"He Shall Be Called a Nazarene"

Matthew 2:23 says that Joseph, Mary, and the young child Jesus “came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Naza­rene.’” This verse has troubled many Bible students because the state­ment, “He shall be called a Nazarene” is not found anywhere in the Old Testament. What are we to make of this?

One clue is Matthew’s use of the plural “the prophets.” The gos­pel writers often quote from Old Testament prophets, but the typical wording is: “that what was spoken by the prophet [singular, often with the prophet’s name] might be ful­filled” (com­pare verse 15, a quote from Hosea; or 1:22-23, a quote from Isaiah). Matthew’s use of the plural here indicates that what is in view is not one particular prophet, but the prophets taken collectively. “He shall be called a Nazarene” is not a word-for-word quotation, but the expression of a theme found throughout the prophets’ writings.

The prophets foretold that the Messiah would come from a hum­ble, despised background (see, for example, Isaiah 49:7; 53:1-3; Zechariah 11:4f; Psalm 22:6-8). There could be no more fitting ful­fillment than Jesus’ upbringing in Nazareth of Galilee. To most Jews, Gali­leans were ignorant country bumpkins, a step behind both cultur­ally and spiritually. Even their accents were peculiar (Matthew 26:73). Galilee’s distance from Jerusalem and its nearness to Syria and Phoenicia lent it the nickname “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:16; Isaiah 9:1). Even among the cities of Galilee, Nazareth was ob­scure. The Jewish Talmud lists 63 towns of Galilee, but Nazareth rates no mention. Many would have shared the sentiments of Nathan­ael when he first heard of Jesus: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

The idea that the Messiah should come from such lowly begin­nings was one the chief priests and Pharisees would not entertain. “Search,” they said, “and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee” (John 7:52). Yet it was here, Isaiah foretold, that the light of God would first dawn (Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 4:16). In this unlikely place would begin the work of God’s Son.