God Wants More For You. So Do We.

Was Jesus a Carpenter?

Ask Pastor Alex, Episode. 57

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex. All right, welcome back. We are here with another episode and another question. And the question for this episode is, was Jesus a carpenter? And that’s a really fun question. It’s one that you might be tempted to skip, right? I mean, you’re listening to the podcast, you see this question, you think, I might tune in, but this might be one that I can skip because I already know the answer to this one. You hear this question and you think, well, of course Jesus was a carpenter. Everyone knows that. I mean, we learned that at an early age, all the way back in Sunday school. And all that might be true, but the question is, why do you believe it’s true? Why do you actually believe that Jesus was a carpenter? Is it because it’s what you always grew up hearing? Is it because it’s just something that you’ve been told your entire life? If I were to ask you to prove from scripture that Jesus was a carpenter, someone who worked exclusively with wood, would you be able to do that? I mean, just think, you might think that this question is kind of silly, but think about where Jesus lived. He lived in the ancient near East in very desert type environments. If we just pause for a second, there aren’t really a lot of trees and wood in the desert, right? I mean, there’s just not a lot of trees there. It’s a desert type environment. So where does this belief about Jesus being a carpenter actually come from? 

And there are actually only two places in the New Testament that give rise to the idea that Jesus was a carpenter. The first is found in Matthew chapter 13 verse 55. The Bible says, isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Now, speaking of Jesus there, and when it says, isn’t this the carpenter’s son, the reason that this gives rise to the idea that Jesus was a carpenter is because in the ancient world, it was common for a son to take up the occupation of his father. So if Joseph was a carpenter, he most likely would have trained Jesus in that profession to one day be able to support himself as a carpenter. He would have taken over his father’s trade. 

The second passage is even more explicit. It’s found in the book of Mark chapter six verse three. The Bible says, of Jesus, isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary? Now that pretty much clears it up, right? I mean, we could just end the episode now, call it a day, say, all right, we’ve answered that question. Was Jesus a carpenter? The answer is clearly yes, because the Bible says, isn’t this the carpenter? 

Well, in the immortal words of Lee Corso, not so fast, sweetheart. Once again, the issue all comes down to the importance of Bible translation. All of our modern Bible translations use the word carpenter, but you have to remember something very important. The Bible wasn’t written in English originally. So we need to go back to the original languages and see what they say. And on our way back to the original languages, we can stop along the way to see what other translations throughout time have said in the place of carpenter. For example, the word carpenter was not even used in the Bible until the year 1526. Before 1526, Jesus was not referred to as a carpenter. 

Before then, in around the year 1000, the word used here for Jesus’s occupation was actually a metal worker. Before then, in around the year 400, Jesus’s occupation was referred to as a craftsman or an artisan. But when we go all the way back to the original Greek of the New Testament, the word used is tekton, T-E-K-T-O-N. And a tekton was someone who was skilled in working with wood, stone, and metal. And when we look at how the word was used even outside of the Bible in ancient times, we can see a wide application of the word’s meaning. For instance, a man named Plutarch, who died in about 120 AD, said this, “and so a tekton would regard the welding of iron or the tampering of an axe.” As you can tell from that quote, a tekton there referred to a smith, to someone who worked with metals. 

Another helpful example comes from the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, who in his work, The Wars of the Jews, used the word tekton throughout to describe the job of a mason rather than a carpenter. So this would have been someone who worked with stone and bricks and laying bricks and things like that. Even further back, if you go all the way to the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the first time the word tekton is used in the Old Testament occurs in 1 Samuel chapter 13 verse 19, which says, Now there was no smith, tekton, found throughout all the land of Israel. For the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears. And so clearly, the very first time the word tekton is used in the Bible, it doesn’t refer to someone who works with wood, it refers to a metal worker. Later on in the book of 1 Kings chapter 7 and verse 14, the word is used to describe someone who worked with brass. And so when you put all this together, you realize that a tekton was not limited to one specific trade, but rather was skilled as a craftsman and a builder. 

And this idea of a man not being limited to skill in one particular medium, but rather having skill in multiple areas is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. Arguably the best example from the Old Testament is a man named Bezalel. Now, maybe you’ve never heard that name before, and that’s because he’s mentioned in the last half of the book of Exodus, which is unfortunately the part of Exodus that most people skip. But Bezalel was a master craftsman chosen by God to lead the construction of the tabernacle. And I want you to listen to the reason God chose him to lead the effort from Exodus 31 verses 3 through 5. The Lord says of Bezalel, I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. 

Now, I want you to just notice there, notice the scope of Bezalel’s skill. He was an artist who could come up with intricately beautiful designs. He was able to work in gold, silver, and bronze. He could cut stone and set stone. He was even able to carve wood and work in every craft. And Bezalel sets the standard for the Israelite tekton. They were not limited to skill in one material like many people are today, but rather they had skill in a wide range of areas, essentially seeking to be a skilled craftsman in all these areas so that they would be able to get work in any area that they needed to do. So we get back to Jesus. Now, what does this mean for Jesus? Was he actually a carpenter? And the answer is, well, yes, he was a carpenter, but he was much more than a carpenter. 

Jesus could skillfully work with wood, but he could also skillfully work with metals and stone. He was a carpenter, a mason, and a smith. So it’s not technically wrong to say that Jesus was a carpenter, but it is somewhat misleading because he was far more than a carpenter. And I’m just going to say here, the preacher in me can’t help but give a few points of application as we think about this.

First and foremost, I want you to understand that there is dignity in trades and secular jobs. Many people today often mistakenly think that in order to be honoring to God and in order to serve the Lord faithfully, they need to be in vocational ministry. However, the very fact that Jesus was a tekton, a skilled craftsman shows that there is value and dignity in secular jobs and in trade jobs. The vocation doesn’t matter as much as the mindset. You have to believe that what you do actually does matter to God, that what you do has value and worth and can be used to glorify God. I believe it was the great reformer Martin Luther who said, let the cobbler, which was someone who makes shoes, be the best in his field for the sole purpose of glorifying God by making the best shoes he can possibly make. 

So the point is you can glorify God in your job. If you cut hair, be the best there is in your field and cut hair to the glory of God. If you build things, be the best builder around and glorify God through your building. If you’re a salesman, be the best, most honest salesman around and seek to glorify God even through your sales job. If you’re an artist or you design things, excel in your art and design and bring glory to God through your art and design. There is no shame in working a secular job or a trade job. They are not lesser than vocational ministry jobs. There is beauty and dignity and worth in what you do.

The other thing I would say is the idea of a tecton reminds us that it’s good to diversify our interests. It’s great to be a specialist in one area, but it’s even better to imitate Jesus by being proficient in many different areas. I think it’s better to be a jack of all trades than a master of one. So learn new things, try new things. When we do this, we bring glory to God by imitating his creativity and his own craftsmanship. God created humans to be good workers. He created us to use the creativity he has given us. And when we do that, we show the world just how amazing our God truly is. 

So this question reminds us that it’s important to investigate common traditions. Don’t just believe something because it’s what you’ve always been told or what you grew up hearing. Dig into the word for yourself. Investigate the claims you’ve always heard. Build your beliefs in scripture. So is Jesus a carpenter? Technically, yes, but he was also much more than that. He was a skilled craftsman, proficient in many different areas, not just wood, but also stone and metal as well. Thanks for the question. I hope that you have found this answer helpful, and I look forward to answering more in the future.