Joseph Herrin (11-14-08)
Yahshua – Carpenter, or Master Builder?
In the previous post we examined some of the traditions of the church surrounding the birth of Christ. In this post I want to look at a further tradition of the church, and I invite you to test the things shared here. Examine them to see if they are true. The tradition I am speaking of is that which declares that Yahshua was a carpenter, and the son of a carpenter.
I had never looked into this matter until some months ago a brother in Christ, Randy Barnes, sent me some of his thoughts on the matter. Since then I have looked into this topic further, and I think there is much reason to question the traditional view of Christ being a carpenter.
There is little said in a direct manner concerning the life of Christ before He began His ministry. The church tradition that declares Him to be a carpenter is based primarily upon the following verse.
“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?”
It was common in the day in which Yahshua lived for the sons to learn the trade of their father. It is assumed that Yahshua was instructed by Joseph in the same trade in which he was employed. Much is based upon the translation of the Greek word tekton which is rendered here as carpenter.
The Greek word tekton is not the equivalent of the English word carpenter. It is a much more general term denoting one who is an artificer, a tradesman, or builder. This term was used to speak of architects, stone masons, builders, and those who worked in cloth and fabric. Were the translators correct in choosing to render this word as carpenter? There is much evidence to suggest that Joseph was a builder who worked in stone, and that Yahshua was Himself a master builder.
Some of the evidence was not available when the King James Version of the Bible was written in 1611. It was not until the 1980s that the city of Sepphora was discovered and excavated. Sepphoris was built as a Roman city and it lie only four miles from Nazareth, the city in which Yahshua grew up. Nazareth was a small town of approximately 400 residents, while Sepphoris had a population in excess of 30,000.
What is very interesting to note is that Sepphoris was a new city in the time of Christ. Its homes and large public buildings were being constructed during the period in which Yahshua lived. Josephus mentions this city in his writings, praising it as the most beautiful city in the region. Sepphoris was an affluent city and the homes and public buildings in it were well constructed, and often ornate. It had a Roman theater, homes with spectacular mosaic floors, and a water system of unparalleled construction.
As this city lay so close to Nazareth, it would have been quite practical for Joseph and Yahshua to make the short trip there to work in the construction trades that were booming at the time. Yet, there is much Scriptural evidence that would make the occupation of the Lord as a Master Builder more certain.
First, let us observe that this word tekton is used in reference to one who is a builder.
I Corinthians 3:10
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.
The Greek word translated master builder is architekton. Strong’s Concordance provides the following definition.
architekton; from NT:746 and NT:5045; a chief constructor, i.e. “architect”:
This Greek word is formed from the root word tekton, which we have mentioned refers to one who is an artificer, or builder, or skilled tradesman. The prefix arche has been added to the word to indicate one who is a “chief,” or a “master.” It is easy to see how the English word architect resembles this Greek word. An architect is not simply a carpenter, but is one who understands the entire design of a building. He is often the one who has originated the design of a building and who draws up plans for it, and oversees the construction of all phases of the building.
Christ certainly fulfills this description in a spiritual sense. He came to “build” His church. The people of God are referred to as a temple constructed of living stones.
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
It must be noted that wood was not the chief building material in Israel. Stone was the primary tool, being readily available and very durable. It also had the added benefit of being resistant to fire. We must remember that fire was a great threat in those days. A city constructed of wood would be very vulnerable, particularly considering that Israel knew many wars and an enemy would have quickly razed any town that was built of wood.
Christ speaks to Peter and tells him that He will build His church upon “this rock.” In instance after instance in which Christ and His disciples speak of building stonework is mentioned. The evidence leads to the conclusion that Christ was very knowledgeable in constructing buildings out of stone. He was not a carpenter in the sense that we are familiar with in the West. Few homes in America are constructed of stone.
Let us look at some more evidence that reveals Christ’s familiarity with stone construction.
As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Master, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Yahshua said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”
Some of the common English translations have used the word teacher in this passage, rather than master. This word is not translated from the Hebrew word Rabbi, which indicates a teacher, but from the Greek word didaskalos. This Greek word refers to someone who is a master in his field. It is at times translated as doctor. It is understandable that the translators would render this word as teacher, for a teacher must be a master of the field in which he seeks to instruct others. Yet, what is being inferred in this passage is not that Yahshua is a teacher, but a master in his field.
If Yahshua were a master builder, then it would be very fitting for the disciples to refer to him as “master” when pointing out to him the stone work of the Temple. The Hebrew equivalent of the Greek didaskalos is rabboni (not to be confused with rabbi).
Yahshua said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Master (didaskalos)).
We see then that among Christ’s closest associates He was referred to by this title that indicates one who is a master. In what sense was Yahshua a master? It was common in that day to identify a man by his occupation.
“Is not this the (tekton’s) son?”
In this verse we see Joseph is completely identified by his occupation. His name is not even mentioned. Similarly, the Scriptures identify the occupation of all of the disciples, many of whom were fishermen. Religious teachers of the Jews were called “Rabbi,” which would be similar to someone addressing a man today by the title “Teacher.” Paul’s companion on many journeys was Luke.
Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings…
In other places we read of men being identified by their occupation.
II Timothy 4:14
Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm..
He is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea.
Women who had an occupation outside the home were likewise identified by their occupation.
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics…
We can understand therefore, that Yahshua would also have been referred to in ways that referenced his occupation, especially is He had been known to be a master of His craft. It seems reasonable to conclude that the Greek word didaskalos, and the Hebrew Rabboni, when used as a title for Christ, were employed as references to His former occupation as a master builder. This title would certainly have been appropriate for other reasons as well, a fact I am not seeking to refute. Certainly there is an aspect of this word being used as a reference to one who has authority, and Christ had authority.
“You call Me Master (didaskalos) and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Master (didaskalos), washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
A very intriguing passage that sheds light on the occupation of the Son of God is the following.
Yahshua answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
It is interesting to note that the Jews did not question whether Yahshua had the skills necessary to construct a temple, one which we know was built of stone. They merely questioned the time frame. How could Yahshua build in three days what it took them forty-six years to build? That they did not question His knowledge of construction of large public buildings could be taken as evidence that He had a reputation as a master of such construction. Perhaps He had even overseen some of the large public buildings in Sepphoris.
The temple in Jerusalem was a magnificent structure. It would be similar to someone today standing in front of a great architectural wonder, perhaps the Empire State Building, and saying, “Tear this down and I will rebuild it in three days.” Would we not protest not only that the time frame was impossibly unrealistic, but also question the knowledge and abilities of the one making the claim? Yet the Jewish leaders did not question the abilities of Christ. If He were merely a carpenter, as some suggest, certainly they would have sneered at His claims.
For me, some of the greatest evidence supporting the conclusion that Yahshua was by occupation a master builder, and was well versed in stone construction, comes from many of the analogies employed in Scripture in reference to His spiritual work. Christ was Himself often found employing terms that dealt with stone construction.
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church…”
“Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.”
Christ reveals some knowledge of what it took construct a “well built” house. Did He come by this knowledge while constructing houses for the affluent residents of Sepphoris? In many places we find the Lord making references to building substantial edifices out of stone.
He looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”
A master builder would have understood the principles of calculating the cost to construct a building, and would probably have had encounters with people whose desires overreached their abilities to pay for that which they wanted. Yahshua used such an analogy when urging those who wanted to be His disciples to first calculate the cost.
“For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”
Consider also, that even as earthly fathers teach their sons the trade they are familiar with, so too would the heavenly Father have instructed His Son according to His own trade. Is Yahweh not the architect and builder of all things?
For [Abraham] was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
I have found in my own life, as in the lives of many others, that one’s physical occupation often is used by God to symbolize the spiritual call upon their lives. Thus we read of many of the disciples being fishermen, and Yahshua tells them He will make them “fishers of men.” God directed me for two years to teach classes at a local technical college. While there He showed me that this was a symbol of His call on my life to teach “higher education” to His children.
Would we not anticipate that the physical occupation of our Lord would also be symbolic of His spiritual occupation? Consider the following parallels. Yahshua stated that He would “build His church.” This church is compared to a temple of living stones. If He were employed as a master builder who was skilled in stone construction, then the parallel would be readily seen. Yet consider also what the Lord told His disciples He was going to do when He departed from them.
“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
Had Yahshua also been employed in building residences for the citizens of Sepphoris, which Josephus refers to as the most beautiful city in the region, we can once again readily see the parallel between physical and spiritual vocation. Of course, the dwelling places Christ has gone to prepare in heaven are not that which is built with hands. They are the glorified bodies the saints are to inhabit.
II Corinthians 5:1-3
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.
It is these dwelling places Yahshua has gone ahead to prepare for His disciples. As a wise master builder, He knows very well what He is about. These dwelling places will be wonders to behold. I am sure that whatever Christ did in His earthly vocation, that He did all with great wisdom and a spirit of excellence. If He were a builder, He would have been a Master Builder. Truly the word Rabboni would have been an appropriate accolade.
If any should disagree with the conclusions of this writing, I will not be offended in any regard. This writing is not shared to be contentious. I do find that there are many things the church has received as traditions that arise from disputable sources and reasoning. We are called to “examine all things carefully.”
It has been my intent to provoke consideration of some of the basic “facts” which have been delivered to the body of Christ. As it is evident in the last two writings, these “facts” are not always derived from a careful examination of Scripture. Many church teachings have arisen from sources outside the Scriptures. I think it is a marvelous thing that the Spirit of Christ is leading many of God’s people to a new examination of those things they have received as traditional beliefs concerning the Son of God. As long as the Spirit and the Word are our guides, we will do well.
May you be blessed with peace and understanding in these days.
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