I want to ask you, sir, regarding the textual variation of Mark 6:3. Some early manuscripts said son of carpenter. Between “carpenter” or “son of carpenter”? This one was cited by a quote in Origen works (184-253), Against Celsus (248 AD), where Origen claimed that none of the Gospel on the current church said that Jesus was a carpenter. Most scholars agree that the original was surely “carpenter”, and Origen claimed that because he was in the middle of argument against Celsus, who was a pagan, attacking Jesus credibility as a teacher (Roman pagans saw carpenter as a lowly work and like to insult Jesus status as a carpenter). Origen seems to used this manuscript variant that said son of carpenter to supported his argument. But to think of it, this also work of harmonization with Matthew 6:3 where in Matthew, it is said son of carpenter. What do you think? I like to think Jesus was both, which was son of carpenter but also carpenter. What is your opinion on this one? What is the affect of this on theological view?


I have heard of this question before, but I have never been asked about it.  To be completely honest, this is a REALLY minor issue.  I am sure you would agree.  Yet, minor though it is, it deserves a response.  My first response is that you appear to have a really good handle on this question and, honestly, probably do not need any help from me!  But you asked my opinion, so I will weigh in.  I will take your word for it on what Origen said.  I will have to agree with the scholars who fault Origen on this one. He was a philospher/theologian, defending rational Christianity against pagan criticism–especially from the Greek critic Celsus.  It seems pretty clear that Origen was making a pretty weak argument, based on one textual variant. He seems to be doing this more to win an argument with an opponent than as a fair response to the textual evidence. One thing we can be fairly sure of is that Origen was an extremely good scholar, so he was surely aware that there was a textual variant, even in the third century, in the Mark passage. That he was using this variant to defeat Celsus is “on” Origen, in my opinion.
As to the original of Mark and Matthew, one of the rules of textual lower criticism is that when there are two versions, one consistent with another gospel and one which is different from another gospel, the rule of thumb is that the one which varies from the other is more likely to be the correct one.  The logic here is that it is far more likely that anyone making a change, for whatever reason, whether a sincere error or trying to “fix” the gospel, is more likely to change them so as to make them agree than so as to differ.  On this common-sense reasoning, I am sure that scholars will agree that Mark 6:3 (carpenter) and Matthew 13:55 (carpenter’s son) were different in the original, and the change was to make them the same.
Then there is the minor question  (in my opinion) about how this affects our belief in the reliability of the Bible.  Of course, it is surely true that Jesus was both a carpenter and a carpenter’s son!  But then there is the issue of what, precisely, did Jesus say on that occasion?  Is either Mark or Matthew just plain wrong?  The answer is that the gospel accounts are not word-for-word transcripts of what Jesus said.  They are faithful renditions of what Jesus said.  Besides, he originally spoke in Aramaic, not Greek.  The Western rationalist desire to have gospel accounts that are actual exact transcripts of what Jesus said word-for-word is out of step with what would have been considered a faithful rendition of what was said in the Near East in the first century.  In this mainly-oral society, the difference between carpenter and carpenter’s son would be completely unimportant.  Applying 21st century, Western expectations on the parallel gospel accounts is simply not reasonable.  There is no issue of reliability in these passages.
John Oakes

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