Nazareth: Jesus Was a What?
Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? — Mark 6:3
Our tour group was gathered, as usual, on top of a mountain when Ray asked us a question: “How many of you know what Jesus and Joseph, His earthly father, did for a living before He began His ministry as a rabbi when He turned thirty?”
Every one of us answered, “He was a carpenter.” Smug bunch we were, indeed.
Then Ray again rocked our world by replying, “Actually, no. Jesus wasn’t a carpenter, although there is no doubt that he did work with wood at times, along with other items.”
Now, at this point, I was wondering what I was doing on a mountaintop 5,710 miles away from home with a guy who obviously didn’t even know the basics of the Bible — with ten days of the tour to go!
This was the moment my life changed.
Ray explained, “The word translated ‘carpenter’ in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 for how Joseph and Jesus made a living is the Greek word tektōn. It means ‘builder.’ You see, when the writers of the King James Version were translating the Greek into the English, they assumed, ‘Oh, these guys were carpenters. Just like us.’
“The problem with that is that there were no trees that could be used for building in Israel at that time like there were in England. All the wood in Israel came from the cedars of Lebanon, which were cut down, made into rafts, and floated along the Via Maris — ‘The Road of the Sea’ — adjacent to the Mediterranean. There, they were broken apart and taken to the various construction sites.”
Ray paused for his point.
“You see, there were only rocks in Israel. This is an example of one of the many poor translations in the Bible.”
And then Ray gave us a stunning insight. “Jesus was not a carpenter. Jesus was a stone mason.” I was shaken to the depths of my soul. Suddenly everything made sense! I remembered several Bible verses that referred to stones and building with stones:
- “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)
- “On this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18)
- “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Psalm 118:22)
Then I asked the most profound question I have ever asked a man of God. “Ray, if we are wrong about something as simple as this in the Bible, what else are we wrong about?”
Ray looked at me with a mischievous grin and a piercing light in his eyes. “Everything,” he answered.
And that’s when I fell in love all over again with the journey, especially after Rabbi Jason explained Ray’s revelation about Jesus’ profession.
Come… to Nazareth!
More from Rabbi Jason: Jesus the Promised Master Craftsman
The Greek word tektōn can be translated as “stone mason” or “architect.” All these concepts are significant in reference to Jesus, since they connect back to Him as the architect of creation.
The first word of Genesis in Hebrew is bereshit (pronounced “ber- ee-sheet”), which is commonly translated as “in the beginning.” But bereshit can also be translated as “through the firstborn,” since the Hebrew letter bet is also the preposition “through,” and reshit (pro- nounced “re-sheet”) can mean “firstborn.” So Genesis 1:1 can be translated, “through the firstborn, God created the heavens and the earth.” And who is God’s Firstborn? It is Jesus. The New Testament tells us He was the “firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15) and “the firstborn from the dead” (Revelation 1:5).
Jesus is the Tektōn, the Architect of all creation. This reading aligns perfectly with the apostle John’s understanding of creation. In John 1:3, he states, “through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.”
But there is more. The word tektōn can also be translated as “craftsman.” The fact that the New Testament calls Jesus a tektōn is amazing, since Israel’s Messiah is seen as a “craftsman,” based upon the rabbinic understanding of Zechariah 2:1-4, which says:
Then I lifted up my eyes and behold, I saw four horns! I said to the angel speaking with me, “What are these?” He said to me, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.”
Then Adonai showed me four craftsmen. I asked, “What are these coming to do?”
He answered, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one could raise his head, but the craftsmen have come to frighten them, to cast down the horns of the nations that have lifted up their horn against the land of Judah to scatter it.” (TLV)
Commenting upon the four craftsmen mentioned in Zechariah 2, the rabbis in Jewish tradition state: “Who are the four craftsmen? Messiah son of David, Messiah son of Joseph, Elijah, and the righteous [High] Priest, [who will serve in the messianic era].”1
Jesus is the messianic craftsman whom Zechariah spoke about. The mention of two Messiahs in this passage might seem confusing. But in Jewish thought, “Messiah son of Joseph” is the one who will suffer to redeem God’s people, and “Messiah son of David” is the one who will defeat God’s enemies to establish the messianic kingdom. So, while many Jews see these two roles being fulfilled by two separate individuals, the New Testament teaches that Jesus at His first coming came as Messiah son of Joseph, who suffered as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and at the Second Coming will reveal Himself as Messiah son of David, who will establish God’s kingdom as the Lion of Judah. When these two aspects of Messiah — “lamb” and “lion” — have been fully realized in the world, then the promise of Isaiah 65:25 will be fulfilled:
The wolf and the lamb will feed together. The lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,” says Adonai. — TLV
Jesus is the promised master craftsman and architect of creation who brings order out of chaos and shalom to our lives in this world and in the world to come! You don’t have to wait to begin to experience His peace until His kingdom comes — you can have it right now as He promised:
Shalom I leave you, My shalom I give to you; but not as the world gives! Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid. — John 14:27 TLV
What sets humankind apart from all other creatures? Only we are made in the image of God (in Hebrew, b’tzelem Elohim). The word for “image” in Hebrew is tzelem. It is derived from the Hebrew word tzel, which means “shadow.”2 A shadow does not act independently but is a reflected image. Thus, to be made in God’s image means to reflect the image of our Creator. How is this to be accomplished? In Jewish thought, it means that we are to imitate God in all His ways, or as Paul wrote in the New Testament,
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Messiah. — 1 Corinthians 11:1 TLV
Bringing light out of darkness and order out of chaos was one of God’s first actions as Creator. We are called to do the same — to bring order and shalom to the chaos of the world around us. When we imitate our Creator, we allow God’s light to shine in the midst of the darkness, thereby displaying our good works to others so they might glorify our Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:16). Living as image-bearers brings order and shalom to a broken world, infuses our lives with meaning, and reflects God’s image to those around us.
God longs to show the world His goodness through the way we live. But unfortunately, His goodness and peace can’t flourish in the midst of chaos. The Lord always brings order before He fully manifests His blessing of peace. For this reason, when we care for His creation by working with Him to bring order out of chaos, we show His goodness to the world. As Jesus taught,
Let your light shine before men so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven. — Matthew 5:16 TLV
- Talmud, Babylonian Sukkah 52.
- “Inflection of tzel,” pealim.com, pealim.com/dict/4242-tzel/.
Excerpted with permission from The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi by Kathie Lee Gifford, copyright Kathie Lee Gifford.
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We have a Master Craftsman who not only was all of Creation made through Him, but He also came in flesh and bone to bring His peace, His shalom. Does the fact that Jesus was a tektōn here on earth surprise you and shift your thinking to want to learn more about Him? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily