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The word ‘Nazirite’ is used to indicate both a kind of vow and the person who made such a vow. It is not to be confused with Nazarene (the name given to a person from the town of Nazareth), but comes from the Hebrew word nazir, whose meaning indicates that a Nazirite vow was one of separation (Numbers 6:2). Those who made Nazirite vows wanted to show openly that they had set themselves apart to God for some special purpose over a certain period.

During the period covered by the vow, Nazirite kept three special laws. First, they refused wine and anything that was likely to produce it, to demonstrate their refusal of life’s enjoyments and to avoid any possibility of drunkenness. Second, they let their hair grow long, as an open sign to all that they were living under the conditions of a Nazirite vow. Third, they avoided anything dead, to emphasize to themselves and others the holiness that their service for God demanded (Numbers 6:3-8).

If people broke their Nazirite vow deliberately, no remedy was available. If they broke it accidentally, they could ask forgiveness through offering sacrifices. But the time they had kept their vow was lost and they had to begin again (Numbers 6:9-12; cf. Amos 2:11-12). At the end of the period of the vow, they offered sacrifices, shaved off their hair and were released from the three Nazirite restrictions (Numbers 6:13-21).

Probably the best known Nazirite in the Bible was Samson, whose parents dedicated him to God at birth to be a Nazirite for life. Samson had little regard for the Nazirite laws concerning the drinking of wine and contact with dead bodies, though he did allow his hair to remain uncut. When he finally broke that law too, he broke the last remaining link in his declared devotion to God (Judges 13:3-7; Judges 14:9-10; Judges 14:19; Judges 16:19-20).

Samuel and John the Baptist were possibly Nazirites for life (1 Samuel 1:11; Luke 1:15). It appears that on one occasion Paul took a short-term Nazirite vow upon himself (Acts 18:18; cf. Acts 21:23-26).

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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Nazirite'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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