Friday, February 8, 2013

Was Jesus a Carpenter?

Although popular legend portrays Jesus as a carpenter, we doubt that the scriptural evidence supports such a conclusion. After considering the evidence, we agree with Ken Collins that Jesus’ métier was that of teacher.

The argument for Jesus working as a carpenter rests upon two verses and an inference.  Let us consider Mark 6:2 where the offended ones in the assembly called him a carpenter or carpenter’s son. This telling only relates what the offended parties thought and it was not necessarily accurate. They were making a snide remark about a carpenter turned rabbi. But this is an inference rather than a statement of fact which Mark relates in the telling of this episode.
However, the inference to which we object is the one making Jesus a carpenter by dint of his father’s profession. The argument states that since Jesus was part of a traditional Jewish culture and family, then the father would have transmitted his vocation to his son, generation after generation, world without end.
But who was Jesus’ father? It was certainly not Joseph as Jesus pointedly told his parents when they found him in the temple discoursing with the temple leaders. Thus it would seem quite odd that Jesus would become a carpenter – even if he did go home in subjection to his earthly parents.
Now that we know that Jesus did not follow Joseph’s career, we can discuss what the latter’s career actually was. We know plainly from the scriptures that Joseph was indeed whatever the word translated carpenter is. There are some who go down a rabbit hole over the word translated carpenter – τέκτων. This Greek word’s most fundamental meaning is builder without any qualification. Since the word does not occur with qualification there is no sound basis for inferring that Joseph was a carpenter. He may have been, but the text does not tell us.
More recently, some have taken up the notion that τέκτων means stone mason. It does not, even though a stone mason could be referred to as a τέκτων given sufficient context and qualification, both of which are missing in the Scriptures. The word could even refer to a contractor – a builder in common English usage.
One hint is later provided by Jesus when he gives the parable about the men who build a house – one upon sand, the other on bedrock. This could be Jesus displaying some basic understanding about building structures which he observed in the course of his interactions with Joseph. Although the record does not provide a certain basis for this conclusion, it is within the realm of possibility and is attractive to us.
So then, what was Jesus’ profession? As Ken Collins notes, the gospel writers document numerous occasions where Jesus is addressed as Teacher. This explanation, following Occam, seems the most accurate and reasonable explanation of Jesus occupation. It matches well the historical narrative which explicitly states, “And he went around among the villages teaching.”
The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees would not have found Jesus a threatening or likely target if he were builder turned rabbi. They would not have invited him to dinners if he did not display the erudition of a learned or sharp witted teacher.
If Jesus had devoted his time to building, he would not have the time to master the scriptures, a mastery which he displayed on countless occasions.
If you want to say that Jesus was a builder of the ἐκκλησία then we would agree with you; otherwise we know him as teacher.
Is Jesus a Carpenter, Ken Collins