(Mt. 2:6) Did Micah predict the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem or not?

CLAIM: Matthew seems to misquote Micah 5:2. Compare the two below:

Differences between Matthew and Micah

Matthew 2:6

Micah 5:2

(1) And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,

(2) are by no means least among the (3) leaders of Judah;

(4) for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”

(1) But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

(2) too little to be among the (3) clans of Judah,

(4) from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.

RESPONSE: A couple of observations should be made here:

First, Jewish rabbis viewed Micah 5:2 as messianic like Matthew did. It isn’t as though Matthew was “twisting the Scriptures,” as some critics have claimed.[1] Carson and Beale write,

The Targum of the Minor Prophets very explicitly takes this text as messianic: “And you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, you who were too small to be numbered among the thousands of the house of Judah, from you shall come forth before me the anointed One, to exercise dominion over Israel, he whose name was mentioned from of old, from ancient times.”[2]

Other post-Christian rabbinic literature recognized that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (e.g., Tg. Ps.-J. Gen. 35:21), so there is no reason to reject the claim of the Gospels that this information was recognized already in the first century.[3]

In addition, the NT notes that Jewish interpreters believed that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. John writes, “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (Jn. 7:42)

Second, Micah used the strongest word possible (‘olam) for this figure’s eternal nature. It is true that ‘olam can be rendered in a temporal—not eternal—way (see Micah 7:14). This term is applied to God’s eternal nature (Ps. 90:2), and Micah uses it for eternity as well, elsewhere in his book (Mic. 2:9; 4:5, 7). Moreover, the great Jewish exegete Rashi interpreted ‘olam in Micah 5:2 as eternal.[4] Hebrew scholar Arnold Fruchtenbaum writes, “As regards His human origin, He is to be born in Bethlehem, but regarding His divine origin, He is said to be ‘from long ago, from the days of eternity.’ The Hebrew words for ‘from long ago, from the days of eternity’ are the strongest Hebrew words ever used for eternity past. They are used of God the Father in Psalm 90:2. What is true of God the Father is also said to be true of this One who is to be born in Bethlehem.”[5]

Third, while Matthew PARAPHRASES the meaning of Micah 5:2, he doesn’t TWIST the meaning. For example, compare the differences between Matthew’s citation:

“Land of Judah” versus “Ephrathah” The land of Judah (per Matthew) is simply broader than the term Ephrathah (per Micah). Ephrathah is simply more specific. It might be similar to naming the county—rather than the state—where a city is located. When Herod asked the chief priests about the birth of the Messiah, they stated, “In Bethlehem of Judea” (Mt. 2:5).

“No means least” versus “too little” This difference doesn’t really change the meaning of the text.

“Leaders” versus “clans” Matthew uses the term “leaders” instead of “clans.” This isn’t really isn’t a difference of meaning, because the Messiah would be the leader of the clans of Israel. Here Matthew follows the Septuagint translation, which calls these “rulers” or “leaders.”[6]

“Shepherd” versus “rulers” 2 Samuel equates the king with the “shepherd” of Israel. There we read: “You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel” (2 Sam. 5:2). Therefore, this doesn’t change the meaning. Also, in this same passage, Micah writes, “He will arise and shepherd His flock” (Mic. 5:4).

[1] McCasland, S. Vernon. “Matthew Twists the Scriptures.” Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 80, No. 2 (Jun., 1961), pp. 143-148

[2] Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (6). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.

[3] Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (6). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.

[4] Brown, Michael L. Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections. Volume Three. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003. 39.

[5] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin, Calif.: Ariel Ministries Press, 1998), 64.

[6] Carson and Beale write, “A literal translation of Mic. 5:1 MT (5:2 ET) reads, “And you Bethlehem Ephrathah, little [or, ‘insignificant’] among the thousands [or, ‘clans’] of Judah, from you to me will go forth to be a ruler in Israel.…” Micah 5:1 LXX (5:2 ET) translates the Hebrew quite literally, but adds “house of” before “Ephrathah” and changes “thousands” to “rulers of thousands.” Matthew follows the LXX verbatim for “and you Bethlehem,” replaces “(house of) Ephrathah” with “land of Judah,” adds “by no means” before “little,” changes the adjective to the superlative form “least,” replaces “rulers of thousands” with “governors,” omits “to me,” but then reproduces “out of you will go forth” using LXX wording.” Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (6). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.