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Matthew's Fulfillment Citations

The book of Matthew, was apparently written to the Jews in order to convince them that Jesus was “The Messiah” and A Light to the Nations. As such, Matthew is the only Gospel to make extensive use of the fulfillment citation, a device which Matthew uses in order to show how Jesus has fulfilled certain prophecies in the old testament, and is therefore likely to be the messiah.

Yet it is curious that when one cross-references these citations, certain issues seem to crop up. The citations are mistranslated, sometimes they don't even exist, and are always (in every case) taken out of the context of the passage. Here follows a short summary of several issues we find in Matthew's use of the fulfillment citation.

He will be called a Nazorean

In Matthew 2:23, the writer makes the claim as follows:

23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”Matthew 2:23 (NRSV)

Note: Most translations, including the KJV and NIV state “Nazarene”. The meaning is assumed to be the same.

Issue: This passage does not appear anywhere in the old testament. TO make it very clear, several bible commentaries admit this outright, such as Ellicot's which states “No such words are to be found in the Old Testament.”

Response #1: Judges 13:7

One response is to call upon Judges 13:7;

7 But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.Judges 13:7

This answer is rejected not just because it is explicitly about Samson; but because a “Nazarite” is a type of oath taken by Jewish people not to drink wine, etc. and this has a different meaning than “Nazorean” i.e. “from Nazareth”. It's just a different word entirely, and it doesn't make sense to assume this is a prophecy about the messiah.

Response #2: The Branch

Another popular response is as follows.

The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents, up to the bounties of the everlasting hills. May they be on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of him who was set apart (נָזִר nazir) from his brothers.Genesis 49:26 (ESV)
(brackets original Hebrew)

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.Isaiah 11:1

5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.Jeremiah 23:5

15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.Jeremiah 33:15

8 “‘Listen, High Priest(A) Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.Zecchariah 3:8

12 Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord.Jeremiah 33:15

The claim is made of Isaiah 11:1 in particular but also of Genesis, Jeremiah, Zecchariah as listed above (and possibly in other places). The Benson Commentary notes;

As to the interpretations which refer this to Christ’s being called Netzer, the Branch, Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; or Nazir, one Separated, or, the Holy One, they all fail in this, that they give no account how this was fulfilled by Christ’s living at Nazareth, he being as much the Branch, the Holy One, when he was born at Bethlehem, and before he went to Nazareth, as after.Benson Commentary for Matthew 2:23

So why then does Matthew change a similar sounding word into “Nazorean” if Jesus had already fulfilled the citation of being from the house of David? What is the point of doing this? As a member of the house of David he would have automatically fulfilled this citation anyways. Thus we understand the mind of the writer, who actually seeks to link Jesus to being a descendant of David; this isn't really about being from Nazareth at all.

In conclusion, despite the other listed reasons, we must reject this claim on the same grounds as Judges 13: Basically, these are just plain old different words. The idea that it starts with the same letter, or contains a similar sound or letter, and has the same number of syllables, is patently absurd. This is most easily seen when one arranges the words side by side, as written:

  • [נָצְרַת] - Nazareth in Hebrew (“nasrat”)
  • [נְזִ֥יר] - Genesis 46 (“nezir”)
  • [וְנֵ֖צֶר] - Isaiah 11 (“netzer”)
  • [צֶ֣מַח] - Jeremiah 23 (“selah”)
  • [צֶ֣מַח] - Jeremiah 33 (“selah”)

In short, no one who actually read any of the prophets would have ever come up with the idea that the word “branch” referred to anything other than a descendant. What of Nazareth then? No one who spoke hebrew would have made that connection; even in cases where there are one or two similar letters, the vowel markings are different. They're just different words and there is no logical reason to assume that Nazareth has anything to do with the Messiah.

Response #3, It means 'despised'.

This is a fairly incredulous response, which according to Barnes is based as follows:

The character of the people of Nazareth was such that they were proverbially despised and contemned, John 1:46; John 7:52. To come from Nazareth, therefore, or to be a Nazarene, was the same as to be despised, or to be esteemed of low birth; to be a root out of dry ground, having no form or comeliness. This was what had been predicted by all the prophets. When Matthew says, therefore, that the prophecies were “fulfilled,” his meaning is, that the predictions of the prophets that he would be of a low and despised condition, and would be rejected, were fully accomplished in his being an inhabitant of Nazareth, and despised as such.Barnes' notes on the Bible

The major issue with this is that the point of John 1:46 and John 7:52 is not to show that according to the prophets the messiah will not be from Nazareth nor Galilee. They are not questioning the character of the people who live there. The point is to note that the messiah is not said to come out of these towns. Of course, a prophet may; Jonah was from Gathhepher in Galilee (2 Kings 14:25) and it is said that Elijah was also from Galilee. But rather the point of this is quite eloquently framed in John 7, if one looks in context:

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.John 7:41-43

Therefore it is seen that the idea that the meaning is to someone who was despised and rejected had never occurred to the people in Jesus' time, and that the meaning of their words was actually qute different. As a result we cannot accept this response.

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Riding on a Donkey and Colt

21 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.Matthew 21:1-7 (NRSV)

It is ironic that it is Matthew who misconstrues the Hebrew scriptures and not the authors of Mark, Luke or John – doubly so when you consider that the story in Mark (which Matthew is copying, that is, Matthew is a synoptic gospel). He almost certainly was seeking to correct what he saw as an error in Mark. In reality he just demonstrates an incredible lack of knowledge regarding Hebrew as a language.

The reference of course is to Zechariah 9:9 which states “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” What happens is Matthew reads this, and Matthew's knowledge of Hebrew was obviously rather limited. Matthew looks at this text and says, “It sounds like this text is saying he is riding on two animals.” So in Matthew 21:1-7 he has Jesus ask for two animals, his followers bringing back two animals, and him riding two animals – at the same time – into Jerusalem.

What Matthew missed is that Zechariah is using a Hebrew linguistic convention, a common poetic structure in Tanach known as a Synonymous Parallelism. You could consider it a kind of tautology.

Secondary Problems

It must be understood that the verse break between Zechariah 9:9 and 9:10 is artificial; they are the same grammatical sentence – i.e. one must follow the other for either one to be understood. It is thus strange then that Matthew would not quote the entire verse. Let's have a look at what Matthew forgot to quote and see what we can gather.

10 And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.Zechariah 9:10 (KJV)

So now it becomes more obvious why 9:10 was not quoted – it is not in Matthew's best interest to present a prophecy of the Messiah that Jesus did not fulfill. In short, the sign is not Zechariah 9:9 – but in 9:10! The sign is not that he will ride in on a donkey – anyone could ride into Jerusalem on a donkey – but that the Messiah would bring peace to the world by removing Jerusalem's enemies from their seat.

Also see: Unfulfilled Messianic Prophecies.


Overall, Matthew 21:1-7 is a very problematic fufillment citation for Matthew. Once examined, it is seen that actually Jesus didn't fulfill the underlying messianic prophecy at all.

matthew_s_fulfillment_citations.txt · Last modified: 2018/02/07 04:39 by serena