naz-a-ren; naz'-a-ren Nazarenos; Nazaraios in Matthew, John, Ac and Luke):
A derivative of Nazareth, the birthplace of Christ. In the New Testament it has a double meaning: it may be friendly and it may be inimical.
1. An Honourable Title:
On the lips of Christ's friends and followers, it is an honorable name. Thus Matthew sees in it a fulfillment of the old Isaiah prophecy (Isaiah 11:1 (Hebrew)):
"That it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, that he should be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23). According to an overwhelming array of testimony (see Meyer, Commentary, in loc.), the name Nazareth is derived from the same natsar, found in the text quoted from Isa. We have here undoubtedly to do with a permissible accommodation.
It is not quite certain that Matthew did not intend, by the use of this word, to refer to the picture of the Messiah, as drawn in Isaiah 53, on account of the low estimate in which this place was held (John 1:46). Nor is permissible, as has been done by Tertullian and Jerome, to substitute the word "Nazarite" for "Nazarene," which in every view of the case is contrary to the patent facts of the life of the Saviour.
Says Meyer, "In giving this prophetic title to the Messiah he entirely disregards the historical meaning of the same Septuagint reading in Isaiah 11:1, anthos), keeps by the relationship of the name Nazareth to the word natsar, and recognizes by virtue of the same, in that prophetic Messianic name netser, the typical reference to this--that Jesus through His settlement in Nazareth was to become a Nazoraios, a `Nazarene.'" This name clung to Jesus throughout His entire life. It became His name among the masses:
"Jesus of Nazareth passeth by" (Mark 10:47; Luke 24:19). Perhaps Matthew, who wrote after the event, may have been influenced in his application of the Isaian prophecy by the very fact that Jesus was popularly thus known. Even in the realm of spirits He was known by this appellation. Evil spirits knew and feared Him, under this name (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34), and the angels of the resurrection morning called Him thus (Mark 16:6), while Jesus applied the title to Himself (Acts 22:8). In the light of these facts we do not wonder that the disciples, in their later lives and work, persistently used it (Acts 2:22; 3:6; 10:38).
2. A Title of Scorn:
If His friends knew Him by this name, much more His enemies, and to them it was a title of scorn and derision. Their whole attitude was compressed in that one word of Nathanael, by which he voiced his doubt, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). In the name "Nazarene," the Jews, who opposed and rejected Christ, poured out all the vials of their antagonism, and the word became a Jewish heritage of bitterness. It is hard to tell whether the appellation, on the lips of evil spirits, signifies dread or hatred (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). With the gatekeepers of the house of the high priest the case is clear. There it signifies unadulterated scorn (Matthew 26:71; Mark 14:67). Even in His death the bitter hatred of the priests caused this name to accompany Jesus, for it was at their dictation written above His cross by Pilate (John 19:19). The entire Christian community was called by the leaders of the Jewish people at Jerusalem, "the sect of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5). If, on the one hand, therefore, the name stands for devotion and love, it is equally certain that on the other side it represented the bitter and undying hatred of His enemies.
Henry E. Dosker