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In the Hebrew Bible, a Nazirite or Nazarite, (in Hebrew: נזיר, nazir), refers to one who voluntarily took a vow described in Numbers 6:1–21. The proper noun "Nazarite" comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning "consecrated" or "separated". This vow required the man or woman to:
The Nazirite is described as being "holy unto YHWH" (Numbers 6:8), yet at the same time must bring a sin offering. This has led to divergent approaches to the Nazirite in the Talmud, and later authorities, with some viewing the Nazirite as an ideal, and others viewing him as a sinner.
In Modern Hebrew the word "nazir" is commonly used for monks, both Christian and Buddhist - this meaning having largely displaced the original Biblical meaning.
Nazirites in the New Testament
See also: Historical Jesus
The practice of a nazirite vow is part of the ambiguity of the Greek term "Nazarene" that appears in the New Testament; the sacrifice of a lamb and the offering of bread does suggest a relationship with Christian symbolism (then again, these are the two most frequent offerings prescribed in Leviticus, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn). While a saying in (Matthew 11:18–19 and Luke 7:33–35) attributed to Jesus makes it doubtful that he, reported to be "a winebibber", was a nazirite during his ministry, the verse ends with the curious statement, "But wisdom is justified of all her children". The advocation of the ritual consumption of wine as part of the Eucharist, the tevilah in Mark 14:22–25 indicated he kept this aspect of the nazirite vow when Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God." The ritual with which Jesus commenced his ministry (recorded via Greek as "Baptism") and his vow in Mark 14:25 and Luke 22:15–18 at the end of his ministry, do respectively reflect the final and initial steps (purification by immersion in water and abstaining from wine) inherent in a Nazirite vow. These passages may indicate that Jesus intended to identify himself as a Nazirite ("not drinking the fruit of vine") before his crucifixion.
Luke the Evangelist clearly was aware that wine was forbidden in this practice, for the angel (Luke 1:13–15) that announces the birth of John the Baptist foretells that "he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb", in other words, a nazirite from birth, the implication being that John had taken a lifelong nazirite vow.
Acts of the Apostles is also attributed to Luke (see Luke-Acts) and in Acts 18:18, Paul cut off his hair because of a vow he had taken, we learn that the early Jewish Christians occasionally took the temporary Nazarite vow, and it is probable that the vow of St. Paul mentioned in Acts 18:18, was of a similar nature, although the shaving of his head in Cenchræ, outside of Palestine, was not in conformity with the rules laid down in the sixth chapter of Numbers, nor with the interpretation of them by the Rabbinical schools of that period. If we are to believe the legend of Hegesippus quoted by Eusebius, St. James the Less, Bishop of Jerusalem, was a Nazarite, and performed with rigorous exactness all the practices enjoined by that rule of life. and in Acts 21:20–24 Paul was advised to counter the claims made by some Judaizers (that he encouraged a revolt against the Mosaic Law). He showed the "believers there" (believers in Jesus, i.e. the Jewish Christians) in Jerusalem otherwise by purifying himself and accompanying four men to the temple who had taken nazaritic vows (so as to refute the naysayers).
This stratagem only delayed the inevitable mob assault on him. This event brought about the accusation in Acts 24:5–18 that Paul was the "ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes", and thus provides further verification that the term Nazarene was a mistranslation of the term Nazirite. In any case, the relationship of Paul of Tarsus and Judaism is still disputed.
What is curious is that Luke does not here mention the apostle James the Just as taking nazirite vows, although later Christian historians (e.g. Epiphanius Panarion 29.4) believed he had, and the vow of a nazirite would explain the asceticism Eusebius of Caesarea ascribed to James (something the Jewish Nazarite Vow was never intended to do), a claim that gave James the title "James the Just".