“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 2:21

Luke 2:21

Today’s Christmas season note in this series will look at the circumcision and naming of Jesus, parallel to that which was narrated of John in Lk 1:59ff. In the case of Jesus, it is told simply, in a single sentence (2:21). Actually, the circumcision is mentioned primarily to establish the time at which the naming took place:

“And when the eight days of his (be)ing circumcised were (ful)filled…”

The Greek syntax, rendered quite literally here, can be misleading. The reference, of course, is to the period of eight days, after birth, before the male child was to be circumcised.

For more on the naming of a child taking place in connection with circumcision, cf. the earlier note on 1:57-66. The naming of John is given with greater detail due to the importance of the sign attached to his birth (Zechariah’s inability to speak); the naming of Jesus, by contrast, is told with virtually no detail at all:

“…(then) also his name was called Yeshua, the (name) called under [i.e. by] the Messenger before his [i.e. Jesus’] being received together in the belly (of his mother)”

The naming took place in fulfillment of the Angel’s directive (1:31), with no specific action by either parent being mentioned; the emphasis is rather on the heavenly origin of the name (given by the Angel) and that it had been given prior to Jesus’ conception. This is narrated in the passive, and there is no indication of which parent did the naming (cp. Matt 1:21, 25). Possibly this is meant to suggest or allude to a “divine passive”, where God is the implied actor, perhaps even as a foreshadowing of the scene in 2:41-50 (vv. 48-49).

Between the initial mention of the name by the Angel and the naming recorded here, the theme of salvation has been developed, primarily in the two hymns of Mary and Zechariah (the Magnificat and Benedictus). God is referred to as “Savior” (Swth/r) in 1:47, at the opening of the Magnificat, while the word “salvation” (swthri/a) occurs three times in the Benedictus (vv. 69, 71, 77). Lk 1:77 is close to the idea expressed in Matt 1:21, but the Lukan Gospel does not deal directly with the meaning (or interpretation) of the name Yeshua (Y¢šûa±). However, the child Jesus is called by the title Swth/r (“Savior”) in 2:11, in a context where the Messianic vocabulary is especially clear and prominent (cf. the note on 2:10-14). For more detail on the etymology and meaning of the name Yeshua, consult the recent note on Matt 1:21.

Circumcision—The mention of circumcision (lit. “cutting around”) here, and in 1:59, is important for the author’s theme of Jesus as the fulfillment of the types and patterns of the Old Testament (the Old Covenant). Joseph and Mary, like John’s parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, are said (and shown) to have been faithful in observing the commands and regulations of the Torah. Circumcision, as the principal sign (or mark) of the covenant between God and Israel, was in many ways the most important rite and religious-cultural practice in the Torah. Both children—John and Jesus—were circumcised according to the requirements laid down in the Law.

The circumcision of Jesus is not otherwise mentioned directly in the New Testament, but Paul, who addressed the issue of circumcision numerous times in his letters (esp. Galatians and Romans), gives a definite soteriological dimension to Jesus’ fullment/observance of the Law. The passage is Galatians 4:4-5, which also happens to refer to the birth of Jesus. Paul states that Jesus came to be “under the Law”—note how this is set parallel to his (human) birth:

  • “God se(n)t forth his Son”
    • “coming to be (born) out of a woman” (geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$)
    • “coming to be under the Law” (geno/menon u(po\ no/mon)

The purpose of Jesus’ birth and human life was to purchase out (of bondage) the ones who are “under the Law”. Paul’s unique (and controversial) view of the ultimate function and purpose of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah) is too complex to address here. I recommend the interested reader consult the articles on Paul’s View of the Law (part of the series “The Law and the New Testament”, soon to be published here), which also includes a discussion of Gal 4:1-11. Paul frequently describes ‘salvation’ in terms of human beings (believers) set free from bondage (slavery) to the the power of sin—where sin is depicted as a hostile ruler or tyrant. Similarly in the Lukan Infancy narrative, in the Benedictus, the image of salvation/redemption starts in the conventional, dramatic context of human powers (i.e. enemies of Israel, Lk 1:71, 74), but is transferred to salvation from sin by the end of the hymn (1:77, cf. Matt 1:21). These same two aspects relate to the idea of redemption as part of the Messianic expectation of the period (2:25-26, 38).

More relevant to the Lukan Infancy narrative perhaps is Romans 15:8ff:

“The Anointed One {Christ} came to be a servant of circumcision over [i.e. on behalf of] the truth of God, to confirm the promises to the Fathers, and over (his) mercy (for) the nations to honor/glorify God…”

Here “circumcision” (peritomh/) is a shorthand for those who have been circumcised—i.e. Israelites and Jews. This would certainly imply that Jesus himself had been circumcised, especially when taken together with Gal 4:4 (cf. above). A major emphasis for Paul throughout Romans is the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. Salvation from the power of sin, common to all human beings, is realized through faith in Christ. The thrust of this section has a general parallel with the Song of Simeon (Lk 2:29-32). Moreover, one of the Scriptures Paul cites (in v. 12) is from a passage (Isaiah 11) that was regularly given a Messianic interpretation. Isa 11:10 is similar to the first line of the prior (and related) oracle (vv. 1-9)—for a discussion of verse 1, cf. the previous note on Matt 2:23. We can see how this relates to the portrait of Jesus in the Lukan Infancy narrative:

  • He is the Anointed One (Messiah) and Savior of God’s people (2:11)
    • He is born and lives among the people Israel
      —He is under the Law—circumcised, etc—fulfilling God’s covenant
    • The Good News (Gospel) goes out to the nations
  • The salvation he brings is for all people—Jews and Gentiles both, as the people of God (v. 10)

This will be discussed further in the remaining notes of this series.

Birth of the Son of God: Romans 1:3-4

Continuing with the Christmas season theme of “The Birth of the Son of God”, the last articles in this series looked at Jesus as the “Son of God” within the context of early Christian preaching (i.e., the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts)—in Acts 2:29-36 and 13:26-41. Today I will examine Romans 1:3-4, often considered by scholars to be part of an early creed or hymn adapted and included by Paul within his greeting.

Romans 1:3-4

The opening and greeting (Epistolary Prescript [praescriptio]) of Romans 1:1-7 is actually a single sentence in Greek, framed by verses 1 and 7—”Paul…. to the (one)s in Rome…”—and the core of which is built upon the concluding words of verse 1: “the good message [i.e. Gospel] of God”. The syntax of vv. 2-6 may be outlined as follows:

“the good message of God”—

  • which [o^] He gave as a message [i.e. announced/promised] before(hand) through his Foretellers in (the) holy Writings (v. 2)
  • about [peri\] His Son [tou= ui(ou= au)tou=] (v. 3)
    • the (one) coming to be [tou= genome/nou] out of the seed of David (v. 3)
      —according to the flesh
    • the (one) marked (out) [tou= o(risqe/nto$] (as) Son of God [ui(ou= qeou=] in power (v. 4)
      —according to (the) spirit of holiness out of the standing-up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead
    • Yeshua (the) Anointed [xristou=] our Lord [tou= kuri/ou] (vv. 4-5)
      • through whom [di’ ou!]
        • we have received… (v. 5)
          • in [e)n] all the nations
          • in/among [e)n] whom (v. 6)
        • you also are called
      • of Yeshua (the) Anointed

Verses 3-6 represent the Christological kerygmatic statement that “fills” the epistolary prescript, in two portions:

  • vv. 3-4 are about Christ proper (i.e. the person of Christ)
  • vv. 5-6 are about believers in Christ (the result of his work)

Verses 3-4—this verse pair is made up of two participial phrases:

  • “the one coming to be” [tou= genome/nou] (v. 3)
    • “out of the seed of David” [e)k spe/rmato$ Daui\d]
    • “according to (the) flesh” [kata\ sa/rka]
  • “the one marked (out)” [tou= o(risqe/nto$] (v. 4)
    • “(as) Son of God in power” [ui(ou= qeou= e)n duna/mei]
    • “according to (the) spirit of holiness” [kata\ pneu=ma a(giwsu/nh$]
      • “out of (the) standing-up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead” [e)c a)nasta/sew$ nekrw=n]

The poetic parallelism is clear, with the possible exception of the last phrase. Let us look at each verse in detail.

Romans 1:3

First, it should be noted that manuscripts 51 61* 441 and later Byzantine MSS, read gennwme/nou (gennœménou) instead of genome/nou (genoménou), also reflected in some versional witnesses (Syriac and Old Latin MSS). The reading gennwme/nou, from genna/w (“come to be [born]”) rather than cognate gi/nomai (“come to be”), would more specifically emphasize Jesus’ birth, as mentioned in my discussion of genna/w/gi/nomai in prior notes. That such a reading could be seen as indicating the reality of Jesus’ human birth, can be seen from the arguments by Tertullian (On the Flesh of Christ §22) and Irenaeus (Against Heresies III.22.1) against their “gnostic” opponents. However, genome/nou is certainly the original reading. Occasionally, traditional-conservative scholars have cited the use of gi/nomai (instead of genna/w) here as evidence for Paul’s belief in the virgin birth, but this reads far too much into the text.

In terms of the reality of Jesus’ birth, this is already indicated with the phrase kata\ sa/rka (“according to [the] flesh”)—an expression normally used by Paul in a different theological/anthropological sense (part of a dualistic contrast between “flesh” and “spirit”), cf. Rom 8:4-9, 12-13; Gal 3:2-3; 5:16-19; 1 Cor 5:5; Phil 3:3. Here, it is used in an ‘ordinary’, conventional sense—of Jesus’ human nature, growth and upbringing, his ethnic/social background, etc—comparable to that in Rom 4:1; 9:3, 5. For similar early use of “flesh” (sa/rc) in this respect, applied to Christ, see 1 Pet 3:18, and the ‘credal/hymnic fragment’ in 1 Tim 3:16.

The phrase “out of the seed of David” (e)k spe/rmato$ Daui\d) is somewhat more problematic. That Jesus was a (real) descendant of David is evidenced by the Matthean/Lukan genealogies (Matt 1:1-17 [v. 6]; Luke 3:23-38 [v. 31]), as well as Acts 2:30; Luke 1:32, 69; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16, and may implied in Mark 12:35-37 par; John 7:42. Within the Infancy narratives, Joseph certainly is designated as a descendant of David (Luke 1:27; 2:4; Matt 1:20), and this is presumably how the genealogies are to be understood—i.e., Joseph as legal (but not biological) parent of Jesus. Here too, in Romans, “out of the seed of David, according to the flesh” could be viewed in this same legal/metaphorical sense, except that a comparison with Gal 4:4 suggests otherwise:

“coming to be [geno/menou] out of the seed of David [e)k spe/rmato$ Daui\d]” (Rom 1:3)
“coming to be [geno/menon] out of a woman [e)k gunaiko/$]” (Gal 4:4)

Did Paul (and/or the tradition he inherited) understand Mary as being of Davidic descent? It is hard to be certain, since he never actually mentions Mary anywhere in his letters, nor the birth of Jesus specifically apart from these two references. Of course, Mary as a descendant of David came to be a common-place belief in the early Church, attested already in the early 2nd century by Ignatius (Ephesians 18:2) and the so-called Proto-Gospel (Protevangelium) of James (§10). However, there is no indication of this in the New Testament itself; indeed, what little evidence we have (Luke 1:5) suggests descent from the tribe of Levi rather than from Judah. Traditional-conservative commentators have often sought to harmonize the (partially) discordant genealogies of Matt 1 and Lk 3 with the theory that they record the genealogies of Joseph and Mary, respectively; but this is flatly contradicted by the text itself—both genealogies are for Joseph (Matt 1:16; Lk 3:23), despite the apparent discrepancies.

The title “Son of David” is used of Jesus in numerous places in the Gospels—Mk 10:47-48 par; 12:35-37 par; Matt 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 21:9, 15. This title is used in conjunction with “Lord” (ku/rio$) in Matt 15:22; 20:30-31, and has a clear Messianic connection in Mark 12:35-37 par; Matt 12:23; 21:9 [par Mk 11:10].

What about Paul’s own understanding of Jesus as God’s Son? There is a strong likelihood that Rom 1:3 indicates something akin to the orthodox view of Jesus’ divine pre-existence. While this is not absolutely certain, such a general belief is expressed elsewhere in his writings (cf. Phil 2:6-7; Col 1:15ff). In examining Paul’s use of ui(o/$ (“son”) in relation to Jesus, these references can be divided more or less into three categories:

  1. Of a general relationship with God the Father—1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 1:19; Rom 1:9; 8:29
  2. Indicating his post-resurrection position and status in heaven (cf. Acts 13:33ff)—1 Thess 1:10; 1 Cor 15:28; Gal 1:16?; also Col 1:13
  3. Indicating divine status/nature in (or prior to) his death—Gal 2:20; Rom 5:10; 8:32

Galatians 4:4 is a close parallel to Rom 1:3 (cf. also Rom 8:3) which I have discussed in considerable detail in other notes and articles (see the recent note).

Romans 1:4

The verb o(ri/zw has the basic meaning “mark out, mark off”, as of a limit, boundary, etc., and is often used in the sense of “determine, designate, appoint” and so forth. An early kerygmatic (Christological) signficance here is indicated by its use in:

  • Acts 2:23—referring to the role of Jesus’ death in God’s (predetermined) plan
  • Acts 10:42; 17:31—Christ is designated or appointed as eschatological/heavenly Judge

There are two principal ways the verb can be understood in Rom 1:4—Jesus is “marked out / appointed” as Son of God, either:

  1. By divine foreknowledge, prior to his death; as previously discussed, early Christians could speak of Jesus as God’s “Son” in terms of: (a) divine pre-existence, (b) birth, or (c) at his baptism
  2. Through his death and resurrection—i.e., by means of, or as a result of

The first view is more amenable to orthodoxy, as suggested by the common Latin rendering praedestinatus (instead of destinatus), which would seem to assume Greek proorisqe/nto$ (from proori/zw, “mark out [i.e. determine/appoint] beforehand”). This reading is not found in any manuscript, but it is used or mentioned by several Church Fathers—Eusebius, Against Marcellus 1:2; Epiphanius Panarion 54.6 (cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 234-5). The use of o(ri/zw in Acts 2:23 might otherwise confirm this meaning as well.

However, the overall context of Rom 1:3-4, as well as a comparison with the early Gospel preaching in Acts 2 and 13, etc (see the previous notes), strongly suggests option #2—that it is through his death and resurrection that Jesus is designated/appointed as “Son of God”. This would seem to be indicated by the qualifying phrase “in power” (e)n duna/mei) as well. There are two ways that “power” (du/nami$) is used in the preaching of Acts and in Paul’s letters: (a) of miraculous deeds, and (b) specifically in reference to the Spirit. These of course are related. Even though Jesus’ miracles during his ministry are referred to as “power” (Acts 10:38), it is in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ that God’s power is most prominently made manifest. The connection between the Spirit and the power of God is certainly clear (see esp. Luke 1:35; 4:14; Acts 1:8; 8:19; 10:38; Rom 15:13, 19; 1 Cor 2:4, etc), and it is in his exalted position (at the right hand of God) that Jesus has this power (Acts 2:33; Mark 14:62 par), receiving the Spirit from the Father. In both Luke-Acts and the Gospel of John, we find the idea of the raised/exalted Christ sending the Spirit (from the Father) to his disciples. There may be a parallel to the specific phrase “in power” (e)n duna/mei) in the ‘credal fragment’ of 1 Tim 3:16, where Jesus is said to have ascended “in glory” (e)n do/ch|).

There is some difficulty surrounding the expression “spirit of holiness” (pneu=ma a(giwsu/nh$). In his letters, Paul nearly always uses pneu=ma in reference to the the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God/Christ); that fact, plus the connection between “spirit” and “power” (cf. above) might lead one to assume that this is what is meant here as well. However, this is by no means certain. His very use of the particular expression “spirit of holiness” may be intended to draw a distinction with the more common “Holy Spirit”. As I mentioned above, pneu=ma is juxtaposed with sa/rc (“flesh”), but not in the typical Pauline sense; again this, in part, may be why Paul qualifies pneu=ma with a(giwsu/nh$ (“of holiness”). Is this meant to indicate the way in which Jesus is “appointed” Son of God—in terms of God’s holiness?

Interestingly, “holy” and “holiness” are only rarely used of Jesus specifically in the New Testament, being limited primarily to the earlier strands of Christian preaching—i.e. the appellation “Holy (One)”, using both a%gio$ and o%sio$, Acts 2:27; 3:14, and note Lk 1:35; cf. also Acts 4:27, 30; 13:34-35. In his letters, Paul almost never uses “holy/holiness” of Jesus (1 Cor 7:34 is close), though he certainly sees a close connection between Christ and the Holy Spirit, viewing the Spirit, to a large extent, as the abiding presence of Christ in and among believers. Holiness, of course, is often seen as a characteristic and attribute of God, but even this association is relatively rare in Paul’s writings. Somewhat surprisingly, the noun a(giwsu/nh (“holiness”) only appears 3 times in the New Testament, the other two occurrences also being from Paul’s letters:

  • 1 Thess 3:13—prayer/exhortation to establish the hearts of believers to be “blameless in holiness” before God at the (eschatological) appearance of Jesus
  • 2 Cor 7:1—believers are urged to cleanse themselves, “completing holiness in the fear of God”; here too we find a similar juxtaposition of “flesh” and “spirit”

Perhaps the best way to understand the expression in context is as the (personal) holiness of Jesus which is manifest by God in the resurrection—or, viewed another way, as the holiness of God being manifest in the person of Christ. This may be similar to the idea of the “righteousness of God” being manifest in his person (1 Cor 1:30; cf. Rom 1:17; 3:21ff, etc).

It is possible that the reference to the resurrection in Rom 1:4 should not be limited simply to Jesus’ own resurrection—there may be an association with the wider idea of resurrection, such as we see expressed by Paul in 1 Cor 15:20, 23, where Jesus, by his resurrection, is the “firstfruits” of the harvest, i.e., those who will be raised again to life at the end-time. Notably, Paul describes this in terms of sonship in Rom 8:23, 29 (cf. Gal 4:5). Even more significant for our Christmas season theme is the further image of birth within this same context—Jesus is the “firstborn” (prwto/toko$) out of the dead (Col 1:18; cf. Rev 1:5), and, as such, the “firstborn” of “many brothers” (Rom 8:28; cf. also Heb 1:6; 12:23). Once again we see a powerful statement of two-fold birth: Christ as the Son of God and believers as the “sons of God”.

References here marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, Romans (Anchor Bible [AB] volume 33, 1993).

“And you shall call His Name…”: Matthew 2:23

Matthew 2:23

Today’s article in this series will explore the third episode of section 2:13-23 (vv. 19-23), the second of two Angelic dream-appearances to Joseph (vv. 13-15, cf. also 1:18-25). On the pattern of Israel’s entry into Egypt and the Exodus (cf. the earlier article on verse 15), this episode corresponds with the Exodus. This reflects the overall theme of the Moses/Jesus parallel and the Moses Infancy narrative. Indeed, the Angel’s words in verse 20 match closely those in Exod 4:19—the death of Herod corresponding to the death of the Pharaoh. Just as Moses returned to lead his people out of Egypt, so Jesus (with his parents) returns from out of Egypt to “save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). The parallel between the two Angelic appearances is nearly exact, giving great literary (and dramatic) symmetry to the section.

The purpose of the added detail in vv. 22-23 would seem to be to explain how it was that Jesus came to live in Nazareth, a well-established Gospel tradition. Contrary to the scenario in the Lukan Infancy narrative, there is no indication in the Matthean account itself that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth prior to the birth of Jesus. Whether or not this is the understanding of the Gospel writer (trad. Matthew), he is not giving us simple geographical information here; rather, the introduction of this detail, with the Scripture citation, serves another purpose as well—as a foreshadowing of the Messianic associations with which the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is narrated (3:11-12, 17, and, especially, 4:15-16). The next reference to Nazareth is in 4:13, just prior to the quotation from Isa 9:1-2, a (Messianic) passage also interpreted by Christians as a prophecy of Jesus’ birth (vv. 6-7 [Heb vv. 5-6]). It is most improbable that the Scripture (in v. 23) is cited merely as a prophecy that Jesus would live in Nazareth. In all likelihood, there is a play on words involved here, though it is difficult to determine this with precision, as there is considerable uncertainty regarding which Scripture is being quoted. Verse 23b reads:

“…how that [i.e. so that] the (thing) uttered through the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] might be fulfilled, that ‘he will be called a Nazoraean’.”

This declaration does not correspond with anything in the Prophets, nor elsewhere in the Old Testament Scripture. In light of this, there are four main possibilities which need to be considered, and which scholars have addressed in various ways:

  • The author is quoting from a book (or section) which is not part of the Old Testament as it has come down to us
  • He is using a form or version of an existing Scripture which is otherwise unknown to us
  • He is adapting, combining, or otherwise interpreting an existing Scripture (or Scriptures) in light of the context and his purpose
  • It is not a direct quotation; rather, the author is referring indirectly to one or more Scripture passages which would support the interpretation of events which he gives

In my view, only the last two can seriously be considered as viable options. Which Scripture, or Scriptures, is the author quoting (directly) or alluding to (indirectly)? I would highlight four passages which are legitimate candidates (cf. Brown, Birth, pp. 211-13). I will discuss them each in turn.

Isaiah 4:3 (and Judges 16:17)

R. E. Brown (Birth, pp. 223-25) makes a strong case for a combination of two verses—Isaiah 4:3 and Judges 16:17. The Hebrew of Isa 4:3a reads (in translation):

“And it will be (that for) the (one) remaining in ‚iyyôn {Zion} and the (one) left over in Yerushalaim it will be said of him ‘(He is) holy [vodq* q¹dôš]'”

In the Greek LXX it is rendered:

“And it will be (that) the (one) left under [i.e. back] in ‚iyyôn and the (one) left down [i.e. behind] in Yerushalaim (they) will be called holy [a%gioi klhqh/setai]”

Judges 16:17 record the words of Samson:

“I (have been one) consecrated [ryz!n` n¹zîr] of [i.e. by/to] God from the belly of my mother”

There are two variations in the Greek LXX (MSS A and B):

“I am a Nazîr [nazirai=o$] of God (from) out of my mother’s belly” (A)
“I am a holy (one) [a%gio$] of God (from) out of my mother’s belly” (B)

There is thus known at least one instance where the Hebrew word for a Nazirite (n¹zîr) is both transliterated as Naziraíos and translated as “Holy (One)”. A similar substitution may have been made in Isa 4:3, whereby “he will be called (a) holy (one)” is modified to read “he will be called a Nazir”. In Greek Nazirai=o$ (Naziraíos) is close enough to Nazwrai=o$ (Nazœraíos) to make the wordplay possible.

Isaiah 11:1

The Hebrew of this verse is rendered as follows:

“And a (fresh) twig [rf#j) µœ‰er] will come up from the stump of Yishay {Jesse},
a (green) branch [rx#n@ n¢ƒer] from his roots will (grow and) bear fruit”

The wordplay would be between the noun n¢ƒer and the proper name Naƒra¾ or N¹ƒr¹y¹, etc (i.e. “Nazareth”). Isaiah 11:1-9 was an influential Messianic passage at the time of Jesus, though it is not used directly in early Christian tradition as recorded in the New Testament (cf. Rom 15:12 [citing Isa 11:10]); note Rev 22:16, and somewhat later, Justin’s Dialogue 126:1. Tree imagery, and the use of words such as µœ‰er, n¢ƒer, and ƒemaµ—all of which refer to a new/fresh growth (i.e. branch, shoot, bud, etc)—were often applied in a royal context, to a new or coming ruler (cf. Collins, Scepter, pp. 25-6). The word ƒemaµ (jm^x#) had clearer Messianic associations, due mainly to the prophecies in Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-16—the Qumran community, for example, refers to the Messiah-figure of the Davidic ruler type as the “Branch of David”.

There was definite use of Isa 11:1-4ff in a Messianic sense, by the mid-1st century B.C., as evidenced by quotations or allusions to it in the Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25ff; 18:6-8, and the Qumran texts 4QpIsa[Commentary on Isaiah]a frag. 7; 4Q285 frag. 5; 1QSb 5:21; from the 1st century B.C., cf. also 1 Enoch 49:3-4; 62:2-3; and 2/4 Esdras 13:10. At Qumran, the word n¢ƒer was used, not only of a Messiah figure, but for the Community itself, the “holy ones” (1QH xiv.15; xv.19; xvi.6, 8, 10; cf. Isa 60:21). In a similar way, perhaps, Christians came to be known as Nôƒ®rîm (“Nazoreans”)—cf. Acts 24:5; b. Sanh 43a.

Isaiah 42:6 / 49:6

A different root nƒr is found in Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6, both passages being among the so-called “Servant Songs”, oracles which lend themselves well for interpretation as Messianic prophecies. The verb n¹ƒar has the meaning “keep, protect, preserve, watch”. Compare the two verses in translation:

“I YHWH have called you…and I will keep you, and I will give you to (be) a covenant for the people, a light for the nations” (42:6)
“…for you to be (called) my Servant, to cause the staffs [i.e. tribes] of Jacob to stand (again), and to make the (one)s kept/preserved [n§ƒûrê] of Israel to (re)turn, and I will give you to (be) a light for the nations” (49:6)

From the standpoint of Israelites and Jews in the post-exilic period, this would be interpreted in many circles as a prophecy of the Messianic Age and the restoration of Israel. The ones who are kept/preserved are the “holy ones” (cf. above), the faithful remnant, as in Isa 4:3. The expression “light to/for the nations” occurs in the Lukan Infancy narrative, in the Song of Simeon (Lk 2:32), where there is an allusion to one or both of these passages.

Jeremiah 31:6-7

The verb nƒr also is found in Jer 31:6, where the remnant motif is even clearer:

“For there (is indeed) a day (when the one)s keeping (watch) [nœƒ®rîm] will call (out) in the mount(ains) of Ephraim, ‘Stand (up)! and let us go up Zion to YHWH our God!'”

The remnant of Israel is introduced in vv. 7b and following. Note the interesting parallel with Matt 1:21:

“and (you shall) say, “YHWH save your people, the (ones) left behind [i.e. the remnant] in Israel!'” (Jer 31:7)
“and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people…” (Matt 1:21)


The problem with the last three options above is that the wordplay involves the underlying Hebrew text, and would have been lost on many, if not most, of the readers of the Greek Gospel. The first option is the only one which is at all feasible as a wordplay in Greek. On the other hand, Isa 11:1 would be much more appropriate as a Messianic prophecy applied to Jesus. Jerome, at least, was a Christian who had no difficulty making the connection between Hebrew n¢ƒer and “Nazorean” in the verse, and claims that it is the Scripture cited in Matt 2:23, “from his root will grow a Nazorean” (Letter 57.7, to Pammachius). Isaiah 11:1 also has the advantage of the overall context in the book, the parallels with 7:14; 9:1-7, which were interpreted as (Messianic) prophecies applied to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. If any, or all, of the passages suggested above are in the mind of the Gospel writer, it is possible to recognize two primary aspects which are likely at work:

  • Salvation for the remnant of God’s people, the holy ones, which the Messiah will bring
  • The Messiah (Christ) as the Holy One of God, chosen to bring about the salvation of his people

References above marked “Brown, Birth” are to R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1977 / 1993). Those marked “Collins, Scepter” are to John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1995).