But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, 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. (NIV)
Some Trinitarians believe Micah 5:2 teaches the eternal pre-existence of Jesus, however, an examination of both the words used and the context of the passage shows that neither Micah nor Matthew was declaring the “eternal pre-existence” of the Messiah. Rather, the passages refer to the promise of God given to David in Israel’s historical past, centuries before Micah lived.
There are three phrases at the end of Micah 5:2 that may, or may not refer to eternality, and understanding these three phrases is essential:
1. motsa-otav וּמוֹצָאֹתָ֥יו translated “his origin/s” or “his goings forth”.
2. miqedem מִקֶּ֖דֶם translated “from before” or “from old” or “from long ago”.
3. mimei olam מִימֵ֥י עוֹלָֽם translated “from eternity” or “from ancient days”.
Let us look at some examples of y’mei olam and qedem referring to Israel’s historical past, not to “eternity past”:
- Micah 7:14 “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, who dwell alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them graze in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old (“y’mei olam” same word just with a different prefix).” Micah uses olam combined with y’mei, not in reference to eternity past, but to a time when the flock grazed.
- Micah 7:20 “You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old (מִ֥ימֵי קֶֽדֶם).” Micah used the word qedem, in construct with mimei “days of”, to refer to patriarchal times.
- Psalm 44:1 “O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old (b’mei qedem בִּ֣ימֵי קֶֽדֶם).”
- Psalm 77:6 and Psalm 77:12 “I consider the days of old (miqedem יָמִ֣ים מִקֶּ֑דֶם), the years long ago (olamim שְׁ֝נ֗וֹת עוֹלָמִֽים)… I will remember the deeds of Yahweh; yes, I will remember your wonders of old (miqedem מִקֶּ֣דֶם)…. You, with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph…You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron (cf. Psa. 77:15, 20).”
- Isaiah 63:11 “Then he remembered the days of old (y’mei olam יְמֵֽי־עוֹלָ֖ם), of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock?”
Thus, neither one of these constructions refers to an eternity past.
The word olam עוֹלָֽם “age, eternity” is one of the main reasons for the confusion and supposed “eternality” in the Micah passage. “It (olam) can mean eternity, but it often does not when the context puts limits on its meaning.” In Micah 5:2, olam is modified, and therefore limited to human time, by the word “days.”
As an idiom, olam (עוֹלָֽם) combined with “days of ימֵ֥י” means “days of long ago, days of a previous historical era, or “years of (שנים / שנות) an ancient historical era”. The words “days” and “years” in construct with olam עוֹלָֽם restrict the meaning to historical (human) time. That is, to past times (days and years) when God did wonders among the fathers. The time of the patriarchs, or the Exodus from Egypt and conquest are especially thought of as “days/years of long ago” when Yahweh led his people like a shepherd by the hand of Moses, Aaron and Joshua (Psa. 44:2-3). David’s days are also specifically recalled (Amos 9:11, “as in the days of old,” כִּימֵ֥י עוֹלָֽם).
The NET Bible translation, a conservative evangelical translation, agrees. The NET note on these two phrases says, “Elsewhere (in the Bible) both phrases refer to the early periods in the history of the world or of the nation of Israel.”
When using mimei olam, Micah had in mind not a nebulous eternity past, but “days of old,” God’s ancient promise to David (2 Sam. 7; 1 Chron. 17; Psa. 2) who was from Bethlehem. Micah lived in the middle of the 700s BC. David lived around 1000 BC. The promise to David was made some 250 years before Micah lived, מִימֵ֥י עוֹלָֽם מִקֶּ֖דֶם “from before, from days long ago”.
Although the precise meaning of motsa-ot is unclear because of its rare usage, it most likely means, as some English translations render it (e.g., RSV, NET, NIV, etc.), “his origin/s”, relating to the ancestry of the promised ruler. From the same Hebrew root is the word “descendant” צאצא tse-eh-tsa (e.g., Job 5:25; Isa. 44:3) and the later Hebrew word for “ancestry” ממוצא. In association with miqedem and mimei olam “from before, from days of long ago” which relate to Israel’s historical past, the feminine plural form in Micah 5:2 most likely relates to physical ancestry, especially David’s and/or Abraham’s. The coming ruler’s origin, his ancestry, is in the promise of God of a literal, physical descendant to come from the family and dynasty of David.
Does Matthew 2:5-6 or Micah 5:2 teach that Jesus pre-existed?
In Micah 5:2 it is Yahweh (the LORD) speaking via the prophet Micah (cf. Micah 4:6). Yahweh says that a ruler will come forth from Bethlehem of Judah for me. The ruler does not come forth from Yahweh in some ontological sense of “eternal generation”. Rather, the coming forth is from a geographical location (Bethlehem) and by implication from the Davidic dynastic family. Jewish leaders in the time of Jesus applied the passage to the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:4-6), not to Jesus’ generation from the Father in eternity past.
Also, the coming ruler comes from Bethlehem to rule for Yahweh. That is, the coming ruler is distinguished from Yahweh. The coming ruler from Bethlehem is not Yahweh himself, but is Yahweh’s designated human vice-regent who, like David, will rule for Yahweh.
It is very likely that this verse also had immediate fulfillment in King Hezekiah as a type of Jesus, the Christ. Therefore, it certainly would not be teaching pre-existence because we know that King Hezekiah did not exist before his birth. The historical context of the passage is “This (or this one) will be our peace when the Assyrian comes into our land, and treads in our palaces…” (Micah 5:5-6). Micah’s words were spoken when the mighty nation of Assyria threatened to conquer both the northern Kingdom of Israel and southern Kingdom of Judah. The Northern Kingdom of Israel would be destroyed by Assyria, but Judah, incredibly, survived.
Micah’s prophecy had a certain fulfillment in the days of a descendant of David, Hezekiah (Isa. 37:15-38). Yahweh was keeping His promise to David by setting David’s descendant Hezekiah on the throne. Micah knew (as did his contemporary, Isaiah) that although Assyria was God’s tool, God would stop mighty Assyria in its tracks (2 Chron. 32:20-22; Isa. 37:35). Judah would survive under the shepherding of King Hezekiah who ruled in the strength of his God, Yahweh.
Thus far, it has been demonstrated that none of the three terms above teach “eternality” or that Jesus pre-existed. Not only that, but even if these terms did, Matthew fails to quote them in Matthew 2:5-6, a shocking move if Micah 5:2 teaches Jesus’ pre-existence. Matthew does not quote, “whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
If this is one of the only texts in the whole bible supporting the eternality of the Son, it is quite baffling that the New Testament authors would never quote it, and that Matthew would quote one part of the verse, that the Messiah would be from Bethlehem (a non-salvific detail), without quoting the part that Trinitarians believe to be a matter of salvation, the pre-existence of Jesus.
Morgridge, p. 120
Racovian Catechism, pp. 69-71
Back to the list of “Verses Used to Support the Doctrine of the Trinity”
1. Much information in this article is taken from: Bill Schlegel, Do Micah 5:2 and Matthew 2:5-6 declare the eternal deity of Messiah? Presented at Unitarian Christian Alliance Conference, Oct. 14-15, 2022. Back to top
2. Allen Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (Kregel Academic, 2013), pp. 354-355. Back to top