Os Guinness makes an intriguing observation in The Call. He writes that Justin Martyr “notes that the plows made by Joseph and Jesus were still being used widely in his day” (p. 202). Chuck Colson taped a Breakpoint recording around this point and many preachers have mentioned it in sermons. I have myself, but always with the disclaimer that this may be nothing more than an urban legend. Justin’s alleged quote is tantalizing because it demonstrates the importance of our work and doing it well. If Jesus made plows that were still being used a hundred years later, then we should also do our work for the glory of God.
The problem is, it probably isn’t true. For all of his remarkable skill, Guinness has the inexcusable habit of not showing his sources. Where did Justin say this? I did a Google search and found a Jewish website that made Guinness’ point and gave a reference for it, Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 88. I excitedly turned there only to be disappointed. Here is what Justin actually writes: “He was deemed a carpenter (for He was in the habit of working as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes; by which He taught the symbols of righteousness and an active life”). There is nothing here about the durability of Jesus’ plows, only that he made them as part of an “active life.”
I skimmed the entire Dialogue with Trypho plus the rest of Justin’s writings in volume 1 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers and came up empty. It’s possible that I missed it but it’s more likely that someone misread chapter 88 and now it’s being spread around by people who never bothered to check. Unless someone can find where Justin actually said that Jesus’ plows were still being used in his day, we should be honest enough to not repeat it. And from now on, let’s check the primary source before repeating what somebody else said about it.