As we have seen in this series, many words used in the bible don’t quite translate exactly into an English meaning. Most of us probably understand carpenter as a person who deals exclusively with wood; a ‘chippy’ on a building site who works alongside plasterers, roofers, bricklayers etc. The word used in the bible is ‘tekton’ which actually means ‘one who is an artisan, a craftsman or a builder’. Jesus may just as likely have been a stone-mason due to the fact that His village in Nazareth was near to a new city with plenty of buildings needing to be built of stone. That is where a lot of His work would have come from. This would also explain I Peter 2:4-8 which contains numerous references to building, especially Christians being built together as stones with Christ as the ‘chief cornerstone.’ Having said this, living in a small town Jesus would have probably done all manner of building tasks with all sorts of materials.
There are actually only 2 references in the bible which suggest Jesus was a “tekton”. The first is Matthew 13:55 where it says He was Joseph’s son (Joseph being a teckton) and Jesus would have almost certainly continued the family business. The second is in Mark 6:3 where the people in the synagogue were astonished and said “Is not this the carpenter?’.
But whatever Jesus did, it is amazing to think that this ordinary looking man who carried out manual tasks for a living was the same one who created the heavens and the earth (and all the materials He was now working with). He spent the majority of his life doing this mundane, hard work in obscurity. What a task for the king of heaven! This is a clear sign of His ongoing humility; He didn’t want to draw attention to Himself. Even when His public ministry started He was still much more interested in drawing attention to the heavenly Father.
His earthly father, Joseph, more than likely died fairly early on in Jesus’ life, therefore Jesus in His trade would have had to provide for His mother Mary and His numerous brothers and sisters. I imagine it was only when He reached the age of thirty that His younger brothers would have been old enough to take over the family business, which would then have released Him to go about the task of saving the world.
Jesus wasn’t some effeminate hippy character but a rough tough workman and I can imagine the disciples being initially impressed when He called them to follow Him. They could follow Him with confidence and respect. This was a “man’s man”, although they were to appreciate His other tender and caring characteristics a lot more later on.
This is also another reason to be sure that Jesus understands our working life; the toils, deadlines, sweated brows and not a few challenging days. He can identify with us and knows just what we are going through because He has walked that path Himself.
If Jesus did work with wood, I would have loved to see the craftsmanship with which He skilfully made each item. A beautifully finished table, or a polished smooth yoke for oxen, each item lovingly crafted. If it was anything like His initial creation it would have been a thing of beauty! This craftsman who once skilfully built with items of wood and stone now shapes lives for His glory and transforms us from rough ‘off-cuts’ into useful instruments for His kingdom.