IS MATTHEW 2:23 A MISTAKE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“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.” This has been—and still is—a very difficult verse for so many. For some time, this Scripture puzzled me as well. Thankfully, a friend in the ministry pointed out to me a very simple word. Again, dear friends, we need not complicate God’s Word. Just read the verse and believe it! But, by all means, read the verse first instead of the commentaries people have written about the verse. Chances are they have never thoughtfully read God’s precious words. They read the verse after being blinded by church tradition and “theological scholarship!”
One well-meaning Bible commentator proposed some very ridiculous “insight” into Matthew 2:23. He pointed out that Bible critics revel in this “erroneous verse.” (His reckless commentary on the subject just fueled their hatred for God’s Word, sadly). Firstly, he said that there is no corresponding Old Testament quote. He is correct. We can search Genesis through Malachi in vain and not find a single reference to the prophecy of Matthew 2:23. Secondly, Nazareth did not exist in in the times of the Old Testament prophets. As far as we know, he is again correct. So, what made his comments wrong?
The commentator picked apart the King James rendition of Zephaniah 1:14. He argued that this verse is very difficult for Old Testament scholars to translate in a “meaningful” way: “The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly.” (Is that really that hard to understand, friends?! Call me crazy, but I think the King James translators had more sense about what the verse meant than the dear bellyaching brother! Let me proceed explaining.)
This commentator pointed out that the words “even” and “man” are not in the original Hebrew text, so they could be removed from the English translation. Additionally, he disliked the King James’ word “cry” and wanted to use “roar” instead. Then he rehashed typical scholastic nonsense: “A very slight change in the pointing of the Hebrew characters on the word translated ‘bitterly’ could then render a word close to the word ‘Nazarite,’ or ‘Nazarene,’ thereby ‘fulfilling’ Matthew 2:23.” This commentator, who was known for defending the integrity of the Bible, defending it from its critics, finally conceded that the ancient Hebrew copyists may have made a “slight error” in copying Zephaniah 1:14. The scholarly explanation he offered allegedly superseded the Holy-Spirit-filled copyists. And, let us read the slipshod translation he offered in conclusion: “a thunderous voice roaring on the day of the Lord: ‘The Nazarene is the mighty one!’” (And he had the gall to start off by saying Zephaniah 1:14 was “difficult?” How about now that he “made it clearer?!”)
Like I said, this brother meant well, but sincerity does not always equal verity. In this case, he removed the precious words of God and inserted his fallible ‘scholarly’ opinions. Quite frankly, he did not know what he was talking about. He should have just kept silent and studied his Bible more before giving ammunition to the critics. We will not stand before this man in judgment one day, or any other “scholar;” we will give an account to the Lord Jesus Christ according to the wording of the Bible text that He prefers (Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 4:4-5). If we are going to be Bible believers, we had better believe the Bible and not fallible man!
Please re-read Matthew 2:23: “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.” Do you know the difference between “spoken” and “written?” I sure hope so, my friend! Matthew never said it was “written” in the Old Testament Scriptures. Actually, he said it was “spoken by” the Old Testament prophets. There were both writing prophets and preaching prophets in the Old Testament economy. Elijah and Elisha were two speaking prophets, though they never wrote any Scripture as best as we can tell. Daniel preached the Bible and wrote part of the Bible. So did Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Zechariah. If Matthew wrote “which was written in the prophets,” then that would be a mistake, and the Bible critic would finally have proven the Bible to be wrong. But, the Bible writer was meticulous and the Bible critic was careless. Some Old Testament preaching prophets spoke of Messiah being a Nazarene, coming out of Nazareth. That was the spoken word rather than the written word. (See our study at the end of this article about the so-called “mistake” of Matthew 27:9, another favorite of Bible critics and textual critics.)
COULD THE PROPHETS HAVE FOREKNOWN NAZARETH?
It is not hard to believe that the Old Testament prophets of the LORD God would prophesy of a place not yet in existence. They are prophets, men speaking on behalf of God, and He is the God who knows the future, yes? Furthermore, did not Isaiah predict King Cyrus’ name centuries before he was born (Isaiah 44:28–45:1)? Was not King Josiah’s name predicted many years before he was born (1 Kings 13:2)? And Jesus (Luke 1:31) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:13) were named before their births, right? There are various geographical places in the Bible that we cannot identify with certainty. It is not a testament to the Bible’s inaccuracy, but rather manifests the limits of present-day historical, archaeological, and geographical thought. Something to think about, my beloved readers! Just maybe give the Bible the benefit of the doubt before you toss it away to pick up a “scholar’s” commentary!