"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.