Think about the word carpenter. What does a carpenter do for a living?
What type of carpenter was Jesus?
- A house-builder
- A furniture maker
- A chariot maker
- A brick mason
The word for carpenter in the gospels is τέκτων tekton. Our English work architect, meaning “chief builder” is related to this word.
The word occurs twice in the New Testament:
Matthew 13:55 “Isn’t this the carpenter‘s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary? Aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?”
Mark 6:3 “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son? Isn’t this the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?" They were not pleased with him at all.”
In these verse the people don’t seem to be complimenting Jesus. My assumption is that they considered Jesus to be an uneducated manual worker and unqualified for a teaching ministry.
Jesus was a blue-collar worker. “What does this construction worker think he’s doing?” That captures some of the condescension.
“Carpenter” is a slightly inaccurate translation. Do you agree?
I grew up in Oregon where entire houses are made of wood. They have studs for framing, plywood for underfloor, cabinets, siding and roofing all made of wood. So I grew up imagining Jesus wearing a toolbelt. Maybe with a couple of nails hanging from his lips. But houses were certainly not built that way in ancient times. Wood was scarce. Houses were made out of… what? I assume that the average house in Palestine was far closer in construction to an African hut than an American ranch-style house.
If you’ve only got a fuzzy notion of how houses were built in the time of Christ, you’re in good company. Luke might have been a good doctor but his knowledge of house construction in Galilee was rather weak. In the story of the paralytic let down through the roof, Mark precisely writes, “digging through it.” (2:4) Luke, no doubt imagining the houses of Rome with their tiled roofs writes, “through the tiles.” (5:19)
Can anyone share some online resources that talk about houses and carpenters in the time of Christ?
What kind of τέκτων do you think Jesus was?
Update: Ben Witherington has a Jewish Carpenter poem with the “embroidered” image linked above: A CARPENTER’S CONFESSION.