Was Matthew a False Prophet?

Ron Cantor —  November 22, 2014 — 4 Comments

In Matthew 2:23 the gospel writer makes a confusing claim. He suggests that Yeshua’s going to live in Nazareth was a fulfillment of an Old Covenant prophecy:

[Joseph] went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that [Yeshua] would be called a Nazarene. (Matt. 2:23)

Anti-Messianics have sought to use this verse to confuse young Jewish believers, by claiming that the New Testament is false. After all, there is no prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures that claims that Yeshua would be called a Nazarene… Or is there?

First of all, what is a Nazarene? In the context of the Matthew verse it would be someone who lives in Nazareth. However, one must look deeper to see the wordplay—something that was very common in Hebrew literature.

The word for Nazarene that is used in the Hebrew New Testament is natsri (נַצְרִי). The root of this word is natsar (נַצַר). From this root we get the Hebrew word netser (נֵצֵר). And a nester is a branch.

With this information, let’s see if there is anything regarding a Branch and the Messiah in the Hebrew prophets:

In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. (Is. 4:2)

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” (Jer. 23:5)

“In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.” (Jer. 33:15)

“Listen, High Priest 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.” (Zech. 3:8)

“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.’” (Zech. 6:12)

Ok problem solved, right? Not exactly, you see in all these verses the Hebrew word for branch is tsemach (צֶמַח), not netser. In Modern Hebrew tsemach means plant, but since virtually every English translation of the Bible uses the word branch for tsemach, we can be quite sure that branch is the proper meaning in the Old Covenant. So despite being two different words with the same meaning, it could still be a clever wordplay between the name of the city and the Messianic prophecies:

  • Yeshua is from Nazareth,
  • So he is a Nazarene (natsri),
  • Which is the same as netzer (branch),
  • And the prophets spoke of a tsemach (branch) coming forth to be the Messiah and King.

Well, that is is proof enough for me to see that Matthew was referring to these prophetic passages when he said that Yeshua would be called a Nazarene according to the prophets, but probably not good enough for those who oppose Yeshua. Isn’t there even one verse that uses the same word netser for branch and refers to the Messiah? Yes!

One of the most famous Messianic prophesies of all is in Isaiah 11:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch (netser/נֵצֵר) will bear fruit. (Is. 11:1)

So if we had any doubts about Matthew’s use of the word natzri meaning branch, they should be definitely be put to rest. And most scholars believe that Matthew had the deepest knowledge of Old Covenant prophecies of all the gospel writers. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology states, “Matthew has a special fondness for the Messianic prophecies in Isaiah and other prophets.” It is noteworthy that they point out Isaiah from all the prophets—the book where we find the branch/netser verse.

Scholars agree Matthew was writing to Jews. He uses prophecy from the Old Covenant 62 times. It makes no sense to add the verse about the Nazarene, if it wasn’t clear to his Jewish readers what he meant. If he is making it up to hoodwink his readers, he has no need with 61 other prophecies. It would only cut at his credibility. Clearly he was referring to Isaiah 11:1 and possibly the other verses that we mentioned as well.

An interesting footnote is that the same root is used in the verb l’natser (לְנֵצר) which means to guard, to keep, to maintain. Yeshua was the only human that was able to l’natser the Law of Moses completely. So not only is Matthew not mistaken, who quotes Yeshua as saying that He “came not to destroy the Law of Moses, but fulfill it” (Matt. 5:17), he also comes across as brilliant in his ability to write masterfully in such a way that was very common for the top writers of his day.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lamoix/ changes were made.

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Two accusations against and misunderstandings about Messianic Judaism that I often hear are:

  1. Messianic Judaism is a recent phenomenon to make Christianity palatable to Jews.
  2. Messianic Judaism re-erects the Wall of Partition (Eph. 2:14), separating Jewish and Gentile believers.

Amazingly these were issues in the middle of the second century as well (proving that Messianic Judaism is not a modern phenomenon).

Justin Martyr

I want to turn to Justin Martyr, a most unlikely ally in this pursuit, as he was one of the first proponents of Replacement Theology and even wrote:

For the true spiritual Israel, and descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ. Even so we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israelite race.[i]

In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin Martyr reveals that even in the middle of the second century, 150 years after the birth of the Messiah, the issue of whether or not a Jewish believer could still live as a Jew was pressing. Understand that many consider Justin Martyr the leading theologian of the second century, therefore the fact that he addresses these issues shows it was something that the second century believers were wrestling with.

The irony is, that exactly 100 years earlier the disciples wrestled with the exact opposite question. Does a Gentile have to convert to Judaism and be circumcised in order to be considered a believer? The answer from heaven (Acts 15) was no. But never did it enter their minds that Jews who came to know the Jewish Messiah, would not continue to honor the Torah—not as a means of finding salvation, but living out their unique calling (Rom. 11:29). In Acts 21, several years after the decision of the Jerusalem Council, we find tens of thousands of Jewish believers in Jerusalem, all of whom are “zealous for the Torah.” (Acts 21:20)

Now it is 100 years later. The Jewish believing community (believed to be known as the Nazarenes) no longer possesses the prominent teaching positions in the body of believers, but they are rejected by their kinsmen after the flesh (for not being loyal to the false Messiah and rebel, Bar Kokhba) and shunned by many in the Church for continuing to live as Jews. It is possible that many of the Gentile believers accused the Jewish believers of raising up the Middle Wall of Partition as well.

The Middle Wall Myth

The Middle Wall of Partition, which Paul says is torn down, was not the Torah or the Hebrew Scriptures, but an actual wall in the Temple. Gentiles could not pass it. It has been torn down in light of the blood of Yeshua, which is color, race and gender-blind. Any human being can receive forgiveness regardless of background. As Simon Peter said when he addressed Cornelius and his friends,

“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10:34-45)

The Middle Wall of Partition had nothing to do with Jewish people continuing to honor the Law of Moses (which really is the Law of Elohim given to Moses). The wall excluded Gentiles from full fellowship. It has been torn down to welcome the nations into the Olive Tree of salvation, not to destroy Jewish Identity. Gentiles being forced to convert to Judaism would be akin to re-erecting the wall, but Paul, who wrote Ephesians 2:15, was a Torah-observing Jew. And yet, I have heard people say that Messianic Jews continuing to live as Jews is a form of rejecting non-Jews.

I know I am burying the lead here, but permit me one more observation before we look at Justin’s words. The Catholic Church answered this question of whether or not Jews could remain Jews after coming to faith (in the Jewish Messiah) with force. During the inquisitions Jews who converted (under threat of expulsion) were forbidden under the threat of torture and death from continuing to live as Jews in any way. Spies were dispatched to enforce the law and expose the offenders.

Second Century Conclusion

Justin Martyr however did not agree with their future conclusions. In Martyr’s dialogue with Trypho, he debates a fictional Trypho, a Jew, over whether or not Jesus is the prophesied Jewish Messiah. Trypho asks:

“But if some [Jewish believers], even now, wish to live in the observance of the institutions given by Moses, and yet believe in this Jesus who was crucified, recognising him to be the Christ of God, and that it is given to him to be absolute judge of all, and that his is the everlasting kingdom, can they also be saved? …if someone…after he recognises that this man is [the prophesied Jewish Messiah], and has believed in and obeys him, wishes, however, to observe these institutions [given by Moses], will he be saved?”[ii]

Justin responds:

“In my opinion, Trypho, such a one will be saved, if he does not strive in every way to persuade other men—I mean… Gentiles…, to observe the same things as himself, telling them that they will not be saved unless they do.”[iii]

That is mainstream Messianic Jewish theology! Jews are called (not demanded) to continue to live and identify themselves as Jews, but we in no way feel it is right to compel Gentile believers to honor the liturgical aspects ( i.e. Circumcision, Saturday Sabbath, food laws, feasts) to be saved. I find it fascinating that one of the first proponents of one of the most damaging, murderous theologies ever to be stated, Replacement Theology, was also a proponent of Messianic Judaism! Or at least he was not against it.

So if the fellow who actually believed that the Church replaces Israel and Israel is no longer called or chosen, was comfortable with Jewish believers continuing to live as Jews, why then do people today take offense?

Final Thought

The final thing we can take away from this is that 150 years after the birth of Yeshua, there were Jews under in the Roman Empire who loved Yeshua and continued to honor the Torah.

(Note: It was while reading Ray Pritz’s book on the early Jewish believers that I stumbled upon the Justin Martyr quote. I urge everyone who is interested in this issue to buy his book on Amazon.)

[i] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid

By Rabbi Brenner Glickman, Rosh Hashanah 5775/2014

(This was the Rosh Hashanah sermon from Rabbi Brenner Glickman. Powerful!)

Tonight, I will tell you a story. It is the true story of a seemingly inconsequential man who, driven by passion and determination, has accomplished the extraordinary. It is a David and Goliath story of our times, and it continues to unfold. When you hear this story, I think you will agree that someone needs to write a book about this man. I can’t believe that no one has yet.

Our hero’s name is Stephen Flatow. He is a real-estate attorney in northern New Jersey. He does title work, mostly, out of a small, cluttered office. He is well-regarded in his field, but not especially well known. He makes a living. He is famous, however, in other circles, as an activist. His courage and determination are unmatched. This lone man has stood up to the greatest powers and has not blinked. He has challenged the State Department, the Justice Department, the courts, and the largest banks in the world. He has failed and prevailed, stumbled and triumphed, over and over again. He does not quit. He is driven by the love of his daughter, a daughter who was killed by a suicide bomber twenty years ago. This is his story. Continue Reading…

Maybe I am not a Racist!

Ron Cantor —  November 6, 2014 — 3 Comments

(Written Wednesday morning after the election)

I am conflicted this morning. For six years, whenever I have criticized President Obama’s policies, some folks have suggested my problem was with his race. And not just me, but many who have taken issue with the president, particularly in the Tea Party, have been labeled as racists—simply for disagreeing. Many others have been fearful to say anything negative about the President’s policies for fear of being labeled a bigot.

But this morning when I heard that Mia Love, not just black, but a woman to boot, became the first black Republican congresswomen, I had this strange emotion. You would think that with the supposed war on women liberals keep talking about, that, as a white male, I would have been horrified at her success. On the contrary, my inner Archie Bunker was nowhere to be found. I was overjoyed with her success…as a woman, as a person of color, and, as a Republican.

So, maybe I am not a racist.

Maybe I am not at war against women. Maybe my issues with President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have nothing to do with race or sex, but ideas and policy! Maybe my beef centers around Obamacare, Fast and Furious, the IRS targeting conservatives, the wiretapping of reporters, and the Benghazi cover-up (and the cover-up of the cover-up!).

Maybe it is because the Fort Hood terror attack was labeled a workplace dispute. Maybe it is because the president has opened the borders to illegals, while not lifting one finger to get back our marine who was jailed in Mexico. Maybe my concerns had more to do with policy than pigment; facts rather than gender.

Could it be that my concern was far more connected to the fact that ISIS is growing at a rapid rate and our president did nothing to stop them until the pressure was too great to ignore? Or that his administration refers to Prime Minister Netanyahu as Chicken****, while Jews get run down on the streets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv comes under rocket attacks? Or the fact he and Ms. Clinton have treated Netanyahu with disdain over and over again, when Israel is the USA’s only true and lasting ally in the Middle East.

Or just possibly it disturbed me that our President could condemn the beheading of a reporter and then exit stage left to go play golf and yuk it up with Alonzo Mourning. Could it be that I and millions of other Americans love the fact that America elected an African American, and yet are horrified at the lack of action that the Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning president has taken as the leader of the free world?

Today my heart rejoiced to see Mia Love (great name!), the daughter of Haitian immigrants, be elected to congress. I was so happy to realize that I am not racist, or sexist, but simply someone, who, like so many Americans, is passionate about the direction America is going. Today I confirmed, once and for all, that my issue with President Obama has absolutely nothing to do with the color of his skin, but the content of his character.

President Obama two years ago told my cousin, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, that elections have consequences and “I won.” I hope he uses the same logic moving forward after Tuesday’s election.