In What Sense is Jesus a Nazarene?

When you come to a passage that you don’t understand, it’s always a good idea to jot down a note to further study to learn what the text means. We encounter one such section of Scripture in the Advent readings in Matthew’s gospel: 

“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.” (Matt. 2:23)

Reading this, we might ask, What is a Nazarene? And, What Scripture is Matthew referring to here? 

There are a few main ways this passage is explained.

  1. Commentators note the close connection between the Messianic title in Isaiah 11:1, “branch” and “Nazarene” (the words have the same root consonants). So perhaps Matthew is deploying a play on words by calling Jesus a Nazarene and referring to Isaiah’s prophecy.
  2. Nazareth was regarded as a place of insignificance. Matthew may be connecting the themes of rejection, insignificance, and scorn anticipated in the Messiah (Ps. 22:6; Isa. 49:7, 53:3) with the town where Jesus was brought up. Like the town itself, Nazareth’s most noteworthy son would be humble and despised (John 1:46).
  3. Some speculate that Matthew could be alluding to Judges 13:7, especially in the sense that the woman will soon conceive and bear a son. This son would also be dedicated to God by profession and vow.
  4. There’s another option that combines the previous three. I think this makes the most sense. Matthew may have been alluding to not to one but several diffident themes found in the prophets (note Matthew refers to multiple prophets). The Nazarene is someone who will be called a regal prince, suffering servant, and Spirit-anointed Holy Man (Craig Blomberg). R.T. France writes, “This suggests that it is not meant to be a quotation of a specific passage, but a summary of a theme of prophetic expectation.” 

When Matthew says that Jesus shall be called a Nazarene, I think he’s identifying Jesus with a term that pulls a lot of thematic freight into the 1st Century rail station. The town was no mere coincidence. He is saying that Jesus is a man set apart to God in an ultimate sense, who is also the humble, overlooked, rejected Messiah.