Did you ever wonder why God assigned an ordinary couple like Mary and Joseph to raise the Messiah?
It seems like other families would have been better prepared to expose Jesus to a culture and context more suitable for his ministry as the Son of God. These options come to mind:
- It might have been important for the Messiah—like the prophet Samuel and John the Baptist—to grow up in a priestly household. He could have devoted days to prayer and the study of Scripture as well as had daily access to the temple precincts.
- Or, perhaps the Messiah could have been raised within a Pharisee’s household as was true for the Apostle Paul (Acts 23:6). This lay movement was highly devoted to God and zealous for the application of Old Testament Scriptures (Torah and tradition) to daily living.
Instead, Jesus was sovereignly assigned to an ordinary couple, Mary and Joseph, who worked in a “secular” trade (Matthew 13:55). During his young adult years, Jesus lived far away from the temple precincts, devoting his days to getting his hands dirty with building materials as a “blue collar” construction worker.
That may seem remarkable in light of a commonly held view today that deems secular work as of lower value than “full-time vocational ministry.”
Yet by taking a deeper look at Jesus’ teachings and his own “secular” work experience prior to his public ministry, we may come to appreciate how this form of work had a significant role in Jesus’ life, and how it continues to have a vital role in God’s ongoing work today.
What Was Jesus’s Occupation?
Jesus labored with his hands for about twenty years—six times as long as his three-year public ministry.
Only two New Testament verses—Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55—offer any comment about what kind of work Jesus did. His former neighbors in Nazareth recognized Jesus by his previous occupation: “Isn’t this the tektōn?”
The Greek term tektōn (pronounced as “teck-tone”), from which we derive such words as “tectonic” and “architect,” has been translated in English as “carpenter.”
Yet some scholars are discovering that tektōn includes a greater range of skills and projects than our current understanding of carpentry.
Based on his extensive word study, Ken Campbell suggests “builder” as the better translation:
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 in the lower middle-income class of that day. Darrell Bock notes,
Only artisans or other craftspeople had the ancient equivalent of small, independent businesses. They constituted a minority of the labor force.
Furthermore, tradition suggests that Joseph died a few years prior to Jesus entering public ministry. Then Jesus, as the eldest son, would have been the one primarily responsible to see family living expenses were met through his and his brothers’ work as day laborers (Matthew 13:55-56).
Where Did Jesus Work?
Is there anything else that can be mentioned about Jesus’ work life? Most of the laborers from Nazareth probably worked on building projects in the city of Sepphoris, about an hour’s walk from Nazareth.
In 4 BC King Herod (Antipas) chose Sepphoris as the capital of his kingdom and rebuilt the city, which included his principal residence and administrative center.
Then about twenty years later, sometime between 18 and 20 AD, Herod moved his capital to Tiberius.
Jesus and Joseph may have worked on a 4,000-seat amphitheater, with a stage 156 feet wide and 27 feet long. Jesus’ use of the term “hypocrite”—“acting under a mask” may have come from his exposure to dramatic presentations in Sepphoris.
Did Jesus Understand Business?
Does Jesus genuinely understand the business world as an insider?
Clearly, the answer is affirmative. During his young adult years, Jesus worked with his hands in masonry and carpentry, in good and bad weather, getting paid and not getting paid.
And, for a few years, he had responsibilities for day-to-day operations of running what we would call a small, “secular” business. Jesus probably worked alongside other artisans, negotiating bids, securing supplies, completing projects, and contributing to family living expenses.
As fully God and fully man, Jesus lived an earthly life—complete with the joy, sorrow, drudgery, and excitement that everyone experiences in a lifetime. The ups and downs of the business workday are no exception.
Editor’s Note: This post was adapted from Klaus Issler’s white paper entitled “An Examination of Jesus’ Inclusion of Work Roles in His Parables.” Read the whole paper here.