The Anti-Missionary’s Charge:
This objection comes from an anti-missionary with Christianity Revealed.
Matthew 2:5-6 says:
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”
Micah 5:2 says:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the rulers/clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins/goings out are from of old, from ancient times/from days of eternity.”
These are very different verses. Matthew does not translate the verse correctly, it shows tampering or editing by the Council of Nicea and Trent.
Micah was telling of King Ahaz’s son, King Hezekiah. In Hebrew it means the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, the Wondrous Adviser, and the Government that was on his shoulder as predicted in Isaiah chapter nine. Hezekiah was the King of the Jews, he was anointed, and there was peace in the land for many years. He was truly the Messiah!
The anti-missionary objects to the fact that Matthew’s quote of Micah 5:2 did not match Tanakh exactly. However, we maintain that there is no need to see this as a problem.
We need to go back to “The Four Ways the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) Uses The Hebrew Scriptures.” Matthew was not interested in exactness; rather, he was interested in communicating his understanding of Yeshua‘s (Jesus) birth. What he understands is that a literal ruler will come out of a literal city, and Jesus literally did that.
This is an example of P’shat-a literal prophecy and a literal fulfillment. Remember this is the interpretive method most preferred by the rabbis. Remember what they said in the Talmud-Shabbat 63A:
“A verse cannot depart from its plain meaning…”
He is directing the reader back to Tanakh to verify his understanding. This quotation, though differing verbally, agrees substantially with the Hebrew and the Septuagint. The fact that he did not quote the Hebrew Scriptures exactly is not a case for tampering with the text.
What Matthew has done here is to combine Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2. Combining the two verses emphasizes Matthew’s conviction that the King who brings the kingdom is a Shepherd-King. Which, by the way, is the same thought communicated two verses further on in Micah 5:3 (Micah 5:4 in English):
“He shall stand and shepherd by the might of the Lord, by the power of the name of the Lord his God, and they shall dwell [secure]. For lo, he shall wax great to the ends of the earth;”
Matthew would not have been concerned with rendering Micah 5:2 freely as long as he communicated accurate understanding. He has achieved that communication goal, a literal ruler was to come out of Bethlehem. That King would act as God’s Shepherd over Israel and Jesus is that Shepherd/King. The reader can then study Micah chapter 5 to decide whether Matthew is correct or not.
Now, is this literal ruler the Messiah or not?
Matthew is convinced that he is and Jesus is that person. Matthew is not alone in coming to the conclusion that this verse is Messianic. The translator of Targum Jonathan felt that the verse was Messianic:
“And you, O Bethlehem Ephrath, you who were too small to be numbered among the thousands of the house of Judah, from you shall come forth before Me the Messiah, to exercise dominion over Israel, he whose name was mentioned from before, from the days of creation.”
Please notice that Targum Jonathan is a free rendering of Micah 5:2 as well. Jonathan understood the verse to be Messianic so he inserted the paraphrastic phrase “the Messiah” to facilitate understanding. This is exactly the kind of thing Matthew has done. This kind of free quote is entirely in keeping with the Jewish culture and thinking of the first century. This is not the Church “tampering with the text.”
In addition to Targum Jonathan, let us see what Rabbi David Kimchi said about Micah 5:2:
“… out of thee shall come forth unto me a Judge to be Ruler in Israel, and this is the King Messiah.”
Targum Palestine renders the verse in a similar manner:
“Out of thee Bethlehem shall Messiah go forth before me to exercise dominion over Israel.”
In the Soncino Books of the Bible, Chapter 5 is summarized with this statement.
“A prophecy of the Messianic king and Israel’s destiny among the nations.”
In that commentary verses 1-5 are entitled “The Messianic King.” The commentator, Rabbi Goldman’s first phrase is, “This prophecy of the Messiah…” Rabbi Goldman also comments regarding the phrase “from ancient of days.” He states:
“It is possible that the phrase gave rise to the later Jewish doctrine that the Messiah existed in the mind of God from time immemorial as part of the Creator’s plan at the inception of the universe. In the Talmud, the name of the Messiah is included among the seven things created before the world was brought into being.”
Dr. Alfred Edersheim (a Messianic Jewish scholar) makes the same point. In his book, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, he states that this is Messianic in nature and refers the reader to Pirque de R. Eliezar.
We think it is fair to say that this is a Messianic prophecy. The fact that it is a Messianic prophecy is well supported by rabbinic literature.
But does it refer to Jesus?
We think it does.
First of all, the language used to describe the origin of the ruler is much too strong to apply to any human being like Hezekiah. We think Rabbi Goldman’s comment supports the strong language describing the ruler to come. In addition, the Hebrew phrase rendered “the days of eternity” uses the strongest Hebrew words for eternity past. These words are also used of God in Psalm 90:2. In that Psalm God is described as “from eternity to eternity.” From eternity to eternity is the rendering found in the Tanakh version. The Tanakh is the most recent English translation by the Jewish Publication Society. Their older translation uses the terms “everlasting to everlasting.” The same terminology is likewise used of God’s wisdom personified in Proverbs 8:22-23. The older Jewish Publication Society version uses the terminology “from everlasting” to describe God’s wisdom.
The Tanakh renders the words:
“in the distant past I was fashioned, at the beginning, at the origin of earth.”
Hezekiah’s origins are not from eternity past or during the origin of the Earth. Hezekiah cannot be the one referred to here. However, the message of the New Testament is that Jesus fits the data, He fits this description. The New Testament teaches that Jesus has existed from eternity past. Examples of this are found in John 1:1 and John 1:14:
- John 1:1 (NASB95)
- John 1:14 (NASB95)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Yeshua was around at the origin of the Earth. The New Testament states that He created the Earth:
- John 1:10 (NASB95)
“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.”
So, Yeshua was around at the origin of the Earth. He also existed from eternity past. We just read that in John 1:1. In addition, Jesus stated it himself in John 8:58:
- John 8:58 (NASB95)
“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.'”
He affirms that His origins are from eternity past as well. In making this statement, Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or He is the Son of God. There is no middle ground. However, the words of the New Testament do not describe a liar, or a lunatic. The words of Jesus and the story of Jesus has blessed untold thousands of people. The New Testament does not relate the story of a liar or a lunatic. The only option left before us is that Jesus is the Son of God who existed from eternity past.
Can we say the same of Hezekiah? Hezekiah does not come close to fulfilling this requirement. Matthew and the other Jewish authors of the New Testament did not think so either. That is why they wrote the New Testament, to put forth their case for Jesus. We are not alone in feeling that Hezekiah is not a good candidate for Messiahship.
Neither did Rabbi Joseph in Sanhedrin 99a. Rabbi Joseph is involved in a discussion regarding the book of Zechariah with Rabbi Hillel. The interaction begins with Rabbi Hillel’s position:
“Rabbi Hillel said, ‘There shall be no Messiah for Israel, because they have already enjoyed him in the days of Hezekiah.'”
In other words, Rabbi Hillel says that Hezekiah was the Messiah. He has come and gone already, there is no Messiah for Israel in the future.
Rabbi Joseph responds to Hillel’s understanding
“Rabbi Joseph said, ‘May God forgive him (for saying so).'”
Rabbi Joseph was quite upset with Rabbi Hillel for taking the position that Hezekiah was the Messiah. I do not blame him, Hezekiah is a poor candidate for Messiahship. Granted, Hezekiah was the godliest King that Israel ever had, his character is praised in 2 Kings 18:5:
“(Hezekiah) trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him.”
Yet, in contrast to his godliness, Hezekiah had a rebellious streak of pride in his character. 2 Chronicles 32:24-25 reveals the dark side of Hezekiah’s character:
“In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill; and he prayed to the Lord, and the Lord spoke to him and gave him a sign. But Hezekiah gave no return for the benefit he received, because his heart was proud; therefore wrath came on him and on Judah and Jerusalem.”
Hezekiah was all too human and not a good candidate for the Messiah. Hezekiah struggled with sin and his origin was not found in eternity past. Jesus is a much better candidate. What we are saying about the Messiah having an origin in eternity past is not something of Gentile or “Christian” origin. In fact, the Israeli scholar Raphael Patai devotes an entire chapter to the subject of the “Preexistence and Names of the Messiah” in his book The Messiah Texts. He explains the concept, then devotes two pages to rabbinic quotes-eight quotations-supporting the idea of the preexistence of the Messiah. This is not a thought alien to the Jewish people. This is not the Church “tampering with the text.” The implications of all this are staggering.
Jesus fulfills the biblical data. Jesus is our long awaited Messiah.
- ^ Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Mt 2:6). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- ^ New Geneva study Bible. 1997, c1995. C1995 by Foundation for Reformation. (electronic ed.) (Mt 2:6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
- ^ Jewish Publication Society. (1997, c1985). Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures : A new translation of the Holy Scriptures according to the traditional Hebrew text. Title facing t.p.: Torah, Nevi’im, Kethuvim = Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim. (Mic 5:3). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
- ^ Huckel, T. (1998). The Rabbinic Messiah (Mic 5:2). Philadelphia: Hananeel House.
- ^ Jewish Publication Society (1997, c1985) Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures : A new translation of the Holy Scriptures according to the traditional Hebrew text. Title facing t.p.: Torah, Nevi’im, Kethuvim = Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim. (Pr 8:23). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
- ^ The Soncino Talmud (©1973 Judaica Press, Inc. and ©1965, 1967, 1977, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988, & 1990 Soncino Press, Ltd.) is a product of Judaica Press, Inc. Brooklyn, NY, and, if included, is incorporated herein pursuant to exclusive license.
- ^ Ibid.
- ^ New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (2 Ch 32:24). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.