In Acts 24:5–18 Paul was accused of being the "leader of the sect of the Nazarenes". Some scholars assume that the term "Nazarite" which means consecrated, originated the name of the city of Nazareth (Netzer in Hebrew, which means "branch") indicating that the Messiah "would bear fruit". We also know that Nazirites were forbidden to drink wine. So, is there a connection between the words?


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This is an old "chestnut" with which many have struggled. We should also observe that the Romans did not understand the intricacies of the Jewish and Christian faiths and could not even distinguish them. To the Romans, there was no difference between Nazarite and Nazareth.

Indeed, we read that Matthew, in his gospel, used the fact that Jesus was from Nazareth as a fulfilled prophecy to demonstrate that Jesus was the promised Messiah:

Matt 2:23 - and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Now, in the strict sense of the word, Jesus was not a Nazarite (meaning one separated or one consecrated and not consuming any grape material) as defined by Num 6. So, what did Matthew mean?

Note the remarks of Ellicott on Matt 2:23 -

(23) He shall be called a Nazarene.—... 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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