Monday, July 16, 2012

What Was Matthew Citing When He Said That Jesus Would Be Called A Nazarene? - Matthew 2:23 Bible Commentary

Matthew 2 is filled with Old Testament prophecies, some of which are hard to understand. But the last one Matthew cites is the hardest:
And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23)
It's hard to interpret this verse because the words of the prophecy, that "he would be called a Nazarene," do not appear in the Old Testament.

There are three main views on what Matthew is quoting: the Judges 13 view, the Isaiah 11 view, and the general summation view. Below I have summarized each view and explained why I believe the general summation view is correct.

The Judges 13 View

Judges 13 discusses the encounter that Monoah, Samson's mother, had with the angel of God. In Judges 13:5, the angel tells Monoah about the son she will give birth to: "No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb" (Judges 13:5).

This view's strength is that the wording of Judges 13:5 is similar to the prophecy Matthew cites. But that's all there is going for this view. The words in Judges 13:5 might be similar, but it just doesn't make sense why Matthew would cite this passage.

Matthew does not have the Nazarite lifestyle in view in citing this prophecy. Matthew has in mind a physical location. Just as Matthew had a physical location in mind for the previous prophecies in Matthew 2, so it is logical to to assume his citation in Matthew 2:23 follows the same pattern.

The Isaiah 11 View

This view seeks to find Matthew's citation in Isaiah 11:1, which states: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit". The word "branch" in this verse has the same meaning as "Nazarine". Thus some think Matthew is referring to Isaiah 11:1.

Although I find this view more satisfying than the Judges 13 view, it shares the same weakness in that it doesn't make sense in the context of Matthew 2:23. Matthew says that Jesus was called a Nazarene because he lived in Nazareth. Thus any attempt to explain why Matthew brings up that Jesus is called a Nazarene must deal with the significance of the town of Nazareth in Jesus' lifetime.

So what, then, was significant about the town of Nazareth in Jesus' lifetime?

The General Summation View

In Scripture, Nazareth (located in Galilee) is regarded as a lowly, insignificant place. It is the place of which someone said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?". The Pharisees also revealed their disregard for the region when they said, "Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee" (John 1:46, 7:52).

In saying that Jesus was a Nazarene, Matthew is letting us know that Jesus was raised in a place suitable for One who was prophesied to be without majesty, beauty, or esteem (Isaiah 53:2-3).

The general summation view, then, sees the citation in Matthew 2:23 as a general summary of what is in the books of the Old Testament prophets. This also provides an explanation for why Matthew used the plural form of "prophet" in his citation: "so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene".

Good arguments can be made for all three of these views. But when it comes down to it, I think the arguments for the general summation view are the strongest. It both takes into account Matthew's plural use of "prophet" and also follows the pattern of the other citations in the chapter (Matthew 2:5-6,15,17-18).

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