Does Micah say that Bethlehem is by no means least among the rulers of Judah?

Posted on Dec.23, 2008. Filed in Micah, Matthew. Average rating: 4.0 / 10 (Rate It).

The Gospel of Matthew opens with a genealogy of Jesus, followed by an account of his birth. To support the idea that Jesus is the Messiah, Matthew describes and quotes a prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem:

The prophecy is taken from Micah, and Matthew’s version reads as follows:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” [Matthew 2:6 (NRSV)]

In Micah, however, it reads slightly differently:

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel… [Micah 5:2a (NRSV)]

There are a number of small discrepancies between the prophecy in Micah and the quotation of the prophecy in Matthew. The most notable difference, though, is that Micah stresses the relative insignificance of Bethlehem (“one of the little clans”), whereas Matthew inserts a negative to turn this around and stress Bethlehem’s significance (“by no means least among the rulers of Judah”).

So does the prophecy stress Bethlehem’s insignificance or its significance?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    This may be a copyist’s error. If the traditional hypothesis that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew is true, it may also be a translator’s error.

    There is another possibility as well.

    The quotation of Micah 5:2 in Matthew 2 is actually a case of the priests and elders quoting it to Herod. They misquote Micah. Because these are experts in the Scripture, the misquotation is probably deliberate. Perhaps it was a popular misquotation of the passage at that time (just as “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is a popular misquotation of Proverbs 13:24 these days). Or they may have had other reasons for misquoting it.

    In any event, the priests misquote Micah, and Matthew accurately reports this misquotation. This is not a problem for inerrancy.

    (Presumably, one or more of the people privy to this conversation later converted to Christianity and served Matthew as the source.)

  2. 2

    “Presumably, one or more of the people privy to this conversation later converted to Christianity and served Matthew as the source”

    I doubt they’d remember the precise wording decades later. I think you need to rely on actual divine intervention in this sort of case.

  3. 3

    You’re probably right about the precise wording of the entire conversation. I’m not sure that that’s even a problem for inerrancy that the exact words be recalled. An accurate summary is, I think, all that inerrancy requires.

    With that said, I do think it is plausible, without any appeal to miraculous recollection, that an expert on the Scriptures, might well remember a misquotation of Scripture made to the King about the Messiah (no matter what the reason was for the misquotation). It would stick out like a sore thumb to such an expert. And the expert’s recollection of the misquotation would only be enhanced if he came to believe that the Scripture was misquoted regarding the true Messiah.

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