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In Matthew 2:23 we read, "And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: 'He shall be called a Nazarene.'" Since there doesn't seem to be a passage in the OT that Matthew would be quoting, how can Matthew say that this fulfills what was spoken by the prophets?

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10 Answers 10

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One explanation is that the Hebrew נֵ֫צֶר "branch" (transliterated nazer, netser or so) is related to Nazarene. Isaiah's usage of the word can be seen as prophetic, especially in Isaiah 11:1:

Isaiah 11:1. From Biblos.com.

Source / Further reading:
Miller, Fred P. Isaiah's Use of the word "Branch" or Nazarene.

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  • Thanks for the linked article. Wikipedia was pretty helpful as well.
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 22:06
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This question about the OT origin of the "fulfilment" in Matt 2:23 has puzzled. One of the best explanations is given by Ellicott:

(23) He shall be called a Nazarene.—For an account of Nazareth, see Note on Luke 1:26. Here it will be enough to deal with St. Matthew’s reference to the name as in itself the fulfilment of a prophetic thought. He does not, as before, cite the words of any one prophet by name, but says generally that what he quotes had been spoken by or through the prophets. No such words are to be found in the Old Testament. It is not likely that the Evangelist would have quoted from any apocryphal prophecy, nor is there any trace of the existence of such a prophecy. The true explanation is to be found in the impression made on his mind by the verbal coincidence of fact with prediction. He had heard men speak with scorn of “the Nazarene,” and yet the very syllables of that word had also fallen on his ears in one of the most glorious of the prophecies admitted to be Messianic—“There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Netzer (Branch) shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). So he found in the word of scorn the nomen et omen of glory. The town of Nazareth probably took its name from this meaning of the word, as pointing, like our -hurst and -holt, to the trees and shrubs for which it was conspicuous. The general reference to the prophets is explained by the fact that the same thought is expressed in Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12, though there the Hebrew word is Zemach, and not Netzer. A like train of thought is found in the language of Tertullian and other early Christian writers to their heathen opponents—“You call us Christians,” they say,” worshippers of Christos, but you pronounce the words Chrestiani and Chrestos, i.e., you give us a name which in your own language (Greek) means ‘good,’ and so you unconsciously bear testimony to the life we really lead.” This seems the only tenable explanation of the passage. It is hardly likely that the Evangelist should have referred to the scorn with which Nazareth was regarded. Any reference to the Nazarite vow is out of the question, (1) because the two words are spelt differently, both in Greek and Hebrew, and (2) because our Lord’s life represented quite a different aspect of holiness from that of which the Nazarite vow was the expression. That vow, as seen pre-eminently in the Baptist, represented the consecration which consists in separation from the world. The life of Christ manifested the higher form of consecration which is found in being in the world but not of it, mingling with the men and women who compose it, in order to purify and save.

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As stated, there is nothing in the Old Testament that suggests it was spoken by prophets that Jesus would be called a Nazarene, so I look to Mark's Gospel for the answer. The strong consensus of modern New Testament scholars is that Matthew's Gospel was substantially based on Mark, which does refer to Jesus as a Nazarene.

In the original Greek, Mark refers to Jesus the Nazarene (Ναζαρηνοῦ) four times, at 1:24; 10:47; 14:67; 16:6 - although many Bibles translate this into English as 'Jesus of Nazareth'. Elsewhere, Mark 1:9 says Jesus came from Nazareth (ἀπὸ Ναζαρὲτ) to the place of baptism and on this basis Nazareth might well have been Jesus' home town, although some might have read this reference to Nazareth merely as the starting place of his journey. The author of Matthew knew that Mark several times referred to Jesus as the Nazarene.

Matthew’s Gospel mentions the town of Nazareth several times, but the first time Nazareth is mentioned (Matthew 2:23), the author felt the need to explain that the child Jesus was taken to Nazareth so that he shall be called a Nazarene. This suggests there was not yet a tradition that Jesus came from Nazareth, although there could have been an early tradition that Jesus was a Nazarene. The author assumed that Mark was well informed in calling Jesus a Nazarene, either from some prophetic source or even on the basis that the earlier evangelist should be considered a prophet in his own right. Either way, Matthew showed that what he thought of as said by the prophets had been fulfilled.

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Are the prophets quoted in Matthew 2:23 Anna and Simeon of Jerusalem?

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee. He came to a town called Nazareth and lived there. Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. Matthew 2:22-23 New English Translation (NET Bible)

So[cm] the child’s[cn] father[co] and mother were amazed[cp] at what was said about him. Then[cq] Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “Listen carefully:[cr] This child[cs] is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising[ct] of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected.[cu] Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts[cv] of many hearts will be revealed[cw]—and a sword[cx] will pierce your own soul as well!”[cy] There was also a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old,[cz] having been married to her husband for seven years until his death. She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years.[da] She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.[db] At that moment,[dc] she came up to them[dd] and began to give thanks to God and to speak[de] about the child[df] to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.[dg] So[dh] when Joseph and Mary[di] had performed[dj] everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town[dk] of Nazareth. Luke 2:33-39 New English Translation (NET Bible)

The Triumphal Entry: And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.” Matthew 21:11 New English Translation (NET Bible)

All the people of Jerusalem, who were waiting for redemption, trusted that child, already born a prophet and resident in Nazareth, that is, Jesus the Nazarene.

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This is a great question and the general consensus among scholars seems to point to the Hebrew transliteration for branch in the passage from Isaiah. I believe this is a strong candidate for helping address this dilemma. However, I believe there is another source of prophecy that should not be discounted that helps provide additional insight into this obscure reference to the Nazarene character of Christ. The section of scripture we will be referencing initially comes from Genesis 49:26. The context of this passage of scripture surrounds the blessing/prophecy Jacob shares over his children, the twelve tribes of Israel.

Genesis 49:26 NKJV

The blessings of your father Have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers.

For completion sake and to help address any confusion with the wording, the NIV has been included below as well since that is the wording the interlinear section seems to borrow from:

Genesis 49:26 NIV

Your father's blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.

Now, let's focus on the great deal of emphasis Jacob places on the degree of blessings from his ancestors, "up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills." In other words, blessings everlasting. These will come upon Joseph who was separate(d) from his brothers. Let's look at the original word for "separated". enter image description here

Strong's concordance provides various renderings for the meaning of this word, one of which is Nazirite! The others are consecrated and devoted, respectively.

Strong's Concordance https://biblehub.com/hebrew/5139.htm

nazir: one consecrated, devoted Original Word: נָזִיר Transliteration: nazir Definition: one consecrated, devoted NAS Exhaustive Concordance Word Origin from nazar Definition one consecrated, devoted NASB Translation consecrated ones (1), Nazirite (9), Nazirites (2), one distinguished (2), untrimmed vines (2).

(As a quick aside, I believe it is also worth mentioning one of the first few references to the Messiah can be found in Jacob's blessing to Judah. So we already have the stage being set to point mysteriously to Jesus as the Shiloh to come, the obedience of the people.)

Our last source of support for this view into the prophetic nature of Jesus being a Nazirite comes from Moses' blessing to the children of Israel before his death. Moses' not only supports Jacob's blessing but further reinforces and builds upon it. The section of scripture is located Deuteronomy 33:15-16.

Deuteronomy 33:15-16

15With the best things of the ancient mountains, With the precious things of the everlasting hills, 16With the precious things of the earth and its fullness, And the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush. Let the blessing come ‘on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers.’

Already we see a strong allusion to Jacob's blessing, with respect to the everlasting hills and the head of him who was separate using the Hebrew word for nazir. But even more important than the use of nazir is the blessing Moses places upon Joseph:

"And the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush"

The favor of Him (God/Angel of the Lord, Christ) who dwelt in the bush, originally granted to Moses, has now been bestowed upon Joseph. We can see Joseph as a type of Christ, who received the ultimate favor of the Lord, Christ consecrated for Israel and the Church.

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What about Isaiah 53:1-3, that speaks of Christ being despised and rejected of people, not esteemed by his own nation; I Kings 9:11-14, where Scripture begins to place a negative view on Galilee and makes it a place where Gentiles and Jews lived among each other, as corroborated by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 9:1-2, Galilee of the nations and a people in darkness and the shadow of death; and John 1:45-46 affirms the same idea, when Nathaniel asks "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Could Matthew 2:23, coming from "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham", be referring to this connotation of Christ having been despised and rejected of people, and being a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of his people Israel (Isaiah 42:6-7, Isaiah 60:1-3, Luke 2:32, Isaiah 49:6, Acts 13:47, and Acts 26:23)? Both the Lord Jesus Christ and the region of Galilee were definitely despised of people, and even by Israelites themselves. --Calvin Holtrop

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  • Welcome to BH. I have two suggestions 1. Do always show why you think something is relevant e.g., you mention 42 generations but I am guessing why and I think your reason is not explicit. 2. When you finish a point do consider doing a double click to make new paragraph. This breaks down separate thoughts into separate boxes and makes it easier to read. I think you have some good ideas and am talking mostly about presentation.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Apr 12 at 11:51
  • C. Stroud,Thank you Commented Apr 13 at 14:51
  • 1. The 42 generations mentioned refers to the comment made by "the Grinch", below. 2. I'm using Gboard on my smartphone, so I can't "double click". Do you mean that I make a separate comment per thought? Commented Apr 13 at 15:13
  • Again, thank you, C. Stroud, for your feedback. Much appreciated. Commented Apr 13 at 15:14
  • When separate thoughts have their own paragraph it does help the reader. Every thought also must clearly relate to the question eg here, prophecy regarding Nazareth. Sometimes it is difficult for the reader to see the connection that is in the writers mind unless it is made obvious, and not just hinted at.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Apr 13 at 15:36
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Also, the genealogy of Jesus Christ has 42 generations, Christ himself being the 42nd. Matthew 1:1-17. And as to the vow of the Nazarite, Christ came eating and drinking, but John the Baptist didn't (Matthew 11:18-19, Luke 7:33-34); and Jesus himself said at the last supper on the feast of Passover on the night he was betrayed, that he would no more drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God did come (Luke 22:18). So, the Lord Jesus was not a Nazarite; so, the idea of separation from the people, as a Nazarite was separated, falls flat. Remember also that the apostle Paul wrote how Christ broke down the middle wall of partition between Israel and the Gentiles when he was crucified and died for the sins of the whole world, and how Christ's crucifixion does the work of "blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and (Christ) took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (Ephesians 2:11-17, Colossians 2:8-17, for example). As Romans 11 also attests to, how that God has not cast away his people Israel, whom he foreknew, and has grafted us Gentiles who believe into the holy root, as he promised to Abraham, that in his seed, which is Christ, all the nations of the earth would be blessed (See also Galatians 3:1-6:10). --Calvin Holtrop

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In sensus plenior:

Nazarene and Nazarite are considered puns.

Heb 10.1 tells us that the law has a shadow of the good things coming. The law has a prophecy of Christ.

The Nazarite law is a prophecy of Christ. The Nazarite wears long hair which the flesh tells us is a shame on a man:

1Co 11:14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

This is a prophetic picture of Christ bearing our shame on the cross.

THe Nazarite did not drink wine or strong drink which represent grace and law, indicating that Jesus did not partake of grace or law since he was the source of grace and law.

The Nazarite did not touch dead bodies, and Jesus was buried in an unused tomb.

Jesus told us that he was about to fulfill the prophecy when, at the last supper, he said he would not drink again until...

We must not, however, mix pictures. He was not a Nazarite. He fulfilled the prophecy hidden in the law of the Nazarite. Since he was not a Nazarite, sipping a bit of vinegar on the cross does not violate the picture. To fulfill the prophecy, he bore our shame, did not partake of grace or law, and was untainted by sin in the grave though he carried ours there.

We can say with Matthew that he would be called a Nazarene.

A witness.

When Nathaniel heard Jesus was from Nazareth, he asked if anything good could come from there, because Nazareth has the same root Nazir, meaning separate, but also meaning undressed. It is a shame to be undressed. Nathaniel knew how to use the puns.

The first answer also uses a pun which is acceptable in sensus plenior and would be a confirming set of linked verses, but puns are not permitted in the literal-historical method, though they are used occassionally with great discomfort.

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One must use puns to see the fulfillment.

The wisdom of God is riddle [1] and the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus Christ. Matthew teaches the methods to read prophecy by giving us a series of riddles :

  1. He says there are 42 generations in the genealogy, when there are only 41.
  2. He says Yeshua (God's salvation) fulfills the prophecy he would be named Immanuel (God with us) Yeshua has a pun "Ya shuwa" meaning "God humbled".
  3. He teaches Drash by overlaying the stories of Moses, Abraham, Joseph and Israel concerning Egypt, then interpreting them Christologically.

Matthew uses the reference of the Nazarene because he fully expects we would understand, by way of pun, that the prophecy is that of the law of the Nazarite as a prophetic picture of Christ.

[1] Pr 1:6 To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. [dark sayings = riddle]

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It didn't. Both authors were "in the weeds".

The NT authors went through hoops to prove that Jesus fulfilled the scripture “He will be called a Nazarene” when that’s actually a misunderstanding on their part. The prophecy, originally about Samson, says that he will be a “Nazirite”, a member of a sect called the Nazirites, not a citizen of a town called Nazareth!:

[Num 6:13 NLT] (13) "This is the ritual law for Nazirites. At the conclusion of their time of separation as Nazirites, they must each go to the entrance of the Tabernacle

[Jdg 13:5 NLT] (5) You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. He will begin to rescue Israel from the Philistines."

[1Sa 1:11 NLT] (11) And she made this vow: "O LORD of Heaven's Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the LORD, his hair will never be cut."

[Amo 2:10-12 NLT] (10) It was I who rescued you from Egypt and led you through the desert for forty years, so you could possess the land of the Amorites. (11) I chose some of your sons to be prophets and others to be Nazirites. Can you deny this, my people of Israel?" asks the LORD. (12) "But you caused the Nazirites to sin by making them drink wine, and you commanded the prophets, 'Shut up!'

That’s why Samson had long hair!

So that makes two authors who were so ignorant of the Hebrew scriptures that they went to great lengths (multiple miracles) in their fictitious stories to have Jesus hail from two different towns, and neither contrived saga actually fulfills the original “prophecy” that they felt it was necessary to fulfill! Talk about bungling the job!

Have a very merry. - the Grinch!

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  • Have you seen Ellicott's comments about this?
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 21:36
  • I have now, but am unimpressed.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 22:40

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