In 1958, Peter Stoner published a book called Science Speaks (I will be referring to the Online Edition of this book). Chapter 3 of his book was titled “The Christ of Prophecy”. Stoner argues that Jesus fulfilled eight specific Old Testament predictions about the Messiah, the coming King of the Jews. On page 50, Stoner draws this conclusion:
Because Jesus (allegedly) fulfilled these eight predictions about the Messiah, Stoner infers that it is nearly certain that those predictions were inspired by God, and that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Jews and the Savior of mankind.
OT PASSAGE #1: MICAH 5:2
Let’s take a look at the first Old Testament passage that Peter Stoner claims to be a messianic prophecy fulfilled by Jesus (Science Speaks, p.47):
Does this passage predict that the messiah is to be born in the town of Bethlehem? While this is the most common interpretation of this passage, it is not clear that this interpretation is correct. It is NOT clear that “Bethlehem Ephratah” refers to the TOWN of Bethlehem. It is NOT clear that “out of thee shall he come forth” refers to the BIRTH of a person. It is also NOT clear that “to be ruler in Israel” means to be the MESSIAH. So, there are at least three different aspects of this verse from Micah that are UNCLEAR.
THE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM?
First of all, this passage does NOT state that “Bethlehem Ephratah” is a TOWN.
Second, the passage addresses “Bethlehem Ephratah” as a PERSON or group: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little…”. A town is NOT a person or group.
Third, “Bethlehem Ephratah” is specifically said to be “little among the thousands of Judah”. There were NOT “thousands” of towns in Judah. There were, however, thousands of persons in the tribe of Judah, as well as in the geographical area called “Judah”.
However, the term “thousands” was specifically used in the Old Testament to refer to CLANS or subdivisions of a TRIBE. Thus, the phrase “the thousands of Judah” refers to the CLANS that taken together constituted the TRIBE of Judah. This passage, if read straightforwardly, asserts or implies that “Bethlehem Epharatah” was a small CLAN in the TRIBE of Judah.
Many translations of this passage use the term “clan” instead of the term “thousands” because translators are aware that “thousands” was a term that was used to mean “clans”:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,Micah 5:2, New International Version, emphasis added
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,Micah 5:2, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition, emphasis added
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,Micah 5:2, New English Translation, emphasis added
seemingly insignificant among the clans of Judah—
from you a king will emerge who will rule over Israel on my behalf,
one whose origins are in the distant past.
If we read this passage straightforwardly, then it predicts that a ruler of Israel will come from a small clan in the tribe of Judah. This ruler will have ancestors in a small clan in the tribe of Judah. Taken straightforwardly, this passage is NOT about the location of the birth of this ruler, but is about the ancestry of this ruler.
But isn’t “Bethlehem” the name of a town and NOT the name of a clan? The names of places and peoples often are closely connected. There are “Germans” who live in “Germany” and “Spaniards” who live in Spain, and “Russians” who live in “Russia”, but there are also Germans who live in France, and in Spain, and in the USA, and there are Spaniards who live in Germany, in Russia, and in the USA, and there are Russians who live in Germany, in Spain, in France, and in the USA. Ethnic groups and cultures are usually identified with particular places, but someone can belong to a particular ethnic group or culture without having been born in the place where that ethnic group or culture originated (or where that group settled).
One can be from the tribe of Judah without being born in the geographic area called “Judah”. One can be from the clan of “Ephrathah” without being born in the town or area called “Ephrathah”. King David was a great King of Israel who was from the tribe of Judah, and his father, Jesse, was from a specific CLAN in the TRIBE of Judah:
Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah named Jesse, who had eight sons.1 Samuel 17:12, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
“Ephrathah” is the name of a person:
EPHRATHAH…Another name for Ephrath, the wife of Caleb (1 Chr. 2:24; 4:4)Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p.417
“Ephrathah” is the name of a region:
EPHRATHA…A place name used in reference to Bethlehem and the surrounding region…Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p.417
“Ephrathah” also appears to be the name of a kinship group (or CLAN):
Ephrathah also appears to be the name of a woman (1 Chr. 2:19) who is identified as an ancestor…of Bethlehem, Tekoa, Beth-gader, and Kiriath-jearim…well known towns in northern Judah. It is unclear whether the kinship group associated with this territory took its name from such a person or whether the name is merely a personification of the territory for genealogical purposes.Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p.417
Ephrathite. The Ephrathites were probably a tribal subdivision of the Calebites from the Bethlehem region. Bethlehem was a village within the larger Ephrathah clan, and later the clan became synonymous with the village itself.Comment on 1 Samuel 17:12 in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, p.307
Because “Bethlehem Ephrathah” could refer to a person, to a region, or to a clan, it is NOT clear that Micah 5:2 is talking about the town of Bethlehem. Furthermore, we have two good reasons to believe that it is NOT a reference to a town. First, “Bethlehem Ephrathah” is addressed as a person or group: “thou”. Second, “Bethlehem Ephrathah” is explicitly called a “thousand” which was a term meaning a CLAN. So, it is likely that this passage is NOT talking about the town of Bethlehem.
THE LOCATION OF THE RULER’S BIRTH?
Does Micah 5:2 predict that a ruler of Israel will be born in a specific location? Given that it is unlikely that this passage is referring to the town of Bethlehem, it is also unlikely that it is predicting that a ruler of Israel will be born in a particular town or location. Because it is more likely that Micah 5:2 is talking about a CLAN, it is more likely that it is talking about a ruler of Israel “coming from” a specific CLAN. In other words, being a descendent of that CLAN (“Ephrathah”).
Furthermore, even if Micah 5:2 was referring to the town of Bethlehem, it is still UNCLEAR that it predicted that a ruler of Israel will be born in that town. I was born in Santa Monica, California, but I grew up in northern California in the town of Healdsburg. When I was a sophomore in high school, my family moved to a small town on the central coast of California called Cambria. When I went to college, I lived in Santa Rosa, California. When I went to graduate school, I lived in Goleta, a city just a few miles north of Santa Barbara, California. Most of my adult life I have lived in the Puget Sound area near Seattle, Washington.
Where am I from? I am from Kirkland, Washington because that is where I have lived for the past 25 years. I am also from Healdsburg, California, because that is where I grew up. I am also from Cambria, California, because that is where I went to high school. I am also from Santa Rosa because that is where I lived when I went to college. I am also from Santa Monica because that is where I was born.
Where was Jesus “from”? The same problem of ambiguity exists for Jesus as for me. A person can be “from” a number of different places. Jesus grew up in the town of Nazareth, so he was “from” Nazareth. Jesus and his closest disciples traveled around Galilee for most of his ministry, so Jesus was “from” the region of “Galilee”. I doubt the story in the Gospel of Matthew that claims Jesus’ parents moved to Egypt when Jesus was a baby, but if that story was in fact true, then Jesus could also be said to be “from” Egypt when his family moved back to Palestine from Egypt.
Micah 5:2 does NOT state that a ruler of Israel will be “born” in the town of Bethlehem. So, even if this passage was talking about the town of Bethlehem it only states that a ruler of Israel will be “from” Bethlehem. But that might only mean that the ruler would grow up in Bethlehem, or move to Bethlehem and live there for a number of years. It does not clearly imply that a ruler of Israel would be born there.
Because Micah 5:2 is unlikely to be talking about “the town of Bethlehem”, it is unlikely to be predicting that a ruler of Israel would be born in the town of Bethlehem. Since it only states that a ruler of Israel would be “from” somewhere (or “from” some clan), even if it is referring to “the town of Bethlehem” it might well NOT be predicting that a ruler of Israel would be BORN in “the town of Bethlehem”. Therefore, it is very unlikely that this passage predicts that a ruler of Israel would be BORN in the town of Bethlehem.
THE MESSIAH OF ISRAEL?
A big problem with all alleged “Messianic prophecies” is that the word “Messiah” does not occur in the Old Testament! For example, the word “Messiah” does not occur in any Old Testament verse in these translations:
- International Standard Version
- American Standard Version
- English Standard Version
- Revised Standard Version
- Contemporary English Version
- New English Translation
- Good News Translation
- New Catholic Bible
- New International Version
- New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
- New Living Translation
There are some translations in which the word “Messiah” occurs in just one passage in Chapter 9 of Daniel (see Daniel 9:25-26 in the New American Standard Bible, the Modern English Version, and the King James Version). Note that Daniel was probably the last book of the Old Testament to be written, so some of the theological ideas in Daniel might not be found in the earlier books of the Old Testament.
There “is no single occurrence of the form ‘the Messiah,’ with the definite article and no modifier” in the Old Testament (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p.889). Furthermore, the term “The Messiah” is “a term with roots in the OT but whose meaning arises from postbiblical usage.” (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p.889). In other words, the Christian concept of “The Messiah” did not exist when the Old Testament was written, although it did develop centuries later partly out of contemplation of some key passages from the Old Testament.
Because the phrase “The Messiah” does not occur in the Old Testament, and because the concept of “The Messiah” developed AFTER the writing of the Old Testament. It is anachronistic to read Micah 5:2 as making a prediction about “The Messiah”. This involves forcing an idea that did not yet exist onto the text of the book of Micah. Therefore, it is unreasonable to interpret Micah 5:2 as being a prediction about “The Messiah”.
What Micah 5:2 is talking about is, however, something similar to the idea of “The Messiah” that developed in the centuries after the book of Micah was written: it is talking about a future ruler of the nation of Israel:
…from you shall come forth for meMicah 5:2, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
one who is to rule in Israel…
Was Jesus a king of Israel? Was Jesus a ruler of Israel? No. Jesus was a carpenter (or craftsman), and Jesus was a Jewish preacher and faith healer. But Jesus never became a king or ruler of Israel. Jesus never became a mayor or held any public office or position of power in any town or city in Palestine. Jesus showed no interest in becoming a king or ruler or holding any public office or position of power. Clearly, Jesus did NOT fulfill the prediction made in Micah 5:2, because Jesus did not become a ruler in Israel, not even the ruler of a small town in Galilee.
WAS JESUS BORN IN THE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM?
According to Peter Stoner, Micah 5:2 predicted that a future ruler of Israel would be born in Bethlehem. Was Jesus born in Bethlehem? Most NT scholars view the birth narratives in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke as UNHISTORICAL LEGENDS. So, Jesus probably was NOT actually born in Bethlehem. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, so it is probable that Jesus was also BORN in Nazareth and not in Bethlehem.
What Peter Stoner gives us here is a dubious interpretation of Micah 5:2, and then claims that Jesus fulfilled this alleged prediction by being born in the town of Bethlehem on the basis of historically dubious birth stories found in Matthew and Luke. Furthermore, NONE of the Gospels claim that Jesus was a king or ruler anywhere in Palestine, not even a low-level official in a small town. So, that important part of Micah 5:2 clearly does NOT apply to Jesus.
WAS JESUS “FROM” THE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM?
Setting aside the interpretation that a future ruler of Israel would be BORN in the town of Bethlehem, what about the interpretation that a future ruler of Israel would “come from” the town of Bethlehem? That is a much easier target to hit, given that a person can “come from” many different towns or cities. So, did Jesus “come from” the town of Bethlehem?
Since the birth narratives are probably UNHISTORICAL LEGENDS, we have to look at other parts of the Gospels to see if Jesus had some other connection with Bethlehem. There is no other connection of Jesus to Bethlehem! Jesus grew up in northern Palestine, in the area around the Sea of Galilee. Bethlehem is in the south. The only mention of Bethlehem in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke is in their birth legends. The Gospel of Mark never mentions Bethlehem at all. The Gospel of John mentions “Bethlehem” only once, and it says nothing about Jesus being “from” there or having ever been there.
So, if we set aside the birth stories in Matthew and Luke, there is no evidence that Jesus had any connection to Bethlehem. There is no evidence that Jesus ever lived in Bethlehem. There is no evidence that Jesus ever visited Bethlehem. If Micah 5:2 predicted that a future ruler of Israel would “come from” the town of Bethlehem, then it is very unlikely that Jesus fulfilled that prediction because he did NOT “come from” Bethlehem, and because he was never a king or ruler of anything in Palestine, not even a low-level official in a small town in Palestine.
WAS JESUS FROM THE CLAN OF EPHRATHAH?
The Gospels state or imply that Jesus was a descendant of King David, and if that is correct, then Jesus would be a descendant of the CLAN of Epharthah. However, there is good reason to doubt the claim that Jesus was a descendant of King David.
The authors of the Gospels believed that Jesus was “the Messiah”, and they believed that “the Messiah” must be a descendant of King David. Furthermore, the authors of the Gospels wanted to persuade their readers that Jesus was “the Messiah”. So, the Gospels are clearly very biased on this question. Because it was important to the authors of the Gospels to believe that Jesus was “the Messiah” and it was important to them to get others to accept this belief, they had a powerful motivation to believe that Jesus was a descendant of King David, and they had a powerful motivation to promote the belief that Jesus was a descendant of King David. We cannot simply assume that the authors of the Gospels were correct on this point.
More importantly, how could anyone possibly KNOW that Jesus was a descendant of King David? There were no records of birth maintained by hospitals or local governments in Palestine two thousand years ago. Furthermore, King David died around 970 B.C.E, nearly a thousand years before Jesus was born. Did Jesus, or anyone else, possess accurate data tracing his ancestry back through over nine centuries? There were no facts or data available that could provide evidence tracing Jesus’ ancestors backward through about a thousand years. I have been unable to trace my ancestry on my father’s side for more than just two generations, even though birth records have been widely produced and maintained in the USA for longer than that. I cannot imagine trying to trace one’s ancestry back for a thousand years when nobody was carefully producing and maintaining birth records during that time.
It is, of course, POSSIBLE that Jesus was a descendant of King David. But we have no way of determining whether this is true or not, and neither did the authors of the Gospels. Given the absence of any reliable facts or data on this question, it is VERY PROBABLE that Jesus was NOT a descendant of King David, but that this was a claim made about Jesus in order to promote the religious belief that Jesus was “the Messiah”. Therefore, it is also VERY PROBABLE that Jesus was NOT a descendant of the CLAN of Ephrathah.
DID JESUS FULFILL THE PREDICTION IN MICAH 5:2?
First of all, it is NOT the case that Micah 5:2 predicted that “the Messiah” would be born in the town of Bethlehem because the concept of “the Messiah” did not yet exist at the time the book of Micah was written, and because it is UNLIKELY that this passage is talking about “the town of Bethlehem”, and because this passage does not state that the person in question would be BORN at some specific location, but rather that this person would be FROM somewhere or FROM some person or group. So, Peter Stoner’s interpretation of Micah 5:2 is just wrong.
Second, most NT scholars view the birth stories in Matthew and Luke as UNHISTORICAL LEGENDS, plus the birth story in Luke contradicts the birth story in Matthew on a number of points, so there is no good reason to believe that Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem.
Third, setting aside the birth stories in Matthew and Luke, NONE of the Gospels indicate ANY connection between Jesus and the town of Bethlehem. Clearly, Jesus was NOT “from” Bethlehem in any sense.
Finally, the best interpretation of Micah 5:2 is that it predicts that a future ruler of Israel will be a descendant of the CLAN of Ephrathah. But there are no facts or data that show that Jesus was a descendant of that CLAN. The Gospel claims that Jesus was a descendant of King David are NOT based on any facts or data, but arose out of the powerful motivation of the authors of the Gospels to believe, and to promote the belief, that Jesus was “the Messiah”. Therefore, it is VERY PROBABLE that Jesus was NOT a descendant of King David and NOT a descendant of the CLAN of Ephrathah. So, it is VERY UNLIKELY that Jesus fulfilled that part of the prediction.
Finally, Jesus was a craftsman, a preacher, and a faith healer. He was NOT a King or a ruler or even a low-level official in a small town. So, Jesus clearly did not fulfill that important part of Micah 5:2.