Saturday, March 19, 2011

NT Use of OT Part 15: Matt 2:23 and Summation of an OT Truth or Principle

On occasion, the NT writers will appeal to the OT to summarize a general truth or principle that is found in multiple OT passages. The first example we will look at is Matt 2:23 which states:

and [Jesus] came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

The major problem for the interpreter of this verse is that there is no specific OT text that explicitly states that the Messiah would be called a “Nazarene.” Go to your concordance and look for “Nazarene” and you won’t find a reference that the Messiah would be a Nazarene. So what is going on here? Is Matthew playing fast and loose with the OT. Definitely not!

Three options (perhaps four) are possible for how Matthew can link Jesus being from Nazareth with the OT. First, Nazareth was small and insignificant and a very unlikely place to spawn anything or anyone significant. Remember when Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? (John 1:46). Nazareth hosted a Roman garrison and Jews who lived there were sometimes viewed as traitors for associating with the enemy Romans. So being called a “Nazarene” was a term of derision, kind of like being called a “backwoodsman” or “hillbilly” today. Thus, Matthew could be appealing to a truth of the OT that the Messiah would have humble origins and a humble ministry (see Isa 52 and 53). Perhaps being from lowly Nazareth encapsulates what the prophets predicted concerning the righteous Servant’s lowly origins.

A second option is to link Jesus being a Nazarene with the concept of “branch” discussed in the OT prophets.  The OT prophets presented the Messiah as being a branch of David. Isaiah stated that the Messiah would come from Jesse’s roots—a “branch” (11:1). Jeremiah told of a coming “Branch of David” (Jer 33:15; see also 23:5). The Hebrew term for “branch” is neser which has consonants like those found in “Nazarene.” Thus, Matthew, with a wordplay, may be connecting the “branch” prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah with Nazareth.

Third perhaps Matthew is linking Nazareth with the concept of the Nazirite (see Num 6:1-21) to emphasize Jesus’ full devotion to God. The Nazirites were to evidence strict devotion to God—something Jesus fulfills perfectly.

There actually is a fourth option which is that Matthew is purposely ambiguous and thus elements of the three views above could all be in play—humble beginnings, “branch”, and “Nazirite.” My view is that options 1 and 2 are most likely with a slight nod to view 1—Nazareth is linked with the predicted humble beginnings of God’s Servant.

It should be noted that Matthew refers to “prophets” in the plural to indicate that the point he is making is a collective summation of several OT prophets and not just one. This is why I call this use of the OT—“Summation of an OT Truth or Principle.” Whether Matt 2:23 is referring to the truth that God’s Servant would come from humble origins or that He was the “branch” of the OT prophets, both truths have support in multiple OT passages.

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