The Expository Files


The Carpenter's Son Builds a House

Ephesians 2:19-22

JESUS was the son of a carpenter; a fact attested to by the local residents of the town where he grew up (Matt. 13:55). It is almost certain that the wood craftsman skills of his father Joseph were learned by Jesus. The custom in those days among the working class was that a trade be passed down from father to son, and was often done through several generations. The scriptures make reference to this custom in Mark 6:3 where we see Jesus visiting his hometown of Nazareth. While there, he is actually called a carpenter by the local residents. I suppose it is possible that Jesus actually worked as a carpenter before he began going about His Father's business (Luke 2:49), but it is almost certain that he learned the trade and was thought of as one who was carrying on his father's chosen craft.

The Greek word translated carpenter in the above referenced passages is defined as "a worker in wood" (Greek -English Lexicon-Baurer, Not too surprising! In R.C.H. Lenski's commentary on Mark the word is defined as "one who makes things out of hard material . . . almost always a carpenter. Yet one who makes utensils, furniture, and house fittings, for in Palestine all the houses are constructed of stone, the country being full of rock" (p. 236). In the normal course of events, therefore, Jesus would have become such a carpenter himself and lived his life in fulfillment of that role. He didn't, of course, but nevertheless become a great builder! We now turn our attention to the house that the carpenter's son built.

There are some New Testament passages where the building skills of Jesus play into the language. In John 2:19 for example, Jesus is asked by the Jews to give a sign of His authority. He answers by referring enigmatically to the temple of Herod, a great structure built of stone, and says, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Of course, as verse 21 bears out, Jesus was speaking of the destruction and rebuilding (resurrection) of his own body, not the stone structure built by King Herod.

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus makes a promise that involves the greatest building project ever undertaken. In response to Peter's confession that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declares, ". . . on this rock I will build my church."

Indeed the Scriptures go on to reveal that Jesus fulfilled His promise to build a church. He did so only after having purchased the material from which his church was built (Acts 20:28; Eph. 2:13). In speaking to those who made up the church in the city of Corinth, Paul assures them that the foundation upon which they were established is none other than Jesus, For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:9-11; see also Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:6,7).

Jesus built the promised church. He alone is the architect, builder, owner and Lord. The church he promised to build began on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. The event, which is recorded in Acts 2, was accompanied by the promised (Acts 1:4) Holy Spirit ; gospel preaching by Peter and the other apostles; an invitation to repent in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; the initial response to that invitation on the part of 3,000 people who were baptized; a picture of the early church working together and the addition by the Lord into his church of those who were subsequently and likewise being saved.

Thus Jesus built his church. He did so in keeping with his promise, and by virtue of his resurrection, exaltation and declaration as Lord and Christ (Acts 2;32-36).

Some wonderful details of the church that Jesus built are provided in Ephesians 2:19-22. Within this context there are six distinct Greek words that are built upon the same root. That root word has to do with a dwelling or house. In this case Paul has labeled that dwelling "The Household of God." Of that household, Jesus is the chief cornerstone.
Paul's main point in Ephesians 2:19-22 is that converted Gentiles, once distinct from Israel, are now God's people as well, and he uses this "house" imagery to illustrate this fact in several ways.

The text reads as follows:

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."

Even though the context is speaking of the household of God with Jesus being the chief cornerstone of that house, it is still describing the church which was promised, built and continues to be ruled by Christ. Very few passages emphasize the aspect of the church as the house built by Christ the way that this one does. Notice how various points about the house that Christ constructed are made through the carefully chosen language of the passage.

The word foreigners (aliens) originally meant something like "along side the house" in the sense of "separated from or away from the house," a nuance not present in the English translation (Windham, p. 70). Paul then points out that the Gentiles are now an integral part of the household of God, no longer "away from it." It is an accomplished fact that the Gentiles are in Christ, as their place in it is spoken of in the past tense with the word built. Paul says that the whole building (edifice) will grow into a holy temple in the Lord, emphasizing the living aspect of the building. Finally, in verse 22 the idea of being built together places emphasis on the expected continued growth of the house, and the term dwelling place, is yet a sixth usage of the same Greek root, here indicating the special purpose for the house built by Christ.

Jesus, the son of a lowly carpenter from Nazareth thus becomes a great builder. He has built a living and continuing house that we can benefit from and become a part of yet today, two-thousand years after the original foundation was laid.

Sources: A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT. Baurer, et al.p.995. Commentary on Mark's Gospel. R.C.H. Lenski. p. 236. New Testament Greek for Preachers and Teachers. Neal Windham. pp. 70-72.


By Ed Barnes
From Expository Files 13.12; December 2006