The Trinitarian Claim
Trinitarians sometimes use this passage to claim Jesus was a person who existed "in eternity" and "before" creation and has "always" existed as the Son of God.
Examination of the Claim
1. A Philosophically Incompetent Translation/Interpretation
The Trinitarian claim is quite impossible since creation was itself the beginning of time and to claim the Son existed "before" creation, or "always," existed is to use language that insinuates he existed in a time continuum prior to the existence of time. This is a logical absurdity. Even if the passage did say the Messiah's "goings forth" were from eternity, it still would not indicate that Jesus is an eternal being in the sense of existing "prior" to the beginning of creation. If we suppose, for the sake of argument, that Jesus was indeed the first thing created, it is still quite easy to observe from this passage that he was created from eternity as the starting point and origin of his existence. Creation had its beginning and origin in/at eternity because this is where God exists. Since then Jesus' created existence would be the first thing in the time and space of creation, then his origin would be "from eternity." Eternity would be ground zero of creation and the starting point and origin of the first thing created. In other words, if Jesus was the first created thing, the place from which he was created would necessarily be eternity.
NOTE: Jesus as God's first created thing at ground zero of creation is only presented here for the sake or argument. This writer does not believe Jesus existed as a person until his birth in Bethlehem.
If we translated the Hebrew word olam as "eternity," the passage literally would literally say "days of eternity." There are no "days of eternity." Eternity is timelessness not never-ending time. God created the ages. He did not live in never-ending time before He created time. It is an absurd concept. Time is a relative measurement of created objects in motion; it is a measurement defining the duration of one object moving in relation to another object. Eternity is rather timelessness.
There is however a difficulty in our language system, especially in English. Our verbs almost always suggest a time frame whether past, present, or future, and it is extremely difficult in our human language to describe the reality of eternity without using language conventions which suggest time is in view. Even if we used the words "before creation" it suggests a time continuum before a time continuum existed. But the beginning is the beginning and there is no such thing as "before" the beginning. Yet, there is no other way for us to express reality at a point where creation did not yet exist unless we use this kind of vocabulary with all its limitations.
2. Translation Variations
Carefully consider the discrepancies in the following Trinitarian translations. Some say "eternity." Some say "everlasting." Some say "ancient times." Some say "origin" others have plural "goings forth" or "origins." These differences clearly demonstrate that their claims regarding the word olam which they translate as "eternal" are extremely questionable.
whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. KJV
whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. ASV
His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity. NASB
his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity. Douay-Rheims
And his comings forth are of old, From the days of antiquity. Youngs Literal.
whose origins are in the distant past. NET
Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. NAB
whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. NIV
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. RSV
whose going out has been purposed from time past, from the eternal days. BBE.
whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. ESV
Analysis of the Evidence
1. Matthew 2:1-6
Matthew quotes Micah 5:2 which gives us considerable insight as to the intended meaning of the verse:
Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king... When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them WHERE the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'
2. The Context of Micah 5:2
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the thousands of Judah, from you One will go forth to Me to be ruler in Israel. His origins are from old, from the days of antiquity. Therefore he will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of his brethren will return to the sons of Israel. And he will arise and Shepherd his flock in the strength of YHWH, in the majesty of the name of YAHWEH his God. (Micah 5:2-4).
Just two verses later we find that the person in view has a God; Yahweh is his God. It should then be clear that the One who will go forth to be rule in Israel is not Yahweh God but someone who has Yahweh God as his God.
3. His "goings forth"
The Hebrew word here "motsa'ah" indicates the concept of "origin." The English term "goings forth" is a decent translation of the Hebrew intent. The Hebrew word is plural, and the intended idea here is to explain the Messiah's origins. We will also see shortly why this word is plural.
Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. (NAB).
whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (NIV).
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. (RSV).
4. Of "old"
The Hebrew "qedem" is the word we usually translate as "east." Since the sun dawns in the east and the day begins in the east it is a front place where the day begins. This Hebrew word does not really mean "old" but conveys the idea of a "beginning" or a "front" and so with respect to time it implies the idea of old beginnings.
5. The "days of olam."
The Trinitarian claim is also based upon translating the Hebrew word olam as "eternity." Their error can be quickly seen by observing there are no "days" in eternity. God created the first day. Before the creation of the first day, there were not things called "days." The Bible tells us plainly that God created the ages. He created the first day.
The word "eternity" has been skewed in people's minds due to the word "everlasting," a word often accepted as a synonym to "eternity." However, the word "everlasting" indicates a never ending time continuum where the word "eternity" does not. Moreover, eternity is not a never-ending time continuum but a state of timelessness. God exists in eternity and created the ages. God did not exist in a state of time that He had not yet created. God existed "before" time began. He existed in a state of timelessness.
The Definition of olam
The word olam simply does not mean "everlasting," or "eternity" defined as an infinite time continuum, or as a reality of timelessness, or whatever reality God exists in. This word simply means a very long period of time or an indefinite period of time. It does not mean infinity. It comes from a root word which means hidden or concealed. This is similar to the idea expressed by the English term "unforseeable future." It refers to an indefinite period of time.
That olam does not refer to infinite time, or a state of timelessness, or some other kind of reality in which only God exists, can be seen from its use in the Scriptures.
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days... they were the mighty ones of old, men of renown. (Gen 6:4).
Remember the days of old, consider the years of all generations. Ask your father, and he will inform you, your elders, and they will tell you. (Deuteronomy 32:7).
Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says YAHWEH, the God of Israel, `From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods. (Joshua 24:2).
Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites and the Girzites and the Amalekites; for they were the inhabitants of the land from ancient times. (1 Samuel 27:8).
And Achish trusted David, thinking, "He has made himself utterly abhorred by his people Israel; therefore he shall be my servant always." (1 Samuel 27:15).
Will you keep to the old way which wicked men have trod? (Job 22:15).
Remove not the ancient landmark which your fathers have set. (Proverbs 22:8; cf. 23:10).
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations. (Isaiah 58:12; cf, 61:4).
In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved his holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses his servant. (Isaiah 63:9,11).
Behold, I am bringing upon you a nation from afar, O house of Israel, It is an old nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you understand what they say. (Jeremiah 5:15).
Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. (Malachi 3:4).
It is quite clear in the above passages that olam cannot possibly mean "eternity." The actual Hebrew at Micah 5:2 literally reads "days of olam." This phrase is also used in another place right here in this very same book of Micah just two chapters later.
Shepherd Your people with Your scepter, the flock of Your possession which dwells by itself in the woodland, in the midst of a fruitful field. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old (Micah 7:14).
Obviously, the term "days of olam" in does not mean "eternity" as "everlasting time," or "never ending time," or anything of the like, or we have the ridiculous problem of explaining just how the Jews were to feed the flock just as they had done in the "days of eternity."
6. Bethlehem: Jesus' Ancient Ancestral Home
Micah 5:2 is a reference to Bethlehem. Bethlehem was the ancestral home of Jesus' ancestors. It was the deathplace of Jacob's wife Rachel and the birthplace of his father David.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. 4 Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David the king. Matthew 1:1-5.
All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem... The neighbor women gave [the child] a name.... they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David. Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez was born Hezron, and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David. Ruth 4.
I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have selected a king for Myself among his sons. 1 Samuel 16:1.
Now David was the son of the Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, whose name was Jesse. 1 Samuel 7:12.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David. Luke 2:4.
For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king. Matthew 2:1
For so it is written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. Matthew 2:6
7. Yahweh's Promise to David
Micah 5:2 tells us a ruler will come out of Bethlehem. Jesus is the Lion of Judah. Jacob prophesied to his son Judah, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah." David belonged to the House of Judah and Yahweh had promised David that his seed would inherit an eternal throne:
When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me....Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever. 2 Samuel 7:12-16.
Indeed, we even read that David and also Solomon, David's son, sat on the throne of YHWH.
Then Solomon sat on the throne of YHVH as king instead of David his father. 1 Chronicles 29:23.
The Davidic lineage is God's choice for Israel's King to sit on the throne of YHWH.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end. Luke 1:32-33.
And this promise, that Jesus would reign forever as King on the throne of Yahweh, was fulfilled when God raised Jesus from the dead:
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says, "The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet.' Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:32-36)
8. Interpreting the Facts
When all the facts are before us it becomes plain what Micah 5:2 is about. It is about the fact that Bethlehem is the home of the Messiah's ancestral origins. It is the ancient home of his ancestors. Genealogical lineages tell us about our ancestral origins. Bethlehem is the home of Jesus' ancient ancestors; it is ancient origins. We must remember that David was born 1000 years before Jesus and Judah was born about 1800 years before Jesus. From Jesus' perspective in time this is ancient.
The Trinitarian claim is based on unwarranted translation of words and imagining Trinitarian doctrine into the Hebrew text. The grammatical and contextual evidence indicate the verse is a reference to the Messiah’s ancient ancestral origins in Bethlehem of Ephratah. Micah has the ruling Davidic dynasty in mind. The passage should be understood as follows:
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, insignificant among the thousands of Judah, out of you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel (i.e. Messiah will be born in Bethlehem). His [ancestral] origins [in Bethlehem] are from ancient times, from the days of old.
There is nothing here about a Messiah originating in eternity. The force of the entire passage is about the Davidic King Messiah being born in Bethlehem, the home of Jesus' ancient ancestors where his genealogical lineage began in ancient times.
Last Updated: August 23, 2012.