but nothing stating need for a scholarship.

I think, but don’t know for certain, that interest in particular research (perhaps based on new areas of research and/or publishability) and apparent research progress are important considerations for the bursary. To be clear: I’m guessing those are factors, but DO NOT know for certain.

Anyway, the happy news that I had, in fact, received a bursary for the first year’s costs arrived with a contract. The contract was an agreement that if for ANY reason I didn’t complete the PhD I had to pay the money back with interest. It was a hassle for me and my two witnesses to initial and sign the myriad locations throughout the document, but it was certainly financially worth the hassle.

Note that I said, “first year’s costs” above. At UP, PhD students pay the bulk of their overall tuition at the first year’s enrollment, each subsequent year requires a much smaller tuition that amounts to an insignificant continuation fee and, in my case, an international student fee. Thankfully, each year after my first, I also received a contract and bursary covering the costs of my program.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure there are other things that influenced my decision for the University of Pretoria, but these important reasons are what come to mind.

Now, that I have finished my course, though I’m still waiting conferral, I can say that I believe I made the right choice for me. Knowing what I now know, would I do it again? Absolutely!

If you are considering UP and have questions, I’m happy to try to answer them. You can start the process in a comment.

You Asked About My Research

First, I’m surprised that anyone is still here. I wouldn’t blame anyone for abandoning this site. After all, I abandoned it first. 🙂 Anyway, I hope this is a sign that posts will be here more regularly.

I’m honored that (soon to be Dr.) Danny Frese is interested enough to ask for some details of my PhD work. So, Danny, here goes:

My program is a PhD in Missiology – Science of Religion at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. UP has a large residential research doctoral program in a host of fields, theology being one of them. I’ve read that it is actually the largest research PhD center in Africa, which may or may not be saying much. UP’s program is built on the British research-only model and has a number of respectable institutional partnerships with European Universities. And I understand the School of Theology is working on some type of institutional partnership with a US institution, but I don’t have any more details, like which institution.

They have given me an exemption from being in Pretoria on a regular basis since my research is specific to where I have been living. (For those that aren’t aware, we are mostly in the States for the next year visiting our supporting churches. I’m currently scheduled to be in Israel at least 2 times for research during this year.) I did have to agree to be present in Pretoria any time my adviser says I need to be there.

[Note: UP should not be confused with UNISA, the University of South Africa. They are not the same in many respects.]

In general, I can say that my research deals with conversion to faith in Jesus – the process, barriers, and social ramifications. Rather than reading the “how to” books by the experts, I’m interviewing those who have actually come to faith, asking them about their experience. I’m finding their stories are quite different than the experts seem to suggest. (I’m being purposely evasive here, but will send my proposal by email if anyone I know asks.)

In the end, I’m hopeful that my research will be a helpful knowledge base of what is actually happening in this region.