The Gospels provide readers with many details about the life of Jesus Christ, all of which are important to understanding his character, message, and mission. One question that arises in the minds of some people is, given Jesus’ divine and holy identity, was he a Nazirite according to the Old Testament law?
There is no biblical evidence that Jesus was a Nazirite in relation to Numbers 6:1-23. (Nazirite should not be confused with Nazarite, i.e. someone from Nazareth). A Nazirite, according to Numbers, describes an Israelite who vowed to abstain from alcohol, cutting their hair, and touching corpses.
What does the book of Numbers teach about people who made a Nazirite vow? What could Nazirites not do and why? Was the vow permanent or temporary? Who in the New Testament was a Nazirite? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see What Was Jesus’ Blood Type? to learn more.
What does the book of Numbers say about Nazirites?
It’s important to make a distinction between a person who is from the town of Nazareth and an Israelite who has taken the vow described in the Law of Moses. A person who has taken the vow is a Nazirite spelled with two i’s. A Nazarite, also called a Nazarene, as in a person from the town of Nazareth, is spelled with two a’s.
Jesus was a Nazarite or Nazarene (Mark 16:6), but there is no evidence that he was a Nazirite (Num. 6:1-23).
According to Numbers 6:1-23, a Nazarite is an Israelite who lived in a uniquely consecrated way. A “man or a woman” could make “a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord” (v. 2).
God didn’t command all Israelites to make this vow, and people weren’t sinning if they refrained from the commitment. An Israelite could be holy and in right standing with God without becoming a Nazirite.
|Definition||one consecrated, devoted|
Why did people take the Nazirite vow? People took the vow for a variety of reasons. Similar to the discipline of fasting, an Israelite made a vow as an expression of faith for different reasons. Some may have simply wanted to grow closer to God. Others may have wanted to communicate the sincerity of a petition to God, such as a prayer for health. The possibilities are numerous.
Also see Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus? to learn more.
What rules did Nazirites have to follow?
The Bible indicates that some people made a vow to live according to Nazirite rules permanently. Others made the vow for a temporary period of time for various reasons related to their devotion to God.
Nazirites couldn’t drink alcohol
Numbers 6:3-4, “He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.”
The prohibition against drinking wine, not only spared a Nazirite the potential of drunkenness, but it may have been an expression of sacrificing earthly pleasures. Sacrificing something that isn’t inherently sinful has biblical precedent (cf. 1 Cor. 7:5), and is commonly practiced today, such as during the season of Lent.
Nazirites couldn’t cut their hair
Numbers 6:5, “All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.”
The story of Samson, who was a Nazirite from birth (Judg. 13:7), helps Bible readers understand the symbolic importance of hair: “And he told her all his heart, and said to her, ‘A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.'” (Judges 16:17)
Long hair — perhaps a characteristic of overall health and wellness — depicted personal strength. However, long hair wasn’t permanent for Nazirites: “And the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire that is under the sacrifice of the peace offering” (Num. 6:18; cf. Acts 18:18).
Also see Why Is Jesus Called the Son of David? to learn more.
Nazirites couldn’t touch dead bodies
Numbers 6:6-7, “All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body. Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head.”
God instructed Nazirites not to touch corpses. Some scholars believe the prohibition is to prevent ceremonial uncleanness. Others believe that the rule enhances the Nazirites’ singular devotion to God, not people, even family (cf. Matt. 19:5).
Besides Samson, who else is a Nazirite in the Old Testament? Samuel was a Nazirite: “And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” (1 Sam. 1:11)
The Recabites (Jer. 35) were also Nazirites.
Also see Was Jesus Christ Perfect? to learn more.
Who in the New Testament is a Nazirite?
Scholars are in general agreement that John the Baptist was probably a permanent Nazirite and that Paul may have taken a temporary Nazirite vow.
John the Baptist: The evidence that John was a Nazirite is found in his birth story in Luke. “For he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15)
Paul: The evidence that Paul was a Nazirite is a reference in Acts to him cutting his hair. “After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.” (Acts 18:18)
Also see Did Jesus Christ Smoke Marijuana? to learn more.
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