A Problem in Translation: HaNotzri – “The Nazarene”

He came and settled in the town called Nazareth, fulfilling the word spoken by the prophets, that he will be called a Nazarene.” -Matthew 2:23

Did you know there is no such prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures? It’s true…but before you ‘stone’ me as a heretic, there is a logical explanation. This is one of the proof texts in the Apostolic Scriptures that anti-Missionaries use to claim Yeshua is not the Messiah, but the problem is not with the prophecy…it is with the English translation. We need to understand this important text if we want to be armed with the truth, in case the opportunity ever arises to share with our Jewish brethren who do not yet believe in Yeshua.

In Matthew’s text, he says this is “fulfilling the word spoken by the prophets…” Which prophets? Let’s look at Jeremiah 23:5: “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.”

This is a prophecy about the coming Messiah, who will be like a branch or sprout from the ‘dead’ tree stump of Jesse. Jesse is the father of King David, and God made a covenant with David that one of his descendants would always sit on the throne, and that King Messiah would come from his line. David was of the tribe of Judah. The last descendant of David to reign on the throne of Israel was Jeconiah, who reigned only three months before they went into captivity in Babylon. This means there has been no king for Israel for nearly 2,500 years. That takes us back to the seemingly dead ‘stump’ of Jesse. The prophets promised that out of that ‘stump’, a righteous Branch would come and reign. This is of course, referring to the Messianic Age. The key word here in Jeremiah is the Hebrew for “Branch.” It is “tzemach.” Jeremiah 33:15, Isaiah 4:2, Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12 use the same word, all referring to the future righteousness of the servant of the LORD, the King from the line of David, who will reign over Israel and the nations.

There is another prophecy about the promised Messianic king, which means exactly the same thing, but instead the prophet uses the Hebrew word “netzer” for “Branch.” Isaiah 11:1 says, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a Branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”

Now for the connection to Matthew. Bear with me a bit longer. If only the translators had translated this properly and added a footnote, we would all know this simple truth! The wicked King Herod was not a descendant of King David. He was an Edomite who converted to Judaism. He had absolutely no claim to the throne of Israel. “You shall set a king over you out of your own brothers.” (Deuteronomy 17:15) The sages determined this meant someone who was born Jewish. A convert (proselyte) was not eligible to be king. Furthermore, according to a prophecy Jacob spoke over his son Judah, Genesis 49:8-10, the “scepter” belonged to and would never depart from him and his descendants. God chose King David from the tribe of Judah to be king after Saul, and then in 2 Samuel 7 made an everlasting covenant to him and his descendants that all kings over Israel would come from his blood line. Herod knew that he had no legal right to the throne. However, that did not stop him from making sure there were no descendants of David to depose him. This may be why a Davidic clan and the ancestors of Joseph and Mary moved out of Bethlehem, which is very close to Jerusalem and Herod’s palace, and started a village in the Galilee called “Natzeret”, or the village of the “branch” to be far away from Herod’s murderous reach. The people who lived in the village were called “Nazarenes” or “notzrim.” But there is a clear reference to anyone who knows the prophecy that these were the people from whom the ultimate redeemer, the future anointed King of Israel, would come.

A better translation would be, “He came and settled in the town called ‘Natzeret’, which means ‘Branchtown’, thus fulfilling the word spoken by the prophets, that he will be called a ‘Notzri’, meaning of the village called ‘Branchtown’.

In Yeshua’s day, everyone knew about this Davidic clan. Matthew was pointing out that this was the long awaited Messiah that came from these descendants of King David. Now, you know the rest of the story!