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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31 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.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

      • that is correct, it comes from the word netser, that’s the importance of going back to Hebrews roots, away from greek and babilonic interpretations

    • 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.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

      • Many thanks for the response. I think Davidsons point was that there was no contemporaneous reference to a ‘Nazareth’ outside of the Gospels themselves. I take your point about creating an imaginary ‘Nazareth’ I think Davidson wanted to create a link for Jesus to the Nazoreans.

  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.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  8. In this connection, if Matthew equates the word “Nazarene” to “Netze”, is there a relationship therefore when they called Yeshuas’ followers as “Nazarenes” or the present day Arabic “Nasraya” and not Christians as the Gentiles called themselves first in Thessalonians or Thessalonika as we Catholics knows it today?

    • Thanks, Alvin. So the Gentile followers of Jesus don’t call themselves “Christians” — it’s only those outside the Jesus movement who call them Christians (cf. Acts 26:28; 1 Pet 4:16 — also, they were called Christians first in Syrian Antioch, see Acts 11:26). There is a direct connection between the “Nazarene” movement and Nazareth, as well as modern iterations of that word with reference to Jesus. For instance, in traditional Judaism, Jesus is often called “haNotzri” (i.e., the Nazarene). Thanks again for your good question.

  9. I lestned thst in Jahshua’s time Naxaretht was a fomous area for carpenters due to the Woods ( bush) surroimding the city, it then vlearly limks wih Isaiah’s “brance”

  10. Other scholars expounded on the remainder of David’s lineage moving up into the hills north of Jerusalem following the Maccabean wars because of the corrupt priesthood. For all intent, David’s lineage was dead, but like a netzer, it would flourish in Messiah, Yeshua. Was so glad to see this confirmed!

  11. Isaiah’s “branch”- נצר netser; Nazareth- נָצְרַת, Natzrat. The linguistic connection could be purely Hebraic, and since you say it wasn’t until the mid 2nd cen we have any extra-biblical mention of the town the Greek Ναζαρέτ Natsaret could have followed as simply the Greek form of a Hebrew word?

  12. Thank you very much for this article, Dr. Schaser.

    Could you respond to Linda Storm’s comment above?

    I, too, have heard this teaching about the origins of the village, that it was settled by families of Davidic lineage and was purposely named by them in allusion to Isaiah and Daniel.

    • Thanks, Neville. The idea to which you and Linda are referring was popularized by a Benedictine monk named Bargil Pixner. The view is one among several of how Nazareth might have been settled and named. Since there is too little evidence one way or the other, and there’s nothing explicit in ancient literature or archaeological data to prove Pixner’s theory, I wouldn’t be dogmatic about it.

  13. As for me, this insight is crystal clear. IBC, keep posting original versions as they’ve really cleared up a lot of my limited knowledge on biblical scriptures. Dr. Nicholas and team, great job.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

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