I just read the recent edition of the Biola Magazine (they are kind enough to send a free copy to to the church), and was intrigued by Klaus Issler’s article Jesus at Work. Jesus’ life in vocation as a tekton (builder) is often neglected – but it’s highly possible that Jesus’ years in the construction industry provided a framework on the function and etiquette of the economy and his particular trade. Issler suggests that many of the parables and stories of Jesus could only make sense from one who was very much acquainted with the “real world”. Here’s a pretty long excerpt (however you should really link to the full article if you like what you read here):
Imagine you were invited to observe that special planning session in eternity past when the Godhead considered creating this world and mapping out a plan for our redemption. Of course this couldn’t happen, but pretend this divine session was like one of our committee meetings. The issue being discussed: What life experiences would best prepare Jesus for his later public ministry, for his distinctive divine-human role as Messiah and Savior of the world?
We might think being born into a priest’s family would provide an excellent heritage for the Messiah, which was the life situation for Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer Luke 1:5–17. Days could be devoted to studying Scripture, prayer and daily access to the temple precincts. Yet Jesus came into a layperson’s family, devoting the bulk of his young adult years to working at a “secular” job.
That seems surprising — particularly in today’s culture, which has widely viewed secular work as less, well, Christian than “full-time vocational ministry.” But as I’ve taken a deeper look at Jesus’ teachings and his own work experience prior to his public ministry, I’ve come to understand that business played a significant role in his life, and continues to play a vital role in God’s ongoing work today. As it turns out, secular work isn’t for second-class Christians after all.
How Did Business Shape Jesus’ Life?
As was customary for boys in that day, Jesus was probably apprenticed alongside his father Joseph by age 12. Since Jesus began his public ministry about age 30 Luke 3:23, he would have worked at a trade for 18 years. That’s six times as long as his three-year public ministry.
His former neighbors recognized Jesus by his previous occupation: “Isn’t this the tektōn?” Mark 6:3; Matt. 13:55. Tektōn has been rendered as “carpenter” since William Tyndale’s English Bible translation 1526. Yet scholar Ken Campbell suggests “builder” as a more accurate translation, writing, “In the context of first-century Israel, the tektōn was a general craftsman who worked with stone, wood, and sometimes metal in large and small building projects.”
For Jesus’ family to work in a trade indicates they were part of what we’d call the lower middle-income class of that day. Furthermore, tradition suggests that his father Joseph died a few years prior to Jesus entering public ministry. If that were the case, Jesus as the eldest son was the one primarily responsible to see family living expenses were met through his and his brothers’ work as day laborers Matt. 13:55–56.
If Jesus spent much of his earlier years as a builder, I wondered if his work experience might show up in his teachings. Based on my review, 50 percent of Jesus’ parables have some kind of a “business setting” 17 of 32. Did some aspects of these stories have a personal connection? The parable of the two builders and two houses Matt. 7:24–27 concludes the Sermon on the Mount. Imagine young Jesus working with his father, digging a foundation for a house near the sea. Jesus asks, “Is this trench deep enough, dad?” Joseph replies, “Have you hit rock yet?” “No.” “Then keep on digging, son.” Regarding his teaching on the cost of discipleship, Jesus mentions one should have the funds at the start to complete a tower Luke 14:28. Might Jesus have built a tower for a customer but was never paid?
© 2012, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.