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And having gone there, he lived in a city called Nazareth, so what was spoken through the prophets was fulfilled, that “he will be called a Nazarene.”

“he will be called a Nazarene.” This phrase is not meant to be a quotation of any scripture, for the saying is not found in any of the biblical writings. So what does Matthew mean here? There are two possibilities. First, these words could be a prophecy that was “spoken” (rheō, #4483 ῥέω), but not written. Unlike any other such reference in Matthew, this was said to be spoken by the “prophets” (plural), rather than by the “prophet.” The fact the noun is plural tells us Matthew did not intend this to be taken as a reference to a particular prophetic writing, but the words of the “prophets.” Hence, there were some things God told his prophets regarding the Messiah that were spoken and preserved in oral tradition but never inspired as holy writ—that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene was one such orally preserved prophecy. In this case it is the figure of speech hysteresis, when an author gives added information not known in the historical narrative (Cp. Bullinger, Companion Bible).

The other option for understanding this phrase—the path taken by Lenski and Hendriksen, for instance—is that the expression “he will be called a Nazarene” is meant as a summary statement of what the prophets spoke about the Messiah, that he would be considered lowly and rejected. We recall the words of Nathanael, who showed typical disdain for Nazarenes: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). In this case, Matthew combines the sense of several prophetic writings about the Messiah and describes them under his own heading, “He will be called a Nazarene.” But this view is unlikely. For why would Jesus have to literally move to Nazareth in order to fulfill this saying? If being called a Nazarene does not refer to actually living in Nazareth, then moving there would not fulfill the prophecy.

The Greek word hopōs (#3704 ὅπως), translated “in order to,” denotes purpose, showing that the physical move was intended to fulfill the word. If the phrase was meant as simply a derogative saying, “he’ll be called ‘a Nazarene,’” then there would be no need for the Messiah to literally live there. Therefore, the first interpretation is to be preferred.


Commentary for: Matthew 2:23