Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The amazing and ancient root teks- means to weave, fabricate or construct: to put things together mostly by assembling or arranging previously established materials or items, and traces of this root can be found in a wide range of ancient languages:
In Sanskrit the word taksan denotes a wagon-builder, and that is also the literal meaning of our English word "carpenter" (which is related to "car", which is a Celtic word). In other words: an old-world carpenter was not so much someone who worked with wood (as would a modern carpenter) but rather someone who assembled things. In Greek the word tekton means the same thing, and in the New Testament this word is used to describe Jesus' vocation (see below). In Latin the verb texere means to weave, and thus in English words like texture and text derive from the act of weaving, and words like technology and tectonic from the idea of producing or assembling.
In the context of the New Testament, it's important to realize that to the Greeks there was a close relationship (or rather: no distinction) between the bringing forth of children — and although the respective contributions to the process obviously differ widely, both the father and the mother "brought forth" children — and the bringing forth of works of art and literature. Hence in his Symposium, Plato could famously speak of "those who are only pregnant in the body" versus "souls which are pregnant". And he added:
Plato — Symposium
And such creators are poets and all artists who are deserving of the name inventor. But the greatest and fairest sort of wisdom by far is that which is concerned with the ordering of states and families...
What Jesus used to do
Some commentators have argued that Jesus was born not into a family of wood workers but rather one of stone masons, as this would explain the many references to stonework in the New Testament and the absence of any references to woodwork. Socrates, to whom the above quote was addressed, was a stone mason in his youth and the authors of the New Testament were highly skilled literary artists who were intimately familiar with Plato (see our article on the name Homer) and clearly shared his appreciation of the statesmanship which Plato so generously dubs the fairest sort of wisdom.
Christian enthusiasts often forget that Christianity has been a purely religious enterprise for only the last few centuries. Prior to roughly the Renaissance, Christianity was predominantly a political affair, spiced up with scientific pursuits and of course the arts but very little Scripture Theory. It was in the hardly concealed interest of the "Christian" elite (popes and kings and the likes) to keep the plebs from reading the Bible. Because anyone who takes time to actually look at the texts will swiftly conclude that besides its purely theological concerns, the gospel of Jesus Christ represents a peaceful but vehement resistance against totalitarianism in general and Roman imperial theology specifically (for more on this, see our articles on names like Pilate, Onesimus and Quirinius).
Often misquoted as a call to individual conversion, Jesus ordered his followers to make disciples of the nations (Matthew 28:19). The Psalmist had exclaimed: "why are the nations in uproar" and take their stand "against YHWH and his anointed [that is: Messiah, or Christ in Greek, a common word that denotes any Hebrew king or high priest]" (Psalm 2:1-2). Christ's coming fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet Haggai: "And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come" (Haggai 2:7). The promise of God to Abraham, which is fulfilled in Christ, was for all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3, 28:14, Psalm 22:27, Jeremiah 1:15). And when John saw the promised new earth, he saw the tree of life, while "the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2).
Despite the best intentions of globalists on one end and anarchists on the other, the Bible writers understood mankind to be designed to operate within large family structures. The Bible maintains that human individual must (1) be very well informed about the working of the created world, (2) be wholly free to interpret those workings personally and apply these to his/her own life, and (3) operate as integrated part of a larger but self-organizing social structure.
Life, as based on DNA, obviously operates the same way (hence different textures in various organs, all based on the individual interpretations of the identical genetic code within the heart of all cells), and God's promise to mankind is that someday our society will no longer be a gridlocked machine but a living social organism.
The noun τεκτων (tekton) denotes an artisan, or rather: a joiner or producer; someone who produces items by assembling existing materials. In the building industry, such an assembler would most often be assembling wooden items, so our word is mostly associated to carpenters and joiners who built scaffolding, floors and furniture to dwell in and on, but it just as well described someone who puzzled factual observations into a theory to believe in and work with. Isaiah obviously plays with this striking metaphor, as he depicts a skillful carpenter who selects a rot-free tree to create a wobble-free idol (Isaiah 40:20).
In the New Testament, the word τεκτων (tekton) is used only to describe the profession of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus (Matthew 13:55) and of Jesus himself (Mark 6:3). But the Septuagint uses our word to describe carpenters who worked on David's house (2 Samuel 5:11) and the Temple (2 Kings 12:11), but also artisans who made or maintained iron or iron-clad weaponry and farming tools (1 Samuel 13:19) and even work in bronze (1 Kings 7:14). In other Greek literature this word is also applied to workers in horn and sculptors, and even in a more general sense to "masters in any art" (Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon); masters in gymnastics, poets and physicians. Our word is even used by some flowery poets to denote the author or maker of a certain race.
Romantic tradition has made of Jesus a humble carpenter, but that's a fairy tale. He was a highly skilled master craftsman, a producer, and his vocation is emphasized in the New Testament possibly because of the association with statesmanship (and with Socrates), but most obviously because the "first creation of creation", namely wisdom, was the "master craftsman" by God's side (Proverbs 8:22-30). Although wisdom cries out in the street (Proverbs 1:20) and the Servant of the Lord typically doesn't (Isaiah 42:2), wisdom is the created equivalent of the uncreated Word of God (Colossians 1:15), and its purpose is to take the scattered elements of creation and slowly but surely assemble them into the City of God (Psalm 46:4, 87:3, Hebrews 11:10) also known as the New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12, 21:2).
In Greek literature, our word τεκτων (tekton) is often used juxtaposed with:
- The noun χαλκευς (chalkeus), which describes a bronze-worker, or someone who uses fire to turn stone into pools of metal, or heats up a chunk of metal and violently whacks it into the form he wants. It's often overlooked what a miraculous invention metal working was, but it required specially built furnaces that could contain and maintain fires that were much warmer than anybody would normally want to bring about (see Daniel 3:19 relative to Daniel 2:31-33), as well as several other specific technologies that had no other use. In cultural evolutionary terms, the rise of metal working is as mysterious as the origin of the eye, and metal working clearly bordered on esoteric magic — to illustrate this: the Hebrew word נחש, nahash means both bronze, snake and to divine. Also note the similarity between our root and the verb τηκω (teko), meaning to melt or smelt (2 Peter 3:12).
- The noun λιθολογος (lithologos), which describes a mason, or literally someone who knows his stones. The difference between a mason and a carpenter is that a mason knows all about tough lifeless hunks that have been the same for eons and then chisels them into a more fitting shape, while a carpenter works with soft material that has recently grown. But obviously, someone who knows his stones may build a building that will stand for centuries, while the assemblages of a wood worker will be relevant for just a short while. Note that right after depositing the Law in Israel, the Lord ordered the building of an earth-altar made from unaltered God-shaped stones (Exodus 20:22) and that something similar was observed in the building of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:7; also see 1 Peter 2:5).
Our noun τεκτων (tekton) combined with the prefix αρχι (archi-), in this case meaning chief, creates the familiar noun αρχιτεκτων (architekton, hence our word "architect"), meaning chief of the master craftsmen. This word occurs in the Bible only in 1 Corinthians 3:10, where Paul applies it to himself. That would mean that Jesus, for whom Paul worked, could be considered a τεκτων (tekton) the way a general could be considered a soldier.
The verb τικτω (tikto) — which declines into the more familiar forms that look like τεξω (texo) and τεκε (teke) — means to give birth, or rather the whole process of bringing into the world via sexual reproduction from conception to post-parturition; to engender (as in: "you wove me in my mother's womb" ; Psalm 139:13). In Greek literature this verb is used both for the father's part in the matter (and then usually translated with to beget) as well as for the mother's (to bear and give birth). It's mostly applied to human reproduction but without reservations also to that of animals.
In the Greek mind, weaving together flesh and bones and bringing forth children was pretty much the same thing as weaving together ideas and bringing forth art. That emphasizes what modern interpretations often neglect, and that is the very close parallel between a mind and a womb. It also may shed some clarifying light on the whole virgin-birth theme, and the identification of Jesus with the Logos (Isaiah 9:6).
In the New Testament our verb applies almost solely to women giving birth (Matthew 1:21, John 16:21, Galatians 4:27, Revelation 12:2). James uses this verb to powerfully illustrate how lust conceives and gives birth to sin. Likewise, Paul depicts the earth as conceiving rain and giving birth to vegetation (Hebrews 6:7, and note the remarkable symmetry with the Eleusinian Mysteries).
This verb is used our verb occurs 19 times, see full concordance, and comes with the following derivatives and compounds:
- Together with the adjective πρωτος (protos), meaning first: the adjective πρωτοτοκος (prototokos), meaning firstborn. This word may apply to one's literal oldest child (Matthew 1:25, Luke 2:7), but in Israel's social structure, it more applies to the rights and status (hence its plural use in Hebrews 12:16 and perhaps also Hebrews 12:23) of a chief descendant, or rather that descendant who represents all others. As such, this word is comparable to the Hebrew noun ראשית (re'shit), which represents the summarizing apex of a whole series or collective rather than the first acknowledged member, and which is the first word of the Bible (Genesis 1:1, see Colossians 1:15-16). Our word πρωτοτοκος (prototokos) is in that sense applied to Christ (Romans 8:29, Hebrews 1:6, Revelation 1:5) and hence to the church (Hebrews 12:23). It occurs 9 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
- The noun πρωτοτοκια (prototokia), which denotes the firstborn's special rights and status (Hebrews 12:16 only).
- The noun τεκνον (teknon), meaning child (Matthew 10:21, Luke 7:35, Titus 1:6) or more general: offspring or posterity (Matthew 3:9, Acts 2:39, Romans 9:7). This word may also be used for "spiritual" children: people who someone brought into life by bringing them to the Lord (Matthew 9:2. 1 Timothy 1:18, 1 Corinthians 4:17). This means that these "children" acknowledge their "father", which leads the Bible authors to speak of tekna tou Theou, or children of God (John 11:52, Romans 8:16, Ephesians 5:1) but via the same mechanism (people brought to death by leading them away from the Lord) of tekna tou diabolou, or children of the devil (1 John 3:10).
Even wisdom is vindicated by her children (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:35), and a "child of wisdom" would be a demonstrable, practical benefit of certain knowledge or the mastery of a skill (being very good in something that has no purpose, makes one's mastery worthless). Note that Jesus is never referred to as "child" (something assembled) of God but always as υιος (huios), "son" of God (or Man).
Our noun occurs 99 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning without: the adjective ατεκνος (ateknos), meaning childless (Luke 20:28, 20:29 and 20:30 only).
- The diminutive τεκνιον (teknion), which occurs 9 times in the New Testament and only in plural (see full concordance). It literally means "little children", and although this has a rather negative and offensive connotation in English, it probably didn't to the original recipients. As Jesus explained in Mark 4:31, a small but complete seed may last for eternity, whereas a palace made from the greatest rocks will ultimately turn to rubble (both the name Paul and the epithet Mikron, of James, mean small or little).
The few English diminutive forms (the "-let" suffix in words like droplet and piglet, the "-ie" in words like cutie, blondie and golden oldie, and irregular forms such as kitten) are rare and thus rarely deployed, but many other languages (Dutch, German, Slavic languages), use their diminutive forms often and often to express affection or even burly comradery without in the least implying derogation (the Dutch term biertje, jongens? literally means "a small beer, boys?" and commonly preludes an evening of heavy drinking). The Greek diminutive suffix "-ion" often serves to establish an individual from a larger continuum, without suggesting that the individual is small relative to its peers.
Our English term "dear little children" specifically brings to mind hapless toddlers overseen by a disdainful nanny, but our Greek word τεκνιον (teknion) had such an overbearing association with the act of assembling and building up, that it thus sounded much rather like "dear works in progress" or "my favorite start-ups" as proclaimed by an eagerly ogling investor.
People like to think that all Christianity is pretty much the same but this is not correct. Like the tribes of Israel, the disciples of Christ were like stem cells, and each was to produce mental tissues of wholly different cell types (think of various art forms, specific tech, specific sciences) all based on the same genetic code of the gospel. It's therefore not clear whether Jesus, John and Paul meant this word indeed literally to indicate their audience's modest mastery of the materials (which wouldn't be without precedent, see for instance Galatians 3:1-3 and Hebrews 5:12), or whether they meant to demonstrate a degree of comradery, in the way in which English-speakers would say something like "you guys", or even whether they literally referred to their hearers as tiny stem cells that in time would form the bones, muscles, blood and nerve system of the mature Body of Christ.
In Galatians 4:19 Paul uses our noun τεκνιον (teknion) in combination with the verb ωδινω (odino), to travail and particularly to prevail in childbirth, evidently in order to indicate that he felt he was giving birth to the Galatian noobs. Since he follows this laden verse indeed with a review of women giving birth (4:22-31) Paul appears to utilize a form of literary gender-fluidity that was uncommon for his time (but also see Galatians 3:28).
- Together with the verb τρεφω (trepho), meaning to raise up: the verb τεκνοτροφεω (teknotropheo), meaning to bring up children (1 Timothy 5:10 only).
- Together with the substantive φιλος (philos), meaning friend: the adjective φιλοτεκνος (philoteknos), meaning child-loving (Titus 2:4 only).
- The noun τεχνε (techne), meaning an art, skill or craft with which to bring forth artistic productions (Acts 17:29, 18:3 and Revelation 18:22 only). From this noun come:
- Together with the familiar prefix ομως (homos), meaning one or similar: the adjective ομοτεχνος (homotechnos), meaning of the same skill or trade (Acts 18:3 only).
- The noun τεχνιτης (technites), denoting an artisan or craftsman. This word is used 4 times; see full concordance. In Hebrews 11:10 this word is applied to God.
- The noun τοκος (tokos), meaning a bringing forth or a birth. It's the common word for parturition of both humans and animals but it came to mostly denote "financial childbirth", or the return on deposited money; interest. Possibly since usury and compound interest have always been a source of great financial distress, the authors of the Septuagint used our word to translate the word תך (tok), meaning oppression or fraud, as it occurred in Psalm 72:14. In the New Testament this word is used only twice and only in this financial sense: Matthew 25:27 and Luke 19:23.
This word is also part of Mother Mary's challenged, often misunderstood and certainly extra-biblical title of Theotokos; but please see our article on the key word theos for some insight in this regard.