Q: #448. Was Jesus really a carpenter?
A: There are only two verses in the Bible which point to Jesus being a carpenter:
(Mt 13:55) Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
(Mk 6:3) Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.
The Greek word used for “carpenter” in these two verses is “tekton.” According to most sources, while this word can indeed refer to the profession of carpenter as we know it today, it is more accurately translated as a craftsman or builder. This craftsman or builder might also work with bricks and stones.
One fact we know about the area where Jesus was from is that there is very little wood. Forests are basically non-existent. For an example perhaps pointing to this, we see Hiram, the king of Tyre sending king David “cedar trees” to build his house (2 Sam 5:11)(1 Chr 14:1), and “cedar and cypress logs” to Solomon to be used in construction of the Temple (1 Kin 5:1-10). Because of its scarcity, good wood was a rare commodity, and very valuable. However, “brick and stone” was quite plentiful. The vast majority of all houses and buildings in that area are constructed of brick and stone.
Therefore, it is thought that while Jesus may have worked with wood, He likely may have spent more time working with brick and stone as a craftsman (or mason).
It is interesting to note the numerous times Jesus used the terms of a craftsman or builder when He spoke. For example:
“I go and prepare a place for you” (Jn 14:3)
“upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18)
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19)
“The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner” (Mt 21:42)(Mk 12:10)(Lk 20:17)
The story of “The wise and foolish builders” (Mt 7:24-27)(Lk 6:46-49)
Jesus’ example in “The cost of discipleship” (Lk 14:28-30)
Jesus also used the words “yoke” (Mt 11:29-30) and “plough” (Lk 9:62) which is interesting because in his writing “Dialogue with Trypho” (Chapter 88), Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) says of Jesus: “and He was deemed a carpenter (for He was in the habit of working as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes.” In “Against Celsus” (Book 6, Chapter 34), Origen (185-254 A.D.), in speaking of Jesus, used the words “a carpenter by craft.”
Ultimately, we cannot know for sure if Jesus was indeed only a carpenter as we think of a carpenter today, however, there is nothing which would clearly refute this traditional teaching.