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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Nazarene

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In 18 passages of the Gospels and Acts Jesus is called ‘the Nazarene’ (the reading fluctuating between Ναζαρηνός and Ναζωραῖος). The use of this designation agrees with the fact that Nazareth was His home until He entered on His public ministry. The incident of the census was the occasion of His birth taking place at Bethlehem according to prophetic intimation. After the Egyptian episode, the family returned to Nazareth. After the Temptation, Jesus returned and remained there until the violence of the people drove Him to Capernaum, which henceforth was known as ‘his own city’ (Matthew 9:1). The behaviour of the people (Luke 4:29) illustrates what is suggested respecting the repute of Nazareth in John 1:46. In Acts 24:5 ‘the sect of the Nazarenes’ refers to Christians as a body, and is no doubt meant in a disparaging sense.

As indicated above, the name ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ in the Eng. version, is universally used to translate without distinction two Greek names, Ἰησοῦς Ναζαρηνός and Ἰησοῦς Ναζωραῖος. A recent essay by E. A. Abbott makes it necessary to ask if both terms ‘Nazarene’ and ‘Nazoraean’ connote simply ‘belonging to Nazareth.’ He holds and argues very successfully that the name Nazoraios is significant of more than mere place-origin. His thesis is that Nazarene, meaning a man of Nazareth, and Nazoraean, meaning the Nçṣer or Rod of Jesse mentioned by Isaiah, were probably interchanged by a play on the two words; so that the populace, acclaiming Jesus as the Lifegiver and Healer, altered ‘Jesus the Nazarene’ into ‘Jesus the Nazoraean.’ To state the theory more exactly, we should say that they called Him Jesus the Nçṣer, or the Na(t)zoraean, partly because there was a pre-existing belief that the Messiah would be the Nçṣer, and partly because they vaguely felt what Matthew ventured definitely to express, that His residence from childhood onward in Nazareth had been ordained to fulfil the prophecy, ‘He shall be called Nazoraean (i.e. Nçṣer).’

This theory involves the conclusion that the use of ‘Nazarene’ by Mark and Luke was an error, except in special contexts which may prove that the place-name, not the Messianic title, was meant.

There can be no doubt that the Nçṣer (the Branch) of Isaiah 11:1 was interpreted of the Messiah, the Targum on the passage making that quite definite; and it is quite probable that among the many names in popular use for the Messiah in the 1st cent. Nçṣer had a place.

The evidence from hostile sources is confirmatory. Christians were contemptuously called ‘Nazarenes’ by the Jews. But the actual word used was Nôṣrî. This does not closely resemble Nazareth, but it does resemble Nôṣer as used in Ben Sira 40:15, referring to ‘the branch of violence which is not to be unpunished.’ That the enemies of Jesus should call Him Nôṣrî, ‘Branch of violence,’ is intelligible if His friends called Him Nçṣer, ‘the true Branch.’

The question, as Abbott admits, is a difficult one, but it must be acknowledged that he has made out a strong case for regarding the name Nazoraean as more than a mere variant of Nazarene (see Edwin A. Abbott, Miscellanea Evangelica, II. i., Cambridge, 1913).

We find ‘Nazarenes’ used at a later period as the name of a Jewish Christian sect having some affinity with the Ebionites (see Ebionism). The greatest obscurity envelops these Jewish Christian parties. The information coming down to us is meagre, and there is little likelihood of additions being made to it. The Jewish side of Christianity, which gave so much trouble to St. Paul, declined rapidly, especially after the fall of the Jewish State, and eventually disappeared. Our best course will be to summarize the views of two authorities of our day.

R. Seeberg (Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, i. [1895] 50) endorses the ordinary opinion that there were two sects, the Nazarenes and the Ebionites, agreeing with one another in some things, differing in others. Justin Martyr refers to the former when he speaks of some Jewish Christians who keep the Jewish Law strictly themselves, but do not impose it on all Christians. Jerome also says that they believe in Christ as the Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rose again. They recognized St. Paul and his work, and used a Hebrew Gospel. Eusebius distinguishes them sharply from Ebionites, but says that they did not accept the pre-existence of the Logos. Seeberg thinks that Eusebius was mistaken in the last statement, confusing the Nazarenes with the Ebionites, who did deny Christ’s Deity. The Nazarenes, Seeberg thinks, simply put aside Logos speculations. The Ebionites, on the other hand, required all Christians to conform to the Jewish Law of rites and ceremonies, rejected St. Paul as an apostate, and regarded Christ as the son of Joseph and Mary. Origen seems to know a second Ebionite party, who, while holding these Ebionite tenets, said that Christ at His baptism received the fullness of the Holy Spirit, constituting Him a Prophet and Son of God in a high degree. They also held millennarian views. If the Nazarenes had so much in common with the Church, it is strange that Jerome should say that, ‘while they claim to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither.’ Seeberg says that the Nazarenes were Jewish Christians, the Ebionites Christian Jews.

F. Loofs (Leitfaden zum Studium der Dogmengeschichte4, 1906, p. 83) agrees in the main with the above account, but thinks that too sharp a distinction is drawn between the Nazarenes and the Ebionites. He holds that the recognition by the latter of the Holy Spirit who fell on Christ at the Baptism, and who is pre-existent and Divine, comes near to the acknowledgment of Deity in Christ. But this implies that Christ was not Divine before and became Divine through the descent of the Spirit. Does the same effect follow in us? Both writers agree that the sects ran to seed in the syncretism of the day and in mythological speculations. To Irenaeus the Ebionites were heretics. The Elkesaites were an offshoot from the same trunk, and appealed to the book Elkesai as a new revelation, bringing new forgiveness of sins, even the grossest, and new remedies of disease. Alcibiades of Apamea about a.d. 220 appeared in Rome as the apostle of this gospel, and met with temporary success. The Clementine romances were still later products of the same movement.

(The Nazirites had no connexion, linguistic or other, with Nazareth and the Nazarenes. See Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and Encyclopaedia Biblica , s.v. ‘Nazirite’; also following article.)

Literature.-Article ‘Ebionism’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics and DAC; A. Hilgenfeld, Die Ketzergeschichte des Urchristentums, Leipzig, 1884, pp. 426f., 435, 443; H. L. Mansel, Gnostic Heresics, London, 1875, p. 125; J. A. W. Neander, History of the Christian Religion and Church, Eng. translation , 1831-41, ii. 18; E. B. Nicholson, The Gospel according to the Hebrews, London, 1879.

J. S. Banks.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Nazarene'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/n/nazarene.html. 1906-1918.

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