Nazarene

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For the church of this name, see Church of the Nazarene

Nazarene is a title applied to Jesus (c. 4 BC - AD 30), who grew up in Nazareth, a town in Galilee, now in northern Israel.[1] The word is used to translate two related terms that appear in the Greek New Testament: Nazarēne and Nazōraios. The phrases traditionally rendered as "Jesus of Nazareth" can also be translated as "Jesus the Nazarene."[2] So the title "Nazarene" may have a religious significance, in addition to denoting a place of origin.

The Gospel of Matthew explains that the title Nazarene is derived from the prophecy, “he would be called a Nazarene.”[3] Unlike other prophecies that Matthew quotes, this one has no literal Old Testament source. It may refer to a passage in the Book of Isaiah, with "Nazarene" a Greek reading of the Hebrew ne·tser (branch), understood as a messianic title.[4]

The Greek New Testament uses the word "Nazarene" or a variation nineteen times. In the Book of Acts, the word is used to refer to a follower of Jesus, i.e. a Christian.[5] The modern words for "Christian" in Hebrew (No·tsri) and in Arabic (Naṣrānī) are derived from "Nazarene."[6]

Contents

Etymology

Nazarene is anglicized from Greek Nazarēne, a word applied to Jesus in the New Testament.[7] It is a reference not only to the city of Nazareth, but also to a Hebrew word for "branch" used in Isaiah.[8][9]

Jerome (c. 347 – 420) linked the word to a messianic prophecy by Isaiah. He claimed that it was the Hebrew reading of a word modern scholars read as ne·tzer (branch).[10] The text from Isaiah is:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.[11]
In ancient Hebrew texts, vowels were not indicated. So a wider variety of readings was possible in Jerome's time. Here branch has the metaphoric meaning "descendant" (of Jesse, father of King David). Eusebius, a 4th-century Christian polemicist, also argued that Isaiah was the source of "Nazarene." This prophecy by Isaiah was extremely popular in New Testament times and is also referred to in Romans and Revelation.[12]

Matthew

A link between Nazarene and Nazareth is found in Matthew:

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.[3]

Matthew's prophecy is often linked to one in Isaiah.[11] Although only this prophecy gives "branch" as ne·tser, there are four other messianic prophecies where the word for branch is given as tze·mach.[13] Matthew's phrase "spoken by the prophets" may suggest that these passages are being referred to collectively.[4] In contrast, the phrase "by the prophet," used a few verses above the Nazarene prophecy, refers to a specific Old Testament passage.[14]

An alternative view suggests that a passage in the Book of Judges which refers to Samson as a Nazirite is the source for Matthew's prophecy. "Nazorite" is only one letter off from "Nazorean" in Greek.[15] But the characterization of Jesus in the New Testament is not that of a typical Nazirite, and it is doubtful that Matthew intended a comparison between Jesus and the amoral Samson.[15]

Mark

The Gospel of Mark, considered the oldest gospel, consistently uses Nazarēne, while scripture written later generally uses Nazōraios. So it is possible that the form more closely tied to "Nazareth" came first. Another possibility is that Mark used this form because the more explicitly messianic form was still controversial when he was writing. Before he was baptized, Mark refers to Jesus as "from Nazareth of Galilee,"[16] whereas afterwards he is "the Nazarene,"[17] suggesting a transformation at the time of baptism. In a similar fashion, second century messianic claimant Simon bar Kokhba (Aramaic for "Simon, son of a star"), changed his name from Simon bar Kosiba to add a reference to the Star Prophecy.[18]

Variants

The numbers in parenthesis are from Strong's Concordance.

Nazarene (3479)

Nazorean (3480)

Nazareth (3478)

References

  1. "Jesus was a Galilean from Nazareth, a village near Sepphoris, one of the two major cities of Galilee". ("Jesus Christ." Encyclopædia Britannica, Chicago, 2009.)
  2. Luke 18:37
  3. 3.0 3.1 Matthew 2:23.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Miller, Fred P., Isaiah's Use of the word "Branch" or Nazarene"
  5. Acts 24:5
  6. No·tsri is written as נוֹצְרִי, while Naṣrānī is نصراني.
  7. See Mark 1:24 and Luke 4:34
  8. Ne·tser (נֵ֫צֶר, n-ts-r), pronounced nay'·tser, meaning "branch", "flower", or "offshoot" it is derived from na·tsar Strong number 5342. Brown, Michael L., Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 4, Baker Books, 2006.
  9. Stephen Goranson, "Nazarenes," Anchor Bible Dictionary, 4: 1049-1050; James F. Strange, "Nazareth," Anchor Bible Dictionary, 4: 1050-1,051
  10. "For in the place where we read and translate, There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots, in the Hebrew idiom it is written thus, There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse and a Nazarene shall grow from his root." (Jerome, Letter 47:7).
  11. 11.0 11.1 Isaiah 11:1
  12. Bauckham, Richard, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church, p. 65. See Romans 15:12 and Revelation 5:5.
  13. Jeremiah 23:5-6, Jeremiah 33:15-16, Zechariah 3:8, and Zechariah 6:12.
  14. See Matthew 2:15, which refers to Hosea 11:1.
  15. 15.0 15.1 France, R. T., The Gospel of Matthew, pp. 92-93. See Judges 13:5-7. The Septuagint gives "Nazirite" as ναζιραιον, while Matthew gives Nazorean as Ναζωραῖος.
  16. Mark 1:9
  17. Mark 1:24
  18. Bauckham, Jude, Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church, p. 64. The prophecy may be found at Numbers 24:17
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