10 Misconceptions About Jesus: #4 – Jesus was a carpenter

In 10 Misconceptions about Jesus #3 we learned that Jesus did, in fact, judge people. Moreover, we discovered that His followers are to live lives of moral discernment.

Another common misconception is that Jesus’s step father was a carpenter, and that Jesus, Himself, was also a carpenter.

There was even a bumper sticker floating around sometime last decade that read:

gospelgeeks.net

I’m not saying He wasn’t a carpenter—I’m only suggesting that it’s not clear.

Let’s look at the text:

“Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon?” Mark 6:3 CSB

“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?” Matthew 13:55 CSB

There are two instances where his carpentry background is mentioned, and they are parallel accounts. That is, Matthew and Mark are describing the same event. It says that He is both a carpenter, and the son of a carpenter.

It looks pretty straightforward, yes?

There are four difficulties that cloud our understanding of what Jesus did.

1. Semantics
Remember that languages are not codes. One word does not automatically translate into a single word in the same way. The Koine Greek word from which we translate the word ‘carpenter’ is the word teknon.

Our definition of ‘carpenter’ can refer to many specific tasks, such as finishing carpentry, cabinet maker, framer, or a restoration carpenter. There are, of course, others.

All this to say that even in our culture, when someone says “I’m a carpenter” it’s not always clear what is meant.

The Koine Greek word, tekton, has a wider semantic range. It can, of course, mean a carpenter in the common sense; but it can also mean other things:

A new construction carpenter, like a framer
A general construction worker
A general craftsman
A cabinet maker
A Cooper (Someone who makes barrels)
A Shipbuilder

If I were translating Mark 6:3 or Matthew 13:55, I would use ‘craftsman’ instead of ‘carpenter.’ Like the word tekton, ‘craftsman’ is generic.

The etymological evidence leans toward His being a worker or craftsman.

Sir John Everett Millais' Christ in the house of his parent's, 1850

Sir John Everett Millais’ Christ in the house of his parent’s, 1850

2. Tradition
Why, then, is it assumed that He was a carpenter in the traditional sense? Probably because of the tradition handed down from the 1st and 2nd century.

In Justin Martyr’s (AD 100-165) work, Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 88, he writes this:

And when Jesus came to the Jordan, He was considered to be the son of Joseph the carpenter; and He appeared without comeliness, as the Scriptures declared; and He was deemed a carpenter (for He was in the habit of working as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes; by which He taught the symbols of righteousness and an active life)

This was written about a 100 years after Jesus died.

The tradition is also found in Pseudepigraphal work of the 2nd century in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Although most evangelicals would reject the historicity of this writing (as do I), it tells a story of Jesus magically extending a piece of wood His stepfather, Joseph, had cut too short.

Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Greek Text A, chapter VIII:

Now his father was a carpenter and made at that time ploughs and yokes. And there was required of him a bed by a certain rich man, that he should make it for him. And whereas one beam, that which is called the shifting one was too short and Joseph knew not what to do, the young child Jesus said to his father Joseph: Lay down the two pieces of wood and make them even at the end next unto thee. And Joseph did as the young child said unto him. And Jesus stood at the other end and took hold upon the shorter beam and stretched it and made it equal with the other. And his father Joseph saw it and marveled: and he embraced the young child and kissed him, saying: Happy am I for that God hath given me this young child.

That said, although etymological evidence suggests that he was a worker or craftsman, tradition suggests he was a typical carpenter.

Georges De La Tour's St. Joseph, 1642, Louvre

Georges De La Tour’s St. Joseph, 1642, Louvre

There are two other things that cloud our understanding.

3. A two decade career
We often think of historical characters as static. They are not. Whatever work Jesus did at 15 may not have been what He was doing at 20 or 25 or 30. People evolve and grow. As He grew in skill, He may have been promoted to different tasks within the industry.

3. Blue or white collar?
Finally, who’s to say what He actually did within His field.

I have a friend who is a plumber, but doesn’t really plumb. Why? – Because he runs parts, fills out paperwork, and bids jobs. He’s a plumber, but not really blue collar plumber.

Why does this matter?

Who knows what kind of position Jesus held. He could have managed other carpenters, bid jobs, and dealt with logistics. Maybe He was a sought after artisan whose finishing carpentry was well known. He may also have been a simple, low-level worker.

The generic answer is that Jesus was a carpenter.

The truth is that we don’t have enough information to construct what He actually did during His two decade working career.

 

10 Misconceptions about Jesus #1: Jesus’ appearance
10 Misconceptions about Jesus #2: Jesus is the same as He was
10 Misconceptions about Jesus #3: Jesus would never judge anyone

Comments

  1. Son of God says:

    Hello children of the one true living God, please thank our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for his blessings and compassion.

  2. Luke Allen says:

    The thought of Jesus as a house-builder makes more sense of the passages where He says “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

    • Good point!

    • Jerry Campbell says:

      very good

    • I hear your point, but it is completely invalid. “You know the way to the place where I am going.” The place he is referring to is actually McDonalds. The “way to the place” is simple, take a left onto Shrub Road and the drive thru is on the right.

    • Actually, the reference of going to prepare a place was what an engaged Jewish man of that time would have said to his finace. He would then begin construction on an addition to his father’s house (called a mansion) sort of like an in-law apartment would be today. He couldn’t say when he would be back to get the young woman, because his father had to give final approval on the completed construction. As soon as the father ok’d the addition, he would gather his friends and go and get his wife to be. This could be late at night, no one knew when he would be coming to get her. But when he did, the wedding celebration would get under way!

  3. He was a builder, and built with stones. Wood was not commonly used during that era in Palestine no the rest of the north of Africa.

    • This is actually contextually the most likely/plausible scenario. I just returned from a 2 1/2 week mission trip to Jordan and Israel. Serious Christian scholars in the region are in near consensus that Jesus (and Joseph) were stone masons, as that was the primary building material of the context. A homebuilder at the time would have also had woodworking skills, but again, they would have been manly workers of stone (which certainly adds logic and more depth to Zchtist SD the stone that was rejected.

      His “in my father’s house there are many mansions, we see that making much more sense.

      • stone masons also formed the knights templar (christian masons), now known today as just free masons. go to your local lodge to learn more.

    • Patrick Hudec says:

      Proximity of NAZARETH to SEPHORIS, Herod Antipast’s new capital in Galilee was built as a Roman City with Stone dominant structures built with Roman architects. Less than a one mile walk. Started shortly after jesus’ birth would make Jesus and Joseph nearby day workers as builders…likely stone masons.

      • Nowhere does Jesus ever refer to Heaven as ‘My Fathers House’ Jesus calls Heaven Heaven. Jesus clearly states “My house shall be called a house of prayer….” Matt 21:13. The ‘many mansions’ (imo) are a reference to the ‘many visible church denominations.

  4. Jesus was a carpenter, and a fine one. But research has PROVEN, yes…PROVEN, that he built dungeons for Alf Stewart. And we all know what sort of dungeons Alfies into. Now, I understand that this may offend people that don’t strike this as true, but it IS. Jesus was a good man, with good intentions, but Alfie was to cunning for him, deceived him into building magnificent dungeons that held many people captive. Some of these dungeons still stand today and can be seen from many vantage points. If you would like to know more about this topic, please feel free to check out my website. (www.lafarsbookstore.com.nz). I would love to hear your responses to this.

    • Troy Hansen says:

      Listen hear you muppet, Alf Stewart wasn’t even around when Jesus was. GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT M80.

      • Tex Biggins says:

        Hi Troy, I can see you are clearly upset with what Roman has said, but he states a fair point. You see, Jesus built dungeons which later on were used by Alf Stewart. Although there is a big time difference between the two people, Alf did use the buildings as they were not occupied.

        By the way, loving the website Roman, really great to see your views on such controversial topics. Keep up the great work!!!

        • Troy…that is completely unreasonable, what you are saying is stupid and should be deemed retarded.

          Thanks Tex, great to know your thoughts!

          • Troy Hansen says:

            I WILL HACK BOTH OF YOUR COMPUTERS AND SPAM THEM TO UNTHINKABLE BOUNDARIES. I WILL ALSO SHUT DOWN YOUR WEBSITE. HAPPY WEB SURFING!

          • Roman Lafar says:

            Sorry to anyone who is interested in my website. If has been taken down and I’m guessing Troy is the one who has been clever enough to do so. JESUS MY MAN, YOU ARE A LEGEND AND A EXCELLENT CARPENTER. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

          • Michael Rosen says:

            Jesus isn’t around anymore…

      • Dean Hauser says:

        Sir, you somehow missed who Jesus is, He is the Christ, the Lamb of God and the great ” I AM”, he was never deceived into doing anything

    • Dean Hauser says:

      Sir, you somehow missed who Jesus is, He is the Christ, the Lamb of God and the great ” I AM”, he was never deceived into doing anything

  5. Small correction: the greek word is “tekton” not “teknon” (teknon means child). Here’s the definition of the word based on linguistic evidence (according to BDAG — the standard koine greek lexicon)

    [BDAG]
    τέκτων, ονος, ὁ (cp. τέχνη; Hom. et al.; pap, LXX; Jos., Ant. 15, 390; SibOr 5, 404; Ath., R. 9 p. 57, 28) one who constructs, builder, carpenter (Hom.+; SEG XXVIII, 1186 ‘worker in wood, carpenter, joiner’. Acc. to Maximus Tyr. 15, 3c, a τ. makes ἄροτρα; Just. , D. 88, 8, states that Joseph made ἄροτρα καὶ ζυγά ‘plows and yokes’; acc. to Epict. 1, 15, 2 a τ. works w. wood, in contrast to a worker in bronze; for the latter, less freq., Eur., Alc. 5; in Ael. Aristid. 46 p. 211 D. τέκτων signifies worker in stone. GJs 9:3 al. Joseph’s work is οἰκοδομῆσαι τὰς οἰκοδομάς; the word. τ. is not used.—CMcCown, ὁ τέκτων: Studies in Early Christ., ed. SCase 1928, 173–89). In Mt 13:55 Jesus is called ὁ τοῦ τέκτονος υἱός, in Mk 6:3 ὁ τέκτων (cp. Just., D. 88, 8=ASyn. 18, 55f; the difference may perh. be explained on the basis of a similar one having to do with Sophillus, the father of Sophocles: Aristoxenus, fgm. 115 calls him τέκτων, but the Vita Sophoclis 1 [=OxfT. of Soph., ed. Pearson p. xviii; not printed in NWilson’s ed. ’90] rejects this and will admit only that he may possibly have possessed τέκτονες as slaves. Considerations of social status may have something to do with the variation in the gospel tradition).—HHöpfl, Nonne hic est fabri filius?: Biblica 4, 1923, 41–55; ELombard, Charpentier ou maçon: RTP ’48, 4; EStauffer, Jeschua ben Mirjam (Mk 6:3): MBlack Festschr., ’69, 119–28; RBatey, NTS 30, ’84, 249–58.—B. 589. BHHW III 2341. DELG. M-M. EDNT.

  6. I totally respect this perspective. I however have a slightly different perspective. Christ came as a man for a purpose. The purpose was inherently to save a dyeing world from sin by crucifixion and resurrection. Because he came as a man, and I believe that everything Christ did was predestined. His occupation was predestined as well. We don’t the word to disprove or prove why or what he did with our carnal minds….. The Holy spirit gives us understanding and interpretation. As a craftsman, and more specifically a worker. Christ would have worked and built his body at a young age knowing that he would ultimately bare a heavy cross while being beaten. As a supervisor or a manager that would have been counter productive. I believe Christ chose this occupation with purpose. He needed to build his body by carrying wood and stone.
    His life on earth was all planning and preparation for his purpose.

    Destiny!

  7. Gabriel A Fregoso says:

    It’s safe to say with a high degree of probability that he was a carpenter. You can only assume a general craftsman, if his father had not have been a carpenter himself. But as was custom in those times, the son learned the way of the father’s trade and was often considered and identified with the family business despite his own identity. Certainly, he grew up under the banner of carpentry and was associated with it. The early church leaders who helped translate these passages considered context and tradition when they made their translations, and they were very intelligent people. There is always the possibility that Jesus was only marginally familiar with the entire discipline of carpentry–but if you consider Jewish culture, and especially the articulation and expression of Jewish culture under Roman Imperium, there is a greater likelihood that Jesus was indeed familiar with carpentry.

  8. It’s amazing to visit this site and reading the views of all mates on the topic of this paragraph, while I am also eager of getting experience.

  9. While I believe without the need for proof, I am also fascinated by historical facts from the time of Jesus. This is from “In the Fullness of Time” by Paul Maier, which I highly recommend:
    “The early church father Justin Martyr, born in Samaria around 100 a.d., wrote that Joseph and Jesus specialized in plows and yokes in their carpentry. They were of excellent durable quality and some of them were still in use in the mid-second century” Id, quoting “Plows Made by Jesus: Justin Martyr, dialogus lxxxviii”.

  10. You really want to find out what He was, Study a Rabbi. Trust me, it’ll blow your mind. The disciples called him a RABBI, not because He walked in a temple with a cloth around him.

    They called him that cause He earned it. Trust me, it’ll change your thoughts on this. Not to say He couldn’t have done carpentry. Trust me, He was a RABBI before He began his ministry through John. Study it, please. God bless.

Trackbacks

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  3. […] #2: Jesus is the same as He was 10 Misconceptions about Jesus #3: Jesus would never judge anyone 10 Misconceptions about Jesus #4: Jesus was a carpenter 10 Misconceptions about Jesus #5: Jesus was pierced through His […]

  4. […] liked to take long breaks from carpentry to pose for Rembrandt paintings with sheep in his arms). Apparently, he may not actually have been a carpenter. Maybe “common laborer” or […]

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