The Nazarenes originated as a sect of first-century Judaism. The first use of the term "sect of the Nazarenes" is in the Book of Acts in the New Testament, where Paul is accused of being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes ("πρωτοστάτην τε τῆς τῶν Ναζωραίων αἱρέσεως"). At that time, the term simply designated followers of Jesus of Nazareth, but in the fourth century the term was used for a sect of followers of Jesus who were closer to Judaism than the majority Christians. They are described by Epiphanius of Salamis, and are mentioned later by Jerome and Augustine of Hippo. These writers made a distinction between the Nazarenes of their time and the "Nazarenes" mentioned in Acts 24:5, where Paul the Apostle is accused before Felix at Caesarea (the capital of Roman Judaea) by Tertullus.
The title "Nazarene" is first found in the Greek texts of the New Testament as an adjective, nazarenos, (Ναζαρηνός) used as an adjectival form of the phrase apo Nazaret "from Nazareth." In the New Testament, the form Nazoraios or Nazaraios (Ναζωραίος, Ναζαραίος) is more common than Nazarenos.
The Sect of the Nazarenes (1st century)
The name Nazaraios is the standard Greek spelling in the New Testament for a man from Nazareth; the plural Nazaraioi means "men from Nazareth" (see Nazarene (title)). The title Nazarenes, "men from Nazareth," is first applied to the Christians by Tertullus (Acts 24:5), though Herod Agrippa II (Acts 26:28) uses the term "Christians" which had first been used at Antioch (Acts 11:26). The name used by Tertullus survives into Rabbinic and modern Hebrew as notzrim (נוצרים) a standard Hebrew term for "Christian", and also into the Quran and modern Arabic as nasara (plural of nasrani "Christians").
Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220, Against Marcion, 4:8) records that the Jews called Christians "Nazarenes" from Jesus being a man of Nazareth, though he also makes the connection with Nazarites in Lamentations 4:7. Jerome too records that "Nazarenes" was employed of Christians in the synagogues. Eusebius, around 311 AD, records that the name "Nazarenes" had formerly been used of Christians. The use relating to a specific "sect" of Christians does not occur until Epiphanius. According to Ehrhardt, just as Antioch coined the term Christians, so Jerusalem coined the term Nazarenes, from Jesus of Nazareth.
The Nazarenes (4th century)
According to Epiphanius in his Panarion, the 4th-century Nazarenes (Ναζωραιοι) were originally Jewish converts of the Apostles who fled Jerusalem because of Jesus' prophecy of its coming siege (during the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 AD). They fled to Pella, Peraea (northeast of Jerusalem), and eventually spread outwards to Beroea and Basanitis, where they permanently settled (Panarion 29.3.3).
The Nazarenes were similar to the Ebionites, in that they considered themselves Jews, maintained an adherence to the Law of Moses, and used only the Aramaic Gospel of the Hebrews, rejecting all the Canonical gospels. However, unlike half of the Ebionites, they accepted the Virgin Birth.
As late as the eleventh century, Cardinal Humbert of Mourmoutiers still referred to the Nazarene sect as a Sabbath-keeping Christian body existing at that time. Modern scholars believe it is the Pasagini or Pasagians who are referenced by Cardinal Humbert, suggesting the Nazarene sect existed well into the eleventh century and beyond (the Catholic writings of Bonacursus entitled "Against the Heretics"). It is believed that Gregorius of Bergamo, about 1250 CE, also wrote concerning the Nazarenes as the Pasagians.
Gospel of the Nazarenes
Patristic references to "Nazarenes"
In the 4th century, Jerome also refers to Nazarenes as those "who accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law." In his Epistle 79, to Augustine, he said:
What shall I say of the Ebionites who pretend to be Christians? To-day there still exists among the Jews in all the synagogues of the East a heresy which is called that of the Minæans, and which is still condemned by the Pharisees; [its followers] are ordinarily called 'Nasarenes'; they believe that Christ, the son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, and they hold him to be the one who suffered under Pontius Pilate and ascended to heaven, and in whom we also believe. But while they pretend to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither.
Jerome viewed a distinction between Nazarenes and Ebionites, a different Jewish sect, but does not comment on whether Nazarene Jews considered themselves to be "Christian" or not or how they viewed themselves as fitting into the descriptions he uses. He clearly equates them with Filaster's Nazarei. His criticism of the Nazarenes is noticeably more direct and critical than that of Epiphanius.
The following creed is from a church at Constantinople at the same period, and condemns practices of the Nazarenes:
I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads & sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and Synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with the Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable. And may I be anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down with Satan and the devils."
"Nazarenes" are referenced past the fourth century AD as well. Jacobus de Voragine (1230–98) described James as a "Nazarene" in The Golden Legend, vol 7. Thomas Aquinas (1225–74) quotes Augustine of Hippo, who was given an apocryphal book called Hieremias by a "Hebrew of the Nazarene Sect", in Catena Aurea — Gospel of Matthew, chapter 27. So this terminology seems to have remained at least through the 13th century in European discussions.
The beliefs of the Nazarene sect or sects are described through various church fathers and heresiologists.
- in Jesus as Messiah:
The Nazarenes... accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law.—Jerome, On. Is. 8:14
- in the Virgin Birth:
—Jerome, Letter 75 Jerome to Augustine
- in Jesus as the Son of God:
Matthew, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Cæsarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Beroea, a city of Syria, who use it. In this it is to be noted that wherever the Evangelist, whether on his own account or in the person of our Lord the Saviour quotes the testimony of the Old Testament he does not follow the authority of the translators of the Septuagint but the Hebrew. Wherefore these two forms exist “Out of Egypt have I called my son,” and “for he shall be called a Nazarene.”—Jerome, Lives of Illustrius Men Ch.3
They have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and in the Jewish fashion – except for their belief in Christ, if you please! For they acknowledge both the resurrection of the dead and the divine creation of all things, and declare that God is one, and that his Son is Jesus Christ.—Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 29.7.2
- Adhering to circumcision and the Law of Moses:
They disagree with Jews because they have come to faith in Christ; but since they are still fettered by the Law – circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest – they are not in accord with the Christians.—Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 29.7.4
- Use of Old Testament and New Testament:
They use not only the New Testament but the Old Testament as well, as the Jews do.—Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 29.7.2
- Use of Hebrew and Aramaic New Testament source texts:
They have the Gospel according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. For it is clear that they still preserve this, in the Hebrew alphabet, as it was originally written.—Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 29.9.4
And he [Heggesippus the Nazarene] quotes some passages from the Gospel according to the Hebrews and from the Syriac [the Aramaic], and some particulars from the Hebrew tongue, showing that he was a convert from the Hebrews, and he mentions other matters as taken from the oral tradition of the Jews.—Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 4.22
Those few who are initiated into the secrets of the anti-Christian Mandaean religion are called Naṣuraiia or Nasoraeans. The Mandaeans claim to have fled Jerusalem before its fall (70 AD) due to persecution by the Jews. The word Naṣuraiia in this case may come from the root n-ṣ-r meaning to keep, since they were keepers of the law. Epiphanius mentions a group called Nasaraeans (Νασαραίοι, Part 19 of the Panarion), distinguished from the "Nazoraioi" (Part 29). The former (the Nasaraeans) may be the same as the Mandaeans of today. Epiphanius says (29:6) that they existed before Christ. This is questioned by some, but others accept the pre-Christian origin of this group.
Modern "Nazarene" churches
A number of modern churches use the word "Nazarene" or variants in their name or beliefs:
- The Apostolic Christian Church (Nazarene), originating in the Swiss Nazarene Baptist movement;
- The Church of the Nazarene, a Christian (Protestant) denomination that was born out of the Holiness Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries;
- Acts 24:5 "For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes."
- David C. Sim The Gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism 1998 p182 "The Nazarenes are first mentioned by Epiphanius who records that they upheld the Torah, including the practice of circumcision and sabbath observance (Panarion 29:5.4; 7:2, 5; 8:1-7), read the Hebrew scriptures in the original Hebrew"
- Petri Luomanen "Nazarenes" in A companion to second-century Christian "heretics" pp279
- Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley - Page 670 The term Ebionites occurs in Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius but none of them make any mention of Nazarenes ; and yet it cannot be denied, that they must have been even more considerable in the time of these writers,
- Edward Hare The principal doctrines of Christianity defended 1837 p318 "The Nazarenes of ecclesiastical history adhered to the law of their fathers ; whereas when Tertullus accused Paul as "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes," he accused him as one who despised the law, and " had gone about to the temple," Acts xxiv, 5, 6. "
- Frank Ely Gaebelein, James Dixon Douglas The Expositor's Bible commentary: with the New International Version 1984 "Matthew certainly used Nazoraios as an adjectival form of apo Nazaret ("from Nazareth" or "Nazarene"), even though the more acceptable adjective is Nazarenos (cf. Bonnard, Brown, Albright and Mann, Soares Prabhu)."
- "G3480", Lexicon, Strong.
- Teppler, Yaakov Y; Weingarten, Susan (2007), Birkat haMinim: Jews and Christians in conflict in the ancient world, p. 52,
This presumption is strengthened by the statement of Tertullian: The Christ of the Creator had to be called a Nazarene... Unde et ipso nomine nos ludaei Nazarenos appellant per eum. Nam et sumus iie auibus scriptum est: Nazaraei....
- Schnelle, Udo (1987), Antidoketische Christologie im Johannesevangelium, p. 41,
usquehodiein synagogis suis sub nomine Nazarenorum blasphemant populum christianum... 191; In Esaiam 5,18–19: ...in blasphemiis et ter per singulos dies in omnibus synagogis sub nomine Nazarenorum anathematizent uocabulum Christianum...
- Bulletin, School of Oriental Studies, 2002.
- Epiphanius Panarion 29
- Priestley, Dr Joseph, Memoirs,
The term Ebionites occurs in Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius but none of them make any mention of Nazarenes
- Ehrhardt, Arnold, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 114,
(John 1 :46) is an apt commentary upon this development, for there seems to be no evidence to support the thesis of a... We only mention it because it has given rise to all sorts of speculations amongst the more imaginative students of Christian origins
- Metzger, Bruce Manning (1977), The early versions of the New Testament, p. 86,
Peshitta Matt, and Luke... nasraya, 'of Nazareth'
- Jennings, William (1926), Lexicon to the Syriac New Testament, p. 143
- Smith, Robert Payne (1903), Compendious Syriac Dictionary, p. 349.
- Panarion 29.5.6
- Krauss, Samuel. "Nazarenes". Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
- Hegg, Tim (2007). "The Virgin Birth – An Inquiry into the Biblical Doctrine" (PDF). TorahResource. Retrieved 2007-08-13.
- Strong (1874), Cyclopedia I, New York, p. 660.
- "Jewish Encyclopedia".
- Filaster (ca. 397 AD) was a bishop who wrote the "Book of Diverse Heresies" (lived about the time of Epiphanius). Pritz, Ray, Nazarene Jewish Christianity: from the end of the New Testament period until its disappearance in the fourth century, p. 73 ft.12,
The sect of Filaster (Nazorei/Nazarei) derives somehow from the Nazirites and accepts the Law and prophets.
- Parks, James (1974), The Conflict of The Church and The Synagogue, New York: Atheneum, pp. 397–98.
- Drower, Ethel Stephana (1960). The secret Adam, a study of Nasoraean gnosis. London UK: Clarendon Press. xvi. Archived from the original on Mar 6, 2014., p. xiv.
- Catena Aurea - Gospel of Matthew Ch. 27
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Nazarene
- Epiphanius of Salamis' Panarion
- Eusebius of Caesarea's Ecclesiastical History 4.22
- Jerome's Lives of Illustrius Men Ch. 3
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Nazarenes
- Letter 75 Jerome to Augustine
- NetzariPedia: The Term Nazarene Pt1
- The Golden Legend, Volume 7