Friday 29 January 2016


The Carpenter who was Different

This is good and pleases God our Savior,  who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.  For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.  He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. I Timothy 2: 3-6 (NLT)

We could read this passage as “wants humans to be saved … reconcile God and humans – the human Christ Jesus”. The same word, used in either the plural or singular form, thus gives an “incidental” emphasis on the definite humanness of Jesus, who is, nonetheless, the Christ. It would surely be a stretch to think that in one part of the sentence the “human” refers to beings like us, but carries a different meaning when applied to Jesus. (Of course there is more to it, much more. No other human can reconcile God and humanity. No one else could purchase our ransom.)

Ruins of Synagogues (Capernaum) - see below

In the letter to the Romans, in his explanation of the new destiny for humans, Paul draws on Jesus’ being a human:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—  sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.  Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.  But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.  And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.  If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.  For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification[f] leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 5: 12-19 (NRSV)
Adam is clearly portrayed as a man. That man, Adam, is put in parallel with the man, Jesus. Once again, there is more to it – a lot more – but at the base two humans are compared and contrasted. (And - how different the inheritance available in Christ.)

What did his contemporaries think of “The Man”, that is, Christ Jesus? My previous post, on the (non-Biblical) word “Christmas”, explored the reality of his being in our world like us (though, unlike us, he truly was “sent” and “came”). Prior to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead it must have been a particular kind of challenge to understand who he was; there is some information available in the NT. (After the resurrection it was a different challenge.)
How today to get to know the “real Jesus”? I advocate quite simply reading the Gospels as a whole; then read them again! Let the books speak to you. (You can now click off here and go to the text.)

Still with me? Well then, I can focus on some of the Gospel pericopes.
Like Paul and for all observant male Jews, Jesus was circumcised. We find in the birth account:
Eight days later Jesus' parents did for him what the Law of Moses commands.[e] And they named him Jesus, just as the angel had told Mary when he promised she would have a baby. Luke 2:21 (CEV)

From further on we have Luke chapter 2: 41-52 (NRSV):
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.  And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.  When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.  After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents[a] saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[b]  But they did not understand what he said to them.  Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.  And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,[c] and in divine and human favor.
The “lost child” episode seems to me natural enough, whether Jesus felt impelled to be about his Father’s business or in his house (alternative renderings).  I think it important not to over-interpret Jesus’ activity in the Temple. What does it show us – a boy who wanted to learn? Then, in passing, as it were, we read that God was pleased by Jesus as he grew, and so, correspondingly, were people.  (How did Luke get to give God’s assessment?  Perhaps his meaning is unclear but has to do with absorption of Scripture.) I think Jesus went on displaying behaviour and interests (including knowledge and understanding of God) appropriate to his age but that he successfully navigated the temptations of youth, etc.  Did he go to “Nazareth Synagogue school”? (Was there a school in tiny Nazareth? The one archaeological find from 1st Century Nazareth I have seen is a stone slab inscribed with death penalty demands for tomb seal breakers or body-snatchers! IBD, p1061)

Along with “The Law", Jesus no doubt learnt his “trade” from his father. The OT  has repeated injunctions on the responsibility of a parent (father), such as: Deuteronomy 6: 1-7
 “These are the commands, decrees, and regulations that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy,  and you and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life.  Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.  “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.[a]  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.  And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. (NLT)

How many “apprentice” carpenters did Joseph train? How many of his “graduates” worked in tiny Nazareth? Many questions of interest simply can not have definitive answers.

Palestine was a “multi-cultural” society and this was reflected in the language mix. An interesting 8th Century BC episode is recorded in Isaiah 36, pointing to the future role of Aramaic. (We see that the Persian commander and Hezekiah's officials spoke both Aramaic and Hebrew, but the ordinary folk understood only Hebrew.)  Aramaic was imposed for more than two centuries under the defunct Persian Empire and it became the vernacular. Post-Alexander, Persian influence was succeeded by Hellenisation (Greek culture, including language) – which had been thrust upon the Jewish community to the point of rebellion. More recently the Romans had taken over and they added their Latin to that society.

To a greater or lesser extent populations were inevitably immersed in the “foreign” tongues, etc.  (As in the case of most of us, immersion in language from infancy - or before! - is seen as an effective means for language acquisition.) Furthermore, some level of impact must follow from interaction with travellers from the widespread Jewish populations in the Empire and beyond. Jesus’ society perforce was multilingual.
Formal Hebrew education was developed in Jewish society as a counter to ‘foreign’ influences.

The Hebrew Bible (OT) was treasured and taught. The Greek Bible (ie, the LXX) was a valued and widely used resource. As well as the vernacular Aramaic (his first language), did Jesus acquire Greek and even some Latin? Could he read Greek, the major language of commerce? They would have been important and useful language skills at that time, especially as he plied his trade (and even more so if he was employed in [Roman] developments like nearby capital city Sepphoris).

To me it seems likely that Jesus used these languages. However, there is no unassailable evidence I have seen. Linguistically interesting NT episodes there are. We find Jesus speaking with a “Greek” Syro-Phonecian woman (Mark 7:24-30), and being approached by Greeks (John 12:20-36). In Acts there is a note related to the issue: Intervening in what was an unintelligible “Hebrew” (Aramaic?) uproar, note the Roman officer being surprised to find that Paul conversed fluently in Greek (Acts 21:37). Maybe the officer had little personal knowledge of Jews?

“The Beginning” and traces of previous life

Within the record of the post-carpenter stage of his life I find echoes or suggestions of Jesus prior. Luke has a brief introductory note (Luke 3:23) which continued on with a lengthy list of ancestors. He tells us Jesus was about 30 years old when he started all this and was thought of as the son of Joseph. (The place of Joseph was a given.) Jesus had “come of age”, but by our reckoning his age is imprecise (perhaps like the stories of indigenous people who have no birth-date record). There is no certainty for the year Jesus left carpentry, nor of Jesus’ birth year and certainly no date of birth. (Seems to me 25/12/0000 is really unlikely to be correct!) Do you think it is significant that there is no date?

One instance of connection with Jesus’ prior life comes at someone’s (a relative’s?) wedding. John 2:3-4 (CEV):
When the wine was all gone, Mary said to Jesus, “They don’t have any more wine.”  Jesus replied, “Mother, my time hasn’t yet come:[a] You must not tell me what to do.” 
This passage presents difficulty and it is given various translations. The CEV has an attractive solution. Whatever translation, tantalising questions must remain: How did Mary get involved? Why did Mary speak to Jesus about a wine shortage? What did Mary expect next? 

Our text has no details on the other years. Some indications suggest earlier life. In Mark, chapter 3: 20-35 (ESV), we find views of Jesus amongst those from “around him”, and amongst those who wanted to be less close to him!
Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat.  And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” (‘Home’ became Capernaum? When did Jesus move there?) More significantly, the way Jesus was acting now was unexpected and unusual and seemed to his close people (his “friends”, in older renditions, or, “family”) to be symptomatic of something being wrong with him.  I think it became less and less unusual for Jesus to astound, but this moment, reported by Mark alone (!), reflects the reaction of those close to him; people who thought they knew him well. Maybe the rendering ‘friends’ could reflect the importance to Jesus of friends? It gives a passing glimpse of his life as a villager. (Surely the “beside himself” reaction puts to rest any theory that his own people were familiar with Jesus having acted thus in the past. So I say, notwithstanding the episode at the wedding.)
However, others found deadly explanations for this Jesus the inexplicable. (Their attitude would culminate in the death penalty.)
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”  And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.  But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.  “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter,  but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” -  for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”(Mark 3:22-30, ESV)
With this atmosphere of controversy and adverse “official” notice it can hardly be surprising that Jesus’ family wanted to extract him from these situations. They wanted to help. (All of the synoptics recount the moment.)
 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him.  And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers[c] are outside, seeking you.”  And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-34, ESV)
Relationships had changed – for good. (Joseph does not appear here - do you think that has significance?)

On one remembered occasion Jesus returned to his home town.
Jesus went back to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and as usual he went to the meeting place on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16, CEV).
Presumably Jesus had been in that Synagogue on many a Sabbath. As Luke alone (!) tells us, attendance was in his life pattern, his ethos. (What had it been like there for him, time after time, over those years…?) I suppose there in Nazareth he had plied his trade and had been known favourably. But now times were changing… See how it is reported by Mark: 6:1-6 (CEV):
Jesus left and returned to his hometown[a] with his disciples.  The next Sabbath he taught in the Jewish meeting place. Many of the people who heard him were amazed and asked, “How can he do all this? Where did he get such wisdom and the power to work these miracles?  Isn’t he the carpenter,[b] the son of Mary? Aren’t James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon his brothers? Don’t his sisters still live here in our town?” The people were very unhappy because of what he was doing.
But Jesus said, “Prophets are honored by everyone, except the people of their hometown and their relatives and their own family.”  Jesus could not work any miracles there, except to heal a few sick people by placing his hands on them.  He was surprised that the people did not have any faith. Jesus taught in all the neighboring villages.
What was it that made them so unhappy? Would it have been different if Jesus had come back alone? I wonder how long he had been away from Nazareth. Although Jesus held no illusions about human nature, we see that Jesus could wonder at people – here at their refusal to believe. (The same word expressed Jesus’ wonder at the Roman army officer’s confidence in him – see Luke 7:9.)
Matthew has a variation (13:55, CEV):
Isn’t he the son of the carpenter? Isn’t Mary his mother, and aren’t James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers?
Note Luke also refers to the scandal of Nazareth (4:22, CEV): All the people started talking about Jesus and were amazed at the wonderful things he said. They kept on asking, “Isn’t he Joseph’s son?”
What was going on? Surely he was a tradesman, not a miracle-worker or trained rabbi.

Nicodemus (a Pharisee) had a very different assessment of Jesus:
After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” (John 3:2, NLT).
Those in the scene at Nazareth looked unwilling to give Jesus the title of Rabbi!

From these sources I see that Jesus was known as a carpenter (worker in solid materials). Probably he had been trained by his earthly father-figure, Joseph. The Nazareth occasion is almost the last mention of Joseph. John has a similar moment (6:41-42, ESV):
So the Jews grumbled about him (Jesus), because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
John 7:14-16 (ESV) records surprise at Jesus’ “unauthorised” teaching:
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.  The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning,[a] when he has never studied?”  So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.
These people would not use the title, “Rabbi” of Jesus. It was evidently well enough known that Jesus had not done “rabbinical studies”. Unlike Saul (Paul), Jesus had not advanced beyond the bulk of his cohort!

As you read the Gospels you will find that Jesus used everyday stories and comparisons which made his teaching memorable. Categories include agriculture, household (cleaning, cooking, chores etc), fishing, health, building construction, carpentry, real estate, OT events, employment, courts, religion, current affairs, and armed force. Those illustrations came from his own experience or observation. Perhaps they may give us a glimpse of his earlier days and of his childhood home.

So there is a dearth of biographical detail of the Jesus prior to his "beginning" at about 30 years.  How do you interpret the absence of a record?

Finally, here again is 1 Timothy 2:3-6, this time adapted from CEV:
This kind of prayer is good, and it pleases God our Savior. God wants everyone to be saved and to know the whole truth, which is,
There is only one God,
and Christ Jesus is the only one
who can bring us to God.
Jesus was truly human,
and he gave himself to rescue all of us. 
God showed us this at the right time.

this, then, is the Jesus of whom I write, and whose work is crucial and critical for me and for you.

Bibliography: R. Buth, "Aramaic Language",  Dictionary of NT Background, (Downers Grove, Il: IVP,  2000)

Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from the Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.