Some people think John the Baptist was a Nazarite because he was a lonely hermit who went off into the desert, dressed weird and subsisted on locusts and honey.
However, here’s a couple of prevalent myths about a Nazarite that clash with the generally held image of John the Baptist.
–A NAZARITE HELD TO A VERY STRICT DIET: Not true! Other than the prohibition from eating grapes or grape products, a Nazarite could pretty much eat anything he wanted as long as it was kosher.
–THEY DRESSED IN A VERY ASCETIC FASHION: Not true! They could dress any way they wanted and could even indulge in the latest and hottest fashions.
-THEY WERE CELIBATES WHO LIVED ON THE OUTER FRINGES OF SOCIETY: Not true! They could have as many wives or concubines as they wanted or were financially able to take care of. Let’s not forget the strongman Samson was a Nazarite and we all know the kind of sexual activity he liked to indulge in (not saying it was proper or God’s will but the truth is the Holy Spirit of HASHEM never left Samson while he was frolicking with the female heathen. It only left him when his hair got cut. Talk about a wacky contrast!). Nazarites were NOT celibates.
-A NAZARITE DIDN’T DO THE SAME TYPE OF WORK A COMMON ISRAELITE DID: Not true! A Nazarite was allowed to do any kind of work a common Israelite did.
Pretty much the only factor that distinguished a Nazarite from everybody else was their long hair that grew to wild proportions because they were not allowed to cut it.
So other than the rock star Tarzan-style jungle fever hair, a Nazarite was for all intents and purposes like everybody else.
The reason the above myths came about is because they originated from people’s ideas about who John the Baptist was.
Let’s explore that question for a second here.
Why do people come to the conclusion that John the Baptist was a Nazarite when the Bible never clearly says he was a Nazarite?
It comes from the following verses spoken to Z’kharyah concerning Elishiva, his wife and John the Baptist’s mother.
“He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many people will rejoice when he is born, for he will be great in the sight of Adonai. He is never to drink wine or other liquor, and he will be filled with the Ruach HaKodesh even from his mother’s womb.”-Luke 1:14-15
Scripture tells us that Elisheva vowed never to drink wine or strong drink (in Hebrew YAYIN or SHEKAR) while John was in the womb.
The other reason why people think John the Baptist was a Nazarite was because he had long hair.
But that’s not enough of a differentiating distinction.
I mean in those days, a lot of folks had long hair and actually a lot of folks also abstained from strong drink.
Incidentally, there was another group known as the Rechabites who we find in the Book of Jeremiah that also appeared to have abstained from wine due to a family custom that began with Jetro, Moses’ father-in-law.
Their family tradition also forbade them from growing grapes or planting seeds of any kind and they lived in tents.
Their Bedouin-like ascetic lifestyle was apparently a response to a priesthood that had become spiritless and and corrupt and the records show that this group of people also grew their hair long.
This actually leads me to my next point.
In John the Baptist’s day, many groups practicing asceticism were on the rise.
In order to get closer to and deepen their relationship with HASHEM, certain Jews would group together and decide to forsake the creature comforts of daily life and community.
You’ve heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, right?
Well, the group that produced these scrolls were called the Essenes and they were another of the many forsake-all-for God groups that had arisen in those days.
In fact, there appears to be some evidence that John the Baptist was an Essene, or at the very least pretty involved with them.
Now one of the main reasons John the Baptist could not have been a Nazarite was because by bloodline he was a Levite.
According to Torah, a Levite was not allowed to become a Nazarite.
This wasn’t a drawback in anyway however.
It was just about avoiding unnecessary duplication because a Levite was born into an office that ALREADY set him apart for lifelong service to HASHEM.
I mean why take a driver’s license examination again when the one you currently have hasn’t yet expired, right?
Regardless of the circumstances, John the Baptist was already set-apart for God by virtue of being a Levite, period.
“But what about John not drinking any wine?” you ask?
Well, check out these words of Yeshua whose path John the Baptist paved.
“I tell you, I will not drink
from this fruit of the vine
from now on until that day
when I drink it new with you
in my Father’s kingdom.”
There are some who say that John’s vow to not drink wine was prophetic of Yeshua’s above statement that he would not drink wine until he drank it with his disciples in the new kingdom and again remember there were many other groups who abstained from alcohol as well and it had nothing to do with taking a Nazarite vow.
Let’s move on to the final question.
If John the Baptist was NOT a Nazarite, who or what in the world was he?
Based on all the textual and historical evidence, I would say there’s no doubting John the Baptist was an ascetic.
Think about it.
The guy lived out in the wilderness.
His only form of clothing was a sackcloth.
He never cut his hair.
He subsisted on a very sparse diet.
And here’s the thing, in John the Baptist’s day, there were thousands of folks like him who decided to forsake all for the coming Kingdom of God.