We know that Jesus was from Galilee in a region called Nazareth. The region’s largest city is Nazareth. People from that region were often dubbed Nazarenes. Geographic identifiers in the Bible are pretty common. Saul of Tarsus is one. Mary Magdalene might have been so named because she was likely from the town of Magdala. But did you know there might also be a prophecy associated with the name Nazarene? Faithlife Study Bible has more.
Within the four gospels and the book of Acts, the term “Nazarene” (translated from the Greek nazōraiōn or nazōraios) appears about 19 times. It occurs once in an allusion to a prophecy (Matt 2:23) and is applied once to the newly formed group of Christians (Acts 24: 5). All 17 remaining instances of “Nazarene” apply directly to Jesus (Matt 26:71; Mark 1:24; 10:47; 14:67; 16:6; Luke 4:34; 18:37; 24:19; John 18:5, 7; 19:19; Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 6:14; 22:8; 26:9).
The prophecy quotation from Matthew 2:23 comes in the context of Joseph receiving a dream which tells him to leave Egypt and go to Israel. The passage recounts that in response to the dream, Joseph settles his family in a town called Nazareth (Matt 2:19–23). The Gospel of Matthew connects this geographical movement fulfilled what was spoken by the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.” However, an Old Testament text making any statement similar to this does not exist—meaning that another explanation is required.
A few plausible options are available to resolve this issue. The author of the Gospel of Matthew may have been employing a pun or wordplay by associating the Hebrew word for “branch” (netser) in Isaiah 11:1 with the word designating a person as a resident of Nazareth (a “Nazarene”; nazōraios in Greek). The reference to “branch” would have been significant because it symbolized Jesus as a king from the lineage of David.
A second more plausible explanation is that the author may have been alluding to several statements made by a variety of Old Testament texts that focus on the obscurity and humility of the Messiah (e.g., Psa 22:6–8; 69:8, 20–21; Isa 49:7; 53:2–3; 7–8). The term Nazarene had a derogatory connotation, referring to someone from an obscure or insignificant town (John 1:45–47). During Jesus’ day, the town of Nazareth was insignificant from the perspective of Jerusalem (John 7:41–42, 52).
Much later, the term Nazarene appears in the account of the charges leveled against the Apostle Paul. He was facing trial for stirring up dissension, supposedly desecrating the temple, and serving as the ringleader of the “sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:1–5). Jewish Christians were probably given the label because of their connection with Jesus of Nazareth. It likely served as a pejorative term when applied to the Christian community.
DAVID SEAL, Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
There is always more to study with the Bible. We know what we know until there is more to know!