What did Jesus do before he began his ministry?
The slogan goes: “My boss is a Jewish Carpenter.” The reference is to Jesus being a carpenter before he began his ministry. However, is that what the Bible actually teaches us?
Why do we think Jesus was a carpenter? This comes to us from Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55.
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. – Mark 6:3
Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? – Matthew 13:55
There you have it. Seems obvious. Mark tells us Jesus was a carpenter. Matthew tells us Jesus’ father was a carpenter. Since the son would take on the profession of the father, it would indicate Jesus was also a carpenter. On Biblehub.com, where verses are shown in 24 different Bible versions, 23 of these versions use the term “carpenter.” Only the International Standard Version translates the Greek as “builder.” That seems like overwhelming evidence that Jesus was a carpenter.
Would someone translate Tekton please?
The Greek word being translated as “carpenter” is “tekton.” Thayer’s first definition is “a worker in wood.” Strong’s Dictionary defines it as “an artificer (as producer of fabrics), that is, (specifically) a craftsman in wood: – carpenter.” So far, it seems clear that Jesus was a carpenter. However, this is where we need to dig deeper.
According to the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Hebrew equivalent for tekton is charash. Hence, when the Hebrew priests translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, they used the Greek “tekton” to translate the Hebrew “charash”. This gives us an excellent idea of the work of a tekton in the days of Jesus.
So what is a “charash?” Strong’s defines it as “a fabricator of any material:” and Brown-Driver-Briggs defines it as a “craftsman, artisan, engraver, graver, artificer.” In other words, a charash was a craftsman or a builder. We learn an interesting fact regarding the use of “tekton” to translate “charash” in Isaiah 44:13: “The carpenter measures with a line…” The term “carpenter” is “charash ets”. “Ets” means wood in Hebrew.
Hence, in Hebrew, a carpenter is a “charash ets” or a “craftsman in wood” a.k.a. a carpenter. However, without “ets”, he is simply a “craftsman”. Hence, a carpenter would be a “tekton of wood,” a stonemason would be a “tekton of stone.” Coming back to our New Testament verses about Jesus, we read: “Is not this the tekton, the son of Mary” and “Is not this the tekton’s son?” Neither use the term “wood”.
Jesus the Tekton
So what does it mean that Jesus was a tekton? It means that he was a craftsman or a builder. Some might say he was like a general contractor. Most would say he was probably a stonemason. Stone was everywhere in Galilee. Houses were made of stones with wood only in the roof rafters. Most people didn’t have furniture as we think of today. They used mats and stones. Archeology has found houses with stone mangers, not wood. In other words, when Jesus was laid in a manger, it was a stone manger.
Now is it possible that Jesus was a carpenter? Absolutely. The term tekton could be any kind of craftsman, including one who worked with wood. However, it would seem that Jesus would not have been in business for 20-years if he primarily worked in wood. More likely, Joseph and Jesus were first masons (stone), then carpenters (wood) and smiths (metal).
This helps us understand why Jesus spoke so often of stone: building houses on rock foundations, building the church on the rock, building stone towers, millstones around necks, stones instead of bread, rejected stone becoming the chief cornerstone, not one stone being left upon another when the Temple was destroyed, and stones crying out. On the other hand, he does not speak of wood even once. This would be odd for someone who has worked with wood for 20 years. Yet, if he worked with stone for 20 years, we understand why all the stone references.
What’s the point? We need to be careful that we take for granted what the Bible has said. Too often, a tradition has been added to the word of God. It is imperative that we understand what the Bible actually says and not what tradition tells us it says – even if 23 of 24 translations tell us otherwise. If we cannot be trusted with small things, how can we be trusted with much? (Luke 16:10)
If you think Jesus was a carpenter, type “carpenter” in the comments below. If you think he was a stonemason, type “mason” in the comments. If you think he worked with more than one kind of building material, type “craftsman.” Let’s see which one wins… God bless!