HE SHALL BE CALLED A NAZARENE? In discussions with Christians on the validity and authenticity of the biblical scriptures, Muslims often raise the question about the statement made in the Matthew 2:23: '...he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene." ' The reason for this is that, quite correctly, Muslims state that there is no such specific prophecy in the bible. They infer from this that therefore one or more of the following must be true: a) the bible has been altered b) sections of the bible are missing (including the prophecy quoted in Matt 2) c) the New Testament is (at least partially) fabricated and therefore unreliable However, an examination of the Old Testament prophecies, and the context and form of the statement in Matt 2, show that this inference is, in fact, incorrect. Firstly, let us look at the way in which Matthew refers to the Nazarene prophecy: "So was fulfilled what was said through the PROPHETS" Note that the writer does not refer to a particular prophet or prophecy. This kind of reference is very rare in the New Testament. The general means of referring to a fulfilled prophecy is to at least refer to "the prophet" (any devout Jew would know which one), or else to name the prophet who gave the prediction, e.g. Matt 1:22-23 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" --which means, "God with us." Matt 1:5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: Matt 2:17-18 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah,...." Matt 3:3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" Mark 1:2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"-- Luke 3:4 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"-- John 12:38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" (see also Matt 4:14, 8:17, 12:12, 12:39; Luke 4:17; John 1:23; Acts 2:16, 7:48, 8:28, 8:30 and many more) The use of the more general term, "the prophets", is used only on three occasions in the gospels to refer to fulfilled prophecy. The first is in Matt 2; the other two are Matt 26:55-56 At that time Jesus said to the crowd, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled." John 6:44-45 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. In each of these two cases, Jesus uses "the prophets" to indicate the general effect or result of what God had foretold through various prophets, rather than to refer to a specific prophecy - there is none in the Old Testament prophetic literature that makes those exact prophecies, but there are various prophecies that, if read as a whole, show that this is what God intends. It may therefore reasonably be assumed that Matthew's reference to "the prophets" is used in the same way, and that we should therefore not expect to find a single, specific prophecy, but rather a group to that effect. Having established this (and therefore having solved at least one of the objections listed above), it remains to identify the prophecies involved, and to see how they can be said to refer to Jesus' being known as a Nazarene. In doing this, an understanding of the significance of the term "Nazarene" is, of course, very helpful. In the Palestine of Jesus' time, the whole region of Galilee and its inhabitants, and in particular Nazareth, were looked upon in a very negative way by other Israelites (perhaps because Galilee had often been occupied by pagan nations during Israel's history (e.g. Tiglath-Pileser the king of Assyria, Hiram king of Tyre). There is ample scriptural evidence to support the conclusion that Galilee and Nazareth were looked down on, even despised: Matt 4:15 "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the *Gentiles*--" (i.e. pagans) John 7:52 They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee." John 1:46 "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip. Now there are very many prophecies in the Old Testament to the effect that the Messiah would be despised and mistreated, even though he is righteous. Certainly, there are sufficient instances to warrant Matthew's use of the generic description, "the prophets", rather than referring to each specific prophet in turn. However, here are a few of the specific references: Psa 22:6,7 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." Isa 53:2,3 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. Psa 118:22 The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; In summary, then, the word "Nazarene" in Jesus' time, while still literally referring to someone from Nazareth, had become more or less a synonym for despised. Certainly, the Israelites were (rightly) convinced that no prophet could originate in that lowly place (although Jesus in fact only grew up there, and was born in Bethlehem, the town from which the Messiah was to come). These facts, and the many messianic prophecies concerning the rejection of the Messiah by the people of his day, led Matthew to use general terms (following the example of Jesus) in referring to the effect of the prophecies that the Messiah would be rejected and held in contempt. The verse could be paraphrased, for the purpose of this discussion, in the following way: '...he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be despised and referred to contemptuously" which, far from contradicting or undermining the authority and authenticity of the biblical scriptures, is in fact a demonstration that God is faithful to the words he gave to his prophets.
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