Yehoshua – Yeshua The Nazarene
July 29, 2008 by A Watchman
Yeshua the Nazarene
Matthew made a very interesting statement near the beginning of his Gospel. Referring to Yeshua, he wrote, “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” (Matthew 2:23).
Two questions immediately come to mind in reading that verse from Matthew’s account of the Gospel.
1. To which prophets was Matthew referring?
2. What does a “Nazarene” have to do with living in Nazareth?
We can answer the first question rather easily as long as we switch from the Greek manuscripts to the Aramaic source material from which the Greek translations derive. In the original Semitic language, the original word that appears in most English versions translated as “prophets” is actually in the singular. Therefore, Matthew was not referring to statements made by prophets, but a statement made by one particular prophet. Therefore, which prophet prophesied that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene? None. You can search through the entire Tanakh and never come across a single prophecy whereby the Messiah would be known as a Nazarene. So, what are we to make of Matthew’s statement?
Referring to the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah stated, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of YHVH shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of YHVH” (Isaiah 11:1-2).
The word translated “branch” is run (netser), which derives from the verb run (natsar) meaning “to guard, watch, keep, or preserve.” But, what does this have to do with Matthew 2:23?
The Greek word translated “Nazarene” in Matthew 2:23 is Nazwraiov (Nazaraios). It does not mean “of Nazareth” as it is incorrectly translated in many other places, such as in the phrase “Jesus of Nazareth.” Nor does it derive from the Greek word for Nazareth, which is Nazarey (Nazareth) or Nazaret (Nazaret). Therefore, what does “Nazarene” mean? Where does the word Nazaraios come from? We can answer this question if we look to the Semitic languages, Aramaic and Hebrew. The Aramaic equivalent for Nazaraios (Nazarene) is Natsraya (or Notsri in Hebrew), whereas the word for Nazareth is Natsrat in Aramaic (or Netsaret in Hebrew).
What is the important point? The English word “Nazarene” (Greek “Nazaraios,” Aramaic “Natsraya,” or Hebrew “Notsri”) comes from the Hebrew word netser (branch), which itself is derived from the verb natsar which means “to guard, watch, keep, or preserve.”
You might need to read the two previous paragraphs over again, but the relevant conclusion is that Matthew explained a Semitic language “word play.” He was not being literal; he was being clever. In other words, “And he [Yeshua] came and dwelt in a city called Netsaret [trun]: that it might be “fulfilled” which was spoken by the prophet [Isaiah 11:1], He shall be called a Notsri [yrun].” Even if you cannot read Hebrew, you can at least look at the letters and see the obvious relationship between the words. They both derive from the Hebrew run (natsar), meaning “to guard, watch, keep, or preserve.”
Truly, Yeshua the Messiah is the “Notsri,” the one sent to watch over and keep Israel, the flock of YHVH’s pasture (Ezekiel 34:30-31). Not only that but he was the one sent from the Father to guard and preserve the truth of Elohim and the correct meaning of the Torah (Matthew 5:17-18).
Nazarenes: A Messianic Israelite Sect
In this light, it should now be clear why the faithful talmidim of Yeshua were known as the Notsrim or Notzrim (the plural form of Notsri), i.e. the “Nazarenes.”
For example, after Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, he was escorted to Caesarea to appear before the governor, Felix. Under the authority of Ananias, the high priest, Tertullus brought the charges before Felix. Notice his accusation. “For we have found this man a pestilent fellow [a plague], and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes: Who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took, and would have judged according to our law” (Acts 24:5-6). Clearly, the Jewish nation knew Yeshua’s talmidim as the Nazarenes (Notzrim).
How did Paul describe the Notzrim? Responding to the accusations brought against him, he said, “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the Elohim of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Torah and the Prophets” (Acts 24:14). Essentially, the Notzrim are an Israelite sect that worship the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob based on a solid and profound understanding of the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh.
Think about it. Are we not to follow the example of Yeshua the Messiah? Was he a Christian, a follower of Christ? Or, was he a Nazarene? What do the scriptures say? Yeshua was a Nazarene, and his talmidim were Nazarenes. They were called Nazarenes because just as their rabbi Yeshua was sent by Elohim to watch over and keep Israel, they too were sent to watch over and keep Israel. And, just as Yeshua was sent to guard and preserve the truth of Elohim contained in the Torah, they too were commissioned to guard and preserve the truth, i.e. the Torah of YHVH.
Christians and Nazarenes
To press the point further and to help alleviate any confusion, we need to ask a few questions. Are the words “Christian” and “Nazarene” different names that describe the same man? If not, what is the difference between a Christian and a Nazarene? Is the one “new man” of Ephesians 2:15 a Christian or a Nazarene?
Although the word “Christian” appears three times in the Bible, contrary to what many have assumed or believed, there does not exist a definition of the word anywhere in the Bible. We can come to a very accurate description of the Christian man if we read some of the early Christian writings. The following excerpt comes from the 4th century Church father Epiphanius. Referring to the Nazarenes, he wrote in his work, Against Heresies (Panarion 29):
“But these sectarians…did not call themselves Christians – but “Nazarenes”…However, they are simply complete Jews. They use not only the New Testament but the Old Testament as well, as the Jews do…They have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and in the Jewish fashion – except for their belief in Messiah, if you please! For they acknowledge both the resurrection of the dead and the divine creation of all things, and declare that God is one, and that his son is Yeshua the Messiah. They are trained to a nicety in Hebrew. For among them the entire Law, the Prophets, and the…Writings…are read in Hebrew, as they surely are by the Jews. They are different from the Jews, and different from Christians, only in the following. They disagree with Jews because they have come to faith in Messiah; but since they are still fettered by the Law – circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest – they are not in accord with Christians…they are nothing but Jews…They have the Good news according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. For it is clear that they still preserve this, in the Hebrew alphabet, as it was originally written.”
We can learn quite a bit from this description. Not only do we have a very accurate description of the Nazarenes, we also have an interesting distinction between Nazarenes and Christians. Essentially, Nazarenes are very similar to non-Messianic Jews except that they recognize Yeshua as the Messiah. They study both the Tanakh and the apostolic writings, accept the validity and importance of all of the Torah (including circumcision), and have a very Hebraic perspective on matters of faith, doctrine, and worship. On the other hand, Christians also accept Yeshua as the Messiah, yet they predominantly study from the apostolic writings, believe that the Torah has little to no further role in one’s life, and do not have a Hebraic perspective on matters of faith, doctrine, and worship. Instead, Christians have a Hellenistic approach, i.e. a Greek perspective, to their faith.
Now, there is nothing particularly unusual about this. The definition of a Christian has not changed all that much since the 4th century. In fact, Epiphanius’ description is quite accurate and just as relevant today as it was when he wrote it.
I trust that it should be demonstrably obvious that Christians are not the same as Nazarenes (Notzrim). It should be equally apparent that the early talmidim of Yeshua whose lives we read about in the apostolic writings were not Christians, but rather Nazarenes (see Were the Talmidim Christians?). Therefore, the “one new man” that Paul wrote about in Ephesians 2:15 must be the Nazarene man. Although this “Messianic Israelite” man continues to worship Elohim in the way that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did (Acts 24:14), he is a “new” man because he compliments that faith with an acceptance and understanding that the way is embodied by the living example of the trusting faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah.
The Notzrim in Prophecy
Even though the Nazarenes (Notzrim) and the Christians both accepted Yeshua as the Messiah, they were two different groups of people with two different sets of doctrine and methods of worship.
Did you know that only one of these two groups of people is mentioned in the prophecies of the Tanakh? Do you know which one? If you do, do you know in what context that group is mentioned?
First, we will start with the context. The prophecy of Jeremiah 31 describes a future time when the renewed covenant will be made with the House of Israel and the House of Judah (31:31-34). It describes a time when both houses will have returned to the land of Israel to dwell together in peace (31:27-28). It describes a time when the descendants of Joseph and Benjamin will have returned to their ancestral land in what many refer to as the “West Bank” (31:15-17). It describes a time when all the tribes from the House of Israel – generalized as Ephraim – that have been scattered throughout the inhabited world will be called back to their heritage in the Promised Land (31:8-12).
It is in this context that the following words appear at the beginning of the chapter. “At the same time, saith YHVH, will I be the Elohim of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. Thus saith YHVH, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest. YHVH hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: thou shalt again be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry. Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria [i.e. the “West Bank”]: the planters shall plant, and shall eat them as common things. For there shall be a day, that the watchmen [Notzrim] upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto YHVH our Elohim. For thus saith YHVH; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O YHVH, save thy people, the remnant of Israel” (Jeremiah 31:1-7).
The word “watchmen” in Jeremiah 31:6 is somewhat misleading. Although the Hebrew word “Notzrim” does convey the idea of those who watch, guard, or preserve (as we have already seen), the translators should have left “Notzrim” untranslated in order to preserve the original intent of the passage.
It is the Notzrim, not the Christians, who will return to the land of Israel in the future for the promised restoration of the kingdom of Elohim over all Israel. It is the Notzrim, not the Christians, who will dwell again in their ancestral homeland in the “West Bank” and spearhead others to return to Zion.
Some of you may find this hard to accept at first. That is understandable. Nevertheless, we must be willing to hear the truth.
What does the Bible call you? You will have to answer that question yourself. To accept the vocation of a Nazarene Israelite is a very high calling indeed. If conviction rests in your heart, then is it not about time you began to follow through and continue your spiritual journey by transitioning from Christianity to the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3)?