Question Box: "He shall be called a Nazarene"

Question or Topic Scripture
"He shall be called a Nazarene" Matthew 2:23

Matthew 2:23 reads: "And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene." I am unable to find an Old Testament reference to support this claim. Can you help?

Answer


The most direct answer to your question is no. There does not appear to be a direct OT quotation that supports the implication made in Matthew's writing.

The critics have long used this verse as an example to support their contention that the Bible was not inspired and that it contains contradictions. Our challenge is to find a way to effectively explain this verse so that those who may find it to be a stumbling block will have respect for our own faith in the inspired Word.

Proposed Solutions

There have been several approaches to this problem by Bible expositors. A brief summary of these proposed solutions follows:

1. The verse has reference to the law of the Nazarite: One of the two probable roots for the word Nazareth (the city where Jesus lived), is the Hebrew word "naziyr" which means separate, consecrated as prince, a Nazarite (an unpruned vine). This connection in the words is used to suggest that, the verse refers to Jesus as the anti-typical Nazarite. We know that Jesus did not live by the literal codes of the Nazarite. If he was intended to fulfill the type, it was through his spiritual life. He did separate himself completely from sin and lived his entire life in dedication to the will of God.

2. The verse is not referring to the OT prophesies: This claim is based on the evidence that Jesus was several times in the NT period called a "Nazarene". He was commonly referred to as "Jesus of Nazareth". The idea is that Jesus was providentially brought up in the city of Nazareth so that he could be identified with it in future inspired writings.

3. Being a citizen of Nazareth enabled the fulfillment of those OT prophesies that predicted he would be despised and rejected of men: The inhabitants of Nazareth were apparently despised by the Jews in general. Nathaniel once said of Jesus: "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?"

4. The other possible root word for Nazareth is branch: The word Nazareth may be based on the Hebrew "netser" (nay'?tser; from H5341) in the sense of greenness as a striking color; a shoot: fig. a descendant (branch). If this is true, a connection to OT prophecy is established. For example, Isaiah tells us: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots" (Isaiah 11:1).

We note that the meanings of the words in this verse speak of a small stick coming out of the cut down stump of Jesse. (The Kingdom of Judah had been overturned. It was to be no more until he comes whose right it is.)

Try the Spirits?

As we attempt to sort through these suggestions, we are inclined to set aside solution number two. This idea appears very weak, and it would be the most difficult to prove. The other probable solutions are based on better principles of reasoning. It is interesting that all three of these have certain common characteristics. First, none of them can be independently proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Second, they are each linked to the idea of being socially despised:

1. The Nazarites exposed themselves to ridicule during their vows. Their long hair was like an "unpruned vine". Their abstinence and strict separation invited scorn.

2. The inhabitants of Nazareth, were social outcasts from the mainstream of Jewish society. This fact is fairly well documented.

3. The "branch" is also linked to this same concept of social rejection. We read in Isaiah 53:2-3: "For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not."

Jesus of Nazareth

The ways of providence were clearly at work in the life of Jesus. It was in Nazareth that Mary received the message from the angel telling her that she would be with child by the power of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:26). It was in this city that the rumors started, that Mary was pregnant, and that she was carrying an illegitimate child. The word spread as such gossip does, and even thirty years later, the Jews still sought to utilize this rumor to attack Jesus. They bragged that unlike Jesus, they were not born of fornication (see John 8:41).

It was in Nazareth that Joseph and Mary returned to live. This would allow Jesus to grow up in a locality that would adversely affect his social status when he began his ministry. The rejection of Jesus by this society was made complete when the citizens of Nazareth (who were offended by his preaching in the synagogue) "rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong" (Luke 4:16-29). How ironic it was that this people (who were themselves thought of as social misfits) would reject this man from their society.

Conclusions?

Matthew states that: "He shall be called a Nazarene" or literally, an inhabitant of Nazareth. The foundation meanings of the word ANazareth@ may link Jesus to those prophesies that he would be a branch, or a root out of dry ground. Isaiah 53 links this tender plant as one that would be despised and rejected of men.

Both of the Hebrew words that are thought to have influenced the name of Nazareth ("naziyr" and "netser") have associated meanings as shown above. Curiously, Nazareth is also said to have been situated in a warm valley where the wild flowers would shoot forth abundantly early in the spring. This particular location of Nazareth may support the idea that the Hebrew word "netser" (branch) was actually the intended root meaning.

Nazareth, consistent with her social standing, would certainly be considered as "dry ground". Their society apparently was typical of the decadent spiritual state of Jewry during the first century. Jesus was a green shoot that would providentially spring from this dry ground. To fulfill the prophesy in Isaiah 53, Jesus was destined to be rejected by men. Nazareth first cast him out and then his association with that city and their reputation would follow him throughout his ministry. He was despised and rejected by all men, at least partly because he was branded as a Nazarene.

Summary

This is a very difficult passage and one that we can only attempt to understand or begin to explain. We have tried to provide our readers with some of the interesting possibilities, and would hope that if anyone is able to shed further light on the subject, they would share their findings with us all.

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