In popular culture, the notion that Jesus’ profession was that of a carpenter is quite common. Images of Christ as a carpenter are seen in a wide range of mediums, from children’s books illustrations to paintings by great artists, and can also be found in religious writings and even the Bible. With all the evidence, it might seem silly to ask: was Jesus really a carpenter? However, the reality is decidedly more complex than it appears on the surface.
In the Canonical Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus is directly referred to as both a carpenter and the carpenter’s son.
“Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?” – Matthew 13:55
“Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” – Mark 6:3
Only the Gospel of Mark refers to Christ as a carpenter, while the Gospel of Matthew refers to Him as the carpenter’s son. Around the first century, the Jewish culture of the time was that a father would teach his son his trade at the age of 12. Being as His earthly father Joseph was Jewish, it is very likely that he would have adhered to the tradition and taught Jesus his trade. In fact, in Saint Justin Martyrs Dialogue with Trypho, he says Jesus was a carpenter who made ploughs and yokes. So where then is the ambiguity?
“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)” – Dial. 88
The ambiguity stems from the Koine Greek translation of the Bible. The Greek word for “builder,” tekton, was translated into carpenter, although it has a wide variety of possible meanings. Traditionally, the word means carpenter but literally means anyone who works with their hands. It can be attributed to a modern day contractor, artisan, or handyman.
Some historians suggest that because the architecture of Israel at the time, in which buildings were constructed of stones and rocks, that Jesus could have also worked as a stonemason. This theory would fit in with the idea of Jesus and Joseph being “one who works with their hands.” From the Bible and historical texts, we know Jesus was most likely a carpenter, but also could have been a stonemason, or another type of skilled artisan.
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