I have heard people on both sides of this argument say the other approach is wrong. The issue becomes what shapes our expectations. We will only see what we expect to see. What we expect will colour our expectations of what we take in via our senses. I will explain what I mean by using one of the less contentious discussions that have arisen as a result.
What do we mean by a carpenter?
A strange question. We are told that Jesus was brought up by a carpenter so it is a question that links in with his early life experience.
One obvious answer is that a carpenter is someone who makes something out of wood. What things? Furniture, windows and door frames for houses, decorative woodwork in a house of worship. Those are not the only things made of wood that a carpenter might create but it gives a flavour of the possibilities.
The Greek word tekton is often translated as carpenter. Some say it could be translated as builder, as a tekton also worked in stone. Some describe such a person as an artisan others as a craftsman. So although he may well have made his own furniture the main way that money came to Joseph as that he used his skills on building projects.
What did Joseph help build?
I have heard it suggested that Joseph did some work on the temple in Jerusalem. For the pious Jew, this would be the job of all jobs. There again it would really depend on who wanted building work done and was willing to pay people to do it.
If Joseph had done some work on the temple was Jesus was old enough to go with him as an apprentice? Strange thought, did Jesus actually help build the temple and spend time there early in life? If he did would he have got to know the religious leaders? Was this why as a twelve year old he was so at home talking to these religious leaders?
We don’t know the answers to these questions but we can make some educated guesses. We do this by looking at the biblical account plus non-biblical evidence plus our experience of life.
Did Joseph the carpenter run his own business?
I am not sure that there is any conclusive evidence either way. What I have noticed is that people with jobs tend to see him has having a job. On the other hand, those who have businesses see Joseph as a small businessman.
It is that expectation thing again. If you live in a society where there are lots of small independent family run businesses then that is what you would expect. If your experience is that most people with these kinds of skills work for other people then that is what you would expect.
How do we deal with this situation?
You could say that it is a good thing that we don’t know for sure. If we were told for certain Joseph was a small businessman then those with jobs would feel less attached to the biblical account. If we were told for certain that Joseph had a job and was employed by others then those with a small business would feel less attached to the story.
The sad thing is that it is too easy to argue over something that in fact we do not really have the evidence to say what was the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Does it really matter?
Whatever your interpretation you need to use it wisely? If you see Joseph as a self-employed craftsman then you can use it to encourage more people to start their own business. What you cannot do is to blast people for having a job rather than building up their own business. If you see Joseph as someone employed by others then you cannot use it to blast those who have a calling to set up a business.
The problem comes when the way we interpret things according to ungodly experience. In the example, I have used it would be an extreme position to take if someone said that either running a small business or a having a job was unbiblical.
Interpretation or excuses?
There are other situations where how we interpret things leads us to finding excuses to do things that are unbiblical. Then there are situations where people so blast those who find excuses that those who really should do something dare not do it.
For example, some people who give up on marriage and get a divorce rather than look for help. Then there are other people who are in seriously abusive marriages who say divorce is wrong. They say that marriage is until death shall part and end up staying in that marriage until they are murdered. They kept their marriage vows but lost their life. For them, the idea that divorce is wrong is an excuse to stay in a situation where they could be harmed.
There are people who moan about those who have an experience that they don’t really understand and then say that their experience can be explained from the Bible. Those who have had the experience are accused of interpreting the Bible in a certain way to show that their experience is acceptable.
It is tough knowing just how much impact our interpretation has for good or ill. I suspect the majority of people would override the idea that divorce is wrong if the alternative was the death of one of the partners.
Does iron sharpen iron?
It is strange how the comments that others make force you to examine the way that you do things. They help you see your situation from another perspective. You then moderate your approach and do things that answer their criticisms.
Oh crumbs do you realise what I have just done. I have all but come full circle. Our experience of being criticised can change what we think and what we do. I think that is what it is supposed to be like as this leads to constant improvement.
This is a concentration of this idea. Don’t forget to look at our other posts to find other posts on a similar theme.