Was Jesus really a carpenter?
Was Jesus really a carpenter?
These two verses are the only place in the New Testament where the word carpenter appears.
“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 NASB)
“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 NASB)
The English word “carpenter” is translated from the Koine Greek word tekton. It means a craftsman. The Greek term (téktōn) used in these references designates a worker shaping wood, metal, or stone; it commonly means “builder.” The term could be used for a range of craftsmen, including stonemasons, artificers, and engravers. Every Jew, even the rabbis, learned some handicraft: Paul was a tentmaker.
The origin of the word carpenter, come’s from the French word, carpentier and from the Latin word, carpentarius. So why would Bible translators choose the word “carpenter” to represent the Greek word tekton, which means craftsman or builder?
One way to examine the use of the Koine Greek language is by taking a look at the Septuagint. If you’re not familiar with this book, here is a short synopsis. After Alexander the Great, conquered most of the known world, he needed a way to communicate from one end of his kingdom to the other and all in between. Many people spoke different languages and communication was difficult as it traveled through different carriers (think pony express). So, Alexander solved this problem by requiring everyone to use the Koine Greek language. It was the common people’s language. As the years went by, Jews grew up learning and speaking Greek not Hebrew. They needed a way to understand the scriptures.
So, a group of seventy Jewish scholars was commissioned to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into Koine Greek. This is significant because these men knew both languages well and were professional scholars of the Old Testament. Therefore, it is like an accurate commentary on the Old Testament. Their work is called the Septuagint or LXX which means, seventy.
Isaiah 41:7 says “So the craftsman encourages the smelter” in the NASB. The KJV translated the Hebrew word haras as “carpenter.” In the LXX, haras is translated using the Greek tekton. So, we see in this example the NASB is more accurate in translating haras as craftsman.
In the Gospels, Jesus is reported to be a carpenter. This is simply indicating his common birth since learned men did not pursue that profession. Justin Martyr (circa a.d. 150) states of Jesus that… “He was in the habit of working as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes.” However, this statement seems to have been derived from tradition. While the Greek word usually rendered “carpenter” can also mean “craftsman” or “builder,” there is no clue in the Gospels as to how the term is to be understood other than as one who worked with his hands building for a living. The Greek word used in these passages (tektōn) simply means “builder” in a generic sense, leaving open the possibility that Jesus and his father worked with stone or other materials. Was Jesus really a carpenter? Maybe? Definitely, He was a craftsman or builder that worked with his hands.