Thursday, February 09, 2006

Jesus the Craftsman and the Evidence from Paul

I was thinking this morning about Jesus as a τέκτων, a craftsman, and it occurred to me that the fact that Jesus was known (at least by Mark, 6.3) to have worked with his hands could have provided Paul with a useful argument in 1 Cor. 9. The background of that chapter appears to be that Paul has been criticized for earning a living and so not sponging off the Corinthians when he was on mission there. It seems that his apostolic credentials have been called into question, that apostles would be expected to earn their living by preaching the gospel, and that Paul and Barnabas are exceptions to this rule. I have always felt a bit sorry for Paul here, working hard with his hands in between his missionary activity, and then getting criticized for it. But what I began to wonder today was about one of the arguments that Paul did not use.

Paul could have said in this context, "Did not the Lord himself work with his hands? Was he not a craftsman?" Or something like that. This might have been quite a useful point for Paul in a context where he is up against the practice of the apostles, Cephas, even Jesus' own brothers (cf. 1 Cor. 9.5), and where there is apparently a command of the Lord (9.14) that these people are under, to the effect that evangelists should earn their living by evangelizing. So why does he not appeal to that precedent? What are the possibilities? Here are a few options:

(1) Paul did not know that Jesus was a craftsman. He had never thought to ask Peter, James or anyone else, and they had not volunteered the information.

(2) Jesus was not a craftsman; Mark 6.3 is not a reliable tradition.

(3) Paul knew the tradition but did not think to use it in this context, especially as he is up against the practice of those who actually knew Jesus, and who were quoting his words.

(4) Jesus was not (thought to have been) a craftsman during his active, itinerant mission. He began his mission in Capernaum, but he had only been a craftsman in Nazareth and its surrounds. If this was (thought to have been) the case, it would have been counter-productive for Paul to have brought up Jesus' job, because the natural answer would be: "Yes, and the Lord did not work with his hands when he was preaching the gospel, for he said 'Let the one who preaches the gospel get his living by the gospel.'"

I think (3) is perhaps the most likely, but option (4) ought to be entertained too. The Mark 6.1-6 story, in which the reference occurs, assumes that Jesus' job was known to his audience in Nazareth. Was it perhaps associated with Jesus in Nazareth, and does Jesus' move to and activity in Capernaum coincide with his gospel-preaching activity, according to which he now lives off others? The tradition in Mark 3.21 and 31-5, where Jesus' family come to restrain him might then reflect a time when Jesus was no longer a craftsman at home in Nazareth, but now a charismatic on a mission, and they think he is mad, having left the family home and business.

Or perhaps not. Just a thought.

Incidentally, one of the things that got me thinking about this area was a post from a while ago by Michael Bird of Euangelion on Jesus the Stonemason, which discusses translations of Mark 6.3 and refers to an interesting recent article by Ken Campbell in a journal I don't think I've read before, I'm ashamed to say, called Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, "What was Jesus' Occupation?", JETS 48.3 (2005): 501-20. The second half of the article is a rather uncritical lumping together of Synoptic data en masse in the search for the imagery used in Jesus' teaching (with no reference to the carefully sifted itinerary of imagery in Goulder's sadly underrated and underused Midrash and Lection in Matthew), but the first half was a clear and very useful working through the lexical evidence on the meaning of τέκτων in Greek literature, making it pretty clear that the term on its own without qualification should be translated something like "craftsman". "Carpenter" or "stone-mason" or "metal worker" would all be too specific.


Anonymous said...

Mark, it's an interesting question about Paul's knowledge of Jesus' occupation, but I disagree with the premise of your reading of 1 Cor 9. I don't think Paul is on the defence here but on the offense. The brief comments 'defending' his apostleship in the first few verses of 9 are there simply to establish the foundation of his larger argument in 9 which serves to provide an example for his readers.
The function of chapter 9 is to show that although Paul has the knowledge of an apostle and has every right to be supported as one, he chooses not to make use of the right, as an example to the 'strong' Corinthians who are misusing their knowledge and 'right/freedom' to eat at the expense of the weak. It wouldn't strengthen his case to cite Jesus as a worker; he's looking for arguments to show that he has the right to be paid, and he alludes to Jesus tradition (in 9.14) to that end.
If Paul were defending himself throughout chapter 9, to refer to the tradition of Jesus working with his hands would invite the retort that during his ministry Jesus was supported by women (as Luke depicts).

Anonymous said...

Although The Bible calls us to support our family and responsibilites - it first calls us to seek ye first the kingdom of God. And it promises that if we do this - God himslef will provide for our needs. There is no greater fullfilment of this promise than the life of our Lord, Jesus.

I doubt that Jesus was supported by women as stated in Michael's post. Jesus needed no human or worldy support.

I would hope that Michael will post his reference for his claim in a less broad sense than (Luke).



Anonymous said...

John, that's Luke 8.3. Mark 15.41 may also be alluding to this.

Gary said...

Thanks for the interesting possibilities to consider. I was reflecting this morning on what the Scriptures and tradition say about Jesus' occupation and found you.

There is also some interesting material on what recent new archeological findings at Sepphoris might indicate about Jesus' occupation and the influences He experienced until about age 30. Sepphoris is the significant Gailean city about three miles from nazareth. That material is at on a site by Christians at

In Christ,

David said...

This post goes in the direction from Paul to Jesus. In my book JESUS GARDENS ME, I go in the opposite direction from Jesus to Paul. Chapter 1 Research Focusing on Jesus’ Occupation.
Chapter 2 Cross-cultural Anthropology.
I make a case for why Jesus became an itinerant preacher, but I believe he did a variety of jobs. I argue from what happened to many families like the family of Jesus who lost their homestead (we can't know exactly why), but through death or taxes or some other cause, many people lost their land and Jesus became the provider. My thought is that like Paul he continued doing a vareity of jobs.
You can get my book on as an e-book or paperback.