According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus “went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: ‘He will be called a Nazarene’” (Matt 2:23). Here’s the problem: nowhere do the Prophets say that the Messiah (or anyone else) “will be called a Nazarene” – the statement simply does not appear in Israel’s Scriptures. Is Matthew mistaken? Are Gospel readers being misled? Or can we offer a better answer to this apparent inconsistency?

Far from being biblically ignorant or willfully deceptive, Matthew refers to Jesus as a “Nazarene” in order to make a Greek allusion to a Hebrew word found in the Prophets. Specifically, Isaiah speaks of a royal figure emerging from David’s line: “A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him” (Isa 11:1-2). The word that Isaiah uses for “branch” is נצר (netser) – an agricultural metaphor that, by Matthew’s day, was understood as a reference to the coming Messiah (cf. Dead Sea Scrolls 4Q161; 4Q285).

The words “Nazareth” and “Nazarene” are related phonetically – that is, they have a similar sound – to Isaiah’s term for “branch” (נצרnetser). In the Greek of the First Gospel, “Nazareth” (Ναζαρέτ) is pronounced Natsaret. Matthew makes a wordplay between “Nazareth” (natsaret) and “netser” in order to equate Jesus the “Nazarene” with Isaiah’s messianic “branch.” By living in Nazareth, Jesus spends his formative years in what we might call the “Netserhood,” or “Branchville”! Thus, while the phrase “he shall be called a Nazarene” does not appear explicitly in Israel’s Scriptures, Matthew refers to Jesus’ hometown in order to make an ingeniously inter-linguistic connection between his Messiah and the “branch” of Isaiah’s prophecy.

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34 COMMENTS

  1. I would love to take your courses on the Bible but I can’t afford it right now. The word of God is precious to me and Jesus Christ the anointed one is a big part of my life. I do know that his Hebrew name is YESHUA.
  2. Jesus was known as the Nazarene due to He and His mother Mary and Joseph lived there when they moved of Egypt.
    Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and escaped the killing young boys under two years old under orders of King Herod1 to Egypt. The townspeople didn’t know that Jesus was born Bethlehem and assumed he was born in Nazareth.
  3. In light of the similarity in the roots of words in Hebrew and the relationship of Aramaic to Hebrew, is it not possible that Matthew intended "Nazarite", one who is set apart, like Sampson?
    • Thanks for your question, Deacon. The notion of the Nazarite could be in the background here, yes. The only issue is that Jesus is never described as a Nazarite and he never takes a Nazarite vow (see Numbers 6), so a reference to Isaiah 11:1 is more likely. However, this does not preclude the idea that, as Messiah, Jesus is "set apart" like a Nazarite.

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    • But, Deaton, which Tanakh prophecy says "he will be called a nazarite" ? Even if the intended word reference is "nazarite", then it doesn't seem to put Matthew in any better position.
  4. Dear sirs, I respectfully decline your offer at this time. I do feel that contradicting- KJV or any other reliable translations, will serve bring salvation nor a prepared people for The glorious King's return. Im just not convinced that the knowledge of the "original Judeo" or Hebrew , Aramaic, etc will make for anything but confusion- for I couldn't nor desire to teach it nor preach it on a local level. I'm sure Jewish scholars, will not be All that enters heaven.lol So, my question would be this: in your findings/translations, is there less or untruths to God's redemptive plan?
    • Could you please rephrase your question, Sherrie? I'm not following it. More, I don't see how the above article "contradicts" the KJV or any other English translation. All it does is show what the underlying Hebrew would have been in Matthew's wordplay.
  5. Dear brother I am from Tamil nadu (India) your studies is very good and wonderful I am poor family I was studies biblical Hebrew three years course I want more studies in biblical Hebrew please send your course heratfully thanks.evangelist. S.Johnkathiravan
  6. Thanks for this. Perhaps you could answer a further question. In His book 'The Gospel of Jesus' John Davidson states that not only is Nazareth not mentioned in the Old Testament, Jewish Scriptures, but that the first recorded mention of a place called Nazareth is around 400 C.E and that contemporary historians, such as Josephus, never mention it either. He postulates that there may not have been a place called Nazareth in the time of Jesus and the more likely explanation is that he belonged to the sect called 'Nazarenes.' Or are we strayinging into Gnosticism here?
    • Thanks for your question, Stephen. I haven't read Davidson's book, but the assertion that the first recorded instance of "Nazareth" dates to 400 CE is simply untrue. Obviously, "Nazareth" appears in all of the first-century Gospels, and we have extrabiblical references to Nazareth from Sextus Julius Africanus and Origen, whose writings date to the early 200's CE. We also have a non-Christian reference to Nazareth in an inscription found in a synagogue in Caesarea Maritima that dates to around 300 CE. There was certainly a place called Nazareth in Jesus' day -- the Gospel writers wouldn't belabor the fact that Jesus was from Nazareth if it were not a real place. For the purposes of the Gospel writers, it would have been far more convenient had Jesus grown up in Bethlehem (the city of David), so if they wanted to lie about Jesus' upbringing they wouldn't have created an imaginary "Nazareth" -- they simply would have stated that he remained in Bethlehem.

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  7. The name Nazareth in the Bible is a bit of an enigma, unless.
    Are previous traces of Nazareth found, (except in the Gospels), than the refer to the priestly family of Hapizzez, which was living in the village after the Bar Kokhba revolt AD 132-135?
    = = = =
    You wrote:
    »What is your excuse for not getting into the Holy Scriptures of Israel as deep as you really should?«
    My excuses are:
    I seriously doubt it is possible for me, both to learn, understand and interpret the Biblical Hebrew texts to modern danish, to my own satisfaction within a reasonable periode.
    • To my knowledge, we don't have references to Nazareth that date to before the Bar Kokhba revolt (other than in the Gospels). I actually didn't write the bit to which you're referring -- it's just a promotional tag that we put at the end of all our articles so that people who would like to sign up for classes can do so by clicking on the link.
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