Why does the Bible prophecy that Jesus will be a Nazarene?

Q. Why does the Bible prophesy that Jesus will be a Nazarene?

The first thing I need to say in response to your question is that the Bible actually did not prophesy that Jesus would be a Nazarene. Not in so many words, at least.

Matthew tells us in his gospel that after Jesus and his parents returned from Egypt, they settled in Galilee. Matthew then notes, “There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazarene.'” However, there is no such statement anywhere in any of the prophetical books.

So what’s going on here? This is actually an indirect quotation, not a direct one. Many English translations show that by punctuating Matthew’s statement this way: “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.”

It seems that Matthew, in his appeal to the prophets, is actually summarizing their many statements that the servant of God would be “despised and rejected.” It appears that the term “Nazarene” had become a geographic term of derision. We may compare it to the term “Okie” that people in the United States used during the Dust Bowl years. It described people from Oklahoma and nearby areas affected by prolonged drought who migrated West in search of work and food. The word ceased to mean “someone from Oklahoma” and came to mean something closer to “gypsy.” Similarly, “Nazarene” at the time of Jesus meant more than “someone from Nazareth.” It was a term of derision, as we see in Nathanael’s question upon hearing about Jesus, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?

So the Bible did prophesy, in general terms at least, that Jesus would be a “Nazarene” in the sense of someone people looked down on and called by a derisive name. Your question was why the Bible prophesied that, and this was one of many ways in which the prophets indicated that the Messiah would first suffer and only then enter into his glory. Jesus himself said that that was the message of all that the prophets had spoken.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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