The UK Bible Students Website
Christian Biblical Studies
By W. Resume
All Scripture references are to the New International Version-UK, unless noted otherwise.
Where the Scripture is not paraphrased or quoted, click on the citation to read it.
FIGURES OF SPEECH used by Jesus in His parables frequently drew upon the everyday language of His hearers. A variety of topics framed lessons about the kingdom of God. Some examples: Agriculture – Matthew 13: 3-9; Financial Management – Matthew 18: 23-35; Fishing – Matthew 13: 47, 48; Housekeeping – Luke 15: 8-10; Weddings – Luke 14: 7-11; Work – Matthew 20: 1-16.
Matthew 13: 55: Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?
Mark 6: 3: Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us? And they took offence at him.
These are the only biblical texts in which Jesus is explicitly linked to the profession of carpenter, and they are composed from the chatter of the Nazareth Jews. Jesus Himself did not make the claim. In Matthew 13: 55, the description of Jesus as the son of a carpenter (generally, an artificer), serves to show that both father and son were presumed to share the same occupation. Mark 6: 3, in identifying Jesus Himself as a carpenter, conveys the same information. There is no inherent contradiction in the overheard testimony.
Either the book of Matthew or Mark – or both – report what some in the crowd actually said, but at the very least they both record what was meant. Neither Matthew nor Mark pronounce a theological statement on the true sonship of Jesus; they simply report the remarks of the group, who understood Joseph to be the father. It was customary in Hebrew culture to identify the son with his father. The prefix ben denoted ‘son of’, as in Ben-hadad (son of Hadad), or Benjamin (son of the right hand).
The profession of carpenter had a long and honourable history in Israel, reaching back to the construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness. In Jesus’ time, the carpenter carried out tasks similar to those of his predecessors, functions not unlike those of our own times. His tools of the trade would also have been similar, allowing for the periodic advances in technology. In Joseph’s toolbox and on his workbench we would have found the standard implements: hammer, adze (a small axe with a curved blade), compass, plane, saw, chisel, awl, drill (turned by hand with rope-bow), and a miscellany of other pieces.
Like his peers, Joseph would have made (and repaired) furniture for the household, such as chairs, tables, footstools, bed frames. In conjunction with builders he would have made to specifications, windows, doors, staircases, banisters in new construction or in renovations, and so on. For the fishermen, oars, masts for their sails, and perhaps he effected repairs of the decking and hulls of small vessels. (There was then no large-scale shipbuilding in that part of Israel.) For the farmers he would probably have manufactured ploughs, threshing instruments, carts and yokes for oxen. In times of war he may have been called upon to make chariots. An expert carpenter may have produced intricate carved pieces, not only in wood, but also in bone and ivory. Jesus may have apprenticed to Joseph and honed His skills to this degree.
Of Jesus’ early life the Scriptures tell us next to nothing. His preaching ministry lasted for only three-and-a-half years. What did He do for the first thirty? Did those three decades prepare Him for His ministry of reconciliation?
On the reasonable assumption that God does not waste time or effort, one may conclude that the first thirty years of Jesus’ life were packed with lessons necessary to the success of His later sacrificial service. Jesus would not simply have whiled away the years prior to His baptism at Jordan. He would have lived an exemplary life, one which brought blessings to those around Him, and one which prepared Him for His anointing at Jordan and death on the cross. During His interrogation He tells Pilate, ‘for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world’, a clear statement that His entire life – from birth to death – was pursued with purpose (John 18: 37).
But the Scriptures offer few clues about Jesus the carpenter – how long He might have engaged in the profession, how expert He was at it, what artefacts He produced. Possibly Joseph died early on and Jesus was obliged to maintain the business to support His mother. Jesus had brothers, and perhaps they helped in the enterprise themselves or pursued other forms of employment to sustain the family income. The Bible does say that Jesus ‘grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men’ (Luke 2: 52). From this statement we may conclude, without the need to speculate, that Jesus the boy, Jesus the adolescent, and Jesus the adult was liked and respected by the Nazareth community, of which He was a valued member.
It’s not likely that Jesus obtained His knowledge without effort. The success of His mission on earth depended on His being an ‘overcomer’, an achievement which required determination and devotion to the will of God in the face of opposing forces. During His formative years He no doubt encountered opportunities to resist temptation and to build up the integrity of His character. Hebrews 5: 8 establishes the general principle that Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered; His character and His understanding were improved upon by experience. He was prepared by suffering to be a merciful and faithful high priest to all who would believe (Hebrews 2: 17, 18).
This is, perhaps, one aspect of Jesus’ humanity that cannot be adequately addressed by the doctrine of the Trinity, a construct which imposes limitations on the practical interpretations presented here. In evading the force of the argument that Jesus was capable of improvement – and therefore not omniscient nor omnipotent as the Second Person of the Godhead – the doctrine builds a wall of separation between Jesus the ‘100 per cent Man’ and Jesus the ‘100 per cent God’. This contortion dictates that for the first thirty years of His life Jesus maintain willing ignorance of the fact that He was God. At the age of twelve He called Jehovah ‘father’ (Luke 2: 48, 49). This was not an immature point of view, for He did likewise even after His anointing by the holy spirit at Jordan, when He became the Christ and the heavens were opened to Him. See, for instance, Matthew 11: 25; John 1: 14; 6: 39, etc., etc.
Such a comprehensive knowledge as Jesus possessed would not have been conferred on Him by a miracle. Commensurate with His growing intellect, He probably improved on His education by taking advantage of opportunities available beyond the immediate family sphere. He might have been largely self-taught, but it is not likely that He learned everything in total isolation. Perhaps He pored over the Books of Moses and the Law at the synagogues in Nazareth and more distant towns, taking advantage of the scroll libraries available. Perhaps He reinforced His knowledge through conversation and debate, as He had in the incident at the Temple, when He was just a lad.
Perhaps Jesus spent hours alone in contemplation and prayer. Perhaps His love of solitude – retiring from the crowd – was cultivated during long sessions of deep study, and hikes into the surrounding hills (Matthew 14: 13; Luke 5: 15, 16). Jesus would have read and spoken the common languages of the day – Aramaic (Syriac), Hebrew, Greek and Latin, the language of Rome. (Indirect corroboration is shown in the fact that the sign tacked to the cross appeared in three languages, meant to be understood by all who passed by (John 19: 19, 20).) Jesus would have acquired an expert understanding in the history and culture of His own people, as well as in Greek and Roman culture and in topical matters. And as with His progress in education, He would have become more skilled in carpentry the longer He kept at it.
By the age of thirty, Jesus was no doubt educated to the level necessary in matters secular and religious, to a degree sufficient to understand the world in which He would have to operate as the Messiah, and in the syntax, structure, interconnectedness, prophecies and principles of the Hebrew Scriptures. We see the results of His studiousness when at the beginning of His ministry He was confronted by the devil in the wilderness. The thrust and parry of Jesus’ arguments on that occasion evince His depth of understanding of the Word of God and His infallible memory (Matthew 4: 1-11).
As already noted, Jesus culled analogies from nature and society, but there appear to be no references specific to the carpenter’s trade. Perhaps this fact suggests that He spent less time in the profession than is generally assumed. Could it be that the terms of art were too obscure for the average person to grasp? This explanation seems unlikely. The average man about the house would, of necessity, have been reasonably proficient in household repair, and would surely have known the various tradesmen, including the carpenter, especially in such a relatively small geographic area.
Citizens and tradesmen of all sorts – smiths, weavers, potters, masons – would have rubbed up against one another in the course of a normal week, in the town, the countryside, on the beach, and at the synagogue on the Sabbath. No doubt the local joiner would have been called out to fix a broken railing or to add a chair at the Smith’s and the Brown’s. Could it be that the carpenter’s craft was not one which lent itself to useful allegory? Again, this seems unlikely, considering that the principal raw material of it is the tree, which features in many biblical analogies. Writers of both the Old and the New Testament referred to the trades, such as pottery (Jeremiah 18: 1-4; Romans 9: 21) or weaving and spinning (Job 7: 6; Luke 12: 27).
Possibly one of the most eloquent and appropriate figures of speech coming from the lips of Jesus the Carpenter is that found in Matthew 11: 28-30 (comments added):
‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke [Gk., zygos, singular] upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy [wholesome, purposeful] and my burden is light [comp. 2 Corinthians 4: 17].’
The yoke, a neck-harness made by a carpenter and fitted to beast or slave, signified the enslavement of the animal or man that wore it. In these verses, Jesus invites the soul weighed down by the onerous obligation of the Mosaic Law to set it aside and to take on the benign restraint of the Master’s will. As Jesus had obligated Himself to do the will of God – being always subject to the Father – so He exhorted His disciples to follow the example. For the Jews who attended to these words and believed in Christ, and for countless numbers of Gentile believers since, those yearning for freedom from the condemnation of sin, this blessed servitude has guided them to contentment and the freedom of new life.
The yoke is our general acceptance of the Lord’s will; the burden is the details the Lord wills us to do, even unto suffering for His will. In taking the yoke in the spirit of love we find its weight is indeed light; . . . Love lightens every burden, eases every task, gladdens every sorrow, sanctifies every pain and surrounds with a halo of bliss even the smallest tasks and the most commonplace things. [fn]
[fn] Paul S. L. Johnson, Daily Heavenly Manna and Devotional Service (Philadelphia; Paul S. L. Johnson; 1937), entry for Feb. 17.
F.W. Farrar, The Life Of Christ (London: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.; 1881).
The New Bible Dictionary (J.D. Douglas, ed.) (London: Inter-Varsity Press; 1970).
Paul S. L. Johnson, Christ-Spirit-Covenants (Philadelphia:Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement; 1950).
The Treasury of Bible Knowledge (J. Ayre, ed.) (London: Longmans, Green, and Co.; 1868).
The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary (Merrill C. Tenney, ed.) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House; 1967).
The Bible Standard and Herald of Christ’s Kingdom (Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement)
The Present Truth and Herald of Christ’s Epiphany (Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement)
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