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.
Matthew 2:23 (KJV)
Nazareth – So Yeshua fulfilled a prophecy that He would be called a Nazarene by moving to the city of Nazareth. Makes sense, right? Pretty straightforward. But there’s just one problem. There’s no such prophecy that the Messiah would come from Nazareth.
Go ahead, open up a Bible website, do a quick search for “Nazarene” or “Nazareth”. You’ll see what I’m talking about.
Have you ever done any research on this? How can Matthew make this claim when there’s obviously no proof for it?
Well for one thing, it’s safe to say that there’s no prophecy of this – this isn’t a prophecy fulfilled. Rather, the allusion is that one prophet (or several) mentioned Yeshua would be a Nazarene. One issue we have is that the word “Nazareth” is only in Greek and there’s difficulty figuring out which Hebrew word from which it might be transliterated. So let’s look at a few theories.
Many scholars attest that the word “Nazareth” (Nazara in Greek) stems from one of the Hebrew verbs; nazar which means to separate oneself, or netser which means a branch or offshoot. The former is a bit more difficult to justify, but the latter seems like it might tie in with the verse from Isaiah.
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 (KJV)
The important word being “Branch” which is netser in Hebrew. Certainly this might work. But another problem arises. Yeshua didn’t come from (or live in) the branch (Nazareth) – He IS the branch.
In light of this drawback there arises another etymological explanation. Abarim Publications attests that the word Nazareth (Nazara) comes from the Niphal participle of the Hebrew word zara, meaning “to scatter” or “to sow”. They justify this through some lengthy study into the different definitions and texts with which it was used. Their conclusion states that zara was applied to the sect of Judaism (Nazarenes) that acquired differences from surrounding cultures – these sects were scattered abroad. It’s well known that Hellenism was already infecting Judaism at this time and there were sects that opposed this teaching while others adopted it completely. Yeshua seems to be of the belief that one can adopt variances as long as the foundation is laid completely and solidified from which to build. He didn’t speak against the Greeks, but rather attributed to them their due. This aligns with Paul’s teaching to examine everything and hold fast that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). And so, quite possibly, we have an etymology that explains Yeshua arising from a sect of Judaism that examined and drew from all cultures that which was good, as long as everything aligned with Torah. Maybe this is what Matthew alluded to in his letter. Maybe Matthew isn’t referring to Isaiah 11:1, but rather to Ezekiel 36:9:
For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn unto you, and ye shall be tilled and sown:
While these theories can’t be ascertained in certainty regarding this verse, one thing is for sure. Scripture, from the perspective of a Hebrew, is much more fluid than we might imagine. The New Testament authors changed just about every verse they quoted from the Old Testament to support their arguments. Scripture isn’t perfect in the way we Greek-thinkers might expect it to be. Concepts don’t fit smoothly into their little boxes of identification and definition. Instead of certainty, we need to see Scripture as reliable. It is fluid and life changing. And things don’t always line up perfectly which is okay in the Hebrew mindset.