With the plentiful devotional thoughts of the Advent season, I decided to share something more academic – but fascinating – at least for me! Perhaps for you as well?
In Matthew 2:23 we read that Jesus resided in Nazareth in order to fulfill that which had been spoken by the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene. The problem is, there is no mention of this prediction in any of the Old Testament prophetic books! Uh oh…Did Matthew make this up? Is this a mistake in the Bible? Critics of the Bible will sometimes point this out as an example of the errors or inaccuracies in the biblical text.
Yet, there is a plausible possible solution – being that this was a play on words. Because we are not familiar with ancient Hebrew and Greek, we easily miss it. There are references in the Old Testament prophetic books, using the language of horticulture, that refer to the Messiah as a shoot or branch that would come out of the stump of David. For example, see Isaiah 11:1-5, Isaiah 4:2, and Jeremiah 33:15. Matthew’s appeal to “the prophets” could be a broad reference to the Messiah being descended from David with a play on the word netzer (branch) from Isaiah 11:1. Did you know the Hebrew language has no vowels? It doesn’t! Only consonants. Paul Barnett further explains this issue of Matthew 2:23:
The Hebrew consonants nzr, “branch”, correspond to the Greek nzr in the word Nazoraios. Hebrew z would become z in Greek. Matthew was bilingual and not ignorant of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus’ place of residence, Nazaret, made him a Nazoraios. The consonants of Nazoraios, nzr, are to Matthew’s ear the same as those of Hebrew nzr, “branch”, which is in fact a Messianic title in Isaiah 11:1. (Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity by Paul Barnett. IVP Academic, 1999.)
By saying that Jesus resided in Nazareth and would be called a Nazarene in order to fulfill the prophets, it is like Matthew was saying that Jesus was the “branchman” from “branchtown” in reference to the prophecy from Isaiah 11:1. This would line up with the Davidic tenor of Matthew as in Matthew 1:5-6, 17, 20. In addition, there are other references to this in the New Testament – such as Revelation 22:16 which refers to Jesus as the “root and offspring of David.” To the original audience, this play on words or linguistic connection would have been more apparent.
Fascinating, isn’t it? Here is a link to an article that also discusses this issue: Does anything good come from Nazareth? in case you’d like to read more about it.
Laura, thanks thanks thanks! I love it when I learn a new play on words in the Bible!