Matthew 2:23 is the twenty-third verse of the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. The young Jesus and the Holy Family have just returned from Egypt and in this verse are said to settle in Nazareth. This is the final verse of Matthew's infancy narrative. It is also a much studied verse because of the enigmatic quote that ends it.
- καὶ ἐλθὼν κατῴκησεν εἰς πόλιν λεγομένην
- Ναζαρέτ, ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τῶν
- προφητῶν ὅτι Ναζωραῖος κληθήσεται.
- And he came and dwelt in a city
- called Nazareth: that it might be
- fulfilled which was spoken by the
- prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
The World English Bible translates the passage as:
- and came and lived in a city
- called Nazareth; that it might be
- fulfilled which was spoken through the
- prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."
For a collection of other versions see BibRef Matthew 2:23
Nazareth was a small village unmentioned in any writings before this time, though there is some archeological evidence that a village existed in the area at the time of Jesus. Matthew gives no specific reason for why the family moved to this town, and Luke has them originally from there. The town was near the Via Maris, the main road connecting to Egypt, and the route the family would have most likely been travelling. Clarke notes that Nazareth was just to the north of the larger centre of Tzippori that had been largely destroyed in the violence after the death of Herod the Great. At this time it was being rebuilt by Herod Antipas, and Clarke speculates that this could have been a source of employment for a carpenter such as Joseph.
Jerome indicates that Nazareth was used in reference to Old Testament verses using the Hebrew word ne'tser (branch), specifically citing Isaiah 11:1. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that, "The etymology of Nazara is netser, which means 'a shoot'. The Vulgate renders this word by flos, 'flower', in the Prophecy of Isaias (11:1), which is applied to the Saviour. St. Jerome (Epist., xlvi, 'Ad Marcellam') gives the same interpretation to the name of the town."
The origin of Jesus in a small town with no biblical history was a problem to many early Christian writers. Matthew deals with this [clarification needed] by arguing that Jesus’ origin in Nazareth is a fulfillment of prophecy. The difficulty with the brief quote "he will be called a Nazarene" is that it occurs nowhere in the Old Testament prophets, or any other extant source. A number of theories have been advanced to explain this. At the time the canon was not firmly established and it is possible that Matthew is quoting some lost source. However all the other quotations in Matthew are from well known works, and if a quotation so closely linking Jesus’ hometown and the messiah existed it would likely have been preserved.
There is much debate, and many theories among scholars as to what the quote could mean. Scholars have searched through the Old Testament for passages that are similar. One popular suggestion is Judges 13:5 where of Samson it says "the child shall be a Nazirite." A nazirite was a member of a sect who practiced asceticism, and the word has no known link to the name of the town. Other scholars reject this explanation. Jesus was not a nazirite and is never described as one. Matthew 11:19 shows Jesus specifically rejecting such teachings. In both Hebrew and Greek the words nazarene and nazirite are quite distinct and are less likely to be conflated than in English. France also notes that Judges has "shall be" while Matthew has "shall be called." France feels that if Matthew had been quoting Judges he would have retained the same form.
Another theory is that it is based on Isaiah 53:2. This messianic reference states that "he grew up before him like a tender shoot." The Hebrew for shoot is nasir, more similar to the word nazarene than nazirite. Keener notes that the term is used to refer to the messiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls. However this piece of wordplay is meaningless in Greek. Hebrew wordplay is not unknown in Matthew, such as Matthew 1:21. Goulder feels that the author of Matthew felt it essential that Jesus' hometown be justified in prophecy and he thus looked for the closest thing he could find, which was this verse. However, it should be noted that the main problem with this argument is that the Hebrew word for "shoot" in verse 53:2 is not "nasir" but "yowneq" which further complicates the issue.
This verse refers to prophets in the plural, unlike all of Matthew's other references to known Old Testament prophets, which use the singular. This could imply that the wordplay and multiple interpretations was intentional. Rothfuchs reads the plural as the author of Matthew referring to all the quotes so far in the Gospel that directed the Holy Family in travels. To him the line is thus not a direct quote from the prophets, but the inevitable end the previous directions led to.
France argues that the verse is not a reference to either the nazirite or nasir verses. Rather he advances the theory that "Nazarene" should be understood as an insulting epithet, an unflattering reference to Jesus' humble and obscure origins that was used by anti-Christians at the time. The word is used in just such a way at Matthew 26:71. Thus to France, the meaning of the verse is that Jesus fulfill the prophecies that the messiah will be abused and neglected, a prevalent current in Jewish messianic thinking that was just as active as the belief that the messiah would be an all-conquering hero.
- Harrington, Daniel J. The Gospel of Matthew. Liturgical Press, 1991 pg. 45
- Clarke, Howard W. The Gospel of Matthew and its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the First Gospel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.
- Jerome, "Letter 57—To Pammachius on the Best Method of Translating": "Once more it is written in the pages of the same evangelist, And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. Let these word fanciers and nice critics of all composition tell us where they have read the words; and if they cannot, let me tell them that they are in Isaiah. For in the place where we read and translate, [Isaiah 11:1] 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."
- Catholic Encyclopedia, "Nazareth"
- Gundry, Robert H. Matthew a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
- France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985. pg. 93
- France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
- Craig S. Keener. A commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999. pg. 114
- Goulder, M.D. Midrash and Lection in Matthew. London: SPCK, 1974.
- France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985. pg. 94
- WELS Topical Q&A: Where In O.T. Was Messiah To Be A Nazarene? (A confessional Lutheran response to the controversy)
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