I recently read an interesting article about Kathie Lee Gifford, 64, on the release of her latest book The Rock, The Road and The Rabbi. An American talk show host, actress, singer, song writer, comedian and author, Kathie gained her fame co-hosting Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee along with Regis Philbin.
Kathie Lee is a committed Christian and is a co-host on NBC’s Today show. The article reported on an interesting statement she made on the life of Christ related to her research for the book:
“By studying the original Greek, the original Hebrew and how many myths are out there. I learned that Jesus was not a carpenter, but He was a stonemason because there was nothing but rock in Israel then.”
It was a bit of a shock for me. For over 40 years, I thought Jesus was a carpenter and even wrote an article that implied as much. But now Griffith was saying the Lord was probably a stonemason.
Now in my defense, the description of Jesus as a carpenter is found in scripture.
3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. (Mark 6:3 NASV)
And Matthew said something similar:
55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? (Matthew 13:55 NASV)
Of course, it was typical of the day for the sons to follow in the dad’s footsteps in terms of career. So this would suggest that Christ was a carpenter.
But it all hinges on how we translate the Greek word “tekton” used in both these verses.
The word is used in ancient Greek to describe a number of jobs ranging from stonemason, to black smith, to carpenter, to even a craftsman who works with bronze.
The New American Commentary explains it this way:
“The word translated “carpenter” is tektōn, which can be observed in the last half of the English word “architect.” It could refer to any kind of craftsman: mason, smith, shipbuilder, sculptor, and even physician.”
In fact, the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, uses the Greek word “tekton” for all those occupations listed above.
In 2 Samuel 5:11, they had the Hebrew words for “craftsmen of wood” (harase es) and “craftsmen of stone” (harase e ben), and similar to the Hebrew, the Greek Septuagint used the same word “tekton” to describe both jobs.
Because it was not entirely clear what Jesus’s trade was, modern translations have kept to the traditional view that Christ was a carpenter.
But to determine Jesus’s occupation, we need to look at the context or circumstance in which the word was used and in this case Gifford nailed it. Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up, was basically treeless in Jesus’s day.
Because of how rare wood was in this area, 90% of the construction projects involved stone that would require cutting our chiseling so they would fit properly, the job of a stonemason. And just a mile and a half outside of Nazareth was a huge stone quarry where Jesus and his dad probably got their rock used for construction.
If Jesus was a stonemason, it throws a different light on several verses.
Jesus told Peter he was the “rock” on which the church would be built, which suggested the apostle was part of the foundation. Jesus is also described as the chief cornerstone, an image consistent with Christ’s work:
‘The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief corner stone’? (Luke 20: 17 NASV)
But perhaps the clearest indication involves a conversation that took place as Jesus and the disciples were leaving the Temple. One of the disciples pointed out the “wonderful stones” as well as the “wonderful buildings” near the Temple:
As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples *said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.” (Mark 13:1-2 NASV)
Notice how the disciple specifically pointed to the individual stones themselves. He was impressed by the workmanship that went into cutting out the rocks. Obviously, in some instances, the work could be very crude, but not in this case. Professionals had worked on these stones.
This conversation makes sense, if we understand that Christ had a stonemason background. Such details would have been important.
Of course, Jesus used this as an opportunity to speak about the Temple’s future. No matter how well it was built, one day it would be destroyed.
There are also other verses that may speak of Christ’s stonemason background. He is called a “rock of offense” (Romans 9:33) and He was also the “spiritual rock” that followed the Jews in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4).
It doesn’t really matter if Christ was a carpenter or stonemason, but it may provide a more complete picture of the Lord’s early life and brief ministry.