What was Apostle Paul’s job?
A tentmaker, of course! Lydia was a merchant. Peter was a fisherman. Jesus was a carpenter. In How the Church Fails Businesspeople, John Knapp says “very little social or occupational hierarchy is evident in the New Testament church.” But, as church grew, “egalitarian values gave way to formal structures that increasingly placed ministerial responsibility and authority in the hands of local bishops.” Gradually, this “clergy/laity gap widened,” and the clergy came to be viewed as possessing “gifts and graces not available to lesser mortals” by the third century, Knapp says while quoting Frank Viola and George Barna in Pagan Christianity.
This makes sense. And I think there is more.
The New Testament is deafeningly silent about Jesus’ work as a carpenter. We just know that he was a carpenter’s son, and he probably learned the trade from his father. Likewise, even though we know Paul was a tentmaker, we don’t hear him talk much at all about tentmaking.
I’m not saying the gospel writers should have written about Jesus’ carpentry career. I’m not saying Paul should have written to churches about his tentmaking. Why should he have? What the church needed to hear was the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is what he wrote them about.
But then, maybe it was inevitable that the secular-sacred distinction would seep into Christian communities, eventually birthing what may be an unbiblical hierarchy of occupations. After all, when we hear “Jesus,” we don’t first think, “carpenter.” We instead think of teacher, savior, and Lord. When we hear “Paul”, we don’t first think, “tentmaker.” We think of apostle, missionary, and preacher. Now, is this because we are misreading the Bible, with our eyes already colored by the lens of unbiblical secular-sacred distinction? I suspect not. Rather, I think this is because Jesus and Paul talked about the gospel more than they talked about carpentry or tentmaking.
As a result, perhaps folks began according more and more authority to the clergy who talked about the gospel than to anyone doing carpentry or tentmaking. And so was born the hierarchy of occupations.