Matthew 2:6—How can we explain Matthew’s apparent misquotation of Micah 5:2?
Solution: Although Matthew seems to have changed some of the words from the passage in Micah, there is no real deviation in the meaning of the text. Matthew, in some instances, seems to have paraphrased.
First, Matthew inserts the phrase “land of Judah” for the word “Ephrathah.” This does not really change the meaning of the verse. There is no difference between the land of Judah and Ephrathah, except one is more specific than the other. In fact, Ephrathah refers to Bethlehem in the Micah passage, and Bethlehem is located in the land of Judah. However, this does not change the basic meaning of this verse. He is speaking of the same area of land. Interestingly, when Herod asked the chief priests and the scribes where the child was to be born, they said, “in Bethlehem of Judea” (Matt. 2:5, nasb).
Second, Matthew describes the land of Judah as “not the least” but Micah states that it is “little.” Here, Matthew may be saying that since the Messiah is to come from this region, it is by no means least among the other areas of land in Judah. The phrase in Micah only says that Bethlehem is too little or small, as compared to the other areas of land in Judah. The verse does not say it is the least among them, only very little. Matthew is saying the same thing in different words, namely, that Bethlehem is little in size, but by no means the least in significance, since the Messiah was born there.
Finally, Matthew uses the phrase “who will shepherd My people Israel” and Micah does not. Micah 5:2 recognizes that there will be a ruler in Israel, and Matthew recognizes this as well. However, the phrase that is not mentioned in Micah is actually taken from 2 Samuel 5:2. The combining of verses does not take away what is being said, but it strengthens the point that the author is making. There are other instances where an author combines one Scripture with another. For example, Matthew 27:9–10 combines some of Zechariah 11:12–13 with Jeremiah 19:2, 11 and 32:6–9. Also, Mark 1:2–3 combines some of Isaiah 40:3 with Malachi 3:1. Only the first passage is mentioned, since it is the main passage being cited.
In brief, Matthew is not misrepresenting any information in his quotation of Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2. Matthew’s quote is still accurate even though he paraphrases part of it and combines another portion of Scripture with it.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.