BIBLE ERRORS: THE ISSUE OF MATTHEW 2:23

One of the supposed errors and mistakes found in the Holy Bible that skeptics raise is Matthew’s claim that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene in the Hebrew Bible:

“But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.” Matthew 2:22-23

Suffice it to say, no such prophecy exists.

The problem with this charge is that Matthew is not referring to an explicit prophecy by a single prophet. Rather, he is referring to a general theme found in various prophets, which is why Matthew did not speak of prophet in the singular, but rather prophets in the plural.

When Matthew does have a specific prophecy in mind he will employ prophet in the singular, as the following examples testify:

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means “God with us’).” Matthew 1:22-23

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’” Matthew 2:3-6

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’ When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’” Matthew 2:13-18

“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’” Matthew 3:1-3

The aforementioned texts make it abundantly clear that Matthew’s use of the prophets in the plural in 2:23 indicates that he did not have a specific prophecy in mind. Instead, he clearly had the prophet witness as a whole in view which leads me to my next point.

One OT theme is that the Messiah would be the branch of Jesse, the father of king David:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse: from his roots a branch (netzer) will bear fruit.” Isaiah Isaiah 11:1 – Cf. Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:15-16; 3:8; 6:9-15

The Messiah is called a netzer, i.e. the “branch.” The word netzer sounds like the Hebrew Natzrati, i.e. a “Nazarene”. In fact, in Aramaic Jesus would have been called Yeshua ha Notzri., which is close in sound to netzer.

It, therefore, seems clear that Matthew is using a play on words, a pun on the title which Isaiah gives to the Messiah, a common technique in Hebrew.

Now lest one accuse us of making up the preceding exegesis regarding Isaiah 11:1 being one possible source behind Matt. 2:23, or that this is a modern novel explanation, we only have to cite Church history to see how fathers like Jerome (347-420 A.D.) explained this passage:

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, ‘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.’ How can the Septuagint leave out the word “Nazarene,” if it is unlawful to substitute one word for another? It is sacrilege either to conceal or to set at naught a mystery. ( LETTER 57 — TO PAMMACHIUS ON THE BEST METHOD OF TRANSLATING)

Another reason for Matthew calling Jesus a Nazarene is to highlight his lowly origins, and of his being despised and rejected by men, especially by his own countrymen. This is brought by the following NT passage:

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him… Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?‘ Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip.” John 1:10-11, 45-46

Therefore, Nazareth symbolizes the rejection of Jesus by his brethren, which is precisely what the prophets foretold, namely that the Messiah would be despised and hated by the people:

“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: ‘He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.'” Psalm 22:6-8

“For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face. I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” Psalm 69:7-9

“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him – his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness – so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Isaiah 52:13-53:12

The foregoing should suffice in establishing that Matthew is using a pun on Nazarene in identifying the Messiah as the one despised and rejected by the people.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s