🔼The name Nazirite in the Bible
The word Nazirite is a general designation rather than a name. It denotes men and women (Numbers 6:2) who made a special vow to the Lord, or whose parents did (in the case of Samuel, for instance; 1 Samuel 1:11). What that vow exactly entailed is not clear, but it could either be temporary or permanent, and the rules of behavior for people who were under that vow were set out precisely (Numbers 6). The Nazirite could not drink alcohol or eat any fruit of the vine, or touch a dead person, or cut their hair. The famous life-long Nazirite Samson managed to break every single one of these statutes (Judges 13-16).
The word Nazirite occurs much more frequently in the early Old Testament than in the later books. But that the practice hadn't died out until the New Testament era is shown by Acts 18:18, which reads that Paul had his head shaven because he was previously under a vow. In Acts 21:27-26 Paul seeks to appease the Jews and declares that he has four Nazirites among his following and goes in for another stint himself (see 21:23).
Since John the Baptist was probably a Nazirite (Luke 1:15), it is often supposed that Jesus was a Nazirite as well, but that is by no means certain, and actually highly unlikely. If He had been a Nazirite, He would have sinned as He touched the coffin of the widow's dead son (Luke 7:14) and as He called into Lazarus' grave (John 11:43, compare with Numbers 6:6), and also when He drank wine, although it isn't clear if He ever did (Matthew 11:19, compare with Numbers 6:3).
Jesus was not a Nazirite but a Nazarene, meaning: someone from Nazareth. Matthew explains the move of Jesus and His parents to Nazareth as something that was predicted by the prophets (Matthew 2:23) but the name Nazareth does not occur in the Old Testament and there is no canonized reference to the Messiah having to be a Nazarene. The disciple Nathanael seconds this when he declares that he has no knowledge of any prediction of something good having to come from Nazareth (John 1:46). Judging from the little discussion of John 1:43-51, it seems likely that Nathanael didn't just sneer but reviewed his knowledge of Moses and the prophets and concluded that they contained no reference to anything good coming from Nazareth (and 'good' is a very big word; see Matthew 19:17).
Still, even though some claim it from an Aramaic word meaning 'watchtower,' it's sort of half-defendable that the name Nazareth came from the same root as the word Nazirite (but see our article on the name Nazareth for a rebuttal and an alternative).
🔼Etymology of the name Nazirite
The word נזיר comes from the verb נזר (nazar), to separate (or consecrate):
In its article on the word Nazirite, HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament suggests the base meaning of 'distinction,' a word that carries both the meaning of 'difference' but also 'eminence'. Leviticus 25:5 and 25:11 deals with the vine and declares that the vine was not to be pruned in the sabbatical year. It's not immediately clear what makes the vine so special, but it this stipulation certainly appears to demonstrate a kind of symbolic relationship between Israel's Holy Men and the vine (John 15:5). HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament explains that this wild growing of the vine "need not be seen as a metaphorical extension of the Nazirite practice of letting the hair grow," but here at Abarim Publications we are not so sure. In fact, to us it seems like the perfect metaphor, and may very well help to explain the nature of the Nazirite vow.
For a better understanding of what we're getting at you should also read our articles on Seir (means hairy), Korah (means bald) and our study of the symbolic meaning of hair in the Bible. All things considered it seems that the Nazirite was not at all somewhat like our monks, not quietly secluded or rigidly constrained. From the sparse data we have it seems that the Nazirite was much more like our expressionistic artists, typically not constrained and free to pursue whatever inkling they got (within the compass of the Law, of course, but that goes without saying). By doing so, they may have been able to come up with greater insights than anyone who was subject to form and fashion.
And the rule that a Nazirite should abstain from alcohol has nothing to do with alcohol being bad. Too much of anything is not recommended, but the Bible keeps wine and the reasonable consumption of wine in high regards. Jesus' inaugural miracle consisted of turning water into wine at Cana, and Paul even urges Timothy and his church at Ephesus to drink wine (1 Timothy 5:23). The abstinence from wine of the Nazirite has probably more to do with the highly volatile combination of any kind of drug and the liberty to explore. Dope trips may seem very spiritual but dope induced experiences do not translate into practical knowledge of either man or God, and are prone to cause psychoses rather than wisdom. Humans need to be clear-headed, especially when the enigmatic world of the spirits is concerned. Intoxication is a very unreliable guide.
The word Nazirite means Separated One or Consecrated One.