“He shall be called a Nazorean.” — no prophet ever

Ok, ok. I’m just having a little fun with my literalist friends and others who accuse the Catholic Church of not following “the clear teaching of scripture.”  Today’s lectionary reading includes Matthew 2:23, which reads as follows:

He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth,
so that what had been spoken through the prophets
might be fulfilled,
He shall be called a Nazorean.

The issue?  No prophet ever literally says that the Messiah would be called a Nazorean.  I know, I know. It may be a play on words with the Hebrew words for “branch” or “Nazirite” or some such other hypothesis (or at least that’s what I read in seminary).  All that to say, when people ask me “where do you find such and such Catholic teaching in the Bible?,” more often times than not I don’t bite.  Some Catholics do, but that’s their prerogative.  My follow-up question is usually “where does a prophet clearly state that the Messiah would be called a Nazorean?”  There’s at least as much, if not more, clear evidence for something like purgatory than there is that the Messiah would be a Nazorean.  So, I generally try to steer the discussion into more basic ideas about interpretation and what biblical interpretation sometimes looks like even within the Bible itself.

“Where do you find such and such Catholic teaching in the Bible?” is, in fact, not really a good question to ask a Catholic in my opinion.  We have a whole theology around the concept of the development of Christian doctrine.  John Henry Newman’s famous analogy is that a doctrine may be found in scripture in the form of an acorn that later develops into an oak tree.  Does the mighty oak resemble the acorn? Not so much.  A better question for a Catholic would be “where is that belief rooted in scripture and how does it develop over time?”

The other lesson to be learned here, follow-up on the Old Testament quotations in New Testament texts.  There’s a whole lot there a lot of our current theological frameworks might be ill-equipped to handle.