Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Study of Micah 5:2
Written by John Carson
Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) use the last portion of Micah 5:2 to teach Jesus Christ is not God. This is because they believe He had a beginning. From their JW website they teach:
- “Jesus’ life began long before he was born in a stable in Bethlehem. In fact, the Bible says that his “origin is from early times, from the days of time indefinite. (Micah 5:2)”” (emphasis mine)
Was Jesus created by the Father as JWs teach, or did He always exist?
The scripture quote above is from the New World Translation (NWT), which is uniquely translated and published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WT). Are we to draw from Micah 5:2, that Micah was conveying the message that the Messiah to come, who would rule over Israel (identified in Matthew 2 as Jesus), had a beginning? Or, was the Prophet Micah identifying something else about the coming Messiah?
The NWT 1984 edition translates Micah 5:2 differently from other translations. Here’s an example of how it differs from the New American Standard Bible (NASB):
- “whose origin is from early times, from the days of time indefinite.” (NWT)
- “His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.” (NASB)
Did the WT translate Micah 5:2 accurately, and then came to the conclusion it is teaching Jesus’ life had a beginning? Or did they fashion and manipulate this passage in such a way so that it will agree with their teachings about Christ?
“Origin” and “Goings Forth”
Let’s first look at and compare the words “origin” (NWT) and “goings forth” (NASB). These are translated from the Hebrew word, mowtsaah, and is only found in two places in the Old Testament, Micah 5:2 and 2 Kings 10:27. The WT translates this word
in 2 Kings 10:27 as “latrines”
(NWT 2013 edition). An obvious observation, is that these two English words, “origin” and “latrines”, cannot both have the meaning of beginning. It begs the question whether mowtsaah should be interpreted as having such a meaning.
Mowtsaah מוֹצָאֹת is the feminine of mosta מוֹצָא which comes from its primitive root word, yatsa יָצָא
Here are examples of how these Hebrew words are used:
- “I profane not My covenant, And that which is going forth (motsa) from My lips I change not.” (Psalm 89:34 Young’s Literal Translation)
The NWT renders this Hebrew word here as the expression; the NASB used the utterance. This shows both translations are in agreement that motsa is used to connote the going forth (utterance, expression) from the ever-present LORD God Almighty.
Numbers 20:11 describes how water came forth (yatsa) from the rock in the book of Numbers:
- “Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth (yatsa) abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.” (Numbers 20:11 NASB)
Notice the passage is not describing that the rock itself came forth, but that water came forth from the rock that was already present. The WT translated this word here as pour out (NWT 2013 edition). That rock is identified in the New Testament as Christ:
- “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4 NASB)
The core meaning from mowtsaah’s root word then, is much like a pouring out from a source, and NOT the beginning of something (or Someone). This meaning fits both Micah 5:2 and 2 Kings 10:27 (a pouring out place). Notice the NASB’s translation for mowtsaah:
- “His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.” (Micah 5:2 NASB)
If Micah shared the same views as the JWs do about the Messiah, and wanted to convey the message about Him being a creation of God, he could have used a much better Hebrew word other than mowtsaah. Why didn't Micah use a word that was more clearer, like reshith (beginning), or bara (create)? Psalm 148:5 reads in the NWT about angels:
- “Let them praise the name of Jehovah; For he himself commanded, and they were created (bara).”
JWs believe Jesus was Michael the Archagel, who they say is God's first creation. If Jesus was created (bara), then that would have been a better choice word to convey that message.
One of the greatest dilemmas facing the NWT’s use of “origin” in Micah 5:2, is that mowtsaah is plural, not singular. If JWs want to view this Hebrew word as meaning Jesus’ existence began, then mowtsaah’s plural meaning would force Jesus to have more than one beginning.
“Time Indefinite” and “Eternity”
If Jesus sprang into existence or was created by the Father, there must have been a point in time in which the Father created Him. Your JW friend will agree and will reason in his/her mind that Jesus was created at an indefinite period of time, and not from everlasting. The WT teaches:
- “The Hebrew word here rendered “everlasting,” (from KJV Micah 5:2) is olám, and simply means an indefinite period of time.” (emphasis mine) (Watchtower Magazine, September 15, 1961 - “What Does the Bible Teach About the Divinity of Christ?”)
This brings us to dealing with the comparisons between “time indefinite” (NWT) and “eternity” (NASB). Notice the difference between how the NASB and the NWT (1984 edition) renders the last portion of Micah 5:2...
“from the days of eternity” (NASB)
“from the days of time indefinite” (NWT)
JWs will reject any thought that the Hebrew word used here, עוֹלָ֖ם (olam), could be translated as “eternity” or “everlasting” in Micah 5:2. They believe Jesus was created a long time ago, in the ancient past.
For many years the WT used “time indefinite” in various places in their NWT. It is interesting that this was the identical term they used in multiple passages that speak of God’s existence as being eternal. When they made their recent changes to their NWT (2013 edition), they stopped using time indefinite and replaced it with other wordings.
A Jehovah’s Witness explained to me how Daniel 2:44’s rendering of “time indefinite” was changed to “forever”, and that this shows God’s Kingdom will be forever upon the earth. So the WT sees this word, olam, to be used in certain contexts to mean forever in the future. Whenever olam refers to the Person of the Father, the WT interprets their translated words, “time indefinite”, to mean God had always been, and always will be God. Take a look at how they retranslated Psalm 90:2:
“from time indefinite to time indefinite you are God.” (1984 edition)
“From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” (2013 edition)
No JW will say there was a point in time when God became God, and they point to this passage as proof of this. The WT proclaims:
- “Why should we worship God? The true God is the Creator of all things. He had no beginning and will never have an end. (Psalm 90:2)” (emphasis mine)
Utilizing both Psalm 90:2 and Micah 5:2, from their own admissions they use the word olam to demonstrate two opposing viewpoints:
Olam means God had no beginning (Psalm 90:2)
Olam means Jesus had a beginning (Micah 5:2)
Their retranslation of olam appropriately refers to the Person of the Father as everlasting. How is it then, that the WT uses the same Hebrew word in Micah 5:2 to “prove” Jesus was NOT from everlasting?
The WT’s retranslations of “time indefinite” in the Old Testament to “everlasting” (Psalm 90:2) clearly identifies the eternality of God the Father. The Greek word for this word “everlasting” in the Septuagint (LXX) is αἰῶνος aionos, and it is a word that describes Jesus in the New Testament:
- “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever αἰῶνος (aionos).” (Hebrews 13:8)
From what we’ve seen, we can determine that the Hebrew word olam cannot “prove” Jesus had a beginning. But JWs will reject “everlasting” as being the right choice for olam in Micah 5:2. Your JW friend may show you Bible verses where this word can have the meaning of “long ago”, “ancient times”, “days of old”, etc. The WT chose the meaning of “long ago” (NWT 2013 edition) rather than “everlasting”, and claimed this was the thought conveyed by Micah. In their JW website we read:
- “The Hebrew word ʽoh·lamʹ carries the thought of indefinite or uncertain time.... Accordingly, expressions such as “time indefinite”, “indefinitely lasting”, “of old”, “a long time ago,” “of long ago”, and “long-lasting” appropriately convey the thought of the original-language term.” (emphasis mine)
Recently, the WT’s New World Bible Translation Committee replaced “time indefinite” with “long ago” in their NWT 2013 edition. Again, they claim this was Micah’s intended thought he was conveying:
- “.... a number of style and vocabulary changes have been made in this revision, with the following objectives in mind.... The expression “time indefinite” was replaced with such terms as “forever,” “lasting,” “everlasting,” or “long ago,” to convey the intended meaning in each context.—Genesis 3:22; Exodus 31:16; Psalm 90:2; Ecclesiastes 1:4; Micah 5:2.” (emphasis mine)
How would they know if “long ago” was the intended thought Micah was trying to communicate? If olam can also mean “everlasting”, on what basis did the New World Bible Translation Committee reject this word and chose “long ago” instead? Why didn’t they just leave it as “time indefinite”?
The reasons were not contextual, but theological. The WT dogmatically rejects the teaching that Jesus Christ is God, and have gone to great lengths to “prove” He is not God. By changing “time indefinite” to “long ago”, it’s not as easy now for someone to recognize such cross references like Micah 5:2 with Psalm 90:2.
All you need to do is search the internet, and you'll see ample sites challenging the WT on their 1984 translation of Micah 5:2. In my opinion, by revising this passage, it seems they are able to more easily dodge the issue. However, they had created yet another dilemma. Their retranslation of Micah 5:2 causes the passage to become nonsensical when we consider the Hebrew word in the middle of the sentence.
“Early Times” and “Long Ago”
“Early times” (NWT 1984 edition) and “long ago” (NASB) in Micah 5:2, were translated from the Hebrew word, קֶ֫דֶם qedem, which means: ancient time, aforetime, ancient, from of old, early times, etc. So there is an agreement for the meaning the NWT and NASB gives to this Hebrew word. This actually creates a serious problem when considering context.
We just learned that the New World Bible Translation Committee retranslated olam as “long ago” in Micah 5:2. It doesn’t make sense that the Prophet Micah would use a different Hebrew word, qedem, to say the same thing.
Your JW friend may quickly point out that their Translation Committee did not translate qedem in Micah 5:2 as “long ago”:
- “Whose origin is from ancient times (qedem), from the days of long ago.”
According to the WT though, “ancient” and “long ago” are also interchangable translated words from olam. Notice for instance, their Translation Committee retranslated “time indefinite” to “ancient” in Habakkuk 3:6:
- “the indefinitely lasting (olam) hills bowed down.” (1984 edition)
- “the ancient (olam) hills bowed down.” (2013 edition)
Their definitions are still the same. “Ancient” and “long ago” have the same meaning. It just sounds better using “ancient times” rather than repeat “long ago”. But that's where the dilemma lies; it does not make sense that Micah would use two different Hebrew words to say the same thing.
It makes more sense that Micah would have had two different time structures in mind since he used two different Hebrew words. So it is more fitting that qedem and olam were used to convey two different meanings, the distant past, and eternity.
Putting It All Together
When considering the context of Micah 5:2, as well as what we’ve learned about these three Hebrew words, mowtsaah, qedem, and olam (as well as the Greek word aionos), an acceptable interpretation of Micah 5:2 would be:
- “Not only has the Ruler that is to come, been active (mowtsaah) in the past (qedem), He has been active throughout all eternity (olam)!”
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8)
Sample questions to ask your JW friend:
1) “How can a Hebrew word not have the meaning of beginning in 2 Kings 10:27, but is considered by the WT to
mean beginning in Micah 5:2?”
2) “If Numbers 20:11 and 1 Corinthians 10:4 teaches Christ was present while water “came forth” from the rock, shouldn’t we view Micah 5:2 as also teaching Christ was already present during His “goings forth”, since it comes from the same root word?”
3) “If Micah really wanted to get the point across that the Messiah had a beginning, wouldn’t it seem reasonable that he would have used a better Hebrew word to communicate this, such as “created” found in Psalm 148:5?”
4) “Since the Hebrew word the WT translated as “origin” in Micah 5:2 is actually plural, how many origins did Jesus experience before He was born in Bethlehem? Did God create Jesus multiple times?”
5) “Could Psalm 90:2 be interpreted as... God became God at an unknown point in time, since it reads "time indefinite" in your NWT? If not, then why does the WT use that same word to "prove" Jesus had a beginning in Micah 5:2?”
6) “The Greek word that describes God’s nature in Psalm 90:2 in the LXX, is the exact same Greek word that describes Jesus’ nature as well in Hebrews 13:8. Since He always remained the same, what does that say about Who Jesus really is?”
7) “If “long ago” and “ancient times” are from different Hebrew words in Micah 5:2, wouldn’t this demonstrate Micah wanted to convey two different meanings, the distant past and eternity?”