People have been fascinated with Jesus Christ for 2,000 years. From his birth in a manger to poor Jewish parents to his resurrection from the dead three days after his crucifixion, believers and even some non-believers are curious about his life. A common question people have about Jesus concerns where Mary and Joseph raised him.
Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a town in the lower region of Galilee. The community was in the hill country, halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. While the modern town has over 80,000 people, Nazareth was only a village when Jesus was a child, with less than 1,000 residents.
Where do the Gospels say Jesus was from Nazareth? Was he born there or somewhere else? What kind of reputation did Nazareth have? Did people from the town embrace Jesus as a prophet? Why or why not? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Nazareth in the Life of Jesus
The Gospels report that Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7). Soon after that, the family fled to Egypt because Herod sought to kill him (Matt. 2:13-23). When an angel told Joseph to return home, he heard that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was in power, so he led his family to Galilee (Matt. 2:22).
Matthew adds, “And [Jesus] went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23, ESV).
Matthew never mentions that Mary and Joseph raised Jesus in Nazareth, but Luke does.
“And when [Mary and Joseph] had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:39-40, emphasis added). Also, see Matt. 4:16 below.
Jesus of Nazareth
Having grown up in Nazareth, it was part of Jesus’ identity. The New Testament never refers to him as “Jesus of Bethlehem.” But it refers to him as “Jesus of Nazareth” multiple times.
|Reference||Jesus of Nazareth|
|Matthew 26:71||And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”|
|Mark 1:24||“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”|
|Luke 18:37||They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” (Also see Luke 24:19)|
|John 1:45||Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”|
|Acts 2:22||“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—” (Also see Acts 3:6, 10:38)|
The Poor Reputation of Nazareth
In the story of Philip and Nathanael’s calling, the reputation of Jesus’ hometown is negative. So when Nathaniel heard where Jesus grew up, he was surprised because Nazareth was unimpressive. “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
New Testament scholar D.A. Carson explains, “Nathaniel was from Cana (21:2), another town in Galilee. As Galileans were frequently despised by people from Judea, so it appears that even fellow Galileans despised Nazareth. Nathaniel’s scathing question probably reflects more of a rivalry between villages.” 
The sect of Nazarenes
In Acts 24, Tertullus, the prosecuting attorney for the Roman governor of Judea, Felix, makes accusations against Paul. “For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5, ESV).
Tertullus argued that Paul was a political agitator who deliberately caused civil unrest in the Jewish community.
This is the only verse in the New Testament where “Nazarenes” refers to all Christians. The connotation of Tertullus’ description is critical and disparaging and likely comes from Nazareth being Jesus’ hometown.
Acts scholar F.F. Bruce writes, “The most probable view is that it was first applied to Jesus because his hometown was Nazareth, and that from him it came to be used of his followers also.” He adds that people used the term to “denote a group or a tendency on which Felix might be expected to look with disfavor; the evidence is inadequate for anything like a positive statement.” 
Jesus is Rejected at Nazareth
In telling the story of how even Jesus’ hometown rejected him, Luke mentions Nazareth is where he grew up. “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read” (Luke 4:16, emphasis added).
Jesus read a prophecy about the Messiah from the book of Isaiah and boldly proclaimed, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). Some responded, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (v. 22). Jesus responded in part, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown” (v. 24).
When they heard Jesus’ full answer, “all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away” (v. 28-30).
Luke scholar David Garland explains, “What happens in Nazareth prepares the way for what will happen in Jerusalem. Prophets do not preach to those who already agree with them and do not deal in flattery and soft-soap to win high ratings. they declare what God will do and what God requires.” 
Jesus didn’t change his message to appease a hometown crowd. He was committed to the truth, whether in front of people who knew him or before others who didn’t.
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